[rescue] Catching up - Mach/Lunas, 2000Es, PPC/88k stuff

Francisco Javier Mesa-Martinez lefa at ucsc.edu
Mon Jun 23 04:09:02 CDT 2003

On Sun, 22 Jun 2003, Skeezics Boondoggle wrote:
> As the story goes, Unix source cost $100K in those days - far too rich at
> the time - and in fact, some of the suits (!?) wanted to sell the machine
> as a development platform - with *no OS*.  Right.  So they banged out a
> thing called POS - yeah, "Piece O' Shit" - that was a barebones shell that
> provided an almost DOS-like environment for loading programs and managing
> the filesystem.  When the light bulb clicked on and they realized "Gee,
> maybe we ought to include an operating system with this $30K computer"
> they marketed POS as the PERQ Operating System...

OK, the POS was the OS I was thinking of, I remember reading how it was
almost like a bootloader.

> Three Rivers Computer (later PERQ Systems Corp) also started working on
> MPOS, a multiprocessing version of POS, but that never really saw the
> light of day.  Another group ported something called "Flex" to the PERQ; I
> haven't been able to find out much of anything on that one.  In England in
> cooperation with ICL, Version 7 Unix was ported to the PERQ and given the
> most unforunate name - PNX, often pronounced "Peenix".  PNX was the first
> Unix, by the way, with windowing support hooks right in the kernel... it
> ran in under 128K of memory.

OK, ICL did market the PERQ in Europe, and I think they also developed the
last sort of PERQish computer, but by then it ws motorola based, not
bitsliced. Right. I think it was the Perq2/3 or some such.

> Under CMU's Accent, however, the PERQ had four environments - the native
> POS-like Accent shell, a System V environment called Qnix, a 4.2BSD
> environment called Spoonix (still under development at CMU), and the
> Common Lisp environment (which paged in its own microcode and ran your
> code under the 20-bit tagged instruction set optimized for Lisp).  All
> could be co-resident at the same time; all shared one common window
> manager, called SAPPHIRE.  (Yeah, that's an *acronym*:  the Screen
> Allocation Package Providing Helpful Icons in Rectangular Environments!)

So far this seems like the a hacker's wet dream machine.

> Wasn't the kernel called V?  Accent was one of a number of highly
> interesting research projects, along with Amoeba, Spring, Chorus, Sprite,
> V, Plan 9, and others - along with the explosion of new chip architectures
> in those days, OS research was in its heyday too... which makes the rise
> of the Wintel cartel even more depressing.

Yeah, it is really fascinating the amount of research produced in the 80s.
For my thesis I have had to read tons of papers, because for every idea I
had some obscure paper from the 80s sort of had the solution. Really
amazing. Actually it is more amazing if you look at late 50s early 60s
papers. Most of the ideas in computer science/architecture are rehashed
versions of most of the research results from that era. Fascinating,
because people forget about something so they reinvent it 20 years later
-of course under a different name- :).

CMU was a particularly rich place, specially since they had that 3M
workstation challenge (1MIPs, 1MB RAM, 1Mpixel machine). Which I think the
Perq was one of the results. All their OS stuff is really cool too...

> > I believe I may have access to one, one old coleage went to CMU and got
> > one of these critters. I saw it a few years ago, but i dunno if he still
> > has it after a couple of moves. But I remember he telling me how the
> I'd leap at the chance to get my hands on another surviving PERQ... the
> blackest day in all computing history was when CMU finally sold a batch of
> almost 300 machines to a junk dealer for about $5 each.  It just sickens
> me to think about that.  I get physically upset just typing those words.
> :-/

I think you understood my sentence wrong -or maybe I am the guilty part
for not writing it correctly- I was refering to an Omron Luna, not a Perq.
I actually saw a Perq in the early 80s when I was not even a conscious
human being, at a CAD expo my dad took me to with him back in the day.
This is when AutoCAD running on a 8086 non compatible machine was serious
stuff, and I remeber takin a plotter prinout of the columbia AutoCAD demo with
my name in one of the wings. I must have had my mouth wide open in awe for
like 20 minutes which is how long it took to one of those roland desktop
plotters to draw the damn thing. The perq I also remember because it had
windos, some thing that for some reason seemed neat to me -even though I was
not even old enough to know anything about computers much less even know how
to play anything on them- but for some reason it stuck. It also had a
weird shaped monitor, so that maybe another reason... a kid usually
perceives the world via geometric understanding... :).

Anyhow, I just find it interesting that there is someone who knows so much
about the Perq. I read some stuff on it by accident, when at a whim I
decided to learn more on bitsliced machines...

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