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2021-09-29 - On the Sun

Where    : Dining Table
Computer : Sun Blade 100
Music    : Nothing
Weather  : Too warm for nearly October!

I recently bought a Sun Blade 100, which I'm currently using to write this. It's a 2001 vintage UNIX workstation on which I've installed Solaris 8. It has a 500MhZ UltraSparc IIe processor, 512Mb of RAM, and 120GB of IDE SSD thanks to a SATA->PATA adapter. This was Sun's lowest end Sparc workstation in 2001-03. It's fairly cheap to get hold of compared to other Suns, and uses an ATX PSU, IDE drives, and standard D-SUB video connector - which is handy if you don't want to spend a lot accumulating non-standard-PC things. As a bonus it has dark grey plastics which don't yellow like crazy, as the closely related but slightly older Ultra 5 and 10 do.

This particular vein of nostalgia comes from my first year of university. We had a one computer lab, "The Blue Room", which was equipped with Sun and SGI systems. If you were happy in a UNIX terminal it was always easy to get one of these machines. The green, yellow, and red rooms were generally busy as they contained Windows and Linux machines that people were more comfortable with.

All the Sun machines in the CS department were named after cartoon cats, of which our UNIX sysadmin was a fan. She was generally spotted in a black leather trench coat and a bagpuss cat backpack, if at all. The Suns were mainly used to host database and web servers and things for courses, though you could use them in person if you wanted. The SGIs ran things like the coursework submission system. At the time the central University IT was all SGI. If you used a Windows computer lab your file space was mounted from an SGI building server. I was involved in the student union web team, and IT hosted our Slackware server, so I got to see all of this stuff in all its glory in the machine room.

In my second year the CS department moved, absorbed into the School of Engineering. All of the department's old Sun and SGI stuff dissappeared, except for a failed attempt to repurpose the Sun Ultras as Linux machines. I ended up buying some SparcStations and an SGI Indy from eBay to mess around with for fun. Later I had a locally procured Sun Ultra 10 as my own 'PC' for a few months. No Solaris, though. It ran Debian.

I sold my Sun and SGI machines to a friend as I went into postgraduate studies and lacked time / interest to fiddle with them. At the time I think I got no more than 15 GBP for each machine. They really were considered to be some obscure junk. If I still had them today they'd be worth $100s. Such is technology. Starts off expensive, becomes worthless junk, then if you wait long enough it's rare and collectable!

Anyway, I had a hankering for an old-ish system to mess around with again, and a Sun Blade seemed to be old enough, but not too old for my wallet. I've pieced together a working Type 6 USB Sun keyboard and mouse to go with it, and it runs great apart from a flat NVRAM battery.

Surprisingly I can remember much more of Solaris 8 and CDE than I though I did. Also, some crazy person is building recent OpenSSH, OpenSSL and some GNU utilities for Solaris 8. This makes it actually possible to get to internet places without need a Raspberry Pi jump box etc. Thanks TGC, whomever and wherever you are :-)


Netscape 4.7 that comes with Solaris is useless for the modern web, but being an old browser it does work for Gopher, so perhaps I'll peruse Gopherspace a bit more, and even write more here too.

Is anyone else using an old Sun or SGI to browse?


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