Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 17th Sep 2012 16:56 UTC, submitted by Andy McLaughlin
OSNews, Generic OSes "Visopsys (VISual OPerating SYStem) is an alternative operating system for PC-compatible computers, developed almost exclusively by one person, Andy McLaughlin, since its inception in 1997. Andy is a 30-something programmer from Canada, who, via Boston and San Jose ended up in London, UK, where he spends much of his spare time developing Visopsys. We had the great fortune to catch up with Andy via email and ask him questions about Visopsys, why he started the project in the first place, and where is it going in the future."
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RE[2]: The hardest part
by Alfman on Tue 18th Sep 2012 05:30 UTC in reply to "RE: The hardest part"
Alfman
Member since:
2011-01-28

Brendan,

Those are great points. I'm not under any delusions that it would be easy to get everyone on board the shared driver model. Even if we managed to solve all the technical issues, I think many corporations would reject it on account of them benefiting from high barriers to entry in the field of alternative operating systems. So I'm really very sceptical myself that we could pull it off in this day and age when computers are only getting more closed rather than more open.


Never the less, I still like dissecting the theory and appreciate your critique.


1. "Some OSs (e.g. Linux) had religious objections ('OMG what if we wrote drivers and Microsoft could use them!')"

Well, presumably the manufacturers would be on board (if they weren't the model would be bound to fail anyways). This means the manufacturers would be providing the drivers and that they would run on linux, visopsys, hurd, etc. as well as windows.


2. "some OSs had security problems ('OMG binary blobs created by unknown third-party developers running at the highest privilege level because our kernel is monolithic!')"

This is true. In principal I don't object to requiring source code with drivers, but that's not a very realistic sale. Many linux distros already have proprietary blobs, and nobody would be forced to install those. On the one hand, the high availability of shared manufacturer drivers could decrease the incentive of volunteers to write open source drivers for the same hardware. On the other hand, these volunteers could put their time to much better uses instead of reinventing the wheel.

Ultimately though if you don't trust the manufacturer of your hardware to write stable/trustworthly software, then arguably you've got no business installing their hardware on your machine either.


3. "and some OSs had technical reasons for not using it (e.g. very different driver interfaces, capabilities and feature sets)."

This is indeed probably one of the more controversial aspects, but the way I see it the drivers should be as modular as possible to make it easy to hook them into however the OS needs them. At the extreme, all operating systems today have no choice but to work with fixed interfaces anyways (ones provided by the hardware). Moving this into software shouldn't be that much of a burden to a system's design. Like I said earlier, *ideally* this wrapping layer would be in a kind of source form and it's overhead could be optimised away when it's compiled&linked with callees within the OS.


"The ancient BIOS services are not acceptable because they're single-tasking synchronous interfaces (e.g. your OS freezes while the firmware waits until a DMA transfer completes)."

Great observation. Clearly these would have to be asynchronous. Also, all device drivers should be able to run in parallel on SMP. Which is a reasonable requirement assuming they don't share resources.

Just a note: many linux drivers themselves were subject to the big kernel lock until recently, which caused similar driver serialisation bottlenecks.
http://lwn.net/Articles/380174/


I wish there would be a viable market for this, it is a project I think I would enjoy working on.

Edited 2012-09-18 05:38 UTC

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