Visopsys 0.41 Released; An Introduction

Release 0.41 of Visopsys is now online at (freshmeat announcement). It is largely a supplemental (and bugfix) release for the recent 0.4 version, but continues where 0.4 left off in terms of improving the overall look and usability, as well as providing a few new user tools to experiment with.Click for a larger view Other operating systems can do more than Visopsys; it doesn’t include many applications. Needless to say, it’s not as good as Linux. On the other hand, it’s still a one-person project. From the perspective of a user — the “but what the heck is it good for?” perspective — its primary selling point is a reasonably functional partition management program (the ‘Disk Manager’) in the vein of Symantec’s Partition Magic. It can create, delete, and move partitions, and modify their attributes. It can also copy hard disks, and has a simple and friendly graphical interface, but can fit on a bootable floppy disk (or CD-ROM, if you’re feeling naughty). More about this in a minute.

The bulk of Visopsys is a fully multitasking, 100% protected mode, virtual-memory, (massively!)-monolithic-style kernel. Added to this is a bare-bones C library and a minimal suite of applications — together comprising a small but reasonably functional operating system which can operate natively in either graphical or text modes. It’s been in continuous development for a number of years, though realistically the target audience remains limited to operating system enthusiasts, students, and assorted other sensation seekers. The ISO and floppy images available from the download page can install the system, or operate in ‘live demo’ mode.

It’s not a Windows or UNIX lookalike, nor a clone of any other system. On the other hand, much of what you see in Visopsys will be familiar. There are a number of command line programs that are superficially UNIX- or DOS-like, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding your way around. It is compatible with existing filesystems, file formats, protocols, and encryption algorithms (among other things). The overall design goal is always to cherry-pick the best ideas from other OSes, preferably contribute a few new ideas, and hopefully avoid most of the annoying stuff. πŸ™‚

The Visopsys Disk Manager does most of what you’d expect from your basic ‘fdisk’ tool, whilst maintaining safety through MBR backups and ‘undo’ functionality. The slightly more sophisticated features — copying disks and moving partitions — are the beginnings of a project to create a free replacement for certain proprietary tools such as Partition Magic, Drive Image, and Norton Ghost; the same user-friendly GUI environment, yet still small enough to fit on a boot floppy. What it currently lacks are easily accessible ways to create, check, and resize filesystems. There will be more news about this soon, with an associated project based on Visopsys.

A few other simple user applications are provided. These include a simple ‘User Manager’ for administering user accounts and passwords; a ‘Keyboard Mapping’ program which provides a choice between (currently) UK and US English keyboard layouts; a ‘Display Properties’ program for setting graphical boot, screen resolution, colours, background, etc.; and a ‘Configuration Editor’ for modifying the system’s configuration files (since there isn’t any kind of native text editor, yet!). Additionally there are programs for installing Visopsys, viewing bitmap images, and making screen shots, as well as a simple command line shell and associated programs for viewing memory usage, managing processes, and plenty of other simple tasks.

Hardware support is generally limited to devices that conform to popular hardware interface standards, such as VESA, PS2, ATA/ATAPI (IDE), plus all of the standard PC chipset components. Graphics are provided through the (non-performant, but reasonably standard) VESA linear framebuffer interface. At present there aren’t any vendor-specific drivers provided, though this is not so much a design choice as it is the result of limited manpower and time. Memory requirements are small: approximately 5 MB in text mode, and generally less than 20MB in graphics mode depending on screen resolution, etc.

Visopsys supports all variations of FAT filesystem (12, 16, 32/VFAT) as well as read-only EXT2/3 and ISOFS. Upcoming features include support for SCSI, serial mice, resizing filesystems, writable EXT2, and shared libraries. Ports of the Newlib C library, GNU Binutils and GCC are underway and will be available as add-ons.

About the author:
Andy McLaughlin is the developer of Visopsys. During the day he slaves for “the man”, doing development work on Linux kernel modules at Veritas Software in London, United Kingdom. The rest of the time you can find him writing his OS, flying airplanes, riding motorcycles, playing ice hockey, singing in punk bands, or other things like that.

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