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Thread: History behind the disk images of AT&T UNIX System V Release 4 Version 2.1 for 386?

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    Default History behind the disk images of AT&T UNIX System V Release 4 Version 2.1 for 386?

    I'm curious as to the origins of the AT&T UNIX System V Release 4 Version 2.1 binaries and source code that are floating around the internet. From what I've read, all System V UNIX releases were sold by vendors and AT&T never released their own version. Is this incorrect? My understanding was that to obtain a UNIX OS in the 80s and early 90s, one would need to get a compiled version from a vendor, such as HP-UX, AIX, Solaris/SunOS, etc. These companies would license SVR4 and then release their own versions--usually on their own hardware.

    Given this, I wanted to find an early version of UNIX that ran on x86 and had little modifications done to it by the vendor. This lead me to searching for Dell UNIX, which I've read had very little, if any, changes made by Dell and was used as the reference UNIX implementation by Intel. However, much to my surprise during this search, I found YouTube videos of AT&T UNIX System V Release 4 Version 2.1 OS running on a white box 386. From the video, there was no vendor branding at all nor any copyright messages of another vendor, so it would be appear to be as pure a SysV R4 system as one can get. The source and RAW floppy images are even available from abandonware archives.

    Where did this version come from and what is the history behind it? When did it become available? Was it the version sent to vendors prior to them taking it for their customizations? An internal AT&T build? Was it intended for any particular PC or set of PCs? I've seen no mention of this release in any wikis nor in magazine articles, so I'm curious where this release came from and when it came out.

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    Quote Originally Posted by atdt916 View Post
    From what I've read, all System V UNIX releases were sold by vendors and AT&T never released their own version. Is this incorrect?
    It has to be. It's certainly not true for the 3B2 (the SVR3 & 4 base development platform). I don't believe it's true for the WGS/386 release considering this is a photo I just took:

    svr3-386.jpg
    "Good engineers keep thick authoritative books on their shelf. Not for their own reference, but to throw at people who ask stupid questions; hoping a small fragment of knowledge will osmotically transfer with each cranial impact." - Me

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    Quote Originally Posted by eeguru View Post
    It has to be. It's certainly not true for the 3B2 (the SVR3 & 4 base development platform). I don't believe it's true for the WGS/386 release considering this is a photo I just took:
    Yes - we ran a bunch of AT&T WGS386's as point-of-sale systems, and we had AT&T branded UNIX media for them that looked just like this photo. I may even have some meda someplace...

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    I was under the impression that the standard AT&T release medium for SVR4 and preceding was 9-track magnetic tape. It certainly was the case with System III.

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    Quote Originally Posted by atdt916 View Post
    From what I've read, all System V UNIX releases were sold by vendors and AT&T never released their own version. Is this incorrect? My understanding was that to obtain a UNIX OS in the 80s and early 90s, one would need to get a compiled version from a vendor
    It gets very confusing for 80386 System V because there are AT&T SVrX releases, and System V/386 releases, which I think were all based on SVr3 and the port may have been done by Interactive Systems.
    I saw some language in the V/386 r 3.1 documents I just scanned which said the device drivers were from IS.

    I also thought the reference platform was VAX up until SVr4, where they switched to ATT 3B2.

    I tried to make sense of it as I was trying to dig up the documentation for the various System V releases, and never really did.

    There is probably a real history for it, somewhere..

    There was a source release for 386 unix on cartridge tape. I got excited when a copy showed up on eBay. When I got it I discovered that the support floppies were
    there, but the cartridge tape was missing from the slip case. I also just bought a copy of 386Vr3.1 and the first two disks of the base system and tools weren't there.

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by Al Kossow View Post
    There was a source release for 386 unix on cartridge tape. I got excited when a copy showed up on eBay. When I got it I discovered that the support floppies were there, but the cartridge tape was missing from the slip case. I also just bought a copy of 386Vr3.1 and the first two disks of the base system and tools weren't there.
    Hm. I have a QIC-only copy of "System V/386 Release 3.2u Version 2.1". I've been trying to find the support floppies to match for ages.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by eeguru View Post
    It has to be. It's certainly not true for the 3B2 (the SVR3 & 4 base development platform). I don't believe it's true for the WGS/386 release considering this is a photo I just took:

    svr3-386.jpg
    Ah, very cool, thank you! So it would appear then that these Release 4 Version 2.1 disk images likely originate from being included with one such system. This past weekend I had spent a lot of time diving into the history of UNIX and tracing the release lineage of the various versions. It's a shame that these releases are not as popular as I think they should be. Either that, or I've simply been looking in the wrong places these past 48 hours. In my opinion, having an AT&T SVR4v2.1 release included with an AT&T branded x86 system, especially one with a 386, in a single combined package represents the canonical starting point of the UNIX/Linux world as it exists today.

    I've done some quick Googling a bit today and found various blog posts, forum posts (including here!) and other resources that detail these AT&T 6386 systems. I'll need to dive in and check these all out. These two links are interesting, but looks like the systems are running DOS instead of UNIX:

    AT&T 6386SX/EL WGS
    https://www.vogons.org/viewtopic.php?f=46&t=47732

    The AT&T PC 6386 WGS
    http://0xea.blogspot.com/2013/11/the...-6386-wgs.html

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by ScutBoy View Post
    Yes - we ran a bunch of AT&T WGS386's as point-of-sale systems, and we had AT&T branded UNIX media for them that looked just like this photo. I may even have some meda someplace...
    Would you happen to know how these systems were purchased? For example, were they direct ordered from AT&T or via reseller? I'm curious as to the cost and distribution of these systems.

    My next foray into this topic will probably include checking out mid-80s magazines to find mentions of either this WGS 386 system and/or direct AT&T releases of SVR4. I'm really curious why this combination of hardware and software was not so popular, particularly in the workstation market. With the release of the 386SX, I would think an AT&T UNIX system should have been able to significantly undercut HP-UX and Sun system costs at the time. But then again, that just may be me looking back at the past with today's lenses and there may not have been any "killer" application for a UNIX x86 system. After all, it is a relatively recent development that *nix systems broke into the mainstream with Android and Mac OS. Not to mention, the Wintel juggernaut would have just been around the corner at this time.

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    AFAIK, AT&T created Microport company in 1985 to promote SystemV port to as many architectures as possible
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microport
    There was own Microport UNIX for i386 architecture and seems they licensed AT&T code to other vendors.

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    Quote Originally Posted by atdt916 View Post
    Would you happen to know how these systems were purchased? For example, were they direct ordered from AT&T or via reseller? I'm curious as to the cost and distribution of these systems.
    Hmm - I'm that's a good question; I know we had a dedicated sales rep for these, but don't know if we he worked directly for AT&T or for a reseller. When I started, the company had 3B1/UNIXPCs in the stores with terminals attached for the point-of-sale, and a 3B2/600 as the back end system at headquarters. These were all upgraded to the 386 systems in the stores, with a dual-486 StarServer/E at the back end. The original 3B* systems and then the x86 stuff all came through the same salesman.

    I looked at your links, and the AT&T branded 386 machines we had look different than the two you call out. I'll see if I can find a photo of what we ran. All ours also had QIC tape drives for backups.

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