posted by Daniel W. Steinbrook on Thu 7th Sep 2006 06:14 UTC
IconSyllable 0.6.1 is the latest incarnation of the operating system that "will be a reliable and easy-to-use GPLed operating system for the home and small office user" as their website states. That's quite a noble cause most other alternative operating systems never claim to be able to market to non-technical audience one day. Even getting Syllable up and running is pretty easy: fully-working VMWare images and a LiveCD images are provided for free download. Apparently, Danes are the primary downloader of the Syllable LiveCD, given the primary language in which the LiveCD page is by default.

First things first: I was raised on Mac OS 7.5.2. That means my earliest recollections are dealing with Hypercards, not punch cards. But I liked it. The entire contents of the hard drive on that machine could fit on a modern CD-R with a few hundred megabytes to spare, but it worked, and it worked well. I liked how the computer felt like it was supposed to run a GUI. I liked how the applications were simple, yet fully functional and as powerful as they needed to be. In recent systems, it has been hard to find such characteristics in system software "simple, stable, small. Good thing the folks developing Syllable believe in those same principles" but too bad their operating system isn't even close to being in a usable state yet.

I'm a mostly Linux user at the moment, and my choices in the UNIX world reflect the aspects I learned to love. GNOME vs. KDE? Xfce. emacs vs. vi? nano. Firefox vs. Opera? well, more Firefox. It's so refreshing, then, to learn of a project aiming to make an operating system that includes all necessary aspects of a modern operating system while integrating a desktop environment in a small, fast package. Not just an operating system for Mac OS 7 lovers, per se, but quite a different approach to take as Vista and GNOME/KDE continue to crawl.

AtheOS, the foundation of the Syllable OS, was a project started many years ago, described in detail on the now defunct (and apparently somewhat hacked) atheos.cx. The descriptions of what it was to have are incredible, given that the development was done mostly by a team of one: a 64-bit journaled file system, a desktop environment integrated into the kernel, a built-in network stack, multithreading, and more. Most of those things are still dreams on desktop operating systems and now that Microsoft has dropped WinFS in the near future, some will continue to be dreams. Syllable's User's Bible, found here, preaches these same concepts: a cool file system, no legacy code for old applications, POSIX compliance, speed, and easy development. Sounds great to me! How do I get started?

I decided to give Syllable a test of real? hardware (not a virtual machine's virtual hardware) and downloaded the LiveCD. To make it even tougher for the little OS, I decided to test it on my laptop, a 1.7 Ghz Pentium M-powered IBM ThinkPad T41p. Given how well Ubuntu Linux runs installed on the machine, I figured that it must use some good-quality, cross-OS-compatible hardware.

Indeed, Syllable booted into a graphical login withing seconds of inserting the CD. I must complain, though, of the choice of background color during boot. White text on a blue screen? Reminiscent of a BSOD, anyone? Combined with the fact that there were just as many error messages as informational ones, the startup sequence could appear a bit scary even to a seasoned Windows user.

Regardless of any first-boot frights, the login screen presented a comfortable area to sign on, similar to the major OSes but with a personality of its own. I thought it looked a bit blurry, and soon realized a few seconds later (the time required to log in) that the monitor resolution was initially set to 640 by 480 pixels. I always run this SXGA+ at 1400x1050 (which provides approximately 4.8 times as much viewing area 640x480), and was therefore puzzled why Syllable could not detect my monitor resolution like Windows and X can " and even if it can't, why would it it pick 640 by 480? It's been a long time since I've used a monitor at this resolution (perhaps all the way back to OS 7).

No problem, I figured. The screen settings can fix that. And they did, but the system froze when I attempted to change my color depth to 32 bit. I tried this three times (requiring rebooting the system each time - thank goodness for a quick boot) with no success. I guess I can live without 4.2 billion colors for a day.

Table of contents
  1. "Syllable, Page 1/2"
  2. "Syllable, Page 2/2"
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