QNX memorabilia: The (first) QNX demo disk

Reflections on the stuff that has been accumulating in my drawer since the '90s. This week: Not that demo disk, this demo disk.

Mention "QNX demo disk" to any long-time QNX user and, almost immediately, they'll think of the 1.44M floppy demo that QNX released in 1997. I plan to cover that demo, but in a subsequent post. For now, I want to draw your attention to a much earlier floppy demo, which first appeared in the 1980s.

First of all, it came on a real floppy — you know, the bendable kind:

It could also self-boot, as indicated by the label in the upper-right corner. You know what that means, of course: The disk in this photo contains a limited yet functional version of the QNX OS, circa 1988. How cool is that?

I found this disk a little while ago, while rummaging through my stuff. Problem is, I still haven't dug up a machine old enough to run it. I'm guessing, though, that any x86 box with a 5 1/4" floppy drive would do the trick. When I eventually find one, I'll let you know. Who knows, the floppy may still be in good enough shape to run!

In the meantime, dear reader, if you are willing to admit you've been around long enough to remember this demo disk, I'd love to hear about it. From what I've read, it demonstrated QNX's multitasking capabilities, but that's all I know. I'm hoping you can fill in the gaps.


W. Jim Jordan said...

I've used older installation disks from 1984 through 1987, but not a demo disk like this one. No, I don't have one--they belonged to Cemcorp, for whom I worked as a co-op student at the time. QNX powered the ICON series of education-aimed microcomputers, but we sold the Toronto Roman Catholic School Board on the ICONs in part because of the ability to write interactive networked applications. The demonstration used a network of ICONs to elect trustees to various boards and committees.

Anonymous said...

Jim, I'm pretty sure that the ICON (http://onqpl.blogspot.ca/2010/01/30-years-of-qnx-first-networked.html) was the first (or nearly the first) system to use QNX distributed processing.

- Paul

camz said...

You know I've been around QNX that long. I used to have one of those demo disks, I should dig through my old floppies and see if I can find it! To be honest, that demo disk was partially responsible for launching my long history with QNX. I had made a visit to Ottawa and came back with a demo disk, I showed a friend of mine and he was *AMAZED* that not only did it boot on his Tandy 1000, but that we were able to plug in his Tandy Model 4 (or was it a Model 16, it was the one with the 8" floppies!) and connect up as a dumb terminal. My friend was so impressed that he ordered a dev seat the following week, and I began sub-contracting for him as he developed a new system for one of his clients.

The demo disk ran using an ASCII slide show app that one of the Dans (Dodge or Hildebrand) or maybe even Gord Bell had written. While it was going through the slides, it had a 2nd virtual console that was running a 2nd task that was doing an ASCII-art (using PC line drawing characters) version of the towers of Hanoi. It would solve the puzzle over and over again, keeping a count of how many times it had sovled the puzzle. When the slide show finally flipped you to the 2nd console your mind was blown at the multi-tasking. This was running in real mode and multi-tasking on x86 in real mode was pretty much unheard of. I think DoubleDOS might have been around then, but it only did two tasks, the demo disk was running many more.

I do have a couple 5.25" drives kicking around, I kept them "just in case", maybe next time I am in Ottawa, I'll have to bring one with me :-)

Paul N. Leroux said...

Wow, Camz, thanks so much for your comment. If you ever bring one of your old drives to Ottawa, I'll take a video of the demo (hopefully) coming to life for the first time in 20+ years. :-)

Bill Flowers said...

Wow, I'd forgotten about that! Yeah, I remember the Towers of Hanoi. Fun times.

Phil Green said...

Old enough! I worked for several years (starting 1990) with the Carleton Roman Catholic School Board (Nectar Foundation) developing educational software and remember the Unisys ICONs very well as well as the QNX bootable floppy. I have a box in the house with a bunch of old backups on 1.44 from that time frame, wonder what I might find if I open it up....

Paul N. Leroux said...

Phil, your mention of 1.44 disks triggered a memory. I now seem to remember having a copy of the first QNX demo disk on a 1.44...

I think I need to start digging deeper into that drawer.

Lightning Rose said...

My first use of QNX was in early '89 so I've never seen this diskette before.

Booting a Q2 floppy diskette is a bit iffy on anything more powerful than a x486 (the boot code ran some sort of crappy loop to determine CPU speed that failed on faster processors), but I found that disabling all cache in the BIOS did the trick, at least for CPUs with up to a 1GHz clock (I've never tried anything faster).

What I recommend is using dd on a Linux system to create a disk image that can then be booted by QEMU under Linux or Win-XP (the only 2 OS's I've tried).

From '88 to '96 I was the System Architect for a large scale voice mail system that ran under QNX2. I have disk images of both the VM system and the QNX2 development system with both Quantum and C86 C compilers.

Email me if you want to discuss this further. my user name at gmail.com

Paul N. Leroux said...

Ligthning, a big thanks for your suggestion about running a Q2 floppy -- I remember, now, that running Q2 on "modern" machines could be a problem. (Who ever thought, back in the day, that computers would be powered by anything as powerful as a Pentium? ;-)

I'm pretty sure I know the VM system you're referring to. Will reach out on email. Best, Paul

Anugrah B. Setiawan said...

wow, so the best single floppy disk full OS is older than what i think?

Hi Paul, I am a regular user of QNX demo disk 1.44 back in 1996/1997.
at the time it is very good compared to win3.11 installation i own in my office.

given internet is not so colorful as today, QNX demo disk always accompany me in surfing the web without worried my office data infected by internet virus..

btw, I only have download version of the disk.

Paul N. Leroux said...

I agree, Anugrah, time passes by too quickly! I remember other people mentioning that they would keep the disk with them wherever they went.