Summary - PCs and UNIX

Dan Jacobson DANJ at JHUHYG.bitnet
Mon Dec 9 10:26:21 EST 1991

Many thanks to all those who replied to my PC - UNIX post.  It is now time to
post a summary of the replies.  After reading the replies I have decided not to
go with MINIX but will instead consider several other options.

Best wishes,

Dan Jacobson

danj at (internet)
danj at jhuhyg             (bitnet)

======================================================================== 26

     I don't know much about small, cheap Unix variants either, but you
should also have a look at Coherent by the Mark Williams Company.  Dave
Tinker (dtinker at runs Coherent on his home system, having
tried and rejected Minix.  Send him a note and ask him why he did that;
I think you'll find his reply interesting.


                                Marc R. Roussel
                                mroussel at
z mroussel alchemy 12/03/91
'Marc Roussel        DANJ at JHUHYG         12/03/91*PCs and UNIX
======================================================================== 43

Dan Jacobson --

(1) Minix is not available for cost: it costs $169 and is a commercial
(though inexpensive) product from Prentice-Hall.

(2) PHYLIP will be in next release (winter) available in C as well as
Pascal and thus should be recompilable under Minix.  Many other programs
that are available in C source would also be available, such as CLUSTAL.

(3) The Minix C compiler I believe does not allow floating point numbers,
but for 386es there is supposed to be GNU C available that does.

(4) I am not clear on whether one can do TCP/IP (Ethernet) networking with
Minix.  It has some sort of networking but I'm not sure if this allows
Internet connection.

Joe Felsenstein, Dept. of Genetics, Univ. of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195
 Internet:         joe at     (IP No.
 Bitnet/EARN:      felsenst at uwavm
 UUCP:             ... uw-beaver!evolution.genetics!joe

z joe genetics 12/03/91
'Joe Felsenstein     Dan Jacobson        12/03/91*PCs and UNIX
======================================================================== 75

   As a fellow bio/compu/hacker/etc with interests in the PC, Mac, VMS, and
unix world, I thought I'd pass on my thoughts about your request for info on
MINIX/unix/*nix for the PC.
   I've been following the MINIX feed for a few months, thinking much the
same as you, that MINIX would be an ideal way to get a unix system for the PC
on which to port all this wonderful biosoftware, but have come to the
conclusion that it's not quite worth the trouble right now.  For the
following reasons:
   Minix, as it is distributed from Prentice-Hall, is basically a learning
tool that was meant to run on a PC to teach OS classes.  As distributed, it
only supports the basic 8086 instruction set and the limitations therein,
most importantly for you and me, it only allows 64k of program/64K of data.
There is a 386 hack that is freely distributed and supported by the author
over the NET but to implement it, you'd better have a pretty good background
in OS's, device drivers, etc, all implemted in C (because that's the only
compiler that's available for it.  I have read that the 32bit version of the
FSF's GNU compiler is available for it, but even that doesn't support a
floating point chip yet.  Minix is available for the Mac (without the memory
constraints of the PC version (and also the Atari, I believe)), but you asked
about the PC version.
   If you do get the 386 version running (assuming you write your own HD
driver, video driver, etc (unless they're one of the few supported), and you
do like a good hack, Minix definitely is worth looking at - there is a
downloadable demo available from several minix archives, although the process
of making a bottable disk from it is something of a pain because minix uses
it's own file structure (oh yes, unless you are a godlike programmer, I don't
believe that you can get DOS to run 'on' minix - minix uses its own file
structure and thus requires it's own partition, which is another whole problem
of how to exchange data back and forth, how to switch boot partitions smoothly,
   The advantage of minix is that the source code is all there - if you don't
like the way the system works, change it.  BUT, You have to change it.  <so
if you're doing it for fun, go ahead, but if you want to get a lot of bio sw
running, you're in for a long haul.
    There has been some rumbling about UC Berkeley releasing a completely ATT
code-free and therfore freely distributable implementation of 386 unix in the
'not too distant future' (I believe there was a series about it in Dr Dobbs
about 4 months ago) but you know about vapourware....
   There's also another product called Coherent that is more or less like
minix, but you don't get the source and it shares minix's 64k+64K limitation.
 As far as I know, there is not a 386 version of it.
   If you really want to get a 386 or 486 system up and running a unix
version, buy a good mail order PC, load it up with min 8 megs memory, unix
certified, and buy a commercial unix (I believe ESIX is among the cheapest
(Everex subsidiary), SCO probably the best supported right now, Interactive is
going to be the base version for Sun's Solaris for the PC, etc) and get on with
   Certainly check out the minix archives at PLAINS.NODAK.EDU for more
info and check the appropriate USENET feeds before you make up your mind - let
me know what other info you got - I'm planning on a similar venture in the
next few months.

Harry Mangalam                                       Vox:(619) 453-4100, x360
Biocomputing                                               Fax:(619) 558-6207
Salk Institute                                     mangalam at
Box 85800                                          mangalam at
San Diego, CA, 92186-5800

z MANGALAM SALK-SC2 12/03/91
'MANGALAM at SALK-SC2.S DANJ at JHUHYG         12/03/91*[Resent-MM Mail]   PCs and UNI
======================================================================== 36


	I haven't had any personal experience with PC varieties
of UNIX, but I have asked others about it before.

	You get what you pay for, and MINIX is a great example.
It looks like UNIX, but if you are looking for true UNIX
productivity, you'll probably want to go with a complete version
of UNIX.  XENIX (and many others) will run true UNIX on 386's and
on up, and as far as I know they all support DOS (It's hard to
sell an OS for PCs that doesn't support DOS :).  If your budget
is highly constrained, MINIX may be all you can afford.  In that
case, I wouldn't pop for PC UNIX at all.  Otherwise, pick up
XENIX.  You'll be much happier.

Bryan Siegfried
Plant biology at UIUC
z bryans ux1 12/04/91
'B. Charles Siegfrie DANJ at jhuhyg         12/04/91*PCs and UNIX
======================================================================== 29

  We are running an "experimental" Unix on a 486/33 machine.  The
Unix runs as a server under Mach from CMU.  The unix implementation
on mach is quite nice.  It's the entire 4.3-reno distribution
reimplemented on the mach micro kernel.  Comes with X release 4.
They are soon to release color vga support (just mono now), a
DOS server, and NFS.  As far as compatibility, you must work with source
on the unix server.  The OS comes with the excellant gnu c compiler.
  To get mach, you need the appropriate licenses.  But, if you
have these, it's not expensive.  Contact your local computing

z andy frisbee 12/05/91
'Andy Wilcox         Dan Jacobson        12/05/91*PCs and UNIX
======================================================================== 33

Give NeXT a call at 1-800-848-6398 ask for brochures describing different
systems. Since you're educational inst. I assume you would get educat. pricing
- ball park: base system is about $3000. but I think realistically you need a
larger hard disk than the 105 that comes with this one and you need more RAM
(16 megs instead of the 8). So you are looking at about $5000 and if you add
the laser printer, which is very nice (400 dpi), the total is about $6200.
This is my recollection of pricing so check with NeXT. I would check out the newsgroups to get an idea who is using these machines and what
for - I know a number of molecular biologists, as I am, who use the NeXT.
If you have more questions just write
BTW: I am not financially assoc with NeXT just satisfied custumer.

z dadler u 12/06/91
'David A. Adler      Dan Jacobson        12/06/91 (response to message of Fri, 0
======================================================================== 71

>danj at
>I'm getting a new PC and posted a note asking for info about MINIX and other
>PC versions of UNIX, Marc suggested that I ask you (see appended message).
>Sooo .... tell me about (and what you think of) Coherent.
>Dan Jacobson

I was an early MINIX user in the Toronto area, and laboriously upgraded
to version 1.5 from patches and new sources posted on comp.os.minix.  The
major problem I had with it was the shortage of device drivers, especially
for hard drives:  MINIX was written for a true-blue IBM-PC (not even an XT!)
and to get it to work on anything else required a lot of sophistication and
hard work.  In the early days too, things like a tty driver, UUCP, cron, and
lots else were not there!  They came as ports posted in comp.os.minix, (and
god help you if you missed a posting there :-).  Eventually I got a new AT
clone, and found that the hard disk driver wouldn't run the RLL drive, so
I gave up in disgust.  But, I learned a heck of a lot from my MINIX days,
and if you like building and maintaining operating systems (and know, or
are willing to learn, how to do so), it's fun to use.  I also believe that
the latest distributions work a lot better 'out of the box'.

I got Coherent for Christmas last year, and installed it on the same AT
that MINIX had crashed on - then in a semi-retired condition.  Everything
was working in half an hour!!!  I got UUCP up and running and had mail
flowing by New Year's, and first thing I did back at work was to log in
from my office PC.  So, you can bet I was pleased!  Since then, I've got
lots of applications ported and running, but I've also found some that
could not be ported, due to the small model limit (programs must fit in

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