[rescue] using a SparcClassic X for its intended purpose

Skeezics Boondoggle skeezics at q7.com
Fri Jan 24 11:28:44 CST 2003

On Fri, 24 Jan 2003, Clayton Wheeler wrote:

> A bit of reading revealed three approaches. Xkernel was apparently a 
> special kernel with an X server lumped in, but only for sun4 and sun4c 
> machines. 

Actually, Xkernel wasn't that "special".  It consisted of a SunOS4 kernel,
the X server, and a small shell script that replaced "init" to configure
the interface and start up the X server.  It really was that simple, and
because there was nothing else running it was surprisingly zippy, even on
a Sparc 1+ with only 12-16MB of memory.

Because it was, essentially, just a normal diskless client, you could
probably even configure a swap device on the server if you wanted, but
waiting for your X terminal to swap over a 10 meg unswitched Ethernet is
like watching carpet rot. :-)  At login, you'd be presented with the xdm
window; pick a host, log in, and away you go...

We built ours from a stripped down SunOS4.1.4 kernel, yanking out
*everything* that wasn't needed. We got it down to less than a meg, as I
recall, which left the X server with a good amount of RAM to work with;  
nowadays you'd probably want to stuff more memory in there to handle
pathological X clients like Netscape... We even tried to get a remote
audio interface working, but never succeeded and didn't have time to
properly debug it, so you save a little more memory by stripping out the
audio drivers.  The last batch I built was on Classics, and I even did a
SPARC 4 once.  If it runs SunOS 4, you can make an Xkernel box out of it.

For grins, I even did a similar configuration for NeXTstep 3.3. Pulled the
disk from a Color Slab and booted it off my Cube, configured the 'me'
account to run X in full-screen mode without DPS.  It was sort of gritty,
but fast if you didn't use the double-buffering and compositing that DPS
does to make things smooth... I did it as a proof-of-concept for some
friends that were setting up a cybercafe, and used NeXT boxes were *way*
cheap back then - and what would be cooler than sucking back espresso
shots and noshing on bagels while casually flirting with the cute geekgrrl
next to you in a room full of sleek black NeXT terminals? :-)

-- Chris

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