More on Experiencing Minix 3

I’ve had a few days now to work with Minix 3, including a re-install sans X window system (and sans emacs and only a couple other packages from the CD). I’m very impressed with how easy Minix is to install, as well as how easy it is to add packages from both the CD and their website.

My no-X install using easypack from CD went smoothly and more quickly than I thought it would. That’s judging just on the basis of the packages part since I installed to a clean, small partition this time and didn’t have to sit through 500MB sections of laborious bad block checks.

The easypack system is source-based, with each package including a Minix-ready makefile with a shell script (build.minix) that executes it. The options given when installing or when later using the install CD allow the user to include source during package installs. And the only flag (-o) is to overwrite an existing package.

Everything works well, and it’s pretty fast even on a 200mhz Pentium. The packages are pretty standard fare as far as CLI apps go: vim, pine, links, slrn, a couple games including nethack, etc. That’s in addition to GNU utilities, make, GCC, exim, and everything else that makes a *nix system usable. There are more available from the software page of the Minix site, and the list is growing steadily.

Shortcomings? Not really any surprises, just the fact it’s not as well-developed yet as other operating systems so it’s lacking in driver support. I knew that going in so it’s not a disappointment at all. Most of my hardware is standard vanilla stuff (except Apple’s crappy choices), so I haven’t found anything lacking a driver yet. Any limitation of packages available from easypack is easily overcome by compiling packages from source. No problem for the kind of people willing to use Minix.

Why did I come into this with low expectations? I know Minix is a work in progress and that it hasn’t been developed as extensively as other operating systems. I was prepared for a Frankenstein- or Rube Goldberg-like attempt to get it up and running. Wow, was I wrong.

Impressions? I think my biggest impression so far is the utter lack of disappointment. Minix has so far exceeded my low expectations.

I’ve done two installs this week: the first was a total install of everything using the Minix defaults, the second was a bit more spartan (actually more suited to my personal tastes). Both installations were very easy and without any glitches.

In the first install with X and everything, Minix installed very quickly and very easily using all the pre-set defaults. It worked well, I had a basic install of X that started right up when I entered xdm. I was able to get through the tests in the installation guide without any errors (it’s right, though, that the last few take a long time).

The second install with my own choices was just as easy. In only a few minutes, I was able to painlessly install an operating system. In just a few more minutes, I was able to go through all the available packages on the CD and painlessly install only the ones I wanted.

In both cases, it’s booted straight up. I haven’t experienced any quirky behavior from Minix or any of the apps I’ve installed. It’s certainly not at the level of development as Linux or a BSD, but it’s already very usable. The future of Minix isn’t tied to the desktop (think portable), but it can definitely serve for desktop use if one doesn’t have outlandish expectations. It’s also well-suited for server use (apache, mysql, and php are already available in easypack).

I was prepared to be satisfied getting a command prompt and reading out dmesg (edit: or equivalent; Minix doesn’t have dmesg). Instead, I have a very usable operating system that boots super-fast and can recompile itself very quickly (< 4000 LOC). So far it’s over-delivered on what I expected. In fact, I’ve been blown away with how easy and painless it’s been. And I’m now thinking I may be using it a bit more and a lot sooner than I initially thought I would.

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