OS News Archive

Plan 9 transferred to the Plan 9 Foundation

The funky second OS from the Unix masterminds, Plan 9, has been fully transferred to the Plan 9 Foundation, and it’s been released under the MIT license. We are thrilled to announce that Nokia has transferred the copyright of Plan 9 to the Plan 9 Foundation. This transfer applies to all of the Plan 9 from Bell Labs code, from the earliest days through their final release. The most exciting immediate effect of this is that the Plan 9 Foundation is making the historical 1st through 4th editions of Plan 9 available under the terms of the MIT license. These are the releases as they existed at the time, with minimal changes to reflect the above. The historical releases are at the Foundation’s website. Nokia also posted a press release which gives some more background about Plan 9 for those who may not know about its history.

Why use old computers and operating systems?

On this blog, I write about the various computers I use and about the operating systems I use on them. Apart from Windows 7, which is relatively modern, these include Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard, which at this point is quite old, and Mac OS 9, which is practically ancient. I’d like to talk a bit about why I use such old systems. A good, succinct answer to the posed question. I love using older systems not for nostalgia’s sake, but simply to learn, to experience systems I didn’t get to experience when they were current because I was too young or the hardware was too expensive. A few posts down I mentioned I’m about to buy an old HP-UX workstation, and I can’t wait to get my hands dirty and learn as much as I can about it.

OSNews Patreon update: the SunFire V245 and other planned projects

It’s time for an update on the OSNews Patreon, and the projects I’m working on as part of it. Almost three weeks ago I wrote about the Sunfire V245 delivered to my door, ready to be turned into an entirely impractical and loud UltraSPARC workstation. Last we left off, I had just received the unit, and was waiting on a few additional parts to get going – most importantly, a USB serial cable – which were delivered shortly. Why, then, hasn’t there been another article or update, showing the big server running? It turned out the machine wouldn’t boot properly. Together with John, the person who donated the machine to me, I’ve been trying to diagnose the problem, and after two weeks of troubleshooting, we seem to have isolated the probable cause of the problems. We think two replacement parts will address the problem, and John will be sending those over as soon as possible. I’ve kept all the logs and information I noted down during the ongoing troubleshooting process, and rest assured, I will write a summary about our steps and processes, to give you a glimpse into diagnosing a hardy and annoying problem that seems to be a moving target, yet is probably caused by a very much fixed part of the machine. Stay tuned! Moving on, I have two other Patreon projects planned. First, I accidentally ordered the wrong graphics cards for the SunFire V245 – they turned out to be incompatible, instead being designed for Sun’s AMD Opteron-based Ultra workstations. Since I’m now stuck with two identical Sun-branded NVIDIA Quadro workstation GPUs, I figured I might as well try and find a Sun Ultra 40 and see just how useful that beast of a workstation is in 2021. Sadly, as with many pieces of more exotic hardware, they are hard to find in Europe, and affordable machines from the United States come with very hefty shipping costs. I’m hoping for some luck on the old world continent here. Second, I intend to build a machine using nothing but parts from AliExpress. As most of you are probably aware, there’s a lively market of new Chinese-branded single and dual-socket Intel X79 and X99 motherboards on AliExpress. Countless other people on the web and YouTube have built machines around these motherboards, sporting used Xeon processors and RAM. This has become a pretty popular and mostly reliable and trustworthy market on AliExpress, and I want to explore if it’s worth it to build such a machine for people like us here on OSNews. It’s fun, exotic, cheap, and possibly stupid, so why wouldn’t you want to see me try? Please note that these plans are all subject to change, of course, and because they involve purchasing equipment from places like eBay and AliExpress, I cannot give any timelines or make any promises. Thanks to all of our Patreons – 56 of them already! – for making these projects possible, and if you want to help, support OSNews and become an OSNews Patreon!

VSI OpenVMS V9.0-G released

VSI has made available OpenVMS V9.0-G for x86. This is the first x86 release of the year, and seventh overall, and it’s another good one with more functionality, VMware support, and a number of improvements. VSI also added five additional EAK testers (approaching 50 in all) and there may be a few more in the coming days. The porting process is progressing nicely.

Unikraft: automatically build unikernels

Unikraft is a comprehensive toolchain and library operating system which builds highly specialized unikernels, software bundles that consist of a target application along with just the operating system primitives and libraries features it needs to run. Unikraft breaks the status quo of building unikernels manually, providing an automated toolchain that builds tailored unikernels that meet your (and your application’s) needs. We haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the concept of unikernels on OSNews, and I’m not sure why – possibly because they’re outside of the comfort one of a lot of people, including myself.

seL4 micro-kernel working towards a general-purpose, multi-server OS

In addition to the establishing of the seL4 Foundation and adding the open-source RISC-V architecture as one of their primary architectures, the seL4 micro-kernel has been seeing a lot of work and also research into future work. Among the ambitious research goals is to create a “truly secure, general-purpose OS”. This multi-server OS would be secure, support a range of use-cases and security policies, and perform comparable to monolithic systems. Be sure to flip through the slides of the presentation in question for more information.

Limine and TomatBoot

As I was browsing back and forth around the website for skiftOS yesterday, I came across two more interesting related projects – two bootloaders with very specific goals. First, Limine: Limine is an advanced x86/x86_64 BIOS Bootloader that supports modern PC features such as Long Mode, 5-level paging, multi-core startup, and more thanks to the stivale and stivale2 boot protocols. Second, since Limine does not support EUFI, they mention TomatBoot, which uses the same boot protocols but in an EUFI environment: TomatBoot is a simple kernel loader for 64bit UEFI based systems. The gold of this bootloader is to serve as an example of how to create UEFI applications, we use the edk2 headers/libraries without the edk2 buildsystem for simplicity.

skiftOS: a hobby operating system

skiftOS is a hobby operating system built for learning and for fun targeting the x86 platform. It features a kernel named hjert, a graphical user interface with a compositing window manager, and familiar UNIX utilities. This looks remarkably advanced for a “hobby operating system”, and can be run in both Qemu and VirtualBox. This one is definitely worth a virtual boot. The code is licensed under the MIT license and available on GitHub.

Remembering Windows 3.1 themes and user empowerment

The rise of OSX (remember, when it came along Apple had a single-digit slice of the computer market) meant that people eventually got used to the idea of a life with no desktop personalization. Nowadays most people don’t even change their wallpapers anymore. In the old days of Windows 3.1, it was common to walk into an office and see each person’s desktop colors, fonts and wallpapers tuned to their personalities, just like their physical desk, with one’s family portrait or plants. It’s a big loss. Android and Linux desktops still offer massive amounts of personalisation options – thank god – but the the other major platforms have all individuality stamped out of them. It’s boring.

Genode’s roadmap for 2021

Herein, we lay out our plans for evolving Genode. Progress in addition to this planning will very much depend on the degree of community support the project will receive. The Challenges page collects some of our ideas to advance Genode in various further directions. The road map is not fixed. If there is commercial interest of pushing the Genode technology to a certain direction, we are willing to revisit our plans. This is a very detailed roadmap, but as clearly mentioned in the opening paragraphs, this is not set in stone, and things may change. Most of the planned focus seems to be on vastly improving support for ARM, for instance by working on bringing Genode to the PinePhone. They also want to streamline and improve the process for porting Linux device drivers to Genode, which should help in increasing hardware support.

A week with Plan 9

I spent the first week of 2021 learning an OS called Plan 9 from Bell Labs. This is a fringe operating system, long abandoned by its original authors. It’s also responsible for a great deal of inspiration elsewhere. If you’ve used the Go language, /proc, UTF-8 or Docker, you’ve used Plan 9-designed features. This issue dives into operating system internals and some moderately hard computer science topics. Sounds like an excellent article for us!

Redox OS 0.6.0 released

A number of new projects have been introduced during this release cycle, and many improvements have been landed. Very many bugs have been squashed. This list is an extreme over-simplification of the thousands of commits done since the last release. Hopefully, releases will happen more often so this is not always the case. • rmm, a complete rewrite of the kernel memory manager. This has eliminated kernel memory leaks, which became quite an issue with the previous memory manager. Additionally, multi-core support is far more stable.• Much of the work of RSoC, sponsored by donations to Redox OS, has been integrated into this new release. This includes work on ptrace, strace, gdb, disk partitioning, logging, io_uring, and more.• relibc has seen a large amount of work, culminating in improvements for anything that depends on it (i.e. everything in userspace). Redox is a UNIX-like operating system written in Rust, running on a microkernel.

BASIC-DOS: PC DOS reimagined

So over 40 years ago, if Microsoft and IBM had partnered just a little bit sooner, if they’d been able to predict how popular the platform would become, if they could have harnessed more of its power, and if Microsoft had been able to build more synergy between their flagship BASIC product and the underlying “Quick and Dirty” operating system, how dramatic could the impact have been? It’s impossible to know with any certainty. However, what’s not impossible is creating that product today, and to see for ourselves what the IBM PC was really capable of from “Day One.” And that was the inspiration for BASIC-DOS, a product (well, just a proof-of-concept at this point) that combines the power of BASIC with a multitasking DOS. A fascinating bit of alternative history, and one that goes beyond mere words – BASIC-DOS is in development as a retro-programming project, and is intended to be released next year. You can get a preview of what’s to come, and follow development on the blog.

OpenZFS 2.0 release unifies Linux, BSD and adds tons of new features

This Monday, ZFS on Linux lead developer Brian Behlendorf published the OpenZFS 2.0.0 release to GitHub. Along with quite a lot of new features, the announcement brings an end to the former distinction between “ZFS on Linux” and ZFS elsewhere (for example, on FreeBSD). This move has been a long time coming—the FreeBSD community laid out its side of the roadmap two years ago—but this is the release that makes it official. A massive release.

Introducing the OSNews Patreon

Since OSNews’ inception in 1997 – yes, this site is that old – a lot has changed on the internet when it comes to earning income. While for a very long time a site like OSNews could sustain itself through revenue from basic ads alone, we’re now far beyond the point where that is feasible – unless we were to introduce ever more intrusive ads, which we’re obviously not going to do. Our readers are, of course, keenly aware of how expensive it can be to run a website like OSNews, and as such, many of you have asked us over the years for methods of supporting the website financially. We’ve always had a subscriber program for an ad-free version of the site, but we never really advertised it very heavily. Today, that’s going to change. You can now support OSNews by becoming an OSNews Patreon. With your support, we can keep posting stories every single day, pay the hosting bills, write more interesting articles, access interesting hardware to review for your amusement, and possibly expand into new territories like video reviews to accompany the regular written reviews. Your support will enable us to write reviews of older, vintage devices and software like Palm PDAs, Psion devices, old operating system versions, and much more. We’ve created three tiers – Silver, Gold, and Platinum – and at each of these tiers you’ll get the ad-free version of OSNews, as well as a silver, gold, or custom comment flair to show off your status as an OSNews Patreon. All of our readers are equal, of course, but OSNews Patreons are just a little more equal. If you want to support the continued work we do, head on over to the OSNews Patreon page and become an OSNews Patreon. Thank you – all of you, not just OSNews Patreons – for supporting the site! Important note: since Patreon has ended support for their API, we are not investing engineering hours into full integration of Patreon into OSNews. This means we have to add the rewards to your OSNews account manually. As such, it may take a few hours before your rewards are added to your account, depending on time zones, availability of OSNews staff, and so on. We will obviously do our best to make this process as quick as possible, but please bear with us. Frequently (?) Asked Questions Does this mean OSNews will start putting content behind Patreon-only paywalls? No. All of the stories and articles we post will remain freely available as they always have been, and even future articles made possible through Patreon supporters will always be available to everyone. The goal of the OSNews Patreon is to support OSNews as a whole, not just a small part of it. Can you give some examples of the kinds of articles you want to write that are impossible to do without more financial support? Sure! A great example of an article – or, more likely, series of articles – that I’ve been dying to write is one about one of the last Sun UltraSPARC multiprocessor workstations, fitted with one of the later SunPCI cards. I’m a huge fan of Sun’s workstation hardware, but getting access to relatively old and outdated hardware like this is surprisingly expensive. A successful Patreon could make this a reality. I also have a massive collection of PDAs, from the late 80s all the way up to the 2000s, that I would love to write more about. That takes a lot of time, and with the support of the OSNews Patreon I might be able to set aside time from my regular job to focus more on writing articles for OSNews. There are tons of other interesting topics that require expenses too, such as SGI’s IRIX, or Psion devices, or even modern computers like the new M1-based Macs. Will you introduce more tiers and benefits in the future? Possibly. We have a few other ideas that we need to flesh out further and reconsider before making any commitments. Why is the pricing in euros, and not in dollars or Canadian rubles? The pricing is set in euros, but Patreon shows the amounts converted to your local currency. Some users may still see the euro pricing, however, for instance when using a VPN. Can I cancel my Patreon or upgrade/downgrade to a different tier? Yes. Patreon as a platform offers all of these options at any time, so you’ll never have to feel tied down or locked into or out of a certain tier.

25 years in speech technology and I still don’t talk to my computer

Why has it taken until the last few years for speech recognition to be adopted in day-to-day use? The technology has many hidden industrial applications, but as a real-time user interface for day-to-day use, i.e. talking to your computer, adoption has been unbelievably slow. When I was studying in the 90s, I read about a sort of reverse Turing test, which demonstrated one reason why. Volunteers believed they were talking to a computer, but responses were actually provided by a human being typing “behind the curtain”. The observations and subsequent interviews showed that, back then, people simply didn’t like it. So, what’s the problem? We have a Google Home in the house, and we basically only use it to set kitchen timers and find out the outside temperature (so we know how many layers to put on – we live on the arctic circle, and -25-30°C is normal). That’s it. I don’t see much of a use for anything else, as our computers and smartphones are both easier to use and faster than any voice assistant or voice input. The key to modern voice assistants is that they are basically glorified command line interfaces – they need a command and parameters. What makes them so hard to use is that these commands and parameters are pretty much entirely undiscoverable and ever-changing, unlike actual command line interfaces where they are easily discoverable and static. If voice input and voice assistants really want to take off, we’ll need to make some serious advances in not just recording our voices and mapping them to commands and parameters, but in actually understanding what we as humans are saying. We’re a long way off from that.

Definitely not Windows 95: what operating systems keep things running in space?

The ESA’s recently launched Solar Orbiter will spend years in one of the most unwelcoming places in the Solar System: the Sun. During its mission, Solar Orbiter will get 10 million kilometers closer to the Sun than Mercury. And, mind you, Mercury is close enough to have sustained temperatures reaching 450°C on its Sun-facing surface. To withstand such temperatures, Solar Orbiter is going to rely on an intricately designed heat shield. This heat shield, however, will protect the spacecraft only when it is pointed directly at the Sun—there is no sufficient protection on the sides or in the back of the probe. So, accordingly, ESA developed a real-time operating system (RTOS) for Solar Orbiter that can act under very strict requirements. The maximum allowed off-pointing from the Sun is only 6.5 degrees. Any off-pointing exceeding 2.3 degrees is acceptable only for a very brief period of time. When something goes wrong and dangerous off-pointing is detected, Solar Orbiter is going to have only 50 seconds to react. Fascinating look at a piece of software few of us will ever get to work with.

Non-POSIX file systems

Operating systems and file systems have traditionally been developed hand in hand. They impose mutual constraints on each other. Today we have two major leaders in file system semantics: Windows and POSIX. They are very close to each other when compared to the full set of possibilities. Interesting things happened before POSIX monopolized file system semantics. When you use a file system through a library instead of going through the operating system there are some extra possibilities. You are no longer required to obey the host operating system’s semantics for filenames. You get to decide if you use / or \ to separate directory components (or something else altogether). Maybe you don’t even use strings for filenames. The fs-fatfs library uses a list of strings, so it’s up to the caller to define a directory separator for themselves. While working on that library, I was driven to write down some ideas that I’ve previously run across and found inspirational. A deep dive into file system hierarchies before the major platforms we used today – POSIX and Windows – became the two de-facto standards. Excellent article, and a joy to read.