SkyOS, The 7th Beta and Robert Szeleney

Here I present to you my thoughts on the 7th beta version of SkyOS, followed by an interview with Robert Szeleney, SkyOS’ creator and lead developer and a few screenshots.

Introduction

Click for a larger version You could say that I am a fan of SkyOS. Not only the OS itself, but also the whole community around it, the relaxed no-pressure development model and the way the developers listen to the community. I have been active in the SkyOS community since the days of version 3; I can remember the discussions I and some others had with Kelly Rush (now SkyOS ‘Business Manager’, so you could guess who won the discussion) about the GUI. For some reason after the GUI-contest had begun, I dropped out of it all. I still followed SkyOS’ progress, but from the sideline; it wasn’t until January 2004 that I re-joined the SkyOS.org forums. And after that, it again took me months before I joined the beta-team.

Now, I am moderator on SkyOS.org, beta-tester, moderator on an independent SkyOS forum (the eXpert Zone) and rusted stuck in the community, together with other long-time community members. Why am I telling you all this not-so-very-interesting information? Well, because I want to make something clear.

You might think that because of all this, my judgment about SkyOS has lost its objectivity. Well, I can assure you for 100%: it hasn’t. I am no milder towards SkyOS than towards any other operating system. Simply because of one thing: I have the strong conviction that all operating systems suck. So whether it be Windows, Linux, BeOS or SkyOS, they all work on my nerves. That is why I can still be objective about SkyOS itself. My judgment about the community, on the other hand, is completely biased. I think we have the best community there is on the internet. We in the SkyOS community are all friendly, open-minded, quite lovable, and fluffy.

Anyway, some of you might think: why are you telling about how you are part of the community and all, while you could’ve also just ignored that and give us the overview/interview? Well, I wanted you all to know this, because else someone else would’ve said it in the comments section, drastically reducing my credibility, and therefore also reducing the credibility of this overview. This would (or could) hurt SkyOS. This may sound overdone to you, but remember that OSNews gets about 200.000 page views per day. By the way, did I mention we have a very friendly community?

Viewing It All Over

Much has changed since beta 6 was released. Multi-user support has been added, BASH has been ported (at the community’s request), a new widget design was implemented, and more.

Installing SkyOS is actually pretty easy. The install routine is not more complicated than any other, and if you have no problems installing Windows, or any desktop-oriented Linux distribution, you will have no problem installing SkyOS. During install it’s all basic stuff; language selection, keyboard layout, license, partitioning, and so on.

But the install isn’t all bliss. What’s mostly troublesome, at least for me, is the fact that USB is partially de-activated. Kind of annoying for someone who uses both a USB trackball ánd keyboard. But by actually disabling USB support (by booting into safemode), I could get my trackball to work. Not my keyboard though, that’s off limits, still. How is this possible? Well, the USB system is working perfectly, but the USB drivers are disabled. Therefore, SkyOS does recognize my equipment; it just doesn’t have the drivers to operate them. So by disabling USB support, SkyOS turns to my BIOS’ USB to ps/2 conversion in order to operate my trackball (thank you Robert, for the explanation).

This may seem annoying, and trust me, it is; but it’s not really a problem. As you will read in the interview after this preview, beta 9 will be the USB beta. Then, my trackball and keyboard are supposed to work out-of-the-box. We’ll see.

Click for a larger version SkyOS, as of yet, does not install a bootloader. So in order to boot into my SkyOS install, I will have to use the CD. And that’s a problem. Not because I will have to boot off of CD (that’s actually great, I hate bootloaders, see here for details), but because there is no way to boot an already installled system in safe mode, from CD. So, every time I will have to start up the install program, enter my beta team name and serial, before I can choose the option ‘boot an already installed system’ from within the setup program. Now that’s annoying. There are guides as how to install the GRUB form the SkyOS CD onto your MBR, but I haven’t tried it yet. But, seeing other people already succeeded at doing so, I presume it works.

During boot-up I encountered another small improvement: the new boot screen. Not something that’ll get your panties in a twist, but still noticable. After that, the first encounter with multiuser: ‘Choose you username and login!’ Wow, that looks pretty sexy, since it was also my first encounter with the new widget set in high res (it was also featured in the install routine, but that was low-res). Of course some of you may say: ‘Who cares about the GUI!’. Well, I do, for instance (and this is my article, after all), and many others with me. We cannot all be as good and clean and pretty as PhotonUI, but still, SkyOS does a nice job. Hats off to the people who designed it. Marvellous, really. After the ‘Login succesful’ message, the desktop of course appears. Not much new to see, except for that icon that says ‘BASH’. With BASH being ported now, together with the improvements which made the system more POSIX-compatible, porting and using *nix applications should be easier. Seeing the huge amounts of software for *nix, this is great news.

After messing around with the OS for a while, it dawned on me that beta 7 was considerably faster and more responsive than the previous betas. After asking Robert about this on the forum, he replied that he was happy that everyone noticed the speed improvements; he had been working on system optimization. A lot more can be done, he added. To my knowledge, speed improvements are always good. And knowing that more is to come really pleases me. A UI cannot be responsive enough.

After Viewing It All Over

Click for a larger version Using SkyOS is, well, boring. Why? Well, there isn’t much to do as of yet. Since I stopped playing games when I was like two years old, I only use my computers for email, surfing, university, music, playing with operating systems and of course writing articles for OSNews.com. And, to put it bluntly, I cannot do that as of yet with SkyOS. Since networking is disabled, I cannot connect to the internet. Again, in the interview there is more on this, the next beta will (finally!) be the networking beta. I can’t wait for that one, because, from then on, SkyOS will really be viable for me.

Beta 7 is, though, a huge improvement over beta 6. It’s faster, has more functionality, and looks prettier. The multiuser support is great for those of us who share their PC with others (I don’t, actually), and the matching security and rights management system is truly amazing; even someone who perfectly fits in the ‘But-I-thought-that-that-was-my-coffee-cup-holder’-anecdote can understand it.

The real problem with SkyOS is (still?) the lack of basic applications. Even though we’re already as far as the 7th beta, there’s still no email-client, no IM-client and no up-to-date browser. There is a lot of talk in the community, but (pardon my bluntness) no results. Robert is doing a wonderful job; when he says something will be implemented, it’s implemented before you can press the refresh button on your browser. That’s real nice, but we cannot expect Robert to do all the work. What SkyOS needs, is more developpers. Since beta 8 will feature a nicer development environment, I’m pretty confident it’ll all turn out to be okay after all. Another problem is the lack of drivers. Again, SkyOS needs external support; Robert cannot do all the work himself.

So, what is my overal judgement on SkyOS at this point? Well, system and kernelwise everything seems to be pretty mature, maybe even more mature than you thought. SkyOS is damn stable, the crashes you do encounter are mostly from applications, not from the OS itself.

So, SkyOS’ real weakness at this point is its lack of applications and drivers. This is no real shame, as skyOS is a new OS, and most people don’t even know about it. So, I think this lack is not really a problem that will be around for too long. When SkyOS gets more exposure, more people will be attracted to it.

On the other hand, we should not forget that SkyOS is still in beta phase, and therefore any predictions on how the final version will be are irrelevant. SkyOS has a very solid base, stable, mature, and comparable to other kernels. What really needs extra attention are the basic applications everyone needs in an OS. Once that’s achieved, I see no reason why SkyOS cannot gain a solid userbase. And if not, they still have us: the friendly and fluffy community.

Interview With Robert Szeleney, Lead Developer Of SkyOS

Thom: I’ll start with a question that has been on my mind for a while. What are your favorite operating systems (system-wise and/or GUI-wise), and why?

Robert: My favorite OS? Hmm, well, in general, I’m using Windows all the day at work and at home. I like how it is performing, and what you can do with it. I never really worked with Linux for more than a few hours, so I can’t really make a judgment about it either way. Nevertheless, everything I need to do can be done with Windows, so I would say, yes, Windows is my favorite OS. Aside from SkyOS, of course.

GUI-wise, I’m not sure. I’ve never tried MacOS X, although I have seen many pictures and videos of it. It looks really nice, but as long as haven’t tried it, I can’t really compare it.

Is SkyOS also inspired by these OS’s, and if yes, to what extent?

I’m sure that a few techniques from Windows made it into SkyOS; as I said above, I’m sitting in front of a Windows machine the entire day. From the BeOS side, I got really excited about their filesystem. As soon as I discovered the OpenBFS, I ported it over to SkyOS, making it the primary SkyOS filesystem.

As far as MacOS X is concerned, you always are inspired by their GUI. I can’t think of any benefits from Linux techniques that have made it into SkyOS, but as I said above, I almost have used it very little.

Another thing that popped into my mind (seeing you seem to, well, code like hell): were you ever contacted by a major software company, in the lines of Microsoft, Red Hat, IBM etc.?

Yes, I have been contacted in the past by a few companies, but I’d prefer not to name them.

Naturally. Currently, the much-awaited version 5.0 of SkyOS is in beta-phase. It seems that you decided on disabling certain aspects of the system per beta in order to better focus on the enabled parts. Could you explain this in more detail?

Click for a larger version I think that the less system parts there are to test, the more intensive they are tested. Additionally, whenever there are critical bugs, it is much easier to fix them if there are not too many possible error “sources”. By disabling the networking, which will be enabled in beta 8, we (myself and the developers in the beta community) can fully concentrate on network stuff.

Furthermore, bug fixing is more efficient when errors are reported for similar system parts. For example, you don’t have to fix a driver one hour, the next some GUI issues, then the shell, etc. You can fully concentrate on networking. The same will be done for USB in beta 9.

Recently a new bug-reporting tool has been implemented into the SkyOS website. Is the SkyOS project already picking the fruits of this tool?

Definitely. I think in no beta version prior to beta 7 have there been so many bugfixes. More than 120 bugs have been fixed. Additionally, people make much more detailed bug reports when there is a bug reporting system, and I think that people are simply “more motivated” if they can report bugs in a nice database, instead of just sending an email or making a forum post.

SkyOS’ internet-browser, SkyKruzer, is based on the khtml-engine. Have you ever thought of using Mozilla’s gecko-engine instead? If so, why did you choose khtml?

Click for a larger version I ported khtml because at the time, it was much easier to port than a full suite like Mozilla/Firefox. Many kernel features and GUI features were missing, so khtml was the only option to get a good rendering engine. However, SkyOS now has all the requirements to port really great browsers like Firefox and Opera. We really hope that these companies consider porting their software. We would be glad to make the first one to port their browser the “official” browser that is included with SkyOS.

Which other browser resembles SkyKruzer the most?

I really can’t think of one. It’s quite a simple browser; it doesn’t really resemble any one-other browser in particular.

Well, sounds like Net+ to me :). So far, there is no email-application available for SkyOS, but this does seem like a vital application to me. Is one on the to-do list? And, to double that question, what about an IM-client?

Both applications are on the to-do list and will be available for SkyOS 5.0.

Will there be means of updating SkyOS through the Internet, as in Windows Update?

Yes, absolutely. I’m not sure if this feature will make it into 5.0 final, but it is definitely something that will be included somewhere down the line.

What other native applications are on the to-do list?

Currently in progress are a Contact Manager, Paint application, and a few minor applications coded by the SkyOS community. We are also in talks with a few 3rd party developers to see if they would be interested in making their software available on SkyOS.

And now, I’d like to move on to some issues being brought up on forums on the net. Let’s start with the touchiest subject: the licensing-issue. You already made very, very clear to everyone that no -code is in the system itself, besides the file system. Still,
a lot of people are convinced that you’ve stolen code. Could you, once and for all, sum up the non-SkyOS-native programs/parts/modules/drivers/etc. that have been ported to SkyOS?

Well, I won’t get my hopes up about it being once and for all. At any rate, here is the list of every non-SkyOS native piece of code we use:

libraries: freetype, atk, expat, ffmpeg, fribidi, glade, glib, gtk, khtml, libart, libdvdcss, libungif, libiconv, libjpeg, libpng, sdl, libxml, mad, mesa, pango, pop, regex, termcap, zlib

apps: abiword, apache, bash, bin86, binutils, bochs, coreutils, d2x, dosfstools, dotgnu, dxf2gl, e2fsprogs, ftp, gcc, gdb, gimp, grub, hp, httpd, inetutils, less, links, lynx, make, mpg123, ott, perl, quake, quake2, samba, telnetd, vlc, wabavm, xine, zsnes.

kernel modules: SkyFS port of OpenBFS.

All of these are either GPL, LGPL, BSD, or MIT licensed.

I hope this finally settles the issue, but I agree with you, it probably won’t. You already revealed that there will be some-sort of Live-CD available, for free, so that people can test SkyOS before buying it. Also, this live-CD will be limited in one way or another. Have you decided yet on what features will be removed/disabled/limited etc.?

Obviously you will not be able to install SkyOS to a hard drive with the LiveCD. The LiveCD will also be limited in what applications are offered. Some of the larger applications will be missing (such as Quake I/II, possibly the GTK apps, etc.). This is more to save people the time of downloading, as these apps make up about 2/3rds of the space on the SkyOS download.

The point of the LiveCD is to give people a taste of what SkyOS is; what the environment is like, what it is capable of. It’s just a sampling, something to let people decide if SkyOS is something that they would like to pursue further.

How are you planning to distribute SkyOS v5.0 final? Kelly (SkyOS’ Business Manager) revealed in the SkyOS forum that “we intend to make SkyOS available to businesses who would like to offer it as the default operating system on their computers.”
Source.
Could you be a bit more specific?

Click for a larger version We are investigating a number of options. We do want to make SkyOS available to smaller businesses at a substantially discounted price. Any licensed businesses that would be interested in this are welcome to contact us (sales@skyos.org) to find out more.

As far as end-users are concerned, sales will initially be conducted via our website (which will see a major overhaul in the coming months). Sales will be similar to what we have set up now, with the notable exception that we are going to do our best to allow users to purchase with credit cards as well.

If you have been following the SkyOS forums or polls, you will have noticed that we are trying to gauge the interest from our users in purchasing computers with SkyOS pre-installed on them. These computers would be around $600 (specs available here), and sales would be handled via the website. We are still undecided if we will be pursuing this option. It depends if there is enough interest to warrant the amount of work this would bring.

In the future we of course would like to see SkyOS on retail shelves, and will be pursuing this option as soon as it becomes viable. We also would like to see some of the major computer manufacturers offer SkyOS as an option, but that of course is looking into the future quite a bit.

And now, the inevitable question: When will SkyOS v5.0 Final be released? I know you cannot give an exact date, but maybe you could say something like ‘this summer’ or ‘this fall’…

Like always, we do not want to tie ourselves down to a date of release. We have been having some really great success with our beta testers, so we would like to work with them to make things as flawless as possible. So we can’t really give a date, but we certainly are closer to the finish line than we are to the starting line.

Well, at least I tried.Now, do you have ány idea on where SkyOS will be going after v5.0?

It’s still a bit early to be thinking about that. We really hope to have hardware 3D support for nVidia and Ati cards, but this will depend largely on them. We have contacted both companies to attempt to get this support for 5.0, but they were not willing to work with us.

Lots of other things. More drivers, more applications, wireless support… All of these things will become more apparent as time goes on.

The following questions have nothing to do with SkyOS, I just wanted to ask them out of curiosity.

What’s your view on the current state of the OS market? Will we ever see a serious decline in Microsoft’s dominance? Which OS poses the greatest threat to Microsoft?

Click for a larger version I think the only way to play in a league like Microsoft plays in is to have a very easy to use, very user friendly desktop operating system, which allows the user to run almost any possible software and gives good support to them by the company behind the operating system. I don’t think that currently there is an operating system which has these criteria.

However, no company has ever been able to maintain complete dominance forever, so looking at historical precedence, one should assume that the market will begin to open up more. I don’t think anyone really poses a threat to Microsoft. Microsoft will always be around, sort of like IBM. A better question might be ‘Which OS do you think can find marketable success on the desktop?’ I don’t know the answer. Linux? SkyOS? There could easily be a number of successful desktop operating systems. Just because one finds success does not mean others cannot.

We have already seen quite a few builds of Longhorn, Microsoft’s next-generation OS. What do you think, thus far, of Longhorn?

I’m not really following the development of Longhorn in any great detail. From what I have seen and heard, it could bring a few nice features to developers and users. It mostly depends on how well they are integrated. But I think it’s too early to give a judgment on this yet.

The only ‘problem’ (at least for the other operating systems out there) I see is that Microsoft will get yet another head start in the field of developing if their new features are taken up positively by developers.

How do you feel about Apple’s recent ‘focus shift’ (it might be a small one, but it’s a shift all right) from the Macintosh/Mac OS X to the iPod/iTunes?

Apple has certainly found a lot of success with the iPod. I think that it would be bad business for them not to think seriously about what options are available to them with it.

I don’t think we will see Apple move out of the computer business though. There are just too many people that see the Mac almost as a religion. And all the more power to Apple for being able to derive for themselves such a dedicated user base.

Another interesting project I’d like to know your view on: Sun Microsystems’ ‘Project Looking Glass.’ What do you think of it?

It’s definitely an interesting project. I don’t know the usefulness of it in the real world, but kudos to them for trying something new. It’s better to try it and find out it doesn’t work than to never try it at all.

Well, this is the end of this interview, of course I would like to thank Robert for answering these questions. This interview/article was just to give you an idea where SkyOS’ development stands as of now. Just remember that you can ask any question (especially more technical questions) either on the SkyOS.org forum, or on the SkyOS irc channel (irc.freenode.com, #skyos).

Note: All screenshots were taken by Alex Forester.

About the author:
Thom Holwerda is a regular visitor on OSNews.com and has contributed more than once. His first computer experience dates back to 1991 (a 286 entered the household). Over the years he has played around with several computers, but it wasn’t until 2001 that he really started to experiment OS-wise with computers. His favorite operating systems are Windows Server 2003, Mandrake Linux and BeOS. He also has an affinity for the QNX Neutrino RTOS. He is also contributing to the SkyOS project, being responsible for the Dutch translation, moderating the SkyOS.org forum and the eXpert Zone (independent SkyOS forum). He will also be helping OSNews.com when it comes to moderation.


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107 Comments

  1. 2004-07-22 7:31 pm
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