Xenix on Linux


Jarret W. Buse

Xenix on Linux

Before Linux existed, there was UNIX. A popular variant of UNIX was Xenix. For historical sake, some people may find it interesting to see Xenix.

In the late 1970's, Microsoft licensed a UNIX-like system from AT&T called XENIX. Microsoft did not sell Xenix to customers, but licensed it to other companies such as IBM, Intel, Santa Cruz Operation (SCO) and others. SCO later bought XENIX from Microsoft and it is now sold as SCO UNIX OpenServer. From 1984 to 1989, Xenix was more widely used than DOS at the time.

To start, there are a few versions of Xenix available; they are abandonware. The versions available were based on the Processor type:

  • 8086 – 2.1.3
  • 286 – 2.1.3, 2.2.1, 2.3.2
  • 386 – 2.2.3, 2.3.4a, 2.3.4q
  • SysV 386 – 3.2 4.2
In this article, I will cover the installation of 2.3.1. Other versions will install the same, but I have a reason for this version. I have put together disk images for various items which make this set more complete. The disks are named with a letter and a number. The letter specifies the disk type and the number represents the order of the disk. The letters represent various types as follows:

  • N – Installation
  • B – Basic Utilities
  • X – Extended Utilities
  • D – Development System
  • T – Text Processing
  • G – Games

NOTE: Some disk images you find may be labeled as “Installation 1” and not “N1”.

In the set of disks I put together, I have found everything but the Text Processing Disks (T#).

NOTE: If anyone should come across the Text Processing Disk images, please contact me at [email protected].

To start, you need VirtualBox installed on your system and download the Xenix disk images from “http://dcjtech.info/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Xenix-2.3.1.zip”.

Create a “New” machine in VirtualBox and give it a name. Set the “Type” to “Other” and the “Version” to “Other/Unknown” before pressing “Next”.

Set the RAM to “4 MB” and click “Next”.

Select the option to “Create a Virtual Hard Drive Now” then press “Create”. Select “VDI” and click “Next”. Specify that the drive should be a “Fixed Size” before clicking the “Next” button. Set the name and location of the Virtual Disk file and set the size to “80 MB” before selecting the “Create” button.

Once the Machine is created, select it and then press the “Settings” icon. Select “Motherboard” in the left pane and uncheck the CD/DVD.

Select “Video” in the left pane and then the “Video” tab. Set the Video RAM to “4 MB”.

Under the “Storage” option in the left pane, remove the CD/DVD. A “Floppy Controller” needs to be added and then a “Floppy Device”. Go ahead and select the image file “N1.img” from the Xenix files you downloaded. Select the “OK” button to finish editing the settings. Click the “Start” icon to start the Virtual Machine.

At the initial screen, shown in Figure 1, press “Enter” to continue. You should be prompted to “Insert filesystem floppy and press <RETURN>”. At this point, select “Devices” from the VirtualBox menu and the “Floppy Devices”. At this menu, select “Choose virtual floppy disk file”. A window should open allowing you choose a different location on your system partitions. Locate your folder containing the Xenix disk images and select “N2.img”. Once the new disk image has been selected, press the enter key to have the Xenix system load the new virtual diskette.

Figure 1.jpg


Next, you should be prompted to enter “Selection” from a menu for your keyboard. Enter a number from one to six which corresponds to your keyboard and press enter.

Next, you are asked if it is okay to overwrite some or all of the hard drive if necessary. Enter a 'y' and press enter.

When prompted for the “Hard Disk Drive 0 Configuration” enter “q” to quit the menu and press enter.

At the next prompt, enter “2” to “use the entire disk for Xenix” and then press enter again. For the next two prompts, enter a “q”.

When prompted, you need to enter a value for bad track allocation. Simply press enter to accept the default of 15. The next prompt is for swap space allocation. Again, press enter for the default.

You are then prompted if you want a separate /u filesystem. Enter “n” and then enter.

When prompted about wanting block-by-block control over the Xenix layout division, enter 'n' and then press enter.

The filesystem should then be made on the hard disk. The system should then be set to restart when you press a key. At this point, go to “Machine”, “Close”, select “Power off the machine” and click “OK”.

Once you are back at the VirtualBox menu, open “Settings” for your Xenix Virtual machine. Go to “System” in the left pane and on the “Motherboard” tab, move the Floppy below the Hard Disk in the Boot Order window. On the Storage option in the left pane, select the Floppy Disk and change the image file back to “N1.img”. Select OK and then the “Start” icon.

After Xenix boots, you should be prompted for the Serial Number. Enter the code “ltd000825” and for the Activation Key enter “ylwbrzan”. The system will save the information and ask to be restarted. Press any key to restart Xenix.

After the reboot, you should be prompted for disk “N3.img”. Change the Floppy Device image file and press enter. The next disk is “B1.img” and then the “B2.img”. Next you are prompted for the “root” password. After less than a minute, you should should be promped for Time Zone information. Enter the prompts as needed.

After the Time Zone has been set, you are shown disk usage information and prompted to Stop the installation at a minimum setup or to Continue. Enter “2” to continue.

Now you are given four options as follows:

  1. Operating System
  2. Development System
  3. Text Processing System
  4. Add a supported product

Since the download contains the disks for options 1, 2 and 3, let us do those. Enter a “1” to install all the Operating System options.

For the Operating System, you are prompted for disk “X1.img”. After it reads the disk, you are prompted about which package to install. Press “1” and you are given a list of the packages. Simply enter “ALL” at the prompt to install all of the listed packages. You will be prompted for disks “X1.img”, “X2.img”, “X3.img”, “X4.img”, “X5.img”, “X6.img” and “X7.img”.

You are then prompted about the system only containing a root filesystem. Press “y” and enter. Enter a password for “backup” as well as “sysadm”. You are then prompted to enter information about terminfo. You can simply answer “n” and enter. You are then prompted for disk “N2.img”, “N4.img” and “N5.img”. A prompt is then shown for the Link Kit Serial Number and Activation Number. Enter the two numbers as listed before for the Operating System. Insert disk “N6.img”

Now, you are back at the menu to install the Operating System Packages. Enter “6” to select a new set to install. The next set is the Development System. Press “2” and then enter. You are asked to insert “D1.img”. Enter “1” to install one or more packages. Enter “ALL” to install all the Development Software System. The disks from “D1.img” to “D6.img” are required. You will then be prompted for the Serial Number and Activation Number for the Development System. Enter for the Serial Number: “sco005715” and the Activation Number should be “eyxtnkko”. Enter “q” and enter when prompted about “termcap” and then select image “N5.img” and then “N6.img” in the Floppy Device.

Next you should be prompted for the Package installer for the Software Development. Enter “6” again to go back to the main menu. Now, enter a “4” to add another supported package. You will be prompted to insert the disk with the installable data. Change the Floppy Device to “G1.img”. Enter a “1” to see a listing of the contents of the Games Package. Enter “ALL” to install all the listed packages. When done, enter “q” to quit the installation process and restart the system.

Everything should be installed and you now have a Xenix system with all the added features as well as games.

After the system boots up and you press enter at the boot screen, you need to press CONTROL-D to continue with a normal startup. At the login prompt, enter “root” and type the root password you created during the install.

You are now in a fully operational Xenix system as shown in Figure 2. Enjoy.

Figure 2.jpg



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New Member
Mar 18, 2019
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Before I read Linus's email announcing Linux, I was using a IBM Turbo XT with both a V20, and a 8087-3, with two hard disks. ( a CMI-6426, ) with an OMTI RLL Controller, which I was assured would work with XENIX x68 v2.1.3.

It all worked to a degree: I put the swap space on the second disk, and hit the BIOS keys to bring the bus speed up to 10Mhz, and formatted the disks to 30MB, ( ran the bad track allocation twice ), and installed the Basic system, the extended utilities, and the development system.

I was able to work my way thought K&R with relative ease, using the Lattus C Compiler on DOS, and the Microsoft C Compiler under XENIX.

I was not warned about disk full problems. We were able to compile rogue from sources, and it wan fine,
However when we tried to compile hack... the system halted, rebooted, and refused to boot. It has trashed both the root file system (/) the user file system (/usr) and we had made a (/rec) recovery file system, but it had found and trashed that too.

We were learning about exiting gracefully, the hard way.

Fast forward 32 or so years, and I come upon XENIX x86. I still have a copy of the Manuals for both the run time and development system, except for the install manual...

I now have two working dual floppy drives ( 1.44 and 1.2Mb) and a supply of 1.44Mb disks, and a box of 1.2Mb disks, ).

Now with a raw write program, I should be able to make disks from the images, but I would like to know what is on them and where... ( with the exception of N2, I know the file system is on there... ){ And the other exception is that XENIX requires perfect medium... no bad blocks on the floppies...)

For some reason, I am now editing a page @ MIT, for computer history, because It seems that my knowledge of this system is quite extensive, despite only having used it successfully for less than a year, When we bombed it, just to be sure, I reloaded everything, and compiled it again, and sure enough, disk full errors during compilation will result in XENIX not exiting gracefully.

All the sources I have looked for the install manual, page 11-12 are missing. These are the pages that contain the location of the files of the tars for each installed file. Pages 13-14 list the last 5 disks.

What command under Linux was used to list the tars on the distribution floppies, and will it work on a virtualized set of floppies, say in a browser window?


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Mar 18, 2019
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A few other notes: We could never find the text processing system.

I never had any problems with the Nec V20 Chip which ran a bit hotter at 10Mhz, nor the 8087-3.
XENIX ran no faster with the Math co-processor, but Lotus 1-2-3 did run a but faster, and Turbo Pascal 3.02 ran significantly faster.

The system had a full 640k of memory, as well as a Hercules card, which was able to run Windows. ( X-11 on Xenix? No. I do not think even now... )

The MFM drives, the CMI and the Seagate ST-225, formatted with the OMTI controllers, only had one additional bad sector formatting them with RLL encoding, and it did increase the capacity from 21Mb to 32, and from 20 to 30.

with /swap and /usr on the Seagate, and running at 10Mhz, it both booted and ran faster at 10Mhz, then a 6Mhz AT, and kept up with a 8Mhz, AT.
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