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Rare Xenix spotted in the wild

© January 2006 Anthony Lawrence

I'm sure there are no breeding pairs left, but every now and then I hear of a Xenix machine still wheezing away in some small company. Yesterday I had an Ingenio call that began with the dreaded words "I'm working on a Xenix system".

My page at Ingenio gives fair warning about this:

I probably cannot help you with SCO Xenix! I used to do a lot of Xenix, but that was a long time ago and I have forgotten most of it.

Because people don't always read carefully, I made sure I said something like that right up front: Xenix was a long, long time ago and I've forgotten a lot. I'm willing to try, but you might not get good answers.

The caller wanted to proceed. Through Ingenio, he's paying by the minute, and it's not cheap ($5.00 a minute right now and I'm apt to raise it at any time). Fortunately, at least part of his problems weren't difficult and actually he almost could have just read High Speed Modems for SCO Unix , though Xenix's inittab is a little bit different. He had other problems though, and the machine needed constant rebooting - not a good situation at all.

Part way through this, he asked if he could arrange something where he wouldn't be paying by the minute.

Umm, well, yes, but.. it's not going to be cheap. I have various support plans that could be used for this, but the cheapest is $400.00, and while sometimes I'll answer a question or two for free, this wasn't one of those times.

I tend to be supply-side driven. That is, when I'm not busy, I'm more free with my time. If I'm in a slow period and you call me out of the blue, I might be willing to chat for quite a while and give lots of free help. But if you catch me when I'm up to my neck in work as I am right now, there's no freebies .

I was explaining that to a friend yesterday who said it ought to be the other way around: if I'm not busy, I must need money, so I shouldn't be giving away anything then. I disagree, though you might argue that consultants should never give away time and I'd tend to agree in general. But I do things my way, and that's my choice, right?

Anyway, I don't know if this Xenix machine will survive long. He said he had a clone of the drive, and I suggested shipping that off to a data recovery firm to be transferred to media he could read with a Linux or BSD machine more easily - though there are other ways to do this, and he could easily (though slowly) transfer files by uucp or other means.

It's possible he might be able to run his ancient SCO binaries under Linux or BSD, and although I think it would be a bad choice, he could also probably run them under a more modern SCO version.

Who knows if this is the last Xenix call I'll ever get? It could be; these old geezers have to be dwindling down to a very few running machines.

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-> Rare Xenix spotted in the wild


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More Articles by © Anthony Lawrence

Fri Jan 27 15:21:07 2006: 1571   BigDumbDInosaur

I finally "got rid" of my last Xenix box in early 2003. The company that was running on it had to switch due to intractable Y2K issues with a particlar app that was critical to their operation. Xenix itself was okay but the app on which they were depending could not be made Y2K compatible while running on Xenix due to some middleware that was involved. I offered them Linux or SCO, they took SCO. This was right before SCO started up with their "Linux stole our code" nonsense.

Fri Jan 27 16:02:59 2006: 1572   anonymous

I was the poor soul who called asking for advice on Xenix. I can only say this man is worth the money when your in a panic! I especially appreciated the help with syntax differences between xenix and modern Linux/bsd variants. I'm not the greatest with Nix's but I'm comfortable. The HDD should be hitting the data recovery soon. My employer posted the issue with the keyboard going flaky. We tried you suggestion but no avail. Thanks again your worth your weight in gold! Again stay away from Xenix the devil himself made it, while laughing whole heartedly

Fri Jan 27 16:15:15 2006: 1573   TonyLawrence

Ahh - flaky keyboard in Xenix. That's different, and that's why it's important to say what the OS is.

One thing I vaguely remember causing all sorts of weird problems in Xenix was lack of the SCSI disk patch - xnx316 - it's supposed to be for tapes, but I think I remember some odd console strangeness on systems without it.. this goes way, way back so I could be thinking of something else entirely.. but I'm pretty sure I recall this correctly.

I dunno where you'd find that supplement now if you need it.. and if your system is flaky for some other reason this could break it..

Oh - amazingly it's still at ftp://ftp.caldera.com/pub/SLS/ !!

Fri Jan 27 16:26:36 2006: 1574   TonyLawrence

Actually, you are dead right about the Devil - it was dear old Bill who brought this to us originally..

Thinking more about that supplement, I am 99% sure I remember flaky console behaviour on a scsi xenix system without that patch.. worth a try, perhaps.. if Bela happens to drop by this thread, he might have a better idea if I'm babbling or not, but I can almost picture the problem.

BTW, it might be good to give a real example of what "flaky" means in this case - specifics might let one of us spot the real problem.

Fri Jan 27 16:55:29 2006: 1576   anonymous

press the "r" button you get < press the "o" button get ^T space bar gives 19 weird things. Thanks for the help. I'm trying to terminal in from the serial port can type the username but no response with the enter key with passwd. I'm gonna try a better terminal app. I cant figure out how I would install a patch without getting on the box. Wow.

Sat Jan 28 01:04:06 2006: 1582   anonymous

what does cntrl-j stty sane cntrl-j get you?

Sat Jan 28 13:41:28 2006: 1585   anonymous

It runs without errors, but doesnt fix the problem:( I deleted the file as well. On tty1a I can type username hit enter then when I try the passwd it doesnt respond when I hit enter. Why ami using tty1a its the only port that would let me see anything. Same reason I'm using a 486 33mhz laptop I cant get 2 comps near each other here and it has a serial port. Works fine on my sun box and cisco router. My employer is shipping the hdd soon, but she still has stuff she needs from the box to continue to do work in the interem. I appreciate all tyhe help you guys rock!

Fri Jan 23 04:17:14 2009: 5235   MichaelB

I work at a small company that runs some older Wegener Communications satellite uplinks. The system that remotely controls the receivers over the sat link is Wegeners old ANCS system - and it runs on SCO Xenix 386 v2.3.4 (with SCO Y2K patch). It's ancient but we still have two boxes running it and it's amazingly reliable. It installs on a 400 megabyte hard drive. Finding older hardware to replace failed units is becoming a challenge but, being one to hoard old stuff, so far so good. Cloning hard drives to newer units is also a real bugger but if one can rember a couple little tricks...
I suppose the next crisis will be the 2038 problem but, being an old guy, I'll likely be gone by then.

Fri Jan 23 12:23:55 2009: 5237   TonyLawrence

Ow.. that's hard to even read about. Good luck!

Sun Dec 26 14:12:45 2010: 9182   MikeWest


I have been using compact flash to replace the older small hard drives in xenix systems. I work in the bowling industry and there are still a lot of xenix systems out there. I do this for the customers who don't want to port over to open server. The oldest box I have done this to was a wise 386 a year ago in Ky. I have a total of four machines with compact flash running xenix.

Mike West

Tue Aug 9 12:38:06 2011: 9680   TonyLawrence


I received this today from Johnny McManus:

Hi Tony, This is a shot in the dark, but I have a client that asked me to look at their receptionist computer recently. Much to my amazement, this computer is a 16 Year old Intel 386 running some dental records software on Xenix. No parts have ever failed on this machine. I have informed the owner of the company that he has a ticking time bomb on his hands. Three Questions if you can spare any more of your time: 1. The hard drive is IDE. Can I clone it to a new drive with a program like acronis? 2. Is there anyone in the field that can do Xenix to Linix data conversion? 3. Can Xenix be virtualized? My sincerest gratitude for any direction you can offer. BTW: Rare Xenix Spotted in the Wild = Hilarious. I thought it was just a coincidence when I saw this within the Google search results Johnny

I have seen people say they have virtualized Xenix: (link)

I would think that would be the best solution if you can't easily replace the software.

Tue Aug 9 14:23:48 2011: 9681   BigDumbDinosaur


Much to my amazement, this computer is a 16 Year old Intel 386 running some dental records software on Xenix.

"Amazement" doesn't adequately describe this. How in blue blazes can the hard disk still be operable after all those years???

On a similar tack, there was once an insurance agency vertical app called Redshaw which originally ran on Wang MVP hardware (think really strange BASIC with a Commodore VIC-20 "operating system") and was then ported first to Xenix and then SCO UNIX 3.2, using the KCML interpreter that implemented Wang BASIC in UNIX. I have a client who was running on that software from the mid-1980s (starting on the Wang box) and then on SCO, using a 486DX box. The 486 box was continuously run from 1993 to mid-2001, at which time I moved them to OpenServer 5 (the KCML interpreter ran okay under OSR5). They then ran Redshaw for another four years before switching to Instar (Windows-based, but hosted on a Linux server).

When I moved them to Linux, we copied the most recent Redshaw data files back to the old 486 box so they had the historical data on hand, as required by state insurance laws. As the switch to Instar was made in 2005, the old Redshaw box could be scrapped in 2012. When the time came to consign its remains to the scrap bin, I'd wipe the disk and send the guts off to the recycler.

It didn't work out that way. Late last year, the old box died when the disk finally went kaput. This disk was a narrow Seagate Barracuda SCSI type and it so happened I had two such drives in my "slightly used" inventory, one of which came out of my office server from back when it was on the old UNIX. We had two tapes (150 MB QIC-02 cartridges -- remember those, Tony?) with copies of Redshaw on them, so it would have been possible to restore a working environment.

So I did all that, got the box running again, only to have the power supply conk out a few months later. Now, being a 486 box, it had an AT (not ATX) power supply, so good luck finding a replacement. In addition to scouring eBay, I spent probably most of one day on the horn trying to track down one, but to no avail. Finally, I told them I could take a crack at fixing the old power supply, but that would be time and material charges. I figured they would say "to hell with it" but I was given the go-ahead and was able to revive the power supply.

Despite its best efforts to die and be buried, the old box will live on until next year, at which time it can finally go on Social Security and Medicare. I can't wait for next year to come so I can junk this thing, hopefully before something else goes on the fritz with it, like its ancient Adaptec VESA local bus host adapter -- just try finding one of those!

Tue Jul 16 19:45:47 2013: 12233   anonymous


I am still running xenix in a P4(new). So who said xenix is dead as of jul 16 2013. Virtualisation works but i am not running xenix that way


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