Today, Andy Tanenbaum has officially announced the release of MINIX 3.0, the third stable version of this rather legendary operating system. The launch of v3 has been accompanied by a new website and a new logo. From the new website: “MINIX 3 is a new open-source operating system designed to be highly reliable and secure. It is based somewhat on previous versions of MINIX, but is fundamentally different in many key ways. MINIX 1 and 2 were intended as teaching tools; MINIX 3 adds the new goal of being usable as a serious system on resource-limited and embedded computers and for applications requiring high reliability.” Read on for more information.
In this announcement, posted in comp.os.minix June this year, Andy Tanenbaum announced he and his group were working on an updated version of MINIX, which had its last major release in 1996 with version 2.0. However, in an email conversation, Andy Tanenbaum asked me not to announce this; he did not want the press all over it until the official release, planned for the end of October. Which is now.
Now, why is MINIX considered legendary? Well, because MINIX, in combination with Andy Tanenbaum’s books on operating system design, was the blueprint for what later would become the biggest free and open source operating system of the world– yes, Linux. In Linus Torvalds’ autobiography, “Just for Fun”, Linus says that Tanenbaum’s book “Operating Systems: Design and Implementation” and MINIX were what “launched me to new heights”. More on this here.
That book, co-authored with Albert S. Woodhull, explains the inner workings of the MINIX operating system, and as a result the MINIX source code was sold together with the book. “Operating Systems Design and Implementation“ has therefor also been revised, in order to reflect MINIX 3.0.
MINIX 3.0 is released under a BSD-like license, and can be freely downloaded, altered, and so forth. In contrary to the Linux kernel (monolithic) and the WinNT/OSX kernels (hybrid), MINIX is a microkernel operating system. This crucial difference between MINIX and Linux led to one of the most famous flamewars in computer history, between Torvalds and Tanenbaum, held in comp.os.minix. You can read an abstract here. As a result of MINIX being a microkernel, that part of the kernel that lives in kernelspace consists of only 3800 lines of code. All device drivers (except the clock) live in userspace.
Over 300 UNIX programs are available for MINIX 3. It is POSIX-compliant, available for x86 (ARM7 and PPC ports under way) and supports up to 4GB of memory. A port of X Windows is also underway.
On the website, it is made clear that MINIX 3.0 is by no means as complete and full-featured as BSD or Linux. It is also explained that besides the traditional education market, MINIX 3.0 is also aimed at the embedded market, and applications where the GPL is too restrictive.