Not a creature! Part 2. Overview of Compaq ProLinea 4 / 25s Desktop PC as Novell Netware Client

In the first part of the article, we examined an entry-level server from the early 90s and installed the Novell NetWare 3.12 server OS on it. As promised, in the second part we will connect a client to the network based on a typical computer of the same years and try to work in a networked environment under MS-DOS.

I foresee the question – why MS-DOS, if OS / 2 and Windows 3.0 were already available? The answer is simple – most companies were still working in DOS – Windows was just gaining popularity, there were few applications for it, and OS / 2 was a system with much higher system requirements, especially for the amount of memory, which was very expensive at that time.

Our today’s “experimental” object is the Compaq ProLinea 4 / 25s desktop, a classic office computer of those years. A copy from the Digital Vintage collection was released at the end of 1993, when, on the one hand, the “very first” Pentium at 60 and 66 MHz already ruled, and on the other, most users were still working on 386 and 286 systems. Let’s get to know each other better?

The computer looks stern and business-like, but interesting at the same time. The embossings on the front panel are eye-catching and visually reduce the height of the already low-profile chassis. The color is classic beige, although the plastic has turned yellow over the years. Drive bays at least – one for a 3.5 ”drive, another for a 5.25” device – be it a floppy drive, CD-ROM or tape drive. There are also at least two controls – two indicators – power on and disk activity, and the power key is the same as on the Prosignia VS server from the previous article. Reset buttons are also not provided.

The rear panel is replete with connectors. A pair of PS / 2 for keyboard and mouse, two serial and one parallel ports, VGA video output from the integrated video card – all of them are located on the I / O panel of the motherboard, like in later ATX boards. Expansion cards are installed not in the slots of the motherboard, but in a separate riser board, in slang called a “tree”. The included 3Com NIC is installed in one of its slots.

The housing cover is fixed with three universal screws – for Torx, but with the possibility of using a regular “straight” screwdriver. After removing them, it is enough to slide the cover forward, and it will come off together with the plastic front panel. The stamp on the back of the cover allows the car to be dated fairly accurately to October 1993.

The layout is quite tight inside, especially on the right side, where the drives, power supply and memory are located. Access to memory is not very convenient – it is recommended to remove the storage unit, but in principle it is enough to unscrew the flexible plastic panel covering the modules.

The board is based on the VLSI VL82C486 / VL82C113A chipset with only ISA bus support, although VLB machines already existed at that time. Our copy is built on the basis of a junior processor in the 486 line – i486SX 25 MHz, without an integrated FPU, this is even reflected in the machine index.

The processor is soldered to the board and does not even carry a small heatsink – while the heat dissipation still allows it. There is an upgrade socket nearby – you can install more powerful processors, up to the i486DX2-66. The board integrates everything that is necessary for the computer to work, even 4 MB of RAM (and there are 4 more slots for installing 72-pin SIMM modules).

The storage interfaces are represented by a connector for drives and one IDE connector, implemented on the MultiIO PC87311AVF microcircuit. There is a video card – moreover, this is one of the best adapters of the era of DOS and early Windows – Tseng Labs ET4000 with 512 KB of video memory. But the sound and the network are installed as optional devices, and if the network card was included in the package for an office-oriented computer, then the sound in the office was not yet relevant.

A nice feature, quite rare for Compaq, is a full-fledged CMOS setup program, integrated into the firmware, and does not require a separate installation. There is even an autodetection of hard disk parameters. Thanks to this, the initial setup was quick and painless. I only had to solder the socket for the CR2032 battery instead of the soldered and ready-to-leak battery, since it fit perfectly. Later I noticed that the board has a connector for connecting an external battery …

Installing DOS and Netware Client

Installing DOS is as easy as shelling pears and takes less than 10 minutes – as a rule, only 3 out of 5 floppy disks are required (we use version 6.22). The main thing is to prepare an active and FAT-formatted partition. But with the client you have to tinker a little.

First, you will need drivers and a utility to configure the network card – Plug’n’Play is not here yet, the interrupt and port for the card will have to be set manually and remembered to be specified in the driver properties. If the card driver is not included in the list supplied with the client, it is easiest to install it with support for the NE2000 card and then specify the path to the driver in the startnet.bat network startup file.

So I did it on a virtual machine with which it is much more convenient to take screenshots (I will reveal a terrible secret – in order to make screenshots of Netware for the first part, I connected from the virtual machine to the server console and from there I already took screenshots). The card installed in ProLinea – 3Com 3C509 is listed, which simplifies installation.

If all the settings are correct and there are no hardware conflicts, then after restarting the network should work – the name of the available server will also be indicated. By default, one network drive will be connected, by default, the F: drive, it contains the main utilities for working with the server.

For convenience, let’s add a call to the LOGIN utility to log into the server. In order not to type each time the username and server name for connection (if there are several of them), you can immediately specify them. After a successful login, the F drive will change: – instead of it, a network folder with a large set of utilities available to the registered user will be connected. That is why it is better to register all possible connected paths in AUTOEXEC.BAT for easier invocation of utilities.

Jurassic automation

Now for a little magic. Let’s create an environment that provides access to applications on the server and automatically updates the launch menu. The magic is simple, but these are the very basics from which to create a comfortable environment for work.

First, let’s define the shell – for simplicity, we’ll use Volkov Commander. It allows you to create custom menus and is overall very user-friendly and lightweight. To make local conveniences available without a network, we will place it on the C: drive and add it to startup.

To automate basic actions, it is best to use Login Script – you can specify all the required commands in it. The script is assigned individually in the user settings in the Netware console, the script itself is edited from the server management utility SYSCON, but you can also template it for different users through the utility USERDEF

Let’s add basic things to the script – mounting a network drive and synchronizing files in the Volkov Commander menu. Menu files are edited with a simple text editor and have an intuitive syntax. In the examples provided, network-accessible applications, server management utilities (available when logged in with Supervisor privileges), and basic system utilities have been added to the menu.

Please note that # here does not denote a comment, but specifies the command execution mode.

Installing applications in DOS is also very simple – the system does not have a registry and all additional parameters, if necessary, are written in AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS – if there are applications on the server that require specifying special parameters, you will either need to write them on all network clients, or configure synchronization settings files.

To run most applications from the server, it is enough to install from one of the stations to a network folder and add them to the menu for convenience. As an example, I installed three popular applications – the word processor Word 6.0 for DOS, the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet editor, and the mathematical software MathCAD.

Server management

Among the applications available in the menu are utilities for managing the Netware server. Let’s consider the main ones.

SYSCON – a utility for managing users and rights, this is where you can register Login Script, set quotas and access rights. Everything is very flexible – it was with Netware that the developers of Windows NT took an example, creating a system for managing file access rights.

FCONSOLE – a utility that allows you to perform basic actions with the file server: change the time and date, send a message to users, shut down the server OS.

RCONSOLE – an analogue of an SSH client, allows you to connect to the server console. The most important utility for server management along with SYSCON.

FILER – utility for managing the rights to files and folders. Runs directly from the network directory with which you plan to work.

SALVAGE – utility for recovering deleted files, an advanced analogue of the modern recycle bin.

USERDEF – a utility for customizing user settings.

VOLINFO and WHOAMI – the simplest utilities displaying data on the state of network drives and the current user, respectively.

The utilities are surprisingly easy to use, in most cases they are intuitive and quite functional. This makes the server easy to manage and resilient enough even to administrator errors.

One of the popular uses of Netware has been the creation of diskless workstations. BootROM of many network cards allowed DOS to be booted from a Netware server, and Windows until the latest 3.x releases of the line was comfortable with installing on a network drive.

The popularity of such systems passed with the release of Windows 95 – for its loading, the performance of 10 Mbps networks became insufficient, and 100 Mbps networks were still too expensive. Over time, thin clients have replaced diskless stations as terminal access services have evolved.

The system also had disadvantages. A small set of additional software for the system, however, the main things were available, for example, the Btrieve DBMS. Emphasis on the legacy IPX protocol and complex TCP / IP handling. Weak functionality of directory services. And much more.

But with the release of new versions, these shortcomings were eliminated, only the beginning of a certain moment Windows NT Server began to develop faster and won the competition. But it all started with Novell’s delay in creating a client for Windows NT Workstation …

The client was eventually written by Microsoft itself and was very popular. But the software giant was no longer going to abandon the development of its server product.

Conclusion

After the release of Netware 4.0, Novell held the leading position among corporate network operating systems for several years, but by 1997-1998 it still lost to Windows NT 4.0 – the latter provided a familiar desktop environment, much better hardware support.

Services that were not available in the Netware environment also evolved – a web server, graphical terminal access services, and much more. Novell resisted until the early 2000s – with the release of Netware 6.0, the transition to Unix began, the system became limitedly POSIX-compatible, and some Unix applications were ported.

Version 6.5 was the last version of Netware, in 2003 there was an Open Enterprise Server based on SLES. Until 2008, the development of systems proceeded in parallel, it was possible to choose to run the same services on both the Netware kernel and the Linux kernel, but since 2009 SLES / OES has become the only option available. The product is being developed and supported to this day, but it cannot boast of a share of the popularity of its progenitor.

The very same Netware today is mainly of historical value, although for sure somewhere there will be a combat network based on it. It is especially interesting because it represents, together with OS / 2 and BeOS, a separate path of development of operating systems, different from the most popular Unix-like OS and Windows.

This concludes my story, I hope you were interested. And someone, perhaps, has a flood of memories of the times when there was a little more romance in IT (and don’t say that there is no more romance!).

Until next time, I have many more interesting topics for the story!

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