in 91 and 92, home computing meant a bare 386 motherboard dangling from a wire shelf on hooks through two of its corner mounting holes, with cables running down to a hard disk, monitor, keyboard, and mouse sitting on the shelf below. it was still running windows, but the idea was to get it onto unix. work computers were dec and sun boxes running unix, and it was simply natural to have something similar at home.

from studying the situation on usenet, the main options seemed to be ibm xenix, or possibly the minix ‘open spinoff’ from that. there were rumblings about bsd, but they were hard to interpret, let alone act on. meanwhile, in an office in the botany building, there happened to be a seemingly complete ibm xenix package, as seen in the photos link above.

would it have been possible to install that xenix distribution? or focus on minix and get it working?

hard to say, because something new suddenly appeared in the usenet discussions. this was spring or summer 92. the basic message was that yes indeed people were asking these same questions, and someone had done something decisive about it.

it was now possible to create two diskettes, a boot diskette, and a root filesystem diskette. then use a hex editor on the boot diskette to configure it for particular hardware.

and then boot the 386 into unix.

it all worked, first try. used the hard 3.5 inch diskettes. the walk over to painter hall from mrs zively’s house north of campus was hot. but well worth it since there was a lab there with the necessary hex editor for the boot diskette. will never forget that walk, and the feeling when that 386 first booted unix.