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R > RESEARCH MACHINES > Nimbus PC


RESEARCH MACHINES  Research Machines
Nimbus PC

Windows 1.0 by Nick Grattan:
Interestingly, RM released a version of Microsoft Windows 1.0 (Beta) in 1985. I wrote my first Windows programme, a HP 2392 terminal emulator on such a machine. Windows ran in four colors; black, white, blue and red. Under Windows, all 1MB of memory could be directly accessed, compared to the IBM PC which as limited to 640KB.

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Alison Challis (Cambridge UK) reports :
A popular project for the up and coming teenage programmers at the time was to use the extra colour and graphics capabilities of the RM Basic to code picture perfect password grabbers, as predominately these machines were almost always networked. We grew up in a graphical networked environment about 10-15 years before it took hold in today's open plan offices. The RM machine used to run a custom version of Windows 2.0, something along the lines of the early Windows 286. Aldus Pagemaker - the DTP package, was another solid performer on the machines. Very early versions of Corel Draw also get a mention. They all worked on the 186 Nimbus. The machine was used in education well into the early 1990's.

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Windows 3.0 by Andy Laird
Later revisions of the RM Networking software used a customised version of Microsoft Lan Manager which required the client RM workstations to run Windows 3.0. It was quite a struggle for the original Nimbus 186 PCs - it took an age to boot Windows 3 from over the network, was slow as hell to use, and I seem to remember it crashing a lot!

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Nimbus network, by James Cronin:
I used and partly managed a large network of these machine in the early to mid nineties, when they were starting to get out of date. The server at the time was a Nimbus VX which as I recal was a modified 386, but unlike the 186 machines could run a normal version of MS-DOS although a modified version was used which contained the server software.
The machines changed their looks in later models. The monitors and cases were redesigned to give them a more moden look, but the same basic internal parts were kept except that a 1.4 megabyte floppy drive was now avaliable. In fact there was also another design that predated the picture shown that had a much larger 3 1/2 inch floppy drive, and also had 3 or four cartridge slots at the bottom of the front pannel. The case was still the same size as the one shown here.
The final case design was also used in the later 286 and 386 based machines, which were also capable of joining the network.

Many of the machines were sold without harddrives, and booted directly off the network cable. The network could either by on RJ11 cables (piconet) or on BNC cables for either ethernet or Z-Net which we used. The Z-Net as it was called ran at much lower bandwidth (2 - 3 Mbps as i recall) and used 75 Ohm cables (but still on BNC unlike thicknet did) and did not use transceivers. The cable used traditional BNC ethernet T pieces instead with a terminator at each end. You could not get repeaters so cable length was limited, but you could install several cards in the server to allow added length.

The insides of the computer were not as you would reconise them today. Although it was based on a IBM compatible machine there was a tendancy to try and use BBC acorn standards as well. There were no 'expansion' slots, but instead a ribon cable was used to connect option cards up. As standard there was only a mouse, keyboard, and 2 monitor plugs. Serial, parallel and a BBC style 'user port' were on option cards. Memory pluged into the main board, but was on much large cards containing many tens of small chips.
The video output was either a BBC standard 5 pin DIN plug or a 9 pin Sub-D plug giving a CGA level output. The 286 and 386 versions had VGA 15 Pin Sub-D plugs instead.
The server for our system was originaly a AX server based again on a 286 processor, but we upgraded this to a VX machine, and ran with the AX as the bosses workstation.
As I recall the later versions of the networking software split the system into two seperate sections one for the 186 machines, and one for the 286 and above machines allowing you to run IBM compatible software on the later machines.

As they booted direct from the network you gave each machine a network ID ranging from 1 (the server was 0) to 127) in its bios and it then did the rest from the server. Once loaded the system had its own propriatry logon interface, and the username NETMGR was used as the administrator logon. The server just had a basic command prompt, which allowed you to shut it down, restart it, manage print jobs and kick users off etc. Apart from that all managment was done from the workstation except that you could as I remember cause the server to start-up in a workstation mode. This was done on our system by removing the boot disk. it normaly loaded up of a floppy disk! this allowed you to login as NETMGR only, to configure it if required.
This also allowed you to get access to the local disks. As this required shuting down the system it was not normaly done, and the roots of the drives were shared out. As I recal we had a 128 Mbyte disk and a 512 Mbyte disk in the server and each user had around 100 Kbytes of storage space on what was called the N: drive - Something I still insist on using as the home drive letter on all my networks to this day.

The user interface could be either Windows ( a heavily changed version) or what was called the Welcome System - but was usualy refered to as Blue Screens. This was a simple buy highly user friendly menu system using the function keys. It prevented users from changing stuff, and also allowed the network manager to define very easily which users could use what (either on a group or individual level) This was phased out in place of Windows on our system very early on because Windows allowed you to run programs within it unlike the Blue Screen system. Many attempts were made to run windows from an option on the blue screens system but many failed due to lack of memory, and other conflicts, and Rm advised not to do this quite strongly.
The ultimat in access as far as our users were concerned was a DOS account where after login on you were given a DOS prompt allowing you to either run Windows or Blue Screen, or other DOS applications. The main advantage to this was that you could run applications that required lots of memory as windows or Blue Screen always stayed in memory as it does today. The most notable piece of software was a program called DataEase which was a highly configurable database package, which is still used today, and allowed the user to create their own menues for their users, and also allowed the database designer to put in their own users into the database, and limit/grant access to different peices of information. It could even run on multipal machines at once and access the same database - Unheard of at the time where dumb terminals were used to get around this problem.

Programing was done via either RM basic, BBC basic or a very expensive C compiler - although this was not a normal opperation for users or administrators due to the enormous time it would take. RM / other software developers would use large multi processor computers to cross compile software. This lead to the smaller software houses writing most stuff in basic and using a command line option to run the code. This left the source code being distributed which was again not a thing in its favour amoung companies eager to protect their code.

The price varies greatly depending on the options you had but as I recall it was not cheep at all, but was considered to be the best option for most educational establishments at the time because of its flexablility, its ability to work with turtles, and other BBC User-Port equipment for scientific work, as well as its high security, and managability.
I attempted along with numerous others to try and hack this system without any luck although the only time we suceeded was by taking the hard drives out of the server and spending a week de-encrypting the password database.

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Gopi Flaherty reports:
We had a big network of these RM Nimbus machines in my school. I remember when a friend of mine brought in a useful DOS program for them - "Clockwork Memory Map." It would display arbitrary sections of the system's memory.

As we all trolled through the memory, we noticed some areas that changed as we were looking at them. Sometimes interesting strings would appear there.

It turned out that you could see network traffic there - no sniffing software needed. Not only that, but we noticed that, if you typed in a user name and hit return, it would take a few seconds before asking for the password. If you typed in the password, it would immediately tell you if it worked or not...

Can you guess where this is going? When you type in a user name, the password for that user is sent over the network immediately to the client. In plain text! Not only that, but the system sent out the password of _every_ user in their entire group!

You can just imagine all the hilarity that ensued. Let's just say the network manager wasn't very happy when he had first and second form students asking him if his password was "atlam."

 





 
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