THIS WORK IS UNFINISHED (not merely under construction).

Operating System Round Up

It's become a joke around here what OS I'm running this week on my Aero.

What I want:

I want a machine that will run Windows applications and can also (excepting speed) act the same as the sparc20 on my desk at work running SunOS 4.1 and X Windows. I've even had a bit of luck using Wabi on a remote (Solaris) machine to run the Windows apps I care about (MS Word and PowerPoint).

My laptop gets more use as a documentation tool than a development environment so the Windows apps are mildly more important than the feel-good comfort of things like vi and xterm. When traveling, the development environment becomes more significant.

It should work well connected to my office ethernet and remotely by phone as well as foreign ethers.

I'll go ahead and spill the beans--I've yet to find what I want. My favorite combo so far is splitting the disk 100megs for os/2 and the rest for Linux. (Actually, it's full with win95 at this moment.)

I've divided this into three sections. First I'll talk about the hardware I've used on my aero, next I'll go through each OS, and finally I'll discuss the various combinations since no single OS at one time has ever satisfied me.

What Equipment I've tried:

All of this is on an Aero 4/25 with 340meg disk and 12megs of memory.
IBM (PCMCIA) Creditcard Ethernet Adapter
This is identical to the National Semiconductor InfoMover card. There are 2 dongles, one for twisted pair and one for thinwire. You can interchange the dongles for the NS and the IBM card. IBM is selling a slightly different ethernet card now and all I can say about it is that the connectors are different.

This card appears to be the most widely supported. For compatability purposes I highly recommend it. I've had zero problems with it. (Get the NS card.)

Avoid the Xircom PCMCIA ethernet card! They are clammy with technical data so nobody has been able to write a Linux driver for it. Also, even with gobs of help from their technical people and even a newer up-to-the-minute card it never did work under OS/2 using TCP 2.0; apparently it is supposed to work if you're using some other random thing I don't care about. These are the people with big ads saying how their card will work under any popular network OS.

The Xircom card does have much smaller dongles, if you only run windows and don't mind the extra dollar hit, and you don't mind purchasing from a company that I don't like then it's a good card to use.

USR 14400 Worldport and Megahertz XJ2288 pcmcia modems
Running Windows classic, I had some trouble with pcmcia devices in general. I got into the habit of removing any cards before suspending the machine otherwise it might lock up. From time to time the machine would lock up if I removed the modem card (USR) if windows was running. Exiting to DOS helped. I never tried the Megahertz modem under windows.

I've had good luck with the Megahertz modem overall. It has the built in slide-out connector which is a big win over the USR dongle.

IOMega Zip Drive
This is a drive which uses 100meg removable media which are a little wider and thicker than a 3inch floppy. The drive attaches to the parallel port (they have a scsi model also). Cost is $200, the disks are $15-20. Speed is way better than a floppy but I haven't really measured it.

Works well with windows and os/2.

See Todd Kneib's Zip Drive Page and IOMega's Home Page

I got a copy of the technical manual and plan to write a Linux driver for the thing if I find time. (No progress here, lack of time, I'd be happy to forward the info in the manual to anyone interested.)

That Scurvy Floppy Drive
This requires special mention because it is a serious thorn in my butt. This document wouldn't likely exist otherwise. It makes the machine different enough to cause real trouble from time to time.

Not having the floppy internal is a big win. I don't regret that. It's a few ounces I'm very glad to leave at home. I think this was a good design decision. It's one of the reasons I like my Aero.

Having a PCMCIA floppy is sucky when you only have one PCMCIA slot for two reasons. You can't use the floppy while using some other card and if you like to run a different OS every week you loose big because PCMCIA floppy drivers just don't exist for most things. I would have prefered an special purpose floppy connector that didn't have anything to do with the pcmcia.

A rule that seems to hold is that if a system notices you have a PCMCIA slot and does something to talk to it then you must have support for that floppy in order to use it. For example, under OS/2 if I want to use the floppy, I boot a configuration that doesn't load any pcmcia drivers. The Plan9 kernel has pcmcia support built in (but not for the floppy drive) so I have no chance of using the floppy under Plan9 (this makes installation a bitch).

What OS's I've tried:

Dos + Windows 3.1
Windows classic. This is what the machine came with. See pcmcia note in the modem cards section above.

If you plan to change OS's often or ever, I would recommend ordering the floppy sets from Compaq. It was about $40 or so and includes everything that came loaded on the hard disk originally. They come in about a dozen little packets and the reinstall order is important if you want certain things (like PCMCIA) to work but I forget the order right now.

I've used both the Chameleon ($nn) and the (free) Trumpet IP stacks. They both worked fairly well. The Chameleon stuff is a little confusing at first but far more flexible for the changing IP environs of a laptop on the move. The Chameleon people were very helpful in getting my Xircom ethernet card to work.

For reading mail I use Eudora.

Windows is not Unix. I was pretty frustrated that I could not move the mouse while the floppy was spinning. It made me angry.

Windows 95
I still can't move the mouse while the floppy is spinning.

At this moment I have my entire machine loaded with windows95. This is mainly so that I can write Java code when I'm away from my desk.

I'm using the IP stack that comes with windows95. It works well with my IBM ethernet card. I am also using the dial-up IP stack from time to time.

How to get the floppy to work well:

I also use the hibernate/standby program to switch whether I want the machine to sleep or save state and drop dead when I hit the purple button.

IBM OS/2 Warp
They have 2 flavors. I got the one "for people who don't already have Windows."

The Windows emulation is very good (it works) and it has the feel of a real operating system. It comes with dial up IP and a Web browser.

The bundled Fax software (FaxWorks) and terminal program (HyperAccess) are both quite good.

I bought TCP/IP 2.0 from IBM which allows you to use an ethernet card (see note about Xircom in the equipment section). This comes with telnet, ftp, ftpd, snmpd and a lot of other nice command line functions. The IP packages is very unix-feely, with directories named like etc and bin and things. You can even use an /etc/passwd file from your unix machine and the right thing will happen for remote logins.

I also bought the X Windows server. I works quite well also.

Eudora is still my mail reader of choice.

Overall, I rate it quite high. It's still not as homey as I'd like, tho.

There is no floppy support. You can use the floppy if you don't start up pcmcia services. If the floppy drive is removed you must reboot to use it again.

Installation Notes

Linux is a free Unix OS for 386 machines. There are a few other such beasts but Linux appears to have a larger base of people working to support a greater variety of systems and peripherals.

I use the Slakware distribution plus the APM BIOS patches by Stephen Rothwell (apm_bios.0.5.tar.gz). PCMCIA card services (pcmcia-cs-2.6.3a.tgz) will not work on kernel releases greater than 1.2.8.

There is no floppy support. You can use the floppy if you don't start up pcmcia services. If the floppy drive is removed you must reboot to use it again. See Xircom note in the equipment section.

See Ali Albayrak and Harald.T.Alvestrand's Linux on the Aero page.

Plan 9 from Bell Labs
This is a bad idea. Plan9 wants an fpu. I did get it installed enough to type on it a bit tho.

Plan 9 is a very appealing OS, I have mixed feelings about it tho. It was certainly interesting to read about some of the decisions made in it's structure.

Installation Notes

The Lethal Combinations

I haven't written this part yet.

Reed Wade --