Porteus Linux: A portable Linux with a difference

Xfce spin of Live Linux distribution Porteus Linux - As-installed desktop on a 1280x1024 monitor.

Xfce spin of Live Linux distribution Porteus Linux - As-installed desktop on a 1280x1024 monitor.

I’m writing this in Porteus Linux v5.0rc1 for x86_64, a Live Linux distribution booted from a USB pendrive. It is fast, good-looking and has a good range of applications and utilities. I stumbled upon Porteus recently while looking for a compact Live Linux distribution to install on a couple of spare SD cards. It seemed ideal, as it is a portable distribution designed for USB pendrives and CDs, and optionally can be configured to be persistent between reboots and shutdowns. Porteus is based on Slackware, although I gather the developers might switch to Arch Linux at some undefined future date. Spins of Porteus with various Desktop Environments are available, and I settled on Xfce after trying a couple of the others.

Although my original objective was to install a portable Linux distribution on SD cards, I only managed to install Porteus on an SD card by using YUMI Multiboot USB Creator for Windows, which I run using WINE in Linux, rather than in Windows. The reason Porteus boots from an SD card when installed by YUMI is because YUMI installs its own boot manager on the SD card and chainloads the OS. Actually, if an SD card or USB pendrive has sufficient capacity, YUMI can install several OSs on a single SD card or single USB pendrive and you can choose from the YUMI bootloader menu which OS to boot.

Anyway, Porteus is interesting because, optionally, it can be configured quite easily to be persistent. I.e. if you want it to, Porteus can save new files, applications you install, browser bookmarks, edited configuration files and so on between reboots/shutdowns. However, I was unable to get persistence working with Porteus installed by YUMI on an SD card, but persistence works perfectly when I install Porteus on USB pendrives, which is the medium Porteus is really designed to be installed on.

I happened to have a couple of spare USB 2.0 pendrives (2GB and 32GB), and I have installed Porteus on both. I opted to configure both to have persistence. There are several ways of making Porteus persistent. The first method is to create a so-called ‘save file’ on the FAT32-formatted pendrive. The second method is to create a second partition on the pendrive, formatted with a Linux filesystem (ext2, ext4, Btrfs, XFS, etc.). Another method is to use ‘Magic Folders’, but I won’t go into that here. I decided to use the first method on the 2GB FAT32-formatted pendrive, and the second method on the 32GB pendrive, which I repartitioned with a 1GB FAT32 partition and the remaining space as an ext4 partition with journalling disabled. Both methods work well. Furthermore, both pendrives boot on a desktop with UEFI firmware and on a laptop with PC BIOS firmware. Neither of the pendrives has its FAT32 partition type set as ef00.

Both pendrives initially had an msdos partition table and a single FAT32 partition. Whether you are installing Porteus from Windows or Linux, it is not mandatory to use UNetbootin, Rufus, YUMI, UUI, dd or any of the other usual methods of installing ISOs on USB pendrives. The unpacked ISO contains the shell script Porteus-installer-for-Linux.com for Linux and the program Porteus-installer-for-Windows.exe for Windows. Instructions for installing to a USB pendrive from either Windows or Linux are given on the Porteus Web site.

I downloaded an ISO file from one of the Porteus repository mirrors listed on the Porteus Web site and used the Linux command line.

Installation on a USB pendrive with a single FAT32 partition

I used a UEFI desktop machine running Lubuntu 18.04, but any machine (either UEFI or BIOS firmware) and Linux distribution would suffice. For my unbranded 2GB pendrive with an msdos partition table and single FAT32 partition, I did the following to install Porteus:

$ sudo blkid # Find which device is the pendrive (sdb in my case)
$ sudo mkdir /mnt/iso
$ sudo mount /home/fitzcarraldo/Downloads/Porteus-XFCE-v5.0rc1-x86_64.iso /mnt/iso
$ sudo mkdir /mnt/pendrive
$ sudo mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt/pendrive
$ sudo cp -a /mnt/iso/* /mnt/pendrive/
$ cd /mnt/pendrive/boot/
$ sudo ./Porteus-installer-for-Linux.com

To enable persistence I needed to edit two configuration files and create a ‘save file’ as follows:

1. Edit /mnt/sdb1/boot/syslinux/porteus.cfg

$ sudo nano /mnt/sdb1/boot/syslinux/porteus.cfg

Change ‘APPEND changes=/porteus‘ to ‘APPEND changes=EXIT:/porteus/porteussave.dat‘:

MENU LABEL Graphics mode
KERNEL /boot/syslinux/vmlinuz
INITRD /boot/syslinux/initrd.xz
APPEND changes=EXIT:/porteus/porteussave.dat
    Run Porteus the best way we can.
    Try to autoconfigure graphics
    card and use the maximum
    allowed resolution

Note: The ‘EXIT:‘ makes Porteus save changes when you shutdown or reboot Porteus. If I understand the Porteus tutorials and forum posts correctly, without the ‘EXIT:‘ Porteus would save changes in real time. However, this did not happen in my case, so I had no choice but to add the ‘EXIT:‘ in order to save changes.

2. Edit /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteus-v5.0-x86_64.cfg

$ sudo nano /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteus-v5.0-x86_64.cfg

Add the following lines:


Obviously change the timezone according to your location. You can specify up to three keyboard layouts of your choice. I chose British, US and Brazilian keyboard layouts.

Check you edited the file correctly:

$ grep -v ^# /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteus-v5.0-x86_64.cfg | grep -v ^$

3. Create the ‘save file’ when booted into Porteus

The GUI utility ‘Porteus save file manager’ is used to create the file used to save any changes you make in the Live environment. I chose the name porteussave.dat but you can use any name you want, suffixed with .dat. It is mandatory to use such a file if the filesystem is FAT32 or NTFS. Use ‘Applications’ > ‘System’ > ‘Porteus save file manager’ to create a new save file /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteussave.dat.

With persistence enabled, all my files, browser bookmarks, browsing history and browser configurations remain whenever I boot Porteus. As I explain further down, the configuration changes to ALSA and PulseAudio that I made in order to get Skype working properly persist across reboots.

Porteus ‘modules’

In addition to the configuration for persistence of changes using a ‘save file’ or separate partition, Porteus uses what it calls ‘modules’, pre-packaged binaries with the suffix ‘.xzm‘ that contain either a Desktop Environment or an application. For example, I wanted to install Skype in Porteus and make it persistent, so I downloaded a Slackware package in the Live environment, installed it in the Live environment (right-click and select ‘Install package’), then converted the package to a Porteus module (right-click and select ‘txz2xzm’) and copied the module to the dedicated directory for such modules:

guest@porteus:~$ ls /mnt/sdb1/porteus/modules
firefox-70.0.1-x86_64-en-GB-1.xzm* skypeforlinux-*

Actually, the Porteus mirrors have some modules already available (‘bundles’), and there is a GUI utility to download and activate them. Alternatively you can download one of these modules yourself from one of the Porteus mirrors and activate it manually by double-clicking on it. To make it persistent you then copy it to the above-mentioned directory /mnt/sdb1/porteus/modules/. There is also a dedicated GUI utility to install a Web browser of your choice and activate the browser module. As you can see in the terminal output copied above, I opted to install Firefox and make it persistent.

The base OS and Desktop Environment are also Porteus modules:

guest@porteus:~$ ls /mnt/sdb1/porteus/base
000-kernel.xzm* 001-core.xzm* 002-xorg.xzm* 003-xfce.xzm*

As I wanted to try the other Desktop Environments, I downloaded the Porteus modules for those and put them in a directory that exists for optional modules:

guest@porteus:~$ ls /mnt/sdb1/porteus/optional
003-cinnamon.xzm* 003-lxde.xzm* 003-mate.xzm*
003-kde.xzm* 003-lxqt.xzm* 003-openbox.xzm*

I can then replace the module /mnt/sdb1/porteus/base/003-xfce.xzm with, for example, 003-kde.xzm to make Porteus use KDE instead of Xfce. Actually, a configuration file can be edited to load a desired Desktop Environment module and inhibit loading the base Desktop Environment module, but I have not tried that method yet.

I downloaded the Porteus modules 07-printing-x86_64-2019-11-12.xzm and 07-printing-lxqt-xfce-x86_64-2019-08-15.xzm from a link given in a Porteus Forums post, copied them to the directory /mnt/sdb1/porteus/modules/ then activated them by double-clicking on each. I was then able to configure CUPS in a browser window (http://localhost:631/admin) and get my old Canon PIXMA MP510 to print using the Gutenprint driver that was already installed without me having to install the Gutenprint printer drivers package. The two modules also enable both XSane and Document Scanner to use the Canon PIXMA MP510’s scanner.

Another ‘bundle’ module I downloaded is onlyoffice-5.0rc1-alldesktops.xzm, an open-source office suite produced by the Latvian company Ascensio System SIA. I had not heard of OnlyOffice before, but it works nicely and has text, spreadsheet and presentation editors with features similar to Microsoft Office (Word, Excel and PowerPoint). I have only tried it very briefly so far and was able to open a Word .docx document, but not an Excel .xlsx spreadsheet, but I still need to evaluate it thoroughly. It not only allows you to create and edit local files, but also to access files in the Cloud. I was able to access my remote ownCloud server documents, for example.

Installation on a USB pendrive using a second partition for persistence

Below I cover in detail the installation and configuration of Porteus on my 32GB USB pendrive.

I used a UEFI desktop machine running Lubuntu 18.04, but any machine (either UEFI or BIOS firmware) and Linux distribution would suffice.

As I wanted to install the Porteus Xfce spin on the pendrive, I downloaded the file Porteus-XFCE-v5.0rc1-x86_64.iso from from one of the Porteus Linux mirrors.

I inserted my Kingston Data Traveller 2.0 32GB USB pendrive into one of the USB ports on the front of the running desktop machine.

Note that I could have used a GUI utility such as GParted to partition and format the pendrive, but I decided to use the command line to do that part.

I opened a terminal window and typed the commands shown below.

1. Find out which device is the USB pendrive

$ sudo blkid # Find out which device the USB pendrive is. It should be sdb if no other drives are connected.
/dev/sda1: UUID="2905-DB96" TYPE="vfat" PARTLABEL="EFI System Partition" PARTUUID="36e3693c-b81f-4797-88fb-de3710bff86e"
/dev/sda2: LABEL="ROOT" UUID="dce73116-10fa-4169-b2d9-fb6ac8ffb83b" TYPE="ext4" PARTUUID="738fed12-239c-486d-b6e1-d90143f43ea7"
/dev/sdb1: LABEL="KINGSTON" UUID="A516-23A5" TYPE="vfat" PARTUUID="6cd1a8de-01"

Notice that, in my case, the pendrive is /dev/sdb.

2. Create a new partition table and two partitions

$ sudo fdisk /dev/sdb

Welcome to fdisk (util-linux 2.31.1).
Changes will remain in memory only, until you decide to write them.
Be careful before using the write command.

Command (m for help): d
Selected partition 1
Partition 1 has been deleted.

Command (m for help): d
No partition is defined yet!

Command (m for help): o

Created a new DOS disklabel with disk identifier 0x8e8bace5.

Command (m for help): n
Partition type
   p   primary (0 primary, 0 extended, 4 free)
   e   extended (container for logical partitions)
Select (default p): 
Partition number (1-4, default 1): 
First sector (2048-60978815, default 2048): 
Last sector, +sectors or +size{K,M,G,T,P} (2048-60978815, default 60978815): +1G

Created a new partition 1 of type 'Linux' and of size 1 GiB.
Partition #1 contains a vfat signature.

Do you want to remove the signature? [Y]es/[N]o: Y

The signature will be removed by a write command.

Command (m for help): n
Partition type
   p   primary (1 primary, 0 extended, 3 free)
   e   extended (container for logical partitions)
Select (default p): 
Partition number (2-4, default 2): 
First sector (2099200-60978815, default 2099200): 
Last sector, +sectors or +size{K,M,G,T,P} (2099200-60978815, default 60978815): 

Created a new partition 2 of type 'Linux' and of size 28.1 GiB.

Command (m for help): t
Partition number (1,2, default 2): 1
Hex code (type L to list all codes): b

Changed type of partition 'Linux' to 'W95 FAT32'.

Command (m for help): t
Partition number (1,2, default 2): 
Hex code (type L to list all codes): 83

Changed type of partition 'Linux' to 'Linux'.

Command (m for help): a
Partition number (1,2, default 2): 1

The bootable flag on partition 1 is enabled now.

Command (m for help): w
The partition table has been altered.
Calling ioctl() to re-read partition table.
Synching disks.

3. Double-check that the partitions have been created correctly

$ sudo fdisk /dev/sdb # Just to check partitions have been created as required.

Welcome to fdisk (util-linux 2.31.1).
Changes will remain in memory only, until you decide to write them.
Be careful before using the write command.

Command (m for help): p
Disk /dev/sdb: 29.1 GiB, 31221153792 bytes, 60978816 sectors
Units: sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
Disklabel type: dos
Disk identifier: 0x8e8bace5

Device     Boot   Start      End  Sectors  Size Id Type
/dev/sdb1  *       2048  2099199  2097152    1G  b W95 FAT32
/dev/sdb2       2099200 60978815 58879616 28.1G 83 Linux

Command (m for help): q

4. Format the partitions

$ sudo mkfs.fat -F 32 /dev/sdb1
mkfs.fat 4.1 (2017-01-24)
$ sudo mkfs.ext4 -O ^has_journal /dev/sdb2 # I opted to disable journaling.
mke2fs 1.44.1 (24-Mar-2018)
Creating filesystem with 7359952 4k blocks and 1843200 inodes
Filesystem UUID: 4b837147-bca3-4e31-a9f1-77da19682f77
Superblock backups stored on blocks: 
	32768, 98304, 163840, 229376, 294912, 819200, 884736, 1605632, 2654208, 

Allocating group tables: done                            
Writing inode tables: done                            
Writing superblocks and filesystem accounting information: done   

5. Install Porteus

$ sudo mkdir /mnt/iso
$ sudo mkdir /mnt/sdb1
$ sudo mount /home/fitzcarraldo/Downloads/Porteus-XFCE-v5.0rc1-x86_64.iso /mnt/iso
mount: /mnt/iso: WARNING: device write-protected, mounted read-only.
$ sudo mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt/sdb1
$ sudo cp -a /mnt/iso/* /mnt/sdb1/
$ cd /mnt/sdb1/boot
$ sudo ./Porteus-installer-for-Linux.com
Verifying archive integrity... All good.
Uncompressing Porteus Installer......

                           ,:._       ~-_
                               '\        ~-_
                                 \        \.
                               ,/           ~-_
                      -..__..-''   PORTEUS   ~~--..__


Installing Porteus to /dev/sdb1
WARNING: Make sure this is the right partition before proceeding.

Type 'ok' to continue or press Ctrl+c to exit.
Flushing filesystem buffers...

Using extlinux bootloader.

Installation finished successfully.
You may reboot your PC now and start using Porteus.
Please check the /boot/docs folder for additional information about
the installation process, Porteus requirements and booting parameters.
In case of making tweaks to the bootloader config,
please edit: /mnt/sdb1/boot/syslinux/porteus.cfg file.

Press Enter to exit.

6. Configure Porteus to be persistent across reboots/shutdowns

$ sudo nano /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteus-v5.0-x86_64.cfg

Add the following lines:


Change the timezone according to your location. You can specify up to three keyboard layouts of your choice. I chose British, US and Brazilian keyboard layouts.

Check you have made the edits correctly:

$ grep -v ^# /mnt/sdb1/porteus/porteus-v5.0-x86_64.cfg | grep -v ^$

$ sudo nano /mnt/sdb1/boot/syslinux/porteus.cfg

Change ‘APPEND changes=/porteus‘ to ‘APPEND changes=EXIT:/mnt/sdb2‘:

MENU LABEL Graphics mode
KERNEL /boot/syslinux/vmlinuz
INITRD /boot/syslinux/initrd.xz
APPEND changes=EXIT:/mnt/sdb2
    Run Porteus the best way we can.
    Try to autoconfigure graphics
    card and use the maximum
    allowed resolution

Note: The ‘EXIT:‘ makes Porteus save changes when you shutdown or reboot Porteus. If I understand the Porteus tutorials and forum posts correctly, without the ‘EXIT:‘ Porteus would save changes in real time. However, this did not happen in my case, so I had no choice but to add the ‘EXIT:‘ in order to save changes.

7. Unmount the ISO and pendrive

$ cd
$ sudo umount /mnt/iso
$ sudo umount /mnt/sdb1

The configuration of ‘changes=‘ in /mnt/sdb1/boot/syslinux/porteus.cfg means that, when you reboot or shutdown from the Live session, Porteus will save any and all changes during a session. And that means every change: new files; edited files; browser bookmarks, browser history; desktop environment configuration; and so on. However, you can define precisely what is persistent by editing the file /etc/changes-exit.conf:

guest@porteus:~$ cat /etc/changes-exit.conf 
# Folders listed in this config file will be saved during reboot and shutdown when 'changes=EXIT:' cheatcode is used.
# Folders starting with '!' are omitted. This is useful if you want to save whole folder except for particular subfolder(s).
# An example is inclued in default config below: Porteus will save whole /var folder except for /var/run and /var/tmp subfolders.
# Other example: "!/home/guest/.mozilla/firefox/c3pp43bg.default/Cache" will skip saving of Firefox caches from guest account.
# Thanks to Rava for suggesting implementation of '!' exceptions.


Note: In the case of a pendrive using a ‘save file’ for persistence, relative paths are specified for ‘changes=‘, therefore the pendrive will be able to boot even if several drives are connected to the machine (i.e. it will not matter if the pendrive is device sdb, sdc, sdd or whatever). However, in the case of a pendrive using a second partition for persistence, absolute paths are specified for ‘changes=‘ and ‘from=‘, therefore the device letter may be different if more than just drive sda and the pendrive are connected to the machine. Therefore you may need to edit the two .cfg files to change the device from sdb to sdc or whatever in the path specified for ‘changes=‘ and ‘from=‘. Whenever you boot the pendrive a message is displayed indicating whether or not the changes partition has been found. If it has not, simply edit the two .cfg files from the Live environment and change the paths accordingly (use the command ‘sudo blkid‘ to find out which device is the pendrive now), then reboot.

8. Reboot

You may have to press F12 at boot (or whatever key your machine requires you to press in order to display a Boot Menu) and select the USB pendrive to boot from. The desktop machine I am using has UEFI firmware (notice the partitions on /dev/sda in Step 1 above, and, furthermore, /sys/firmware/efi/ exists when Lubuntu is running) and the USB pendrive boots fine. My laptops use PC BIOS and the USB pendrive boots fine on those too.

You will find that Porteus automatically creates the directory /changes on the partition of the USB pendrive with the Linux filesystem.

Installing Skype for Linux and fixing distorted sound in Skype

You can install Skype in Porteus. Download the Slackware package skypeforlinux-, right-click on the package and select ‘Install package’. Don’t forget to also convert it to a Porteus module (right-click on the package and select ‘txz2xzm’) and copy skypeforlinux- to /mnt/sdb1/porteus/modules/ so that it persists.

You may find that sound in Skype is distorted/scratchy. The problem is due to PulseAudio. You can fix this as follows:

$ env PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=90 /usr/bin/skypeforlinux

Experiement with the value if ‘90‘ does not work. If that improves the sound in Skype, edit the file /home/guest/.config/autostart/skypeforlinux.desktop (if it exists) and change the Exec line as follows:

Exec=env PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=90 /usr/bin/skypeforlinux

and edit (as root user) the file /usr/share/applications/skypeforlinux.desktop and change the Exec line as follows:

Exec=env PULSE_LATENCY_MSEC=90 /usr/bin/skypeforlinux %U

Also edit the file /etc/pulse/daemon.conf as root user and insert the line ‘realtime-scheduling = no‘:

; realtime-scheduling = yes
; realtime-priority = 5
realtime-scheduling = no

Also, run alsamixer from the command line:

$ alsamixer -c 0 # Press F6 to select your soundcard if necessary

Adjust the volume levels in alsamixer and unmute any muted channels so that you can both hear the caller and your own recorded voice when you make a test call in Skype, then save the alsamixer settings to a file:

$ /usr/sbin/alsactl --file /home/guest/.config/asound.state store

Edit the file /etc/rc.d/rc.local as root user and add the following line to load the ALSA settings when Porteus next boots:

alsactl --file /home/guest/.config/asound.state restore


Xfce spin of Live Linux distribution Porteus Linux.

Xfce spin of Live Linux distribution Porteus Linux.

I like Porteus. The upsides are:

  • Easy and quick to install on USB pendrives.
  • Can be installed without using an ISO installer (UNetbootin, Rufus, YUMI, UUI or whatever).
  • Boots fast.
  • Fast performance.
  • Polished GUI (I have tried Openbox, Xfce and KDE so far, and settled on Xfce).
  • A good range of applications are already installed out-of-the-box.
  • The Porteus module concept is easy and fast to use.
  • Persistence works well.
  • There are a number of Porteus modules available to download (‘bundles’).
  • Converting Slackware packages to Porteus modules is easy. I right-click on the downloaded Slackware package and select ‘txz2xzm’ from the drop-down menu.
  • Switching to a different Desktop Environment is easy. Modules for all the DEs are available to download from Porteus repository mirrors such as http://ftp.nluug.nl/os/Linux/distr/porteus/x86_64/Porteus-v5.0/.

The downsides I have come across so far are:

  • The Unified Slackware Package Manager (USM) does not work. When I click on ‘Download’ to download a package, a window pops up with the message ‘Fatal error LIBS.TXT’, even though I have updated USM and all the package databases. Therefore I use a Web browser to download the relevant Slackware package (a file ending in .txz), right-click on the package and select ‘Install package’ from the drop-down menu.
  • Slackware does not have the latest versions of some packages (signal-desktop is just one example).
  • The first time I installed Porteus, when I clicked on ‘Browse Networks’ in the Thunar file manager I could browse SMB shares on a server connected to my home network (without me having edited the installed /etc/samba/smb.conf). However, in subsequent re-installations of Porteus, when I clicked on ‘Browse Networks’ a window popped up displaying the following message:

    Failed to open "/ on ".
    Message recipient disconnected from message bus without replying.

    I edited smb.conf to use the parameters for my network (see my blog post ‘A correct method of configuring Samba for browsing SMB shares in a home network‘), but that made no difference. I don’t know yet how to fix this, although on my 32GB pendrive ‘Browse Networks’ is now working again for some reason. I had installed LXDE’s PCManFM in Xfce to see if ‘Browse Networks’ would work in that, but it didn’t so I uninstalled it. Then I noticed a new console message ‘cp: can't stat‘ during boot because Porteus could not find a PCManFM file, so I deleted the /changes directory on the Linux partition to get rid of that message (Porteus creates a new /changes directory automatically, although of course you need to redo whatever was lost). It could be a coincidence, but the next time I booted Porteus, ‘Browse Network’ in Thunar worked (with the as-installed smb.conf) and continues to work.

There is quite a bit more to Porteus than I have covered in this post; for example I have not covered ‘Magic Folders’. You can find out more by reading the Porteus online documentation and forums, as well as the documention installed on USB pendrives in the directories /mnt/sdb1/ and /mnt/sdb1/boot/docs/. Although the development team is small, I am impressed with what they have implemented. Porteus will be my portable Linux distribution of choice from now on, and I look forward to learning more about it and using it in the field.

Installing and using NeXT OPENSTEP in VirtualBox for Linux

Introduction and some history

My first micro computer was an Apple II+, which I used extensively both for work and leisure. In fact I liked it so much that I bought a //e when Apple Computer, Inc. released that model. I was not tempted by the Apple /// or Lisa when they were released, although I did quite fancy the IIGS but could not justify buying one. The //c was a nice portable, and a family member bought one on my recommendation. I was not at all tempted by the first Macintosh and subsequent models using the so-called Classic Mac OS, but I drooled when Steve Jobs founded NeXT, Inc. in 1985 and launched the magnesium-cased NeXT workstations: the cube-shaped NeXT Computer (Motorola 68030 CPU) in 1989 and in 1990 the second generation (Motorola 68040 CPU) NeXTcube and the NeXTstation (commonly referred to as ‘the slab’) running the NEXTSTEP operating system. The hardware build quality and aesthetic were fabulous, and the machines and NEXTSTEP were way ahead of their time. NEXTSTEP, which was built around Unix and therefore fully multi-tasking, looked amazing when compared to the competition and its performance was superior. Drooling was all I could do, though, because the price of any NeXT machine was totally out of my league.

OPENSTEP 4.2 Desktop in a VirtualBox VM

OPENSTEP 4.2 Desktop in a VirtualBox VM.

By the way, Tim Berners-Lee invented HTTP, HTML and the first HTML browser using NEXTSTEP on a NeXTcube at CERN: see The Science Museum, London – The World Wide Web: A global information space.

Following Apple’s acquisition in 1997 of NeXT, which by then was only a software company (NeXT Software, Inc.), Apple developed Mac OS X based on OPENSTEP (the successor to NEXTSTEP). Even today some of the features in macOS are the same as in NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP: NeXTSTEP vs Mac OS X – System Demo and Comparison. The final release of NEXTSTEP was NEXTSTEP 3.3, succeeded by OPENSTEP, the final release of which was OPENSTEP 4.2. OPENSTEP was effectively NEXTSTEP 4.

So, even though the NeXT company only sold around 50,000 machines during its relatively short existence as a manufacturer between 1988 and 1993, its impact on modern computing has been significant. Below are a few links to interesting videos about the company and some of its products. You’ll find plenty more videos about NeXT on YouTube.

You can still find the occasional second-hand NeXT computer on eBay, but they are either incomplete or very expensive. As I write this there is a complete and pristine-looking NeXTcube system, including (non-working) NeXT laser printer, in Portugal listed on eBay at US$35,000 plus US$750 shipping! So I will never get to play with a real NeXT computer. But, thanks to VirtualBox, I can at least install the i386 release of OPENSTEP 4.2 in a VM (virtual machine) to try it out for fun. I decided to install the OS and the type of applications I would typically use (assuming I could find packages on the Web, that is). I wanted to find out how usable the OS was, how good the applications were, and whether I could access Unix easily from the GUI. As NeXT hardware and software are obsolete I had to spend a lot of time searching the Web for applications that would actually install and work. Some applications work in both NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP, but plenty of applications have different packages for the two versions of the OS, which made my searches more complicated. Some OPENSTEP packages are so-called ‘fat binaries’ containing executables for some or all the different CPU types that OPENSTEP supported, and I found a few such packages on the Web. I wanted to install and try to use at least a Web browser, a word processor, a spreadsheet, an mp3 player and a video player. I also wanted to see if I could access files on a server on my home network using Samba.

There are quite a few tutorials and videos available on the Web explaining how to install OPENSTEP in a VM, but I did not find any on installing applications in OPENSTEP. Also, many of the OS installation tutorials I found are incomplete, for example not covering either audio or networking. I am not going to give a step-by-step explanation here of how I installed the OS and the applications, but I will explain what I installed, how I rated it, and any other information I found interesting or useful. Hopefully the tips I provide will be of some help if you fancy installing the OS and any applications yourself. I should also mention that you will have an advantage if you are a Unix and/or Linux user and are au fait with using the command line. OPENSTEP 4.2 provides the C Shell (csh). I did come across a package for the Bourne Again Shell (bash), but have not tried to install it. Sometimes I had to resort to the Unix command line to change ownership or permissions of a file and to move applications to folders owned by the root user. The pwd, cd, ls, su, cp, mv, chmod and chown commands came in handy a few times. By the way, unlike Linux the ls -la command does not display the group to which a file belongs, only its owner; you need to use the command ls -lag to show both. Also, the chown command accepts the notation owner.group but not owner:group when changing attributes.

Installation of OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2 for Intel i386 in VirtualBox

‘Mach’ refers to the Mach kernel, a microkernel developed at Carnegie Mellon University. OPENSTEP was available for Motorola 68k, Intel i386 and Sun SPARC CPUs. VirtualBox supports both 32-bit and 64-bit Intel CPUs, so the 32-bit OS can be installed in a VirtualBox 32-bit VM. NEXTSTEP also supported Hewlett-Packard’s PA-RISC CPU, but NeXT dropped support for that CPU in OPENSTEP.

Regarding the spelling of the two OSs, apparently the APIs are spelt ‘NeXTStep’ and ‘OpenStep’, and the OSs are spelt ‘NEXTSTEP’ and ‘OPENSTEP’. Confusing, or what? It’s no wonder these are used interchangeably all over the Web.

I found a reasonable tutorial on the installation of OPENSTEP 4.2, including links to download the image files of the CDROM and floppy disks required. Unlike many tutorials on the Web, it also explains how to get network access working, and I was able to ping other nodes on my home network and the Internet once I had completed the tutorial: ‘Installing NextStep OS (OPENSTEP) in VirtualBox‘. There were only one or two minor differences between the tutorial and what I saw on screen, and installation in VirtualBox for Linux was essentially painless. One of the packages that has to be installed (OS42MachUserPatch4.pkg) includes a Y2K patch for the OS. The tutorial tells you to use the command line to install that package, and I followed the instructions in the tutorial but, having now learned how to install packages via the OPENSTEP GUI by selecting a package and then ‘Services’ > ‘Open Sesame’ > ‘Open As Root’ > ‘Login’ to launch the Installer, I could have used only the GUI instead of the command line to install OS42MachUserPatch4.pkg (which I have checked). No matter, though, because using the OPENSTEP command line in Terminal.app is a good learning exercise. The tutorial does not mention some other things I had to configure in VirtualBox. To get audio working I had to select ‘SoundBlaster 16’ for the Audio Controller, install a driver in OPENSTEP and reboot the VM (see details further on), and under ‘Network’ in VirtualBox Manager I had to select ‘Bridged Adapter, PCnet-PCI II (Am79C970A)’ with ‘Promiscuous Model: Allow All’. I also enabled ‘Serial Ports’ and disabled ‘USB Controller’ (USB had not yet been invented back then!).

The OS installer installs US English support and offers the option of installing support for any of five other languages too: Swedish, Spanish, Italian, German and French. I unticked all those and completed the installation. Later I decided it might be useful to have support for those additional languages, and I found it very easy to install them retrospectively: I simply loaded the OPENSTEP-Install-4.2.iso file into the VM’s ‘optical drive’, browsed the CDROM’s contents, selected Upgrader.app and then ‘Workspace’ > ‘File’ > ‘Open as Folder’. I found the language packages (SwedishEssentials.pkg etc.) in the folder ‘NextCD’ > ‘Packages’. I could then select each language package and use ‘Services’ > ‘Open Sesame’ and so on to install it, as explained earlier.

To get sound working in OPENSTEP running in VirtualBox the procedure given in a 2009 tutorial ‘Installation of OPENSTEP 4.2 in VMware 3.0 and VirtualBox‘ miraculously still worked for me:

Audio: Alejandro Diaz Infante (aka astroboy) managed to make the OPENSTEP Sound Blaster driver work under VMWare and VirtualBox.
The solution: use the drivers created by University of Glasgow (Thanks, developer(s) of them, wherever you are, for drivers you never imagined would be so useful in the future).

  1. Download SBSoundMidi.I.b.tar.gz and SBMixer.I.tar.gz
  2. Install SBSoundMidi driver for either Vibra16Cpnp or AWE32pnp. Both work great! (I use the default irq and io, but the second DMA I put it on 7, ’cause it was the detected one when used VMWare to test Windoze. Anyway, I didn’t detect any failure when using the second DMA in its default of 5, so I guess it could be up to you. In VirtualBox I didn’t change any default setting, just select the driver “SoundBlaster 16” in VirtualBox audio setting before installing.
  3. Install SBMixer to have better control of your sound card.

That’s it. Put those audio CD’s and multimedia apps back!

After copying SBSoundMidi.I.b.tar.gz to OPENSTEP I double-clicked on it to unpack it, and then double-clicked on SBSoundMidi.config to install the SoundBlaster 16 drivers. I then navigated to ‘openstep’ > ‘NextAdmin’ > ‘Configure.app’, selected the loudspeaker icon and specified the driver ‘SBSoundMidi driver for SoundBlaster AWE32 PnP (v3.38)‘.

SBMixer works, and OPENSTEP’s Sound Inspector can play .snd files without having to install additional software, although I found that some .snd files would not play completely. TheNeXTSong.snd (16-bit Linear format) which I downloaded from one of the OPENSTEP software repositories on the Web (see links at the end of this post) plays perfectly (and is amusing), but the shorter Welcome-to-the-NeXT-world.snd (8-bit muLaw format) stalls. I did manage to install a couple of audio players (see further down).

The only minor problem that occurs every time you login if the floppy disk drive is empty is a pop-up window with the message ‘The floppy disk is unreadable’. You can just click on ‘Eject’ but, to stop this happening, you can change the boot order in VirtualBox Manager and load one of the OPENSTEP floppy disk image files in the VM’s floppy disk drive (‘Settings…’ > ‘Storage’ > ‘Floppy Drive’ in VirtualBox Manager). Actually, I copied Driver_Floppy.img to Work_Floppy.img, loaded the latter in the VM’s floppy disk drive and I changed the Boot Order from ‘Floppy’|’Optical’|’Hard Disk’ to ‘Hard Disk’|’Optical’|’Floppy’ (‘Settings…’ > ‘System’ > ‘Motherboard’ > ‘Boot Order’ in the VirtualBox Manager). Furthermore, although not essential, I selected Work_Floppy in File Viewer, then in the Workspace menu I selected ‘Disk’ > ‘Initialize…’ and initialised (formatted) the floppy disk. Its icon disappears momentarily from File Viewer, then reappears after it has been formatted.

The command ifconfig on my VM host computer running Lubuntu 18.04 tells me that the IP address of the host machine is (I had previous configured my router to always assign this address to this machine), the netmask is and the broadcast IP address is My router’s Management page in a Web browser has the DHCP network range configured as –, so I decided the OPENSTEP VM would have a static IP address of The router’s Management page also told me that the ISP’s Primary DNS IP address is and the Secondary DNS IP address is Therefore, in accordance with the OPENSTEP installation tutorial I followed, I edited the file /etc/hostconfig in OPENSTEP to have the following shell variables:

# /etc/hostconfig
# This file sets up shell variables used by the various rc scripts to
# configure the host.  Edit this file instead of rc.boot.
# Warning:  This is sourced by /bin/sh.  Make sure there are no spaces
#           on either side of the "=".
# There are some special keywords used by rc boot and the programs it
# calls:
#       -AUTOMATIC-     Configure automatically
#       -YES-           Turn a feature on
#       -NO-            Leave a feature off or do not configure

I also created the file /etc/resolv.conf as specified in the tutorial, containing the following two lines with the ISP’s nameserver IP addresses I found from my router:


It was not specified in the tutorial, but to get NFS working later I found it was necessary to edit the file /etc/hosts to comment out the list of IP addresses and to add the hostname I had chosen (openstep) for the OPENSTEP VM plus the IP address ( and hostname (aspirexc600) of the VM host machine running Lubuntu 18.04:

# NOTE: This file is never consulted if NetInfo or Yellow Pages is running.
# To do anything on the network, you need to assign an address to your
# machine.  This default host table will get you started.  "myhost"
# can be used for the first machine on the network, and client[1-8]
# can be used for subsequent machines.  You must make sure that no two
# machines have the same address.  If you need to add more machines
# just keep adding entries.  Each digit in the four digit number must
# be between 1 and 254 inclusive.
#	myhost
#	client1
#	client2
#	client3
#	client4
#	client5
#	client6
#	client7
#	client8
# This is the reserved address for the loopback interface.  Don't muck
# with it.
#       localhost       openstep    aspirexc600

While setting up networking in the VM I also temporarily disabled the firewall in the VM host to make sure the VM host was not interfering in any way with the network connection of the VM, then enabled it again once I was happy it was not causing any problems. Later, when I configured the VM host as an NFS server and the VM as an NFS client, I had to create the appropriate rules for NFS in the VM host’s firewall (see further down).

You will see NetInfo mentioned in the OPENSTEP networking apps. You should ignore NetInfo unless you are going to network a cluster of machines running NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP, as it is an obsolete NeXT networking system configuration database and we don’t want to use it.

Installation of utilities and applications

After installing the OS neither the ‘me’ account nor the root account are password protected. You can use the OS like this if you wish, but I set up a password for the ‘me’ account by navigating to ‘openstep’ > ‘NextApps’ > Preferences.app and clicking on the padlock icon. Then I logged out and logged in to the root account and did the same to set up a password for the root user. If you want to save a bit of time during installation of applications, you could do this after installing all the packages.

OPENSTEP comes with quite a few utilities, such as Terminal.app, TextEdit.app, Draw.app, Sound.app (possibly useful if your host computer has a microphone socket and you enabled audio input in VirtualBox Manager), PhotoAlbum.app, CDPlayer.app, Webster.app (yes, a full dictionary), Librarian.app, PrintManager.app, Grab.app (to grab snapshots of all or parts of the screen and save them to .tiff files), Preview.app (an image file viewer), Mail.app, and others. You can try these and they are reasonably intuitive so I won’t dwell on them here, instead concentrating on how I installed third-party apps and utilities.

I had to trawl the Web to find packages and applications suitable for OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2 for i386. I find the filenames of the files stored on these Web sites confusing. I think.s‘ in the filename of a compressed file means it contains source code, and ‘.b‘ means it contains binary code, i.e. executable. However, some filenames have ‘.bs‘ but only contain source code, so I could be wrong. Also, I’m not sure what the letters ‘N‘, ‘I‘, ‘H‘ and ‘S‘ represent in these filenames; NeXT (Motorola 68k), Intel, Hewlett-Packard PA-RISC and SPARC, presumably? Some OPENSTEP packages are called ‘fat binaries’ as they contain binaries for several or all the supported CPU types, thus enabling the package to be installed in OPENSTEP on different hardware. So my guess about the letters in the filenames could be correct.

Without a Web browser in OPENSTEP, the easiest way to copy files to the OPENSTEP VM initially is to use the Linux mkisofs command to create an ISO file and then to load it into the VM’s optical drive. For example, let’s say I want to copy the file OpenUp-1.01.tar to the VM, I would type the following on the host machine:

$ mkdir ~/ToCopy
$ cp ~/Downloads/OpenUp-1.01.tar ~/ToCopy
$ mkisofs -o ToCopy.iso ~/ToCopy

I then use the VirtualBox Manager GUI (‘Settings’ > ‘Storage’ > ‘Choose Virtual Optical Disk File…’) to insert the ToCopy.iso file into the VM’s optical drive. OPENSTEP mounts the ‘CDROM’ automatically and it becomes visible in the OPENSTEP File Viewer window. When I click on the CDROM icon a window opens and I see it contains the file openup_1.tar which I can then drag to the Shelf or to another folder directly.

Packages for installation using the OPENSTEP Installer have a ‘.pkg‘ suffix (e.g. ParaSheet.pkg) and are actually a folder, not a file. Applications have a ‘.app‘ suffix (e.g. ParaSheet.app) and are also a folder, not a file. Some of the compressed files I found for OPENSTEP on the Web are tarballs of OPENSTEP packages (e.g. OpenWrite.2.1.8.NIHS.b.tar.gz contains OpenWrite.pkg), others are tarballs of OPENSTEP applications (e.g. mpap.1.0.m.I.b.tar.gz contains mpap.app) which require unpacking but no installation, just copying to a folder. The mkisofs command truncates filenames to the Short Filename format (a.k.a. DOS 8.3 format), so if I had any uncompressed .pkg files, .app files and indeed any other files (.pdf, .mp3 or whatever) to transfer to the VM, I compressed them first as .tar files before creating the .iso file. Even though the .tar filename is truncated to DOS 8.3 by mkisofs, the filenames of the packed files are not.

Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

a) Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

b) Installing a package in OPENSTEP 4.2.

Once you get the hang of installing packages in OPENSTEP, it is actually simple. For example, to install the package ParaSheet.pkg, I drag the .tar file from the CDROM to the Shelf, and from there to the folder /me. I double-click on the .tar file which opens a window showing the ParaSheet.pkg inside. I drag that to the /me folder. Then I select the package, and select ‘Workspace’ > ‘Open Sesame’ > ‘Open As Root’ > ‘Login’ and the Installer GUI opens. I then click on ‘Set…’ to specify the folder into which I want to install the application (e.g. /LocalApps/Office, as I had created the Office folder beforehand using Terminal.app) and then ‘Install’, and the Installer takes care of the rest.

In the case of applications that are not packaged and are just .app folders, I do not need to use the Installer, I just copy the .app folder to the folder I wish (/LocalApps/, /me/LocalApps/ or just /me/).

I found that, as-installed, OPENSTEP 4.2 can unpack .tar files from the GUI but does not have a GUI app for unpacking .tar.gz files, so the first thing I did was to install the OpenUp utility: OpenUp-1.01.m.NI.b.tgz which can be found at http://www.nextcomputers.org/NeXTfiles/Software/OPENSTEP/Apps/Compression_Utilities/ and works very well. Of course, I could have instead unpacked .tar.gz files in the host machine first and copied the .tar files to OPENSTEP using the mkisofs method I explained above, which the OPENSTEP GUI can unpack when I double-click on the .tar file. But OpenUp is well worth installing. After I had installed OpenUp and the OmniWeb browser in OPENSTEP, I was also able to download .tar.gz files directly in OPENSTEP from the various file repositories on the Web (see links at the end of this post) and unpack them in OPENSTEP.

By the way, see the links at the end of this post for user documentation. The OPENSTEP GUI is intuitive but I didn’t realise I could rename files from the GUI by clicking on the filename below the icon to get a cursor and typing directly (just like macOS), and I also didn’t know that I could use the ‘shelf’ at the top of the File Viewer as a temporary place to put copies of files to copy files between folders as an alternative to opening another File Viewer window. I also wondered how to select multiple files in a window when they are not adjacent, since using the mouse to select the group of files is not feasible in that case. It turns out the you hold down the Shift key and click on each file you want to select, which is analogous to holding down the Ctrl key and clicking on each file in Linux. I also found that I can copy a file between two File Viewer windows by clicking on it and holding down the Alt Gr key then dragging across to the other window.

Installation of a Web browser

This is where things start to get trickier. Bear in mind that NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP were created in the 1980s and 1990s when the Web was in its infancy. As I mentioned earlier, the first Web browser was written on a NeXTcube at CERN, and that machine was the first Web server in existence. The best Web browser I could find for the platform is OmniWeb 3.1 for OPENSTEP. Before installing it, you need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2. Also, the browser does not support HTTPS, Javascript and Flash out of the box and you have to install plugins. Unfortunately the plugins for these are very flaky, so you are severely limited in which sites and pages you can browse. Note that Netscape Communications created HTTPS in 1994, Netscape Communications and Sun Microsystems released JavaScript in December 1995, and Macromedia released Flash in November 1996. I don’t know if the OmniWeb plugins for HTTPS, JavaScript and Flash for OPENSTEP that I found are the latest or best versions for this version of OmniWeb, but they are what I could find online. JavaScript in Web pages results in a lot of pop-up error messages and made opening pages even less likely to be successful, so in the OmniWeb menu I navigated to ‘Info’ > ‘User Preferences…’ > ‘JavaScript’ and unticked ‘Display panel for errors’. I also navigated to ‘Info’ > ‘Administrator Preferences’ > ‘HTTPS – SSL’ and ticked ‘Enable TLSv1’, which seemed to enable a few HTTPS Web pages to load, at least partially.

You have to install OpenSSL before installing the HTTPS plugin for OmniWeb. I installed the package OpenSSL.0.9.5a.m.NIS.b.tar.gz which I downloaded from http://www.nextcomputers.org/NeXTfiles/Software/OPENSTEP/Apps/Internet/WWW/Web%20Browsers/Omniweb/Plugins/. Then I installed the package HTTPS.1.09b.m.NIS.b.tar.gz from the same site, which installs the file (folder) HTTPS.plugin, which needs to be in the folder /LocalLibrary/Plugins/ (‘NEXTSTEP’ > ‘LocalLibrary’ > ‘Plugins’).

Then I downloaded and installed the two packages JavaScript-OWPlugin-1999-07-20-OSM-NIS.tar.gz (installs JavaScript.plugin) and Flash-OWPlugin-19990621-OSM-NIS.tar (installs Flash.plugin) which also need to be in the folder /LocalLibrary/Plugins/ (‘NEXTSTEP’ > ‘LocalLibrary’ > ‘Plugins’ in the File Viewer). I found these two packages via a BetaArchive post [offer] OmniGroup software (NeXTSTEP, OpenStep & Rhapsody), which has a link to a .rar file at http://www.mediafire.com/file/wzyon54l4dt/OmniGroup.rar/file.

Unfortunately, even with the HTTPS and JavaScript plugins installed, almost all Web pages fail to load in OmniWeb, one exception being https://www.google.com. Old HTTP Web sites do load providing they are simple, but any JavaScript seems to cause a problem.

Installation of a PDF file reader

The best PDF file reader I could find for the platform is OmniPDF 3 for OPENSTEP. If you have not already installed Omni Frameworks, you first need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2.

Installation of an image viewer

The best (supposedly) image file viewer I could find for the platform is OmniImage 4.0 for OPENSTEP. If you have not already installed Omni Frameworks, you first need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2. However, according to the file /OmniImage.pkg/OmniImage.info it is a beta release and, in addition to Omni Frameworks, requires ‘Omni Plugins’:

Title OmniImage 4.0 beta for OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2
Version 4.0 beta 4 (1-Oct-1998)
Description This package contains a beta version of OmniImage. This beta release only supports viewing of images, not saving them. This release will not run unless the the Omni Frameworks (version 1998G2) are installed, and will not be fully functional (e.g., images may not be rendered) unless the Omni PlugIns (version 3.0 beta 8) are also installed. This software requires OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2.

I found the file OmniPlugIns-3.0b8-OSM-NIS.pkg.tar.gz in the BetaArchive post mentioned earlier in this post. I downloaded the tarball, created an ISO file containing it, loaded the ISO file in the VM CDROM drive, unpacked the tarball to /me/OmniPlugIns.pkg and installed the package using the OPENSTEP GUI Installer using the procedure explained earlier in this post. The Omni PlugIns were installed in the folder /LocalLibrary/PlugIns/ and I then found that OmniImage can open JPG files, even a 3456×2304 pixel JPG file with the following properties (as reported by the file command in Linux):

JPEG image data, JFIF standard 1.01, resolution (DPI), density 300x300, segment length 16, Exif Standard: [TIFF image data, big-endian, direntries=4, manufacturer=Canon, model=Canon EOS 600D], baseline, precision 8, 3456x2304, frames 3

Installation of wordprocessor and spreadsheet apps

OpenWrite and ParaSheet in use

OpenWrite and ParaSheet in use.

I created the folder /LocalApps/Office/ and installed OpenWrite from OpenWrite.2.1.8.NIHS.b.tar.gz which I downloaded from Index of /OpenStep/Soft/misc/NEXTTOYOU/97.1-Fruehjahr/APPSTOYOU. If you have not already installed it, before installing these apps you need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2.

In the folder /LocalApps/Office/ I also installed ParaSheet from ParaSheet-1.7.pkg.tar.gz which I downloaded from Index of /NeXTfiles/Software/NEXTSTEP/Apps/Lighthouse_Design/ParaSheet. If you have not already installed Omni Frameworks, before installing these apps you need to install Omni Frameworks 1998G2.

The first time you launch OpenWrite and ParaSheet you will be notified that you cannot use the application until you enter a licence key. Exit the application and use ‘Open Sesame’ (see earlier) to launch the application as root user, and then you well be able to enter the licence. You will find a list of licences for these packages on the Web page Index of /NeXTfiles/Software/NEXTSTEP/Apps/Lighthouse_Design.

Installation of audio players

mpap and MMP audio players in action

mpap and MMP audio players in action.

The only audio players I could find that actually worked (partially) in OPENSTEP are mpap 1.0 (download mpap.1.0.m.I.b.tar.gz) and MMP 2 (download mmp2.I.b.tar.gz). mpap can play some, but not all, of the mp3 files I have, whereas I could not get MMP to play mp3 files at all, although it can play .snd files. MMP can also play MIDI files, but I had to download the Timidity patches instruments.tar.gz (not so easy to find!) and follow the instructions in the MMP Info Panel in order to install the instruments patch file. It works fine! mpap cannot play an mp3 file which the files command in Linux tells me is an ‘Audio file with ID3 version 2.4.0, contains:MPEG ADTS, layer III, v2.5, 32 kbps, 11.025 kHz, Stereo’ but it can play an mp3 file which is an ‘Audio file with ID3 version 2.4.0, contains:MPEG ADTS, layer III, v1, 192 kbps, 44.1 kHz, Stereo’. mpap has a basic playlist feature, but it is not as sophisticated as any of the modern audio players.

Installation of video players

MPLAY and Movie players in action

MPLAY and Movie players in action.

This is where OPENSTEP is severely lacking in comparison to any modern OS; apparently we’re talking 5.5 or 6 frames per second and e.g. 288×224 pixels on NeXT hardware, and no sound. I only managed to find a couple of basic video players, both at Index of /OpenStep/Soft/video/apps: MPlay 3.0 (MPlay.app unpacked from MPlay.3.0.NIHS.b.tar.gz) and Movie 3.0 (Movie3.0 folder unpacked from Movie.3.0.NIHS.bs.tar.gz). MPlay is only designed to play MPEG (.mpg and .mpeg) files, which I found it can do for the old, tiny MPEG files I downloaded from Web repositories of NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP files. I found that Movie can also only play MPEG files, despite the app’s README file stating it can play (without sound) MPEG, TIFF sequences, ‘QuickTime and other formats’. Movie comes with a couple of demo videos (no audio), the largest of which is hula_full.mpg in the mpeg1video format, consisting of 39 frames of 352×240 pixels, with a desired frame rate of 8 fps which actually plays at between 8 and 9 frames per second in OPENSTEP in the VM, i.e. it plays for around 4 to 5 seconds. In a video player in Linux on my desktop machine it plays for just over 2 seconds at 15 frames per second. These videos and players may have been state-of-the-art in the 1980s and early 1990s, but they certainly are not now!

I could not find an app package to play .avi files. The page I linked to above has a source-code tarball named VideoStreamV1.OSrc.tar.gz for an app named VideoStream, the README of which claims the app can play .avi files, but I have not found an executable package. Anyway, the README file states it cannot play videos with sound, so obviously I didn’t bother trying to install it.


I am not particularly interested in computer games, but a few are installed by default with the OS: Chess.app, Billiards.app and BoinkOut.app (a clone of Breakout). More games for OPENSTEP can be found on the Web (for example at Index of /OpenStep/Soft/). The computer game Doom was originally developed in NEXTSTEP on NeXT computers, and a version for OPENSTEP can be downloaded from the Web, although I have not tried it.

File sharing

NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP was designed to use NFS (Network File System). However I don’t use NFS in my home network; I use SMB and have a dedicated Linux SMB server which works well with all SMB clients (Linux, Windows and Android) on my home network. Unsurprisingly I could only find early versions of Samba packages for NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP. I also came across ramba, a Unix clone of Samba later renamed to Sharity-Light. I downloaded them both and briefly tried to get OPENSTEP to connect to my network Samba server. I was unsuccessful, which does not surprise me as the version of Samba for NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP I found is Version from May 2000, and the obsolete version of rumba I found is Version 0.4 from February 1997. In NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP the Samba configuration file smb.conf is located in the directory /usr/samba/lib/ rather than /etc/samba/. I did not spend much time trying to get Samba/Rumba working as I assume there would be incompatibility between the early SMB protocol used by Samba V2.0.7.1 / Rumba V0.4 with Samba V4.* running in the Linux SMB server on my network. Perhaps I could have made it work, but I decided to try to make the VM’s host computer ( a NFS server to see if I could get the VM ( to access it as a NFS client. The Web page OpenStep on Microsoft Windows PC Emulators states the following, which indicates that NFS works:

Device: Network
OpenStep Configuration: AMD PCnet-32 PCI Ethernet Adapter
VirtualBox Configuration: Bridged Adapter, PCnet-PCI II, Promiscuous Mode All
Observations: This works fine. Using SimpleNetworkStarter I was able to give OpenStep an IP address on my subnet, using my real router and real DNS servers. This allowed OpenStep to be ‘seen’ on the subnet. Standard networking facilities such as FTP and NFS work. It may help to run the a command such as the following from the VirtualBox installation directory, where “OpenStep” is whatever you name the virtual machine and “” depends on your local subnet:

VBoxManage modifyvm OpenStep --natnet1 ""

As I had named the VM ‘OPENSTEP4.2’ in VirtualBox Manager, I used the following command:

$ VBoxManage modifyvm OPENSTEP4.2 --natnet1 ""

However I doubt this made any difference, because I had set the VM’s network adapter to ‘Bridged Adapter’ in the VirtualBox Manager, not ‘NAT’. I had to select ‘Bridged Adapter’ because I could not get the VM to connect to the network otherwise.

I also made sure the adapter in the VirtualBox Manager is set to ‘PCnet-PCI II (Am79C970A)’ and Promiscuous Mode is set to ‘Allow All’.

In addition to the network configuration notes in the OPENSTEP installation tutorial I mentioned earlier, for information only see the old tutorial ‘NeXTStep/OpenStep Ethernet-Based Network Configuration For Cable Modems, DSL, LANs, Etc…‘.

Anyway, below is what I did to get NFS working. The crucial thing to note is that OPENSTEP 4.2 uses NFSv2. I spent many hours unsuccessfully trying to get NFS working between the NFS server (a machine with IP address and the NFS client (a VM with IP address 192.168.63) until I realised this. The NFS server is running Lubuntu 18.04, which uses NFSv4 by default. Therefore I had to configure the NFS server to use NFSv2 as well. Not only that, but I had to configure NFSv2 to use static ports, because the ports can change randomly in NFSv2 which would stop NFS working if there is a firewall enabled on the host machine.

In the NFS server (Lubuntu 18.04 running on a desktop machine)

N.B. My NFS server is running in Lubuntu 18.04 on a machine with an IP address of, and my NFS client is running in OPENSTEP 4.2 on a VM with IP address of Change the IP addresses below to suit your situation.

1. Install the NFS server software

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install nfs-kernel-server

2. Create a mountpoint for the NFS shared directory

$ sudo mkdir /var/nfs
$ sudo chown nobody:nogroup /var/nfs
$ sudo chmod 777 /var/nfs

3. Configure the NFS export

$ sudo nano /etc/exports

3.1 Choose which of the following types of share you want to have

3.1.1 Less secure:


If ‘no_root_squash‘ is used, remote root users are able to change any file on the shared file system and leave trojaned applications for other users to inadvertently execute.

3.1.2 More secure:


3.2 Update the current table of exports for the NFS server

$ sudo exportfs -a

You can check the current table settings:

$ sudo exportfs -s

If you wanted to clear the table (unexport the shared directories) you would do:

$ sudo exportfs -u
$ sudo exportfs -u
$ sudo exportfs -s

4. Load the NFSv2 kernel module

If lockd is built as a module (which it is in Lubuntu 18.04), create file /etc/modprobe.d/nfsv2.conf containing the following:

options lockd.nlm_udpport=4001 lockd.nlm_tcpport=4001
$ sudo modprobe nfsv2

If you want to make that permanent so it happens automatically when booting/rebooting add ‘nfsv2‘ (without the quotes) to the file /etc/modules-load.d/modules.conf (which in Lubuntu 18.04 is symlinked to /etc/modules).

5. Configure the NFS server

See ‘How can I make the nfs server support protocol version 2 in Ubuntu 17.10?‘.

Edit /etc/default/nfs-kernel-server to include NFSv2 and to specify static ports:

$ sudo nano /etc/default/nfs-kernel-server
# Number of servers to start up

# Runtime priority of server (see nice(1))

# Options for rpc.mountd.
# If you have a port-based firewall, you might want to set up
# a fixed port here using the --port option. For more information, 
# see rpc.mountd(8) or http://wiki.debian.org/SecuringNFS
# To disable NFSv4 on the server, specify '--no-nfs-version 4' here
RPCMOUNTDOPTS="--manage-gids -p 32767"
# -p 32767 above added by Fitzcarraldo

# Do you want to start the svcgssd daemon? It is only required for Kerberos
# exports. Valid alternatives are "yes" and "no"; the default is "no".

# Options for rpc.svcgssd.

# All options below this comment were added by Fitzcarraldo
# Options to pass to rpc.statd
# ex. RPCSTATDOPTS="-p 32765 -o 32766"
RPCSTATDOPTS="-p 32765 -o 32766"
# Options to pass to rpc.rquotad
# ex. RPCRQUOTADOPTS="-p 32764"
RPCNFSDOPTS="--nfs-version 2,3,4 --debug --syslog"
# To confirm above mods are in effect after service restart use
#    cat /run/sysconfig/nfs-utils
#  or 
#    service nfs-kernel-server status

Edit /etc/default/nfs-common to specify static ports for rpc-statd:

# If you do not set values for the NEED_ options, they will be attempted
# autodetected; this should be sufficient for most people. Valid alternatives
# for the NEED_ options are "yes" and "no".

# Options for rpc.statd.
#   Should rpc.statd listen on a specific port? This is especially useful
#   when you have a port-based firewall. To use a fixed port, set this
#   this variable to a statd argument like: "--port 4000 --outgoing-port 4001".
#   For more information, see rpc.statd(8) or http://wiki.debian.org/SecuringNFS
STATDOPTS="-o 32766 -p 32765"
# -o 32766 -p 32765 above were added by Fitzcarraldo

# Do you want to start the gssd daemon? It is required for Kerberos mounts.

(I had to edit /etc/default/nfs-common to specify the ports for rpc-statd in STATDOPTS because specifying the ports in RPCSTATDOPTS in /etc/default/nfs-kernel-server did not make the status ports static.)

Edit /etc/sysctl.conf to add a static port mapping for lockd:

$ sudo nano /etc/sysctl.conf
# All lines below added by Fitzcarraldo
# TCP Port for lock manager
fs.nfs.nlm_tcpport = 4001
# UDP Port for lock manager
fs.nfs.nlm_udpport = 4001

Modify the lockd kernel parameters now during runtime rather than having to reboot:

$ sudo sysctl -p

Note that it is necessary to specify static ports in the configuration files so that tight rules can be added to the firewall in the NFS server.

6. Start the NFS server

Either the sysvinit way, which still works in Lubuntu 18.04:

$ sudo service nfs-kernel-server start

or the systemd way, which also works in Lubuntu 18.04:

sudo systemctl start nfs-kernel-server

If you want, you could enable the service so it starts automatically after the system is rebooted:

$ sudo systemctl enable nfs-kernel-server

7. Start the NSM (Network Status Monitor) daemon

Either the sysvinit way, which still works in Lubuntu 18.04:

$ sudo service rpc-statd start

or the systemd way, which also works in Lubuntu 18.04:

$ sudo systemctl start rpc-statd

If you want, you could enable the service so it starts automatically after the system is rebooted:

$ sudo systemctl enable rpc-statd

8. Check that NFSv2 is running and the ports are the ones specified in the config files

$ rpcinfo -p
   program vers proto   port  service
    100000    4   tcp    111  portmapper
    100000    3   tcp    111  portmapper
    100000    2   tcp    111  portmapper
    100000    4   udp    111  portmapper
    100000    3   udp    111  portmapper
    100000    2   udp    111  portmapper
    100005    1   udp  32767  mountd
    100005    1   tcp  32767  mountd
    100005    2   udp  32767  mountd
    100005    2   tcp  32767  mountd
    100005    3   udp  32767  mountd
    100005    3   tcp  32767  mountd
    100003    2   tcp   2049  nfs
    100003    3   tcp   2049  nfs
    100003    4   tcp   2049  nfs
    100227    2   tcp   2049
    100227    3   tcp   2049
    100003    2   udp   2049  nfs
    100003    3   udp   2049  nfs
    100227    2   udp   2049
    100227    3   udp   2049
    100021    1   udp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    3   udp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    4   udp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    1   tcp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    3   tcp   4001  nlockmgr
    100021    4   tcp   4001  nlockmgr
    100024    1   udp  32765  status
    100024    1   tcp  32765  status

9. Configure the firewall in Lubuntu 18.04

I used Gufw (LXDE Menu > ‘Preferences’ > ‘Firewall Configuration’) to add the following two UFW rules:

111,2049,4001,32765:32768/udp ALLOW IN
111,2049,4001,32765:32768/tcp ALLOW IN

The above rules permit NFSv2 to function consistently because I had configured the NFS ports to be static. If I had not done that the firewall would sometimes stop NFS from working because NFSv2 ports change randomly otherwise.

In OPENSTEP running in the VM

10. Make sure basic networking has been configured

I navigated to ‘openstep’ > ‘NextAdmin’ > ‘SimpleNetworkStartup.app’ and did the following:

  • Unticked ‘Maintain the master copy of network administrative data.’
  • Selected ‘Use the network, but don’t share administrative data.’
  • Entered the Hostname ‘openstep‘ (no quotes) and IP address
  • Clicked on ‘Network Options…’. In the window that opened I did the following:
    • Made sure router IP is set to
    • Made sure NIS Domain Name is set to ‘None’
    • Made sure Netmask is set to
    • Made sure Broadcast Address is set to
    • ‘Limit access to local NetInfo data to the local network’ is unticked.
    • Clicked on ‘Set’.
  • Clicked on ‘Configure’.

11. Create the shared NFS director[y,ies]

N.B. I could probably have created the directory /mnt/nfs/nfsshare and/or /mnt/nfs/var/nfs (whichever you chose to create — see 3.1 above) using ‘openstep’ > ‘NextAdmin’ > ‘NFSManager.app’ instead of using the command line, but I opened a Terminal window in OPENSTEP and did the following:

openstep> su
openstep:1# mkdir /mnt
openstep:2# mkdir /mnt/nfs
openstep:3# mkdir /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
openstep:4# mkdir /mnt/nfs/var
openstep:5# mkdir /mnt/nfs/var/nfs

12. Mount the NFS share(s)

openstep:6# mount /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
openstep:7# mount /mnt/nfs/var/nfs

Use the df command to check they are mounted correctly:

openstep:8# df

13. Test the shared director[y,ies]

In Lubuntu on the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘, copy a file into /var/nfs/ (or /home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare/). You should see it appear in /mnt/nfs/var/nfs/ (or /mnt/nfs/nfsshare/) in OPENSTEP in the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘.

In OPENSTEP on the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘, copy a file into /mnt/nfs/var/nfs/ (not /mnt/nfs/nfsshare/, as that will not be allowed). You should see it appear in /var/nfs/ in Linux in the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘.

In Lubuntu on the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘, delete the file in /var/nfs/ and you should see it removed from /mnt/nfs/var/nfs/ in OPENSTEP on the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘.

In Lubuntu on the machine with hostname ‘aspirexc600‘, delete the file in /home/fitzcarraldo/nfsshare/ and you should see it removed from /mnt/nfs/nfsshare/ in OPENSTEP on the VM with hostname ‘openstep‘.

14. If you later want to unmount the NFS shared folder(s)

openstep:9# umount /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
openstep:10# umount /mnt/nfs/var/nfs

15. If you want OPENSTEP to mount the NFS shared folder(s) automatically when it boots

I was unable to get OPENSTEP to mount NFS shared folders automatically at boot by adding the appropriate lines in /etc/fstab, but OPENSTEP does mount them automatically if I add the mount commands to /etc/rc.local like so:

#!/bin/sh -u
# This script is for augmenting the standard system startup commands. It is 
# executed automatically by the system during boot up. 
# Copyright (C) 1993 by NeXT Computer, Inc.  All rights reserved.
# In its released form, this script does nothing. You may customize
# it as you wish.

fbshow -B -I "Starting local services" -z 92

# Read in configuration information
. /etc/hostconfig

# (echo -n 'local daemons:')                                    >/dev/console
# Run your own commands here
mount /mnt/nfs/var/nfs
mount /mnt/nfs/nfsshare
# (echo '.')                                                    >/dev/console

File sharing: Summary

So, I managed to get NFS working, albeit not using OPENSTEP’s NFSManager.app tool. Had I known more about OPENSTEP networking I probably could have used the OPENSTEP GUI utilities to configure NFS, but at least I have proved it is possible to copy files to and from an NFS server (which happens to be the host machine of the VM) running Lubuntu 18.04 and the VM running OPENSTEP 4.2. Mind you, NFSv2 is old. NFSv4 would be the protocol to use had OPENSTEP supported it. Also, bear in mind that NFSv2 cannot encrypt the connection, so it is not secure. Another reason to have a good firewall enabled in the VirtualBox host machine and in my router too.


I have had fun installing and tinkering with OPENSTEP and its applications over the last few days. Getting file sharing to work was by far the most difficult part, but I got there in the end once I had discovered OPENSTEP only supports NFSv2. It is a pity OPENSTEP and the applications for it have not been developed for many years and are all obsolete. If development of OPENSTEP drivers, networking software, productivity applications and multimedia applications had continued, the OS itself would still have been perfectly usable on modern hardware, albeit not as straightforward to use as any of the main Desktop Environments in Linux. But the OS still feels quite modern; it was definitely ahead of its time. Tinkering with OPENSTEP 4.2 has given me a new respect for Steve Jobs, for the talented hardware and software engineers in the NeXT company, and indeed for Mac OS X and macOS. The choice of Unix for NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP was truely inspired.

In this blog post I have not covered the sophisticated development tools for NEXTSTEP/OPENSTEP, which were also way ahead of their time. I’ll leave you to read the articles, documents and videos available on the Web about the development tools.

Please comment below if you notice any errors or omissions in this post, or if you know a better way of doing something in OPENSTEP, or you know of newer versions of the OPENSTEP software than the versions I have mentioned. I’d also be interested to hear from anyone who has a NeXT machine and/or is still using one; let me know what you have and how you’re using it.

Useful links

These are just a few of the many Web pages and sites I browsed when installing OPENSTEP 4.2 and looking for applications and ways to get various things to work.


Software repositories

Sometimes differences between NEXTSTEP and OPENSTEP may mean a NETSCAPE application cannot be installed in OPENSTEP or, if it can, may not work. Furthermore, be aware that different revisions of the same application/utility exist online, so you need to try and find the latest revisions.

Replacing the KDE Plasma widget ‘Thermal Monitor’ with ‘Kargos’ in Gentoo Linux

The KDE Plasma widget Thermal Monitor has not been working correctly in my Gentoo Linux installations for quite some time. I notice Thermal Monitor’s repository has not been updated for a couple of years, despite several new versions of KDE Plasma having been released. Perhaps that is the reason.

On my laptop running the Stable Branch of Gentoo Linux, Thermal Monitor displays the GPU and HDD temperatures automatically but CPU temperatures were only displayed if I right-clicked on the widget and selected ‘Reload Temperature Sources’. I managed to get the widget to display the CPU temperatures automatically by editing the file ~/.local/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.thermalMonitor/contents/ui/main.qml and commenting out a line as shown in the file excerpt below:

onSourceAdded: {

if (source.indexOf(lmSensorsStart) === 0 || source.indexOf(acpiStart) === 0) {
*                systemmonitorAvailableSources.push(source)
var staIndex = systemmonitorSourcesToAdd.indexOf(source)
if (staIndex > -1) {
addToSourcesOfDatasource(systemmonitorDS, source)
systemmonitorSourcesToAdd.splice(staIndex, 1)



The above modification is suggested in a comment to Issue #53 in the widget’s repository.

However, the above-mentioned edit does not fix Thermal Monitor on my laptop running the Testing Branch of Gentoo Linux, and Thermal Monitor no longer displays the GPU temperature either. Actually, the CPU’s four core temperatures and the GPU temperature are no longer listed in the Thermal Monitor configuration window, only a single CPU temperature. Not surprisingly, none of the suggested changes to the file ~/.local/share/plasma/plasmoids/org.kde.thermalMonitor/contents/ui/main.qml that I found in Web searches made a difference. However, while researching the problem I came across a Manjaro Forums post by user bogdancovaciu about the Kargos Plasma widget, a KDE Plasma port of GNOME Argos and OSX BitBar. Kargos enables you to create a Plasma widget that runs your own script, which can be written in any language, providing its output adheres to a specified format. I also found a repository named k-argos-plugins containing further example scripts for Kargos. As none of the solutions suggested for Thermal Monitor in that Manjaro thread worked for me, I decided to try the Kargos widget instead. It works a treat.

kargos widget on KDE Plasma Panel

kargos widget on KDE Plasma Panel of my Compal NBLB2 laptop

Below I explain what I did to install and configure the Kargos widget on my KDE Panel in Gentoo Linux (see screenshot). The packages lm-sensors and hddtemp were already installed in my case, but if they had not been, I would have needed to install and configure them, so I have included those steps below.

1. Install and configure lm-sensors

root # emerge lm-sensors
root # rc-update add lm_sensors default
root # sensors-detect

In my case sensors-detect created the file /etc/modules-load.d/lm_sensors.conf containing only the following:

# Generated by sensors-detect on Sun Oct 27 03:07:08 2019

2. Start lm-sensors now, rather than rebooting

root # /etc/init.d/lm_sensors start

3. I wanted to use the nc command in my shell script for Kargos, so I installed its package

root # emerge netcat

4. Install and configure hddtemp

root # emerge hddtemp
root # rc-update add hddtemp default

Specify in the config file /etc/conf.d/hddtemp which drives to check:

# Copyright 1999-2012 Gentoo Foundation
# Distributed under the terms of the GNU General Public License v2

# the hddtemp executable

# various options to pass to the daemon

# a list of drives to check

5. Start hddtemp now, rather than rebooting

root # /etc/init.d/hddtemp start

6. Install Kargos

On the KDE Plasma Desktop, click on the ‘Desktop’ menu icon (the three horizontal lines in the top right corner of the Desktop) and select: ‘Unlock Widgets’ > ‘Add Widgets…’ > ‘Get New Widgets…’ > ‘Download New Plasma Widgets’. Search for, and install, ‘kargos’ widget.

7. Create the Bash script ~/temperatures.3s.sh containing the following:

temp=$(sensors | grep -oP 'Core.*?\+\K[0-9.]+')
temp0=$(sensors | grep 'Core 0' | cut -c '16-17')
temp1=$(sensors | grep 'Core 1' | cut -c '16-17')
temp2=$(sensors | grep 'Core 2' | cut -c '16-17')
temp3=$(sensors | grep 'Core 3' | cut -c '16-17')
hdd_temp=$(nc localhost 7634 | cut -c '33-34')
gpu_temp=$(sensors | grep -A 2 'radeon' | grep 'temp1' | cut -c '16-17')
echo "
<font size="1">CPU1&nbsp;&nbsp;CPU2&nbsp;&nbsp;CPU3&nbsp;&nbsp;CPU4&nbsp;&nbsp;GPU&nbsp;&nbsp;HDD</font>
${temp0%%.*}°&nbsp;&nbsp;${temp1%%.*}°&nbsp;&nbsp;${temp2%%.*}°&nbsp;&nbsp;${temp3%%.*}°&nbsp;${gpu_temp}°&nbsp;${hdd_temp}°| font=Hack-Regular size=10"
# Uncomment the lines below if you want to be able to click on the kargos widget and display a pop-up TOP
#echo "---"
#TOP_OUTPUT=$(top -b -n 1 | head -n 20 | awk 1 ORS="\\\\n")
#echo "$TOP_OUTPUT | font=monospace iconName=htop"

The script above is specifically for the temperature sensors in my Clevo NBLB2 laptop. To find out which temperatures are available, and which characters to extract, use the following command:

root # sensors

Don’t forget to make the script executable:

user $ chmod +x ~/temperatures.3s.sh

Note that the ‘.3s‘ in the script name is optional but, if included, will override the kargos configuration (see further on) and run the script every 3 seconds. I could have specified another frequency, such as ‘.5s‘ or whatever.

8. Add the kargos widget to the KDE Panel.

9. Right-click on the kargos widget on the KDE Panel and select ‘Configure kargos…’.

10. Configure the kargos widget

In the first box in the configuration window, enter the full path of the script:


In the second box leave ‘Interval in seconds’ as ‘1‘. This is overridden anyway if the script filename includes the interval.

In the third box leave ‘Rotation delay in seconds’ as ‘6‘.

On the KDE Plasma Desktop, click on the Desktop menu icon (three horizontal lines) and select: ‘Lock Widgets’.

11. Depending on the font configuration for the KDE Desktop, it may be necessary to edit the Bash script ~/temperatures.3s.sh to change the font name or size, the number of non-breaking spaces between the names displayed on the top line, and the number of non-breaking spaces between the temperature values displayed on the bottom line.