Many Systems on a PowerBook© Amit Singh. All Rights Reserved. Written in Mid 2003
The questions in this FAAQ (Frequently Asked and Anticipated Questions) are based on both actual questions that people send me, as well as those that I anticipate they will.
0. Why the $&*$*#$&^*#$ don't you have native Linux / FreeBSD/ NetBSD / VMS / Solaris / ... on you PowerBook?
I do not want to multiboot on real hardware. Oh, and some of these systems don't run natively on the PowerBook. For more details, see the answer to 9.
1. How much free time do you have?
None. I have said elsewhere that "... between my work and my interests (both of which overlap to a great extent), I actually have no free time."
What is free time? What is the implied freedom from? Do you have free time when you can do whatever you want, or do you have free time when you don't have anything to do?
I do wish I had more time though.
2. Why do you run all these systems?
I am very interested in operating systems. Much of my work is in this area as well. So, a simple answer is that I actually need to be able to run multiple systems. However, I do agree that nobody could seriously "need" so many systems. I can think of several reasons why to do so nevertheless:
- Whether this whole thing is frivolous or not depends on what you do. If you are researching in the area of operating systems, you can never have too many of them. One should ask why there are so many in the first place! Potentially you could benefit from having each one of them. Many of the systems might be old, but several problems they were trying to solve are still there. Just because an OS "failed" does not mean it had nothing good to offer.
- You don't need to hand-wave when you "think" of a particular system, talk about it, cite something about it, etc. You can always boot it right up and see/show what you are referring to.
- Do you realize the "power" 64+ bootable operating systems on a pocket size hard drive give you? Think of the concept as a cornucopia (some might say Pandora's Box!) of operating systems. It's the iPod of Operating Systems, although I believe one would feel better than how one felt when one first carried all one's music on an iPod (apologies to those who do not have an iPod, and to those who have more music than would fit on an iPod). OK, maybe I am embellishing too much ...
- I believe such an OS-laden portable disk is a valuable asset to any operating system researcher or hacker. It's an extension to having a high-quality library of books.
- Additionally, it's like an OS history book that's alive.
- Advances in emulator/virtual machine technology give you all the more reason to try such things today. Emulators let you do things that you couldn't (or wouldn't) do on real hardware!
- The "Geek Factor" in running so many systems is inescapable.
- I must admit that some systems I run are decidedly marked by unbecoming levity - I installed them for no justifiable reason.
3. How much time did it take you to get all these systems to install and run?
Not all that much, actually. I have used most of these over the years, so amortization is at work here, like, I was familiar with the installation and configuration of most systems before I installed them on the PowerBook. What's more, I had existing installations of many systems in many places. The actual installation on the PowerBook took less than a weekend (cumulatively).
4. Why are you obsessed with operating systems in the first place?
There's a short answer and a long one. The short answer is that "I don't know what to say to that".
The long answer has some background details that you should not care about. If you still would like to humor me, here goes: I got interested in operating systems out of spite. Let me explain >>>
5. Which x86 emulator do you think is the best?
I have been using both VMware and Bochs for a long time. In fact, I did most of the initial work on Solaris Virtualization while running Solaris under VMware. Since I switched to Apple, Virtual PC is my first choice, although I still use Bochs to run a couple of systems on the Mac that Virtual PC cannot!
Bochs is the most flexible (customizable) among the three, it's free, and of course it comes with source. Virtual PC is the least flexible, but it's still an excellent application, and the Mac version has many nice touches. I am thankful that it exists, because it would have been really hard to be without an x86 environment entirely, and I don't want to maintain multiple machines unless necessary.
6. Do you actually use all these systems?
I use quite a few, and foresee the need to run over half of them at some time or the other. Also see answer to 2.
7. What's your most favorite operating system?
I would rather say that my primary operating system is Mac OS X, but I only use it on my personal machines at home. I currently use Linux, FreeBSD and Windows at work, and many others at home.
8. What was the first operating system that you ever used?
System V Release 4. Also see the answer to 4.
9. Why don't you multiboot on real hardware?
I used to. In fact, while I was a student at IIT Delhi, I used to multiboot a large number of systems on my 486. I liked the idea so much that I even wrote an article for PC World (1997) titled The Ultimate Guide to Setting up a Multi-boot PC, that talked about " ... effective use of boot managers and other such software for convenient simultaneous residence of several UNIX-like operating systems on a PC, along with systems like Windows NT, Windows 95 and MS-DOS ...".
Given the quality of available emulators today, and given my current needs, I do not multiboot on real hardware. I only want my "main" operating system (Mac OS X) to run natively, because that's where I care about performance. Since I am using the other systems only for development, experimentation, and research, I am totally happy running them under an emulator. Moreover, the performance hit inherent with an emulator is offset to some extent by things you can do that you couldn't with real hardware (the use of various media images instead of actual media is much faster, you can take snapshots, debug in creative ways, etc.)
Of course, once in a while I do need to test things on real hardware. If you are writing a device driver for some specific (real) device, etc., your situation would be different.
10. Are you running some of these systems illegally?
11. What are the specs of your PowerBook?
It's a "revision B" 1.33 GHz G4 17" with 1 GB RAM.