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Last update 13 June 2001



(or why would someone want three or four operating systems anyway?)

Motive 1: I am old-fashioned and do not like to be forced to click my way through my work

During my career (I am a hydrogeologist) I have used a variety of computers and operating systems, each with their pros and cons: an HP41CX "computer" (ahem - terminology by HP), Control Data Corporation Cyber 170 mainframes, CDC Cyber 205 and Cray vector computers, and the in university environments unavoidable PDP's and VAXes running Unix or VMS. When I first touched a keyboard around 1982, PC's were no issue: they simply could not beat (and probably even now would hardly be able to beat) Control Data's Fortran 77 compilers (at least regarding speed). In contrast to today's 32 bit operating systems, in the early eighties CDC Cybers already used 60 or even 64 bit "words" - and that is without taking into account 6 or 8 parity bits.

Those old-fashioned, super-fast but user-hostile mainframe operating systems forced one to learn to think ahead: You had to think about how to set up a proper batch job with optimized program options, taking into account limited resources. One mistake could often mean a spoiled day, considering that many large batch jobs could only be ran at night time when "interactive" sessions on remote dumb terminals would not dominate CPU and memory resources of the mainframes. After you sent your batch jobs, you went back to your desk to get other useful work done. Next day by noon, hopefully the output of your jobs would have been printed at the computer office some buildings away, so you would use your daily after-lunch stroll to pick it up there. If you were unlucky, job output would comprise the first page stating "fatal error" and "job aborted" somewhere, and the next 100 or so pages would consist of the then inevitable "post-mortem memory dump" (in octal, probably only legible for Martians).

Now consider today's Windows. In particular many Windows programs not only discourage thinking ahead, they even really stupify computer users ("Do you want to do ...?" <click> "Do you really want to do ...?" <click> "Are you sure?" <click> "Are you really sure?" <click> ......gazing at a cursor....... "I have done it all!" <click> "OK" <click!> "Don't forget to backup!" <CLICK!!!> "Good-bye!" <CLICK!!!!> "Program 'X' running for 25 minutes 18 seconds" <CLICK!!!!!!>...etc. etc). Such programs very effectively turn a multi-user operating system into a single-user game. Most of the time one is waiting for an arrow cursor to reappear, or forced to watch silly animated pictures. Few GIU programs offer alternative control options like (function) keys (have you ever suffered from RSI?) and/or put the next button to be clicked at the lower left of the screen while your last mouse click was in the upper right. If keystrokes can be used, you must often press 3 simultaneously (piano players have an advantage here.) Many useful Windows programs can ONLY be run interactively, thus monopolizing one's attention.

Command prompts, batch jobs and function keys are not the ultimate heaven, but IMHO batch scripts and less mouse dependence might add some efficiency to many GUI operating systems. Windows offers the least options for this, OS/2 with its REXX batch language is already much better, and Linux (being a Unix clone) probably offers the most in the form of programmable shells and the like. There you have one of my motives.

BTW I'm not alone in this point of view: At the office I regularly encounter support professionals who still use DOS command prompts in order to more effectively tune/repair/control the brand new Windows NT 4.0 network. Apparently GUI programs are inadequate for tackling real problems.......(for your convenience: CMD.EXE in \WINNT\SYSTEM32)

Motive 2: To beat each operating system designer's ignorance of other operating systems

And then there is the sports of it all - getting different operating systems to work on one and the same PC. While Windows appears to have been designed to wipe out other operating systems on your PC or at least make them inoperative, OS/2 is much more tolerant. Linux does not really care what else there is on your PC. Yet each has its own demands regarding installation. Read on.....

Seriously - what I needed

For some time I had been searching for a very portable (that is, lightweight and small) PC which could run two copies of Windows 9x, OS/2 Warp 3 and Linux, meant as a replacement for my good old Digital DECpc 450SLC/e notebook (actually an Olivetti Belcanto 3 sold by DEC). That notebook featured seamless swapping of harddisks. Just pressing the "Suspend-to-disk" key would save any operating system in any state of action to a hibernation file on the first primary FAT16 partition on a harddisk. Changing that harddisk for another one and resuming the state-of-action on the latter disk allowed switching between various Windows versions, OS/2 and Linux in about 5-10 seconds. However, a disadvantage was the weight of all those separate harddisks. Interchanging files between harddisks was also a bit tedious.

So I dreamt of a notebook with a large harddisk wich could easily accomodate the following:

  1. A (US) Windows 95 installation tailored by my employer for its NT network (Windows # 1)
  2. Windows 95 OSR-2 with all my personal toys and tools (Windows # 2)
  3. My (Dutch) OS/2 Warp 3.0 including Bonus Pak, found on a trade fair and purchased as a joke for only 15 Dutch guilders but since then found much more stable than Windoze
  4. Redhat Linux 5.2.

The new notebook should feature

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