OS News Archive

Atari ST multitasking OS Geneva/NeoDesk to be open sourced

Back before MiNT became officially supported by Atari Corp, there were a few attempts at adding multitasking on the Atari ST. One of them was Geneva, a multitasking environment that was very light on resources and worked on a standard ST. NeoDesk is a desktop replacement that works well with Geneva.

Quite a long time ago there were some questions posed to the writer of these great software packages, Dan Wilga, in an attempt to see if the source could be opened. After a successful petition caught the attention of Wilga, he explained he still had his Atari TT030 sitting around, with the source code for a version that was never released.

Sadly, one of the hard drives with some of the required code to build everything was damaged, and it was too expensive to have the drive fixed. Thanks to a member of the Atari community, the drive has been fixed, and this should mean we're going to see open source releases of Geneva and NeoDesk soon. New builds are being tested, and they will be released soon - followed by the source code.

This is amazing news, and a fantastic example of software conservation. Thanks to OSNews reader Leech for pointing this story out and writing the first two paragraphs of this story so I had an idea of what was going on!

Sandboxing in Fuchsia

On Fuchsia, a newly created process has nothing. A newly created process cannot access any kernel objects, cannot allocate memory, and cannot even execute code. Of course, such a process isn't very useful, which is why we typically create processes with some initial resources and capabilities.

Most commonly, a process starts executing some code with an initial stack, some command line arguments, environment variables, a set of initial handles. One of the most important initial handles is the PA_VMAR_ROOT, which the process can use to map additional memory into its address space.

Not the most detailed description just yet, but Fuchsia seems to be getting fleshed out more and more.

Genode 17.05 introduces package management

With the new version 17.05, the Genode project moves forward to the goal of becoming more attractive and approachable to a wider audience. On the one hand, the release promises to be a sustainable basis for longer-term projects. With a modern tool chain based on GCC 6.3, Qt 5.8, VirtualBox 5.2.11, and the framework's finished API modernization, the foreseeable future will be free of disruptions for users. On the other hand, Genode introduced a new approach and tooling for package management to relieve users from low-level technicalities.

Modern operating systems are unthinkable without a package-management solution for installing and updating software. Until now, however, Genode's work flows were primarily geared towards appliance-like systems that come in the shape of system images. Even though the Genode developers managed to build a day-to-day usable OS (called "Turmvilla") for their own use on that basis, there is a natural limit of how scalable such systems can be. Even for the developers, installing and updating such a system is a burden. Instead up building and installing a new system image on each update, users universally expect to install software from ready-to-use packages, and to update and configure the system in parts instead of a whole.

The discussion of suitable package-management approaches for Genode reaches several years back. The first step in this direction were custom tools for managing and integrating 3rd-party source code with the framework. But there was no notion of pre-built and easy-to-install packages, nor even a tangible idea of what a package in the context of Genode should represent. During a long period of experimentation, the developers encountered and fell in love with the Nix package manager. This encounter was followed by porting work, mind-bending architectural discussions, and a series of prototype scenarios. However, while those prototypes were technically sophisticated and interesting playgrounds, they were also complicated. A real-world solution remained cloudy.

At one time, it became clear that the universal notions of "software packages" and the role of a package manager made things more complicated than they should be. After all, Nix is designed for Unix-like systems with its existing ecosystem of libraries, build tools, conventions, and methodologies. In contrast, Genode opens up unique opportunities for simplification thanks to its breath of scope that covers the entire software stack including the build system, tool chain, the ABI and API design, the inter-component protocols, the dynamic linker, the system configuration, and the execution runtime. By taking a step back and soul-searching for the actual problem to solve, a strikingly simple new approach emerged. It is undeniably inspired by the virtues of Nix. But it leverages Genode in ways that wouldn't be possible with a ported version of Nix. For example, it facilitates Genode's notion of library ABIs to largely decouple libraries from applications and thereby completely eliminates transitive build-time dependencies. Or as another example, by introducing sensible categories of packaged content, the need for a package description language disappeared.

Genode's release 17.05 contains the new packaging tools. Even though they are still labeled as experimental, the release comes with several examples of modest system scenarios based on them. Other prominent news are a feature-complete version of VirtualBox 5 for the NOVA microkernel, the update of Qt to version 5.8, added support for the Nim programming language, a new tool chain based on GCC 6.3 including Ada support, new tools for monitoring network traffic and CPU load, greatly enhanced flexibility of the init component, and a brand new timeout API. All these topics are covered in detail by the release documentation.

PC DOS 1.0, but not quite

Astute readers will notice that that's exactly the same message as PC DOS 1.0 (August 1981) shows, but this COMMAND.COM did not prompt for the date. That's because this disk is not from August but rather early June 1981 - newest file is timestamped June 6, 1981 - which may make it the oldest known surviving piece of software written for the IBM PC (not counting the IBM PC ROMs which are dated April 1981). It’s certainly the oldest known surviving PC operating system.

I'm starting to sound like a broken record on this topic, but it can't be said often enough: the preservation of software - whether important world-changing or not - is crucial if we want to document the history of where software came from, and where it's going to.

Samsung’s Tizen is a cracker’s dream

But the operating system is riddled with serious security vulnerabilities that make it easy for a hacker to take control of Tizen-powered devices, according to Israeli researcher Amihai Neiderman.

"It may be the worst code I've ever seen," he told Motherboard in advance of a talk about his research that he is scheduled to deliver at Kaspersky Lab's Security Analyst Summit on the island of St. Maarten on Monday. "Everything you can do wrong there, they do it. You can see that nobody with any understanding of security looked at this code or wrote it. It's like taking an undergraduate and letting him program your software."

Raise your hand if you're surprised.

Installing SymbOS on an emulated MSX2+

No fancy introduction or longwinded story about childhood memories, just a quick and relatively easy how-to regarding installing and running SymbOS on an emulated MSX2+. Since it's quite likely you're not aware of what SymbOS and the MSX are, I'll give you a short description of both.

First, the MSX is a standardised home computing platform conceived by Microsoft Japan in the early 80s. It was quite succesful in Japan, and saw decent success in (weirdly) The Netherlands and Spain, but saw little to no adoption in the United States. I didn't have an MSX myself growing up, but a friend of mine had one, and I remember playing games on it with him when I was round 7-8 years old.

SymbOS is - other than a marvellous showcase of programming expertise - a microkernel operating system with preemptive multitasking with a mouse-driven, windows-based graphical user interface. It's available for a number of Z80-based machines of the 80s - the MSX2, MSX2+, MSX TurboR, the complete Amstrad CPC 464/664/6128 range (old and new generation), and all Amstrad PCW models of the 8xxx, 9xxx, and 10 series.

Installing SymbOS on an emulated MSX2+ is actually quite easy.

Tape reel data recovery from a Polish MERA-400

Around May 2015, Andrea “Mancausoft” Milazzo got in touch with Jakub Filipowicz, a Polish guy involved in MERA-400 computer historical researches; Jakub was writing an emulator of this machine, but the operating system was missing and almost unavailable (details on the mera400.pl website ).

Jakub found 5 magnetic tapes at the Warsaw Museum of Technology, containing hopefully copies of the CROOK operating system. The Museum was not able to read them. After some months, he managed to get the tapes, to try a data recovery, extracting the operating system.

Fascinating story with tons of details, definitely a must-read. Interestingly enough - or sadly enough - I can't seem to find a whole lot of information on the MERA 400 in English, and since I don't speak or read Polish, I can't really give much more information than you can find in the source article. There is a Wikipedia page on the MERA 400's progenitor, the K-202.

KolibriOS stored on DNA

In a paper out this week in Science, researchers Yaniv Erlich and Dina Zielinski report successfully using DNA to store and retrieve "a full computer operating system, movie, and other files".

DNA has the potential to provide large-capacity information storage. However, current methods have only been able to use a fraction of the theoretical maximum. Erlich and Zielinski present a method, DNA Fountain, which approaches the theoretical maximum for information stored per nucleotide. They demonstrated efficient encoding of information - including a full computer operating system - into DNA that could be retrieved at scale after multiple rounds of polymerase chain reaction.

Which operating system? Turns out it's KolibriOS, the all-assembler, floppy-based x86 operating system originally based on MenuetOS.

Genode 17.02 uses Linux TCP/IP stack as file system

The just released version 17.02 of the Genode OS framework comes with greatly enhanced virtual file-system capabilities, eases the creation of dynamic system compositions, and adds a new facility for processing user input. Furthermore, the components have become binary-compatible across kernel boundaries by default such that entire system scenarios can be moved from one kernel to another without recompiling the components.

Genode's virtual file-system (VFS) infrastructure has a twisted history. Originally created as a necessity for enabling command-line-based GNU programs to run within Genode's custom Unix runtime, the VFS was later extracted as a separate library. This library eventually became an optional and later intrinsic part of Genode's C runtime. It also happened to become the basis of a file-system-server component. If this sounds a bit confusing, it probably is. But the resulting design takes the notion of virtual file systems to an new level.

First, instead of providing a system-wide VFS like Unix does, in Genode each component can have its own VFS. Technically, it is a library that turns a number of Genode sessions into a file-system representation according the component's configuration. Via those sessions, the component is able to access services provided by other components such as file systems, terminals, or block devices. Furthermore, several built-in file systems are provided locally from within the component. Since the VFS is local to each component, the view of the component's world can be shaped by its parent in arbitrary ways.

By default, each component runs in isolation. Whenever two components are meant to share a certain part of their VFS with one another, both mount a file-system session of the same server into their local VFS. This sharing is a deliberate decision by the component's common parent and thereby subjected to the parent's security policy. One particularly interesting file-system server is the so-called VFS server. It uses an arbitrarily configured VFS internally and exports its content as a file-system service, which can then be mounted in other components. This way, the VFS server can be used to emulate a "global" VFS, or to multiplex access to any file-system types supported by the VFS.

Speaking of supported file-system types, this is where the VFS becomes literally infinitely flexible. The VFS features a plugin interface that incorporates file system types provided in the form of shared libraries. If the VFS configuration refers to a file system type not known by the VFS, a corresponding plugin is loaded. For example, there exists a plugin for generating random numbers based of the jitter of CPU execution time. The file system, when mounted, hosts only a single read-only file that produces random numbers. But VFS plugins can become much more creative. Via the rump-kernel VFS plugin, one can incorporate the file systems of the NetBSD kernel into any VFS-using component. Genode 17.02 furthermore comes with a Plan-9-inspired VFS plugin that makes the Linux TCP/IP stack available as a file system. The C runtime then translates BSD-socket API calls to file-system operations on the socket file system, which, in turn, are handled by the Linux TCP/IP stack. The fascinating part is that this all happens within a single component. Such a component is in fact quite similar to a unikernel.

If two applications ought to share the same TCP/IP stack, the VFS server comes in handy. The Linux TCP/IP stack is then mounted once in the VFS server, which, in turn, provides file-system sessions to the applications. Each application then accesses the TCP/IP stack indirectly through those file-system sessions. In this scenario, the VFS server suddenly becomes a network multiplexer.

The VFS is not the only topic of the current release. Another highlight is the introduction of a application binary interface that makes all components binary compatible across kernel boundaries by default. Combined with the new kernel-independent build directories, it has become possible to move complete system scenarios from kernels as different as L4, NOVA, seL4, or Linux in matter of seconds. Further improvements of Genode 17.02 are the addition of a generic input-event processor, new SD-card drivers, the update to the version 0.8 of the Muen separation kernel, and a new mechanism for managing dynamic subsystems. All the improvements are described in detail in the release documentation.

ToaruOS 1.0.3 released

ToaruOS 1.0 was released 18 days ago, and since then, several bugfix releases have been released. The latest release - the one you want to test - is 1.0.3.

ToaruOS is a complete hobby operating system, including a kernel and userspace with many graphical applications. This is the first release considered to be "user-ready", but please keep in mind that ToaruOS is a hobby project and it may not be stable or suitable for any purpose you might have for an operating system. This release represents the culmination of many years of development, research, and learning.

IT's a remarkably fun operating system, and runs without any problems in VirtualBox. I've played with it a bit during the day, messing around with the basic but elegantly simple UI, browsing the file system, installing a few packages through the graphical package manager, and playing some Quake. It's rare for hobby operating systems to achieve this level of functionality in a 1.0 release, so colour me pleasantly surprised.

ToaruOS's kernel in its current form is 32-bit, non-SMP, monolithic (but modular), and Unix-like. It supports processes, threads, shared memory, files, pipes, TTYs, packet-based IPC, and basic IPv4 networking. Driver modules allow for access to EXT2 and ISO9660 filesystems, PATA and ATAPI disk access for hard drives and CDs, framebuffer support on most virtual machines (as well as bootloader-assisted generic framebuffer support), networking on AMD PCnet FAST, Realtek RTL8139, and Intel PRO/1000-series NICs, PS/2 mice and keyboards, audio on Intel AC'97 chipsets, as well as special support for VirtualBox's guest additions.

The userspace includes a dynamic linker, a full-featured compositing windowing system, many Unix-like utilities, a port of Python 3.6 (including many binding libraries for the ToaruOS windowing environment), and several graphical applications (including a package manager).

The code's on github.

Cambridge Z88 portable ROM 4.7 released

The Z88 Development Team has released a new version of the system ROM for the Cambridge Z88 portable.

It's the result of more than a years work, with many improvements and new features: ISO character set support in filenames and international dates, faster serial I/O, improved RAM applications, better responsiveness. Rock-stable software that enables to run your Z88 for many months with re-booting.

The team also outlines its plans for the future:

The next step for the coming years is to re-implement the Z88 on low-power FPGA, minimum 10 X faster CPU, 800x600 screen resolution, up to 1Gb of RAM, SD-card filing system, VGA/HDMI output, improved operating system with new Unix-like command line Shell, ELF for Z80 executables + shared libraries, and integrated Zip arching in filing system. Emulators and developer tools will also be freely available.

First public alpha of axle released

axle is a small UNIX-like hobby operating system. Everything used within axle is implemented from the ground up, aside from the bootloader, for which we use GRUB. axle is a multiboot compliant kernel. axle runs C on 'bare metal' in freestanding mode, meaning even the C standard library is not included. A subset of the C standard library is implemented within axle's kernel, and a userspace version is planned. axle is mainly interfaced through a shell.

Open source, custom educational operating system. The first public alpha release is out.

OpenVMS port to x86 update

VSI (the men and women porting OpenVMS to x86 hardware) has released an update outlining some of the issues so far in porting this old battleship of an operating system to x86 and liberating it from IA64.

This update provides a high level view of our current efforts to port OpenVMS to the Intel x86 hardware platform. The report highlights topics including: Compilers, Objects & Images, Early Boot Path, Virtual Machines, Dump Kernel, Paravirtualization, and Condition Handling.

Still a long way to go, but it is exciting for VMS fans.