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I was given some nice old Sun UNIX workstations, Sun Blade 1000 and Sun Blade 2000. These are UltraSparc machines running Solaris 8 (which, with regard to all questions below, is useless because the former owner could not provide me with any passwords).

I'd like to get them running again, and because I don't like computers on "static display", would prefer having some typical software on them. So,

  1. what OS and application software would you suggest? I'm not too interested in 100% "historical" accuracy, but would like something that lends itself to demonstrating a "typical UNIX workstation". Bonus points if the OS you suggest can still be used to compile some useful modern software from source (like Chromium) without having to create an entire build environment from scratch.
  2. How do I even boot these machines from a CD? Searching around some forums gives me the impression that I need a special Sun keyboard in order to press "Stop-A" during boot... can this be done on a regular PC-style keyboard?
  • 1
    The sparc64 port of NetBSD should run on these machines. – Kusalananda Jan 19 '17 at 22:54
  • It looks like Solaris 11 can be installed on a Sun Blade 1000. That's kind of surprising since Solaris 11 is modern (as of this writing). – user56041 Nov 14 '17 at 2:01
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To boot SPARC machine from cdrom, you can do

  1. Boot from OpenBoot using boot cdrom instead of boot.

  2. Reboot from Solaris and call to boot cdrom i.e:

    # reboot -- cdrom
    

    There is no need to reinstall the Solaris 8 OS to recover the "root" password. It's a simple process:

    1. Boot from CDROM in "single mode"

      boot cdrom -s'

    2. Mount "root partition" -for example-

      mount -F ufs /dev/dks/c0d0t0s0 /a/mnt`

    3. Edit "/a/mnt/etc/shadow" file and reset password field

  • Thanks for these hints, but one question remains: How do I get to the OpenBoot prompt with a PC style keyboard, i.e. with one that does not have a "Stop" key? – jstarek Aug 3 '11 at 17:24
  • You can try Ctrl+Break but this might only work through a serial connection. Alternatively, powering off/on the server just after it started booting should lead to the OpenBoot prompt. – jlliagre Aug 21 '11 at 8:29
3

The sparc64 port of NetBSD should run on these machines.

The installation instructions are detailed and contains higlights such as Getting the NetBSD System on to Useful Media and Setting up Open Firmware etc.

NetBSD is a modern Unix, and will provide you with a working environment. I unfortunately can't say much about the expected performance of these Sun Blade systems though. I ran NetBSD/sparc64 on a Sun Blade 100 for a while, but it was too slow for the large software builds I was doing at the time.

NetBSD provides binary packages for this architecture though, so you shouldn't need to build everything yourself. Unfortunately, Chromium doesn't seem to be available (only as a WIP package) but Firefox should be available.

And do try to get hold of a proper Sun keyboard (and mouse!). The "type 6" keyboard and mouse are the best I've ever worked with.

The architecture is also supported by OpenBSD/sparc64. The OpenBSD installation instructions, like those for NetBSD, contains all the information you need to get OpenBSD up and running on your machine.

  • "I ran NetBSD/sparc64 on a Sun Blade 100 for a while... but it was too slow..." - Does that mean it was too slow as a regular workstation? Or too slow as a build slave? I ask because I've been thinking of buying an old one to test some software on a SPARC processor. I don't have a SPARC in my test environment, but I'd like to get one for it. – user56041 Nov 14 '17 at 1:58
  • @jww Compared to any other machine that I had available, it was too slow to work with as a workstation. Using it as a build slave could be doable, but I wouldn't want be in a hurry. I remember building OpenBSD kernel, userland and x11 in about 24 hours when OpenBSD had Sparc support (takes 1.5-2h on my ThinkPad x230 laptop today, which includes building llvm). – Kusalananda Nov 14 '17 at 9:53
  • @jww Oops, I insinuated that OpenBSD/sparc64 was discontinued. This in not the case. It's the sparc port of OpenBSD that is no longer actively maintained. – Kusalananda Nov 14 '17 at 10:05
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First you'll need media to boot to recover/reset the root password as jstarek shows. And it sounds like Solaris 8 was on them. Keeping this setup would be the least complicated and give you the closest to your request of "typical UNIX workstation." You could use the older "Open Windows" or newer more open "CDE" windowing environment.

We had these workstations for admin terminals and eventually ran Solaris 10 on them.

Have fun playing and learning.

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