MINIX is dead

Way back in 2006, to celebrate the introdiction of MINIX 3, Andy Tanenbaum, the operating system’s legendary creator, published an introduction article to the new version here on OSNews. I’ve followed along with development ever since, with the last item we ever posted dating from 2015. Over the weekend, a link to the MINIX 3 git repository made the rounds, noting that the last change is dated 14 November, 2018.

It seems like MINIX 3 has pretty much stalled, and digging through the Google Groups group isn’t of much help either. There’s certainly interest in the platform, but even the people frequenting the list state while MINIX 3 isn’t dead, because open source projects technically rarely die, it is in a “coma”, in a post from 2021. There’s been various proposals for improvements or new directions – notably this very detailed one – but nothing has come of them.

It probably does not help that MINIX’s creator and steward, Andy Tanenbaum, retired in 2014 from VU University, my alma mater, where he and a team of doctoral students worked on MINIX 3 for a long time. Without its main creator, who is now 79 years old, and without the funding and manpower from the university, it makes sense MINIX’ development petered out in the years after 2014.

But did it?

As many of you already know, MINIX’ development isn’t actually dead at all – one of the biggest technology companies adopted the platform, and MINIX currently runs on every processor that company sold since roughly 2015. Yes, every decently modern Intel processor runs MINIX on its Intel Management Engine, including things like a networking stack, storage drivers, and more. This was first discovered in 2017, but Intel has kept the source code to its version of MINIX entirely closed, so this fact is not of much use to anyone interested in revitalising the platform.

The fact of the matter is that MINIX 3’s development has halted, and this effectively means that MINIX is, for all intents and purposes, dead. With the last commit being almost five years old, even simply picking up where development left off would be a big undertaking, and would require some seriously bright minds and dedication. I’d love for it to happen, but I have my doubts.


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