Nerd-World Problems

How to Install "Plan 9 from Bell Labs"

Plan 9 From Bell Labs

For those of you who are not familiar with this particularly unique UNIX variant, you may wonder what on earth is the deal with this slightly strange looking bunny. But in the mid-80s, when Bell Labs began to move on from the development of UNIX, they began to work on a new project; one that would grow directly out from UNIX as the next step in its evolution, and they called it “Plan 9 from Bell Labs” (named after the old Sci-Fi flick ‘Plan 9 from Outer Space’). In some ways, it is the direct child of the UNIX TSS. But although it was similar to UNIX, and was created as a research OS (much like UNIX) it never really caught on. However Bell Labs continues to develop it and use it as a platform for research into Operating System design concepts. In all likelihood it is probably the least known branch of the UNIX family tree and, as such, it intrigued me.

I had done some cursory research into it before but it always seemed so complicated and not useful enough to me to really bother. But eventually I decided to install it on a virtual machine on my computer for my own personal enrichment. I’m still in the process of playing around with it to see what cool treats it might offer a geek like myself — but until then, if there are any other likeminded geeks who would like to play around with this OS but don’t know where to begin, here’s my tutorial on how to preform a standard installation of “Plan 9 from Bell Labs” using its (rather complex) installer.

What you need to know:

  • Plan 9 works very much like UNIX but IS NOT UNIX. (Although it does belong in the UNIX family tree as does Linux)
  • Plan 9 is not pretty, and somewhat retro in its default GUI (called Rio)
  • Plan 9 is very unique, so get ready for a whole new Operatin System experience.
  • Plan 9 does not have much available for it and so don’t plan on using it as a primary OS or anything funny like that
  • A more detailed and technical explanation of Plan 9 and how to install it can be found on Bell Lab’s website here but I’ll try to keep mine a little more straight forward.

Step 1:

Download the “Plan 9 from Bell Labs” install image by clicking here (alternately you can go to the download page here). Extract the archive and you will be left with a Plan9.iso file. This file can be burnt to a CD for use as an installer or used as your virtual CD if you are installing it on a virtual machine.

Step 2:

Boot your Machine from the installation media. You will be met with a little Startup Menu like so and can chose to use it as a live-CD to try out the OS or install. Select option 1 to install.

Step 2

Step 3:

As the installer prepares to launch, it will ask you to chose a few options. The defaults are likely to be fine, so just hit enter a few times until the installer launches.

Step 3

Step 4 — configfs:

At this point the basics of the Rio GUI will be loaded. It will consist of a Command Line, a System Monitor & a Console. It supports a mouse, but it is not very useful at this time, really.

You must first decide what sort of file system your installation will use. We will use the default Plan9 system called ‘fossil’.

Step 4-0

Hit enter to select default ‘fossil’ system

Step 4-1

Step 5 — partdisk:

Now you must partition the disk. Here I’ll show using the whole disk with default settings. Hit enter to start the partdisk tool.

Step 5-0

Type in the name of the primary disk to partition/use and press enter.

Step 5-1

It will now ask you to decide if it should set up an mbr. Type ‘y’ and hit enter to confirm.

Step 5-2

You must now type ‘w’ to write the changes, then hit enter.

Step 5-3

Now type ‘q’ to quit the tool, and hit enter.

Step 5-4

Step 6 — prepdisk:

You must now prepare the disk to use it for the Operating System. Hit enter to start the tool.

Step 6-0

The tool will find the Plan 9 partition that we just made. Hit enter to select it.

Step 6-1

Type ‘w’ to write the changes. Hit enter.

Step 6-2

Type ‘q’ to quit the tool. Hit enter.

Step 6-3

Step 7 — fmtfossil:

You must now initialize the fossil disks. Hit enter to start the tool.

Step 7-0

The tool will find the fossil partiton. Hit enter to select it.

Step 7-1

Step 8 — mountfs:

You must now mount the file system partition to use it. Hit enter.

Step 8-0

Hit enter to select the default partition.

Step 8-1

Step 9 — configdist:

Now you will configure how the installer will install the distribution files.

Step 9-0

The default is to use a local set of files. Hit enter to select this.

Step 9-1

Step 10 — mountdist:

The last step before starting to install the Operating System files is to tell the installer where to find the installer files. Hit enter to run the tool.

Step 10-0

Type in the path to the install files. It will generally be the suggested path that ends in ‘data’. And that will be on the cdrom if you are using a CD or .iso

Step 10-1

Hit enter to open the browser, but since the selected path is exactly where the install files are located, you will then exit it immediately.

Step 10-2

Type ‘exit’ and hit enter to exit the tool.

Step 10-3

Step 11 — copydist:

This tool will finally actually install the Operating System. Hit enter to start installing the Files.

Step 11-0

Step 11-1

Step 12 — bootsetup:

The final step is to configure how the Operating System will boot up. Hit enter to start the tool.

Step 12-0

Select ‘plan9’ as the default boot partition. Hit enter.

Step 12-1

It will then ask you to set up an mbr. Type ‘y’ and hit enter to confirm.

Step 12-2

Step 13 — Finish Install:

Now we finish the installer, by hitting enter. It will then tell you that you can shut the system down.

Step 13-0

Step 13-1

Step 14 — First Boot:

Remove the Installation Media, then boot the system again. It will wait for you to confirm that it will boot for a local user (the default) so just hit enter.

Step 14-0

It will ask you to select the user to login in. On this first run, type ‘glenda’ to launch the GUI.

Step 14-1

You will now have a basic installation of “Plan 9 for Bell Labs” running on your machine!

Step 14-2

Now you can explore the system and set up user accounts. Learn more on the Plan 9 Wiki, here.