What’s that coming over the hill?

An image of Richard Matthew Stallman taken fro...
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Seems, at long last, it may be the GNU HURD, the operating system kernel that Richard Stallman planned some three decades ago as the killer of the proprietary Unices and hacked away at for another ten years before some Finnish computer science student – Linus Torvalds – wrote a task switcher “just for fun” and Linux‘s road to world domination began.

The HURD (Herd of Unix Replacing Daemons) is all the things that operating system classes tell you is good: a microkernel and independent services for most of things users interact with – the idea being that the system will survive if even one of these daemons/services crashes. With only a small proportion of the kernel in kernel space the service daemons communicate via messages and all operate in individual memory protected spaces.

The problem – at least, so I understand, is that it is extremely slow and, in any case, Linux fulfils the political aspect of the GNU manifesto, so why switch to an experimental operating system kernel?


At least there won’t be the same design decision taken with Windows NT – which is also based on a microkernel design – to lock all the services into a single memory space for speed reasons: seems to defeat the purpose of having such a design (though obviously does not make it inherently inferior to a monolithic design like Linux.)

Of course, increased speed and memory means the history of general computing is the history of swapping speed for convenience and flexibility – that is what an operating system is for, after all: if you wanted a faster word processor you could write one that didn’t rely on all that operating system fluff: but try selling that idea to anyone!

Moore’s Law is generally expected to run for at least another ten years, meaning by 2011 computers will be 32 times faster than today and are also likely to be substantially more parallel – something which ought to inherently suit the HURD’s design. More than that we may have may even bigger advances in parallel algorithms.

So, while I won’t be switching to the HURD just yet, I’m not ruling out doing that either.

Wow, two posts in two days on the bad boys of the free software movement – Richard Stallman and Eric S. Raymond.

I guess I am supposed to like Stallman more – and certainly Raymond’s libertarianism is a big turnoff, but Stallman is a fundamentalist and I having been fighting political fundamentalists for as long as Stallman has been GNUing.

Author: Adrian McMenamin

Talk to the hand

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