An OS is bornEagle-eyed OSNews readers will have spotted numerous Syllable articles in recent years, and you may have given early releases a trial run. Similarly, those who were active in the hobbyist OS scene several years ago may have used Syllable in its earlier incarnation -- AtheOS. With inspiration and ideas plucked from BeOS, AmigaOS and other systems, Kurt Skauen's AtheOS began life in 1996 and progressed at a decent pace. Unfortunately, though, interaction between Kurt and other developers often suffered; while some wanted to expand and flesh-out AtheOS into a more versatile system, Kurt preferred to keep it as his own pet project (as he had every right to).
The final straw came in 2002 when Kurt effectively abandoned the project, leaving users and developers with no updates for months and silence on the mailing lists. This prompted a group of devoted AtheOS hackers, led by Kristian Van Der Vliet (aka 'Vanders'), to fork the project and build a new future on the old groundwork. As an intriguing aside, the name Syllable came about almost by accident: Vanders was considering various names for the fork -- pondering how many syllables would be appropriate -- when he realised that the word 'syllable' itself is snappy and memorable.
Since then, Syllable development has been advancing at a steady rate, with new features, drivers and programs appearing as each month passes. Work has been under way to update glibc and the programming toolchain (GCC and friends), and the desktop is seeing polish and refinement too. So now we have a freely available (GPLed), multitasking desktop OS, with a fully-fledged GUI, network stack, USB drivers, journalling filesystem, SMP support, and a sprinkling of POSIX adherence thrown in for good measure. Quite an achievement.
In this article, we'll have a look at how the current release shapes up, examining its potential as a desktop OS, and then see what the lead developer has to say about Syllable's present situation and the road ahead...
Syllable 0.5.3 on test
To run Syllable comfortably, a Pentium 200 MHz with 64M of RAM is required. (It'll squeeze into a smaller system, but the results won't be ideal.) Although a bare-bones setup can fit into 100M, around 300M of hard drive space should be fine for general use; however, Syllable won't install on FAT/NTFS or ext2/3 partitions, so you'll need to give it some dedicated space. In terms of sound, video and network card support, Syllable sports an impressive array of drivers for most well-known kit -- so before you give it a spin, it's worth checking out the hardware compatibility list first. Virtual machines and emulators (such as VMware and Bochs) can run the OS with a bit of tweaking.
There are two main ways to get Syllable onto your box: you can burn the official release ISO image and boot it to install, or opt for the Live CD. The latter is a superb way to give Syllable a test-drive without changing anything on your hard drive, and also includes an install script if you're happy with the results. Note, however, that the Live CD is prone to the odd glitch in places -- nevertheless, this is only to be expected as the OS isn't designed for read-only filesystems. BurningShadow, the Live CD's creator, offers the ISO on his web site along with other goodies.
Syllable's installer is a simplistic text-based affair that gets the system up and running within a few minutes. Periodically, discussions and proposals for a graphical installer pop up -- for now, though, it does the job adequately and cosmetic issues can be dealt with later. If there are no hitches, one reboot later and the Syllable login screen will appear (use "root" for both the username and password).