Friday, April 1, 2011

OpenBSD on 32-bit SPARC in 2011

I’ve been going back and forth on whether to get rid of my Sun Sparcstation 20 and all of the hardware and software that goes with it.

Once I got the SS20 for $10 plus a nominal shipping fee (and it’s the shipping that’ll kill you) from eBay, I got it running with OpenBSD and Solaris 9. Yeah, it’s a 1995-era system, and even though SPARC is optimized for Unix in a way x86 will never be, there’s only so much you can do with a 50 MHz SPARC CPU and 256 MB of RAM.

Even though I have a boxed edition of Solaris 9 for SPARC (I paid $1 for it), I don’t have access to updates, so it’s basically a system that is preserved in digital amber circa 2003. Not much help. And I’m not crazy about Solaris.

Both a couple of years ago and today, NetBSD is pretty crashy on this particular SS20, so then as now, I turned to OpenBSD.

In a worrisome development, OpenBSD 4.8 and 4.9-current have problems booting that relate to the SCSI hard drive. It keeps throwing off errors of some kind that make booting an excruciatingly long process.

I had an OpenBSD 4.4 SPARC 32 disc lying around, and I used that to do a trouble-free install. I’m posting this entry from the console with the Lynx text-based web browser just to see if it works.

And if you are seeing this entry, it does.

I’m not crazy about being stuck back in time with OpenBSD 4.4. I don’t know at what point in its development OpenBSD started having these disk problems (with my particular system and disk, anyway). OpenBSD was the last OS to install and run well on this 1995-made box. If the project is leaving my SPARC hardware behind, it’s probably time to junk this heavy hunk of computer.

But it does run OpenBSD 4.4 so incredibly well — and I’ve never found a computer that wouldn’t run OpenBSD, which is more universal than The Universal Operating System in that regard.

But the Sparc 20’s SCSI disk problems that only manifest themselves in OpenBSD 4.7/4.8/4.9-current at this point (and I will go into detail on this in the near future) trouble me — Is it just my SS20, or the whole of 32-bit Sparc that’s dying without a modern OS to cling to?