Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor (kistaro) wrote,
Kistaro Windrider, Reptillian Situation Assessor

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Three Operating Systems in Four Minutes

So, my father got a new computer. It's a Toshiba monstrosity that's got this wide-screen 17-inch monitor, and pushes the definition of "portable" for that reason. It's rather high-spec, and it's my father's first real experience with Windows XP. Among other things, it's completely broken compatibility with his version control software, built on OS/2; Windows isn't keeping OS/2 compatibility anymore.

He installed Virtual PC 2004 (40-day demo), and tried to get OS/2 working under this emulation. He promptly discovered that it is difficult to boot from floppy diskettes- even with a system designed for it by using floppy diskette images- when one does not have a floppy diskette drive. He tried to use it from a computer connected by the network, but drive A was just shown as an empty folder.

There are two computers in this house that run Linux: the one I'm typing on right now, and the seven-year-old monstrosity that I used before I got this machine. (And I've got a new computer on order- I'm sick of the tiny monitor and other problems this one has, so I'm getting a new main workstation. It won't replace this computer- it's a desktop, not a laptop- but it'll be my main machine. I had been budgeting for months for it, and then was informed a few days ago by my father that it was paid for due to my GPA 4.0 semester.) The old one has a tool none of the more recent computers- and certainly not this one- have: a floppy diskette drive.

So how to turn a floppy on that computer to a diskette image on that computer? Well, first, create a blank floppy from VirtualPC and look at the headers. It turns out there aren't any; the only magic number for the file is the file extension. It's just a raw bit-for-bit dump of the disk; no fancy formatting at all.

Linux has this nifty utility called "cat". It's short for "concatenate", but it's not what it's usually used for. It takes a file list and prints the files, with no divider characters, one after another to standard output. It's trivial code, but it's incredibly useful because, like in all *n?x systems, Linux supports output flow- I can reroute the standard output to a file rather than the display.

Another nice feature of Linux systems: devices, such as fd0 (floppy drive 0, the only one on the system), are considered to be files. Using an output device looks, to a program, like writing to a file; reading from an input device is the same.

cat /dev/fd0 > os2w4_B.vpf

That combined with the ability to copy the resulting files onto my father's USB-based flash drive was a solution to the disk-imaging problem. Worked perfectly.

I guess the part that I found really amusing about all of it: in the space of about four minutes, I used Linux to set up OS/2 installer disk images to be placed on a Windows XP machine. Multi-OS much?

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