Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Vault-OS Running On NCD Explora 451!!!!!

3 February 2010 : A milestone in the development of Vault-OS 16 Bit For DOS

I have been working on Vault-OS off and on since 1998 and have never had anything running that made me as happy as what I achieved tonight. I have written versions of this thing for every operating system environment you can imagine and this is the first time I have actually had to jump on furniture to celebrate getting something running. After burning and inserting hundreds of versions of the PXE it finally booted up correctly. I thought I was going to collapse from shock when I saw the Vault-OS logo appear correctly.

I got Vault-OS (16 bit PowerBasic Program) running on the NCD 451 Explora tonight. Fully functional with the Textmode GUI, Bullet Database, Ethernet/IPX, I2c Sensor Master Hub, Parallel Port Relay, VFD serial display and an automobile color LCD for the monitor. That includes access to all 8 megabytes of extended memory which the PowerBasic for DOS program uses extensively to buffer data into. I could not get the mouse working correctly but I am convinced it is a minor problem specifying the right port.

Total power draw was 12 volts, 900 ma for all the peripherals plugged in and CPU running at top speed. That can be supplied by 8 "D" sized rechargable batteries in series if needed.

I was running the OS and boot file off a 12 meg PCMCIA card I created using a PXE Boot utility, with a version of BasicLinux to run DOSEMU under.

I was unable to get FreeDOS to boot correctly with everything registered. It locked up about 100+ times no matter how I configured it and burned it. I ended up using MSDOS 6.22 as the boot image to get it running.

To put this into perspective - basically the NCD Explora 451 is considered the ultimate junk computer, the bottom of the barrel of x86 compatible devices, regarded as worthless even as a door stop. You find these computers on EBay for .99 cents all the time, better yet if you know where to look you can find them in dumpsters or get them for free from old equipment stocks in IT departments. Yet I have had it working as a real-time industrial controller, textmode thin client (X-Windows and MSDOS for Networks) and a server over Ethernet. Quite well, I might add ... including running a VNC controller for DOS to remote in and operate it like I was sitting in front of it. So I figure if I could make this function correctly, I could make any thin client .99 computer in the world into a low power Vault-OS client. Winterm devices from WYSE are a snap compared to these NCD boxes - they are very easy to reflash and boot from a USB device.

What's so great about getting PowerBasic for DOS running on a thin client through a barebones Linux? Well, you could consider PowerBasic for DOS as the last word in cross platform programming. If it runs in 16 bit DOS it will run almost anywhere correctly.

There's no telling how many hours a .99 cent computer might have on it already, but considering that the NCD Explora 451 is rated for 350,000 hours MTBF ("Meantime Between Failure") I would say it could be a very reliable device. That's Vault-OS running day and night for the next *39.4 YEARS* on average without a maintenance problem. See where I've been going with all this?

A Vault operating system that runs 40 years without maintenance. When it does fail, you pull another NCD Explora 451 out of storage, plug in the PCMCIA card and start it up again. Since I've got 16 of these devices in reserve, that pretty much ends my automation problem in the Vault, forever.

Now that I've achieved this milestone I'm going to go back to testing and debugging it on my Military Grade Aeon PC-5301 Atlas 133 MHZ box, the previous Vault-OS "Sentry" I have live tested on-site in my shelter. It's a lot easier to develop for this machine because I work right on the box with the PowerBasic compiler and run the program binary instantly. The NCD Exploras would be excellent for deployment but they are too big a chore to work interactively on.

I now say with confidence I will be releasing a candidate for Vault-OS early this year, the core x86 "Sentry" code that runs under a DOS environment. The .NET 2.0 system that is working on "Thinkboy" is still in it's earliest stages and might not see a healthy version until later this year in the fall. There are lots and lots of technical details with "ThinkBoy" I am still experimenting with. For example, I have spent a lot of time making all applications support independent messaging from the speech recognition engine which runs on the desktop. This was a pretty big haul although some of it is functional right now. The "Sentry" core of Vault-OS is far more mature a product in comparison. I'm working on things for the core at present like configurable color themes to make textmode screens show up correctly on a variety of displays including monochrome devices. (I had it running on a $5.00 B&W portable television at one point.)

I have always planned when I reached this point to start a completely new website for Vault-OS, so that may be appearing in the next couple of weeks as an adjunct to the SourceForge placeholder I have at present.


Rowan said...

Good news Tex. I hope you can start pursuing functionality now that you have a base system up and running. Will Vault-OS be able to run out of the box on any X86 system without the licensing problems you had with citrix?

Texas Arcane said...

Yes. Any basic x86 device with a standard interrupt table to support serial and/or parallel port.

I will not be using Citrix. I have found many other thin client alternatives that cost nothing and require no licensing.

I wanted to get "FreeDOS" working for this same reason but I am sure I can find a free version of DOS to use for the install. There are at least six other free DOS packages I could use other than Microsoft.

I will be working now on finishing the software development 100% from here on until it has all basic functionality ready.

Anonymous said...

slightly off topic but still vault relevant, using optic fibres to channel sunlight underground ie to solar panels