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Open Source Operating Systems

A Talk With Syllable OS Lead Developer Kaj de Vos 121

Posted by timothy
from the why-isn't-monosyllabic? dept.
angry tapir writes "I recently had a chance to interview Kaj de Vos, the lead developer of Syllable: An open source desktop operating system that's not based on Linux nor one of the BSDs. There's a write-up of the interview here, which includes some background on the project. I have also posted the full Q&A, which is very long but definitely worth a read."
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A Talk With Syllable OS Lead Developer Kaj de Vos

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  • Why assembly? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by unixisc (2429386)
    Why did they code it in assembly? Given that the x86 world is, as the interviewers stated, b/w Windows/OS-X and Linux/BSD, couldn't they have done it in C, and let some other microprocessor vendors based on things like MIPS, Power, ARM, et al spin boxes w/ these?
    • Re:Why assembly? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by gnud (934243) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @03:30AM (#37250722)
      What? Syllable is in C and C++, with only a few pieces of assembly. I think you read the linked article about MenuetOS.
      • by unixisc (2429386)
        okay, I'm new to this obviously, and know squat about it, but what' the difference b/w MinuetOS and Syllable? I read the above description:

        Syllable: An open source desktop operating system that's not based on Linux nor one of the BSDs

        So which is the OS - Minuet or Syllable, and what's the difference - is it something like a DOS/Windows3.11 paradigm? And my original comment applied to either - be it Minuet or Syllable - as some posters commented above, modern compilers are advanced enough that they'd beat, not just equal, hand written assembly code.

        • by WillKemp (1338605)

          The difference between Menuet and Syllable is they're different operating systems. They're unrelated. Menuet was mentioned in the article as an example of another OS that wasn't based on Linux or *BSD.

        • >okay, I'm new to this obviously, and know squat about it, but what' the difference b/w MinuetOS and Syllable?

          What's the difference between Linux and Windows?

          • by Dunega (901960)
            One drives people on slashdot into a rabid craze. Actually I think they both do that... Hmm...
    • That was a reference to Menuet, whose devs I interviewed a few years back. Sorry if it's unclear. I might edit when I get back into the office tomorrow.
  • by WillKemp (1338605) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @03:41AM (#37250752) Homepage

    web.syllable.org? No! Why? Just when the irritating "www." prefix is beginning to finally die a natural death, someone thinks it's a good idea to rework it. Just let it die, ffs!

    • by thegarbz (1787294)

      It's almost like websites need a default entry point so that if someone types syllable.org [syllable.org] into their browser it will just magically direct to the right page.

      Oh wait that works already.

      Also in what way do you think www is dying? I'd wager that it's the default prefix for >99.9% of the internet.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by WillKemp (1338605)

        Also in what way do you think www is dying? I'd wager that it's the default prefix for >99.9% of the internet.

        If i'm typing or copying and pasting a domain name into a web browser (i.e., one i got from somewhere other than google) i always leave off the www because the results give me an insight into the company whose web site i'm looking at. If the domain name without www doesn't work at all, i know they don't know what they're doing and best avoided if possible. If it works, but redirects to the www version i know they sort of know what they're doing, but are living in the 90s, so definitely shouldn't be a first

        • Ugh. The redirect option is perfectly sensible, but putting the other thing just plain does violence to the conceptual integrity of the domain name system and I shudder at the thought that there are no people in the world who would consider one 'unprofessional' for not doing it. There are protocols that aren't HTTP, you know.

          • by m50d (797211)
            Yes, and there's a perfectly good way for determining which protocol someone wants, that being the port number. By all means route different services to different machines internally, but the details of that shouldn't be exposed to external users; there should be one, and only one, public-facing domain name, on which all your public services are available.
          • by WillKemp (1338605)

            [......] putting the other thing just plain does violence to the conceptual integrity of the domain name system [......]

            I think that's a bit melodramatic! I'm not quite sure which "other thing just plain" you're talking about, but maybe that's implied by the next bit.

            and I shudder at the thought that there are no people in the world who would consider one 'unprofessional' for not doing it. There are protocols that aren't HTTP, you know.

            Of course i know there are other protocols than HTTP. But if you enter a domain name or URL without the protocol, all web browsers default to HTTP - and they have done for a very long time. What we're talking about is web addresses, not gopher URLs.

            • by thegarbz (1787294)

              Of course i know there are other protocols than HTTP. But if you enter a domain name or URL without the protocol, all web browsers default to HTTP - and they have done for a very long time. What we're talking about is web addresses, not gopher URLs.

              All browsers yes. But these days (especially in response to adverts) people find themselves entering the data not into the browser, but a generic search bar in their phones. Many of these will start a google search without a www or http:/// [http] prefix.

              But it sounds like what you are effectively complaining about is nothing more than marketing, and I'm going to have to completely disagree with you. Putting no www or http:/// [http] at the start is what looks unprofessional. It's the type of crap I expect of artists who

              • by WillKemp (1338605)

                All browsers yes. But these days (especially in response to adverts) people find themselves entering the data not into the browser, but a generic search bar in their phones. Many of these will start a google search without a www or "http://" prefix.

                Have you ever watch a non-techy person enter a URL into a web browser? In my experience, they all type it into the search bar, not the URL bar. I don't know how they cope with Chrome's lack of a separate search bar!

            • by dzfoo (772245)

              Fine, so the browser defaults to using HTTP. Now, if only it could tell to which HOST you intended to connect within that domain.

              Oh, could it be the one serving web pages? and how should we call these World Wide Web page hosts? If only there was some sort of moniker to distinguish them from, say, a file server, or an advertising server...

                        -dZ.

              • Now, if only it could tell to which HOST you intended to connect within that domain.

                Oh, could it be the one serving web pages?

                Every organization operating on the Internet should have a primary public-facing view of the organization through the Internet, its "store front" so to speak. As World Wide Web has overtaken Gopher, this public-facing view has come to be a web site. Therefore, the organization's bare domain should be an alias (CNAME) for the host that provides this public-facing view.

                If only there was some sort of moniker to distinguish them from, say, a file server, or an advertising server...

                Servers providing large file downloads (generally HTTP on a high-bandwidth plan instead of a low-latency plan) can have separate hostnames wit

        • by julesh (229690)

          If it works, but redirects to the www version i know they sort of know what they're doing, but are living in the 90s, so definitely shouldn't be a first choice.

          Speaking as somebody who was a web developer for most of the 2000s, I had a lot of experience running pages without the www. and clients *complaining* that it wasn't there. It was an expectation that all web sites must use it. Leave it out of URLs that people type in (on your letterhead or adverts, for example) and people add it themselves. Allowing two forms of the url, one with and one without, creates unnecessary complications when dealing with cookies. Therefore, redirecting makes everyone happy. E

          • by WillKemp (1338605)

            Yeah, i was a web developer for the last two years of the 2000s (and still do a little bit now and then) and i know what you mean. But it was possible to convince people by then - i'm sure it wasn't possible a few years earlier.

            But this is a very good reason why it's such a good indicator of whether the people running the business know what they're doing or not - if they do know what they're doing, they'll take advice from their web dev. If they think they know better than the web dev, then they're clearly

            • by thegarbz (1787294)

              Again I think you missed the point. It's not the stupidity of your clients that should influence what you are doing, it's the stupidity of your client's clients. You're setting trends at the expense of the end user .... you don't work for Mozilla now do you?

            • If I were a "web developer" I'd build two websites one at domain.com and one at www.domain.com. I'd figure out which one was the one with the dumb people and which one was the one with the smarter people, and develop the pages accordingly. If they were indistinguishable, or became that way, I would merge them back together and use another prefix,

              Not using the host prefix is dumb.

          • by deniable (76198)
            I had this conversation with a dev yesterday. He has to have separate virtual hosts for everything and then has to have a www. version of each. Add in that he'd set up a bunch of them as A records rather than CNAMEs and I have a lot to clean up.
      • by deniable (76198)
        99.9% of the web. Repeat after me, "The web is only part of the Internet."
  • by LingNoi (1066278) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @03:50AM (#37250786)

    If you're only going to read one page of this article then read page five.
    http://www.techworld.com.au/article/398892/developer_q_syllable_os/?pp=5 [techworld.com.au]

    To summarise the thing that makes this different from everyone else is that the parts of an actual application are split up unix style. For example instead of having two or more applications taking your photo and taking out the red eye, the desktop would have thus functionality written once and the applications will simply glue all these standard pieces together.

    My only criticism to this is that we already have this in the form of libraries. Perhaps what this guy is after is something more standardised and higher level then that but I don't see how that's not doable in linux.

    • by rta (559125)

      Thanks for the explanation. I went to their "about" page( http://web.syllable.org/pages/about.html [syllable.org] ) and after about 3 paragraphs of mythology and squishy backstory they still said nothing about what the project is, what problem it solves or what it does differently than other OSes. It probably says so further on but skimming didn't yield anything and it sounded too much like an infomercial to continue.

      If it wasn't so late at night maybe i'd have more focus, but that page really needs a punchier intro.

    • by oever (233119) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @05:13AM (#37251080) Homepage

      That sounds very much like Android Intents [android.com] and Activities [android.com].

      An Intent provides a facility for performing late runtime binding between the code in different applications. Its most significant use is in the launching of activities, where it can be thought of as the glue between activities. It is basically a passive data structure holding an abstract description of an action to be performed.

    • Didn't Apple do this in the early '90s with OpenDoc? That wasn't exactly a resounding success, in fact the only OpenDoc apps I remember just packaged the entire app into one container, defeating its purpose.

    • Also sounds a little like Apple's failed OpenDoc, from a slightly different angle.

    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      this reminds me a lot of some of the papers Hans Reiser put out for his plans for reiserfs. Having things that could plug directly into the file system to handle file formats in a lower level way than libraries. like you could get a jpeg on your system and use the old way of opening an app that supports jpegs and load /file.jpeg into it.

      Or you could allow a kernel file system plugin that would allow you to open /file.jpeg/raw in an image editor that would get the raw data. or it could open /file.png/raw

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday August 30, 2011 @03:58AM (#37250812) Journal
    The most interesting part, in my opinion, is the attempt to make programs more modular, into building blocks. I was going to try to summarize how, but the article says it much better than I can:

    On indoor pictures, you want to remove the 'red eye effect' caused by the flash. On outdoor pictures, you notice the horizon isn't straight and you would like to correct that.

    "These are common, but technically complicated manipulations on pictures. The correction of red eyes may be offered by multiple applications on your system. The straightening of horizons may require you to buy yet another image manipulation application.

    "Why can't you plug in the camera, have its icon appear on your desktop without extra software and click on it, then click on a picture and be offered one option to correct red eyes and one option to straighten a horizon?

    Clearly there are difficulties doing this, but it seems like something useful if you can figure out a way to make it work.

    • by WillKemp (1338605)

      "Why can't you plug in the camera, have its icon appear on your desktop without extra software and click on it, then click on a picture and be offered one option to correct red eyes and one option to straighten a horizon?

      "Why can't you plug in the camera, have its icon appear on your desktop without extra software and click on it, then click on a picture and be offered one option to correct red eyes and one option to straighten a horizon?

      Because it would be stupid to do it on the camera. It's much better to import the photos onto your computer (and, ideally, into a photo management tool) before you start working on them.

      You don't need any extra software to do that in Linux - in fact, f-spot, among others, will import the photos, manage them, and remove red-eye or straighten the horizon. I don't understand what the problem is.

      • by WillKemp (1338605)

        Oops! Bodgy cut and paste there. That's the problem with needing extra software to browse the web!

      • You don't need any extra software to do that in Linux - in fact, f-spot, among others, will import the photos, manage them, and remove red-eye or straighten the horizon. I don't understand what the problem is.

        The porblem is you don't understand what an example is ...

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Sounds philosophically a lot like the UNIX pipeline. Late to the game as I am, I've really been impressed with what I can do with those little component applications working in concert. The idea of teaching a computer to do your job for you, without having to create the software from scratch, needs to be revived.

    • by dzfoo (772245)

      But this is what the OS API, frameworks, and libraries are for.

      Why should an application farm out work to external, autonomous processes? Who's going to control priority, threading, and all sorts of complexity of organizing and managing the execution of all these different parts? Or is it expected to work as a UNIX pipeline, in series?

      By having all those services available to all applications as sub-systems or extensions of the operating, applications can take advantage of them without having to manage ex

      • But this is what the OS API, frameworks, and libraries are for.

        Exactly. However, I would take it a step further and suggest that the overall idea to push this much application level functionality into OS libraries should be Considered Harmful.

        "Don't write your own red eye correction code, it's built into the OS! Oh, wait, now I see that your new version only works correctly with version 1.5 of the library that's not in my current OS release. Guess I have to upgrade the *whole OS* to install your new software."

        Yes, this happens in all OS's (cf. DirectX). However,

        • by m50d (797211)
          OSX takes your approach. It has its upsides, but also its problems - they had to push out new versions of absolutely everything when the libpng vulnerability was found. It also means macs tend to need more RAM than other systems - if multiple dynamically-linked applications are using the same library, the OS only needs to load one copy into memory. You might not care about 3MB vs 150MB for diskspace, but it's still relevant for RAM.

          What's needed is for libraries to be strict in their versioning, and for the

          • by jvonk (315830)

            It has its upsides, but also its problems

            Granted, this isn't a panacea. I realize that all these different apps would need to be updated independently, but I consider this ramification to be conceptually consonant with my viewpoint (ideally using binary diff patches, of course).

            As you pointed out, Mac OS does this "right" insofar as most apps are portable to another machine if you just copy the .app "file".

            seriously, when was the last time you had a "dll hell" problem - while linux in particular lags behind.

            Haha, Linux is exactly the reason I started seriously wishing for statically compiled binaries. When I compare, for example, getting a recen

            • by rev0lt (1950662)
              PC-BSD [pcbsd.org] does it, without breaking compatibility with the underlying FreeBSD. If you install a pbi package, it contains all the dependencies necessary to that given program and is installed on a separate dir. If you want to use the ports tree or install prebuilt packages, just use the default tools.
              In fact, the problem you mention is probably one of the reasons I don't use linux on servers - on multi-purpose machines, I usually use FreeBSD with a bunch of jails, one for each kind of service (eg. database, ma
            • How about adopting the OS9 approach - current data dir, and current execution dir. Nope - better - context sensitive dirs, HP-UX style - integrated with the package manager.
        • GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
          Are you nuts? Wanna guess how much time you're gonna wait for it to load from disk? TANSTAAFL.
          • by jvonk (315830)
            I would expect to spend less time waiting for statically compiled apps to load from disk, aggregated over my lifetime, than I have already had to spend in dependency hell trying to get two different binaries to play nicely. Not to mention less stress.

            You make a good point, but I was exaggerating size requirements for effect: my statically compiled version of the svn binary was < 3 MB. I can think of no good reason why binaries like that shouldn't just be statically compiled. Besides, as the other post
  • not based on Linux nor one of the BSDs

    At least the server edition is based on the Linux kernel according to the about page [syllable.org].
    Furthermore:

    It uses the GCC compiler and many other tools from the GNU project.

    So it is also, at least for a significant part, GNU based.
    (Note that people often talk about GNU/Linux if they say Linux, so to be certain I show that it is also GNU based.)

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