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Investigating the Plan 9 Operating System
By special contributor Andrew Hudson on 2006-07-19 18:45:40

Plan9, 2/2

Taking the Plan 9 test drive

I downloaded the Plan9 installation ISO, burned the Install/LiveCD and tried it on five different computers with varying degrees of success. The supported hardware is somewhat limited so you should check the Supported PC hardware list to avoid the frustration of a failed install with cryptic error messages. After aborted installations on my home BH6, K7S5A, and Proliant systems I successfully booted the LiveCD on a Dell SC400. The default window size is 640*480 which is too small to get much done, but this is easily changed with the aux/vga command. By default you get a nice system load monitor, a date and time window, an rc shell window, and an acme window for integrated editing and executing.

Next I decided to install Plan 9 on an ancient IBM 390X Thinkpad laptop. The install script took me through several dozen input steps most of which had defaults, which I accepted. The steps are described here. The only tricky part was deleting the existing NTFS file system and creating a new Plan 9 file system. The only frustrating part of the install was copying the distribution files from the install CD to the new file system. This took about 30 minutes. After installation the boot time was an impressive 12 seconds. Not bad on a 400 MHz laptop. Unfortunately the internal NeoMagic VGA was not supported and I couldn't use the Rio window manager. I proceeded using the command line interpreter, rc.

Here's how I created an account for myself:

term% con /srv/fscons
prompt: uname andrew andrew
prompt: uname sys +andew

I rebooted using reboot:

term% reboot

and logged in as andrew with permission to write to the /tmp folder. This permission is not given by default. Next I changed to the /tmp directory:

term% cd /tmp

and used the ed editor to enter in a hello world program in the 8C C dialect:

term% ed

        print("hello world\\n");

w test.c

I compiled the C program with the 8C compiler:

term% 8c test.c
And linked it into an executable with the 8L linker:
term% 8l test.8

Then I ran my new executable:

term% 8.out
hello world

Not exactly rocket science but it worked out of the box.

What's happening with Plan 9 now?

Although the original Bell Labs department that created Plan 9 was disbanded in October 2005, commercial support continues in the form of Vita Nuova's implementation of Inferno (PDF). Development and non-commercial support can be found on the Plan 9 user group list. Development of Plan 9 still continues but at a slower pace.

Where did the Plan 9 name come from?

The name was taken from the infamous sci-fi horror movie by Ed Wood, Plan 9 From Outer Space. Some people call it the worst movie ever made. Other people say it's so bad it's good. The Ed Wood movie by Tim Burton, on the other hand is a great movie and gives a great historic account of Ed Wood's low budget movie making. Here's the actual Plan 9 quote:

RULER: "What plan will you follow now?"

EROS: "Plan 9. It's been absolutely impossible to work through these Earth creatures. Their soul is too controlled."

RULER: "Plan 9... Ah yes. Plan 9 deals with the resurrection of the dead. Long-distance electrodes shot into the pinion pituitary glands of recent dead."

Plan 9 / BeOS Factoid

An older version of Plan 9 runs on the original BeOS BeBox hardware.


  • The official Plan 9 home page, http://cm.bell-labs.com/plan9
  • The official Plan 9 Wikipedia page, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plan_9_from_Bell_Labs
  • The Plan 9 FAQ, http://cm.bell-labs.com/wiki/plan9/FAQ/index.html
  • Why the Plan 9 Distributed System Matters, Geoff Collyer, http://www.collyer.net/who/geoff/9book.pdf
  • Fault Tolerant Message Passing, Nehal Desai, Dean Prichard, Andrey Mirtchovski, http://pages.cpsc.ucalgary.ca/~mirtchov/lanlp9/mp/ldrd.html
  • How to Use the Plan 9 C Compiler, Rob Pike, http://www.quut.com/c/plan9c.html
  • More papers on Plan 9, http://cm.bell-labs.com/sys/doc
    If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.

    Table of contents

    1. Plan9, 1/2
    2. Plan9, 2/2

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