SkyOS: Chasing Butterflies (UPDATED)

SkyOS has always been criticised for the fact that you have to pay for it in order to beta test it. I personally never saw a problem with this construction, especially since the price included a full copy of SkyOS 5 (they dropped the five) once it was completed. However, as of late, it has become increasingly clear that there may never be anything like a final version – or another test release for that matter. Update: In the comments, Robert Szeleney explained the current SkyOS situation in more detail. For future readers who find this article via a search engine, I’ve attached Robert’s comment to the actual story for completeness’ sake. The reply can also be found on the SkyOS website.

Let’s put things in perspective. The last news item we ran about SkyOS dates back to September 9, 2008. Now, you may think that between then and now there would be more news – but no, the news section of their website still lists that specific news item as the latest one. That’s almost five months without any news coming out of the SkyOS camp.

So, you think, they surely have released new betas between then and now, right? No, not exactly. The last beta release was build 6947, released on August 3, 2008. That’s six months without a release for their paying customers. The changelog, which is publicly available, hasn’t been updated since July 15, 2008. That’s seven months ago. The fabled free-for-everyone live CD is shrouded in a dense cloud of thick vapour as well.

I’m actually not the only one asking questions. The official reply (dated January 10, 2009) from Robert Szeleney, SkyOS god, states:

Development is a little slow lately, but mostly because I spend most time on a proof of concept for Intels Virtualization Technology which allows running Windows XP, Ubuntu, Knoppix and SkyOS right inside SkyOS already. (without any user mode application like qemu, bochs, etc…).

There are still a few more things to figure out, but I’m pretty sure this will be a great addition to SkyOS.
Additionally I just bought a MacBook, trying to get new ideas from Mac OS and looking what people like so much about it.

While that sounds mighty promising and impressive, one has to wonder whether or not this is a wise thing to do if you have a large team of paying customers, who were more or less promised relatively regular beta releases to test, as well as a final release at some point in the acceptable future. This wouldn’t have been an issue in a free (as in, money) project, where the developer can do whatever he wants with his time – but as a paying SkyOS customer, I’d be pretty pissed off right about now (in case you’re wondering, my beta team membership was a gift years ago for my [minor] contributions to SkyOS over the years, nothing special though).

I used to be a part of the SkyOS community, and my interest goes back years and years, right around version 2, if I recall correctly. Between then and now, my interest in the project waned, mostly due to one big problem that has haunted the SkyOS project for a long time now: total lack of focus. Robert Szeleney is a marvellously gifted coder, and a very nice guy, but SkyOS seems to hobble from impressive feature to impressive feature, with none of them ever really getting finished.

SkyOS reminds of a little girl that gets sent by her mother to visit grandma on the other side of the forest. As she’s hopping down to grandma’s house, she gets distracted by a pretty butterfly, and starts chasing it. Then, she sees a squirrel, and all excited, she leaves the butterfly and starts running after the squirrel. Before she can take a good look at the squirrel, she notices a funny looking lizard on a tree stomp, and tries to catch it.

Whenever someone tries to take the little girl by the hand, and show her the way to grandma’s house, she gets angry, and suddenly, it turns out the girl has this group of evil minions by her side that will throw rocks at you while shouting things like “She can do whatever she wants!” and “She has no obligation to go to grandma’s house!”, and so on.

I know from experience that what I’m about to say will cause some ire, but I’m going to be open and honest: paying for SkyOS is a mistake. You get an operating system that’s in perpetual beta, that probably won’t boot on any of your systems anyway, full of promising but halfbaked features, and you’ll throw the disc away before the sun has set. You’ll then try to talk to the little girl, and get her to go to grandma’s house, but it will be pointless.

She’s been sent to go there 5-6 years ago. What makes you think you can get her there?

Robert Szeleney’s reply

Below is Robert Szeleney’s reply, as found in the comments.

Short version:
SkyOS development is currently halted.

Long version:
The speed at which new hardware and technology gets developed has increased dramatically in the last few years. Trying to catch up with development of frameworks, drivers, applications, test, etc. got way more complicated than years ago. At that time, you developed a standard IDE driver and SkyOS would boot on 99% of all computers. There was only one way interrupts got routed, devices could be accessed, etc. More important, there was just a single CPU, no hyperthreading, mulitcores, multi cpus, etc. (at least not for computers the usual home user owned). A GUI was easy, in contrast to today, where you must have a 3D accelerated GUI. If you don’t have one your OS is said to be old, out of date. You must have WIFI, USB, Bluetooth, etc.

Catching up with the development for all this is just not possible anymore, at least, not for one person or at least, not for me.
Currently, SkyOS development is on halt, and I’m trying to find a way to get out of this unpromising situation. At this moment I only see four resorts:

  • Open source SkyOS
  • Make SkyOS available for free
  • Specialize on a yet to define niche
  • Stop SkyOS development

    Eventually, I have to admit that I underestimated the speed at which new technolgy develops and establishes. And, a while ago I was able to spend more than 6 hours a day developing for SkyOS, for years. Recently, as my first baby was born this of course changed which made the entire developing situation even worth. Again I underestimated a few, personal, real life factors and their impact on developing.

    I’m sorry if I dissapointed you, but I guess you favor me being honest about the current situation.

    Anyway, I will do my best to find the best possible solution for SkyOS and its future. Be it with or without me.


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