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This is a tough question. (And always has been in a sense, because every era has had projects where the tool building has sunk the project into a black hole.)

It really helped at Parc to work with real geniuses like Chuck Thacker and Dan Ingalls (and quite a few more). There is a very thin boundary between making the 2nd order work vs getting wiped out by the effort.

Another perspective on this is to think about "not getting caught by dependencies" -- what if there were really good independent module systems -- perhaps aided by hardware -- that allowed both worlds to work together (so one doesn't get buried under "useful patches", etc.)

One of my favorite things to watch at Parc was how well Dan Ingalls was able to bootstrap a new system out of an old one by really using what objects are good for, and especially where the new system was even much better at facilitating the next bootstrap.

I'm not a big Unix fan -- it was too late on the scene for the level of ideas that it had -- but if you take the cultural history it came from, there were several things they tried to do that were admirable -- including really having a tiny kernel and using Unix processes for all systems building (this was a very useful version of "OOP" -- you just couldn't have small objects because of the way processes were implemented). It was quite sad to see how this pretty nice mix and match approach gradually decayed into huge loads and dependencies. Part of this was that the rather good idea of parsing non-command messages in each process -- we used this in the first Smalltalk at Parc -- became much too ad hoc because there was not a strong attempt to intertwine a real language around the message structures (this very same thing happened with http -- just think of what this could have been if anyone had been noticing ...)

> I'm not a big Unix fan

What is your preferred technology stack?

What's a good non-UNIX open-source operating system that's useful for day-to-day work, or at least academically significant enough that it's worth diving in to?

Here's a list of alternatives I put together to see some capabilities or traits UNIX lacked:


I think, usable day-to-day, I'd say you're down to Haiku, MorphOS, Genode, MINIX 3, and/or A2 Bluebottle. Haiku is a BeOS clone. MorphOS is one of last Amiga's that looks pretty awesome. Genode OS is a security-oriented, microkernel architecture that's using UNIX for bootstrapping but doesn't inherently need it. MINIX 3 similarly bootstrapping on NetBSD but adds microkernels, user-mode drivers, and self-healing functions. A2 Bluebottle is most featured version of Oberon OS in safe, GC'd language. Runs fast.

The usability of these and third party software available vary considerably. One recommendation I have across the board is to back up your data with a boot disc onto external media. Do that often. Reason being, any project with few developers + few users + bare metal is going to have issues to resolve that long-term projects will have already knocked out.

Minix isn't bootstrapping on netbsd, the entire goal of the system is to be a microkernel based unix. It uses the netbsd userland because you don't need to rewrite an entire unix userland for no reason just to change kernels.

Mental slip on my part. Thanks for the correction. I stand by the example at least for the parts under NetBSD like drivers and reincarnation server. Their style is more like non-UNIX, microkernel systems of the past. Well, some precedent in HeliOS operating system but that was still detour from traditional UNIX.


SqueakNOS? http://squeaknos.blogspot.com ;-) It has a native TCP/IP stack in Squeak.

The difference is PharoNOS has a Linux running behind while the idea of SqueakNOS is to build a complete operating system via Squeak. In this way you can quickly hack it. There is a great page about these initiatives here: http://wiki.squeak.org/squeak/5727

BTW, prior to SqueakNOS we implemented this: http://swain.webframe.org/squeak/floppy/ (using Linux and modifying Squeak to work with SVGALib instead of X) in just 900mb inspired in QNX Demo Disk: http://toastytech.com/guis/qnxdemo.html

I was going to mention QNX Demo Disk in my UNIX alternatives comment. I think I edited it out for a weak fit to the post. It was an amazing demo, though, showing what a clean-slate, alternative, RTOS architecture could do for a desktop experience. The lack of lag in many user-facing operations was by itself a significant experience. Showed that all the freezes and huge slow-downs that were "to be expected" on normal OS's weren't necessary at all. Just bad design.

It's neat that it was the thing that inspired one of your Squeak projects. Is SqueakNOS usable day-to-day in any console desktop or server appliance context? Key stuff reliable yet?

We implemented SqueakOS while some friends implemented SqueakNOS. I don't think they are being used anywhere but for educational purposes it is amazing that drivers and a TCP/IP stack could be implemented (and debugged!) in plain smalltalk. There was some more information here: http://lists.squeakfoundation.org/pipermail/squeaknos/2009-M...

There's GNU, which is by definition not UNIX. ;)

I'd assume that depends on your measure of worth, I'd say. Many operating systems had little academic significance when it was most academically or commercially fruitful to invest time in. Microkernel and dependency specific operating systems would be interesting. Or hardware based capability based operating systems.

well, in this talk it sounds like you do advocate tool building - isn't tool building a way to try elliptic orbits instead of the circular ones ?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdSD07U5uBs 'Power of simplicity'

Yes, I do advocate tool building -- basically "if you can do it without getting buried, you should".

Could someone give hints/pointers that help me understand the following? "parsing non-command messages in each process ... not a strong attempt to intertwine a real language around the message structures (this very same thing happened with http"

Does that mean the messages should have been part of a coherent protocol or spec? That there should have been some thought behind how messages compose into new messages?

Smalltalk was an early attempt at non-command-messages to objects with the realization that you get a "programming language" if you take some care with the conventions used for composing the messages.

By non-command-messages do you mean that the receiver was free to ignore the message?


Akin to "signals" / "event emitters"?

If you think about the "whole system", even if it's just a Shannon channel, what do you actually need?

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