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Programming IT Technology

Niche Operating Systems 405

Eugenia writes: "So, you think that BeOS or AtheOS are niche Operating Systems? Well, you haven't seen anything yet. OSNews provides a list and short description of the most active and most promising Operating Systems written by individuals or small teams just for the fun of it or because they have a dream of how the perfect OS should be (is there such a thing though?). Some of them, like SkyOS for example, are even quite far down the line in terms of usability and advancements."
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Niche Operating Systems

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  • This is what I like to see: choice. Althought there is something to be said for standardization, it is hell on choice and leads to entities like M$.
    Although I have standrdized on MS for the dsktop, I still am a Solaris pig for the back end. After all, the less the end users know about the server room, the better.
    • It seems to me that you just contradicted yourself. [paraphrase:] "Standardization kills choice" ... "I have standardized on MS." So, you like to see choice, but you'd rather not use it? Interesting.

      • Standardization kills choice" ... "I have standardized on MS." So, you like to see choice, but you'd rather not use it? Interesting.

        _Everyone_ can make a choice. His personal choice is Windows, but he's saying that he wants lots of options available so each person has more to choose from.
    • Standardization shouldn't be "hell on choice"

      It only is that way when some platform specific, propreitary method becomes the de facto standard. That's the whole reason for the IETF [ietf.org] standards process.

      Standards should enhance choice by providing inter-operability for certain components while allowing customization of others. As the best and biggest example, TCP/IP is highly standardized and yet you can choose from a bewildering variety of stacks for different operating systems.

    • As anyone who works on systems from day to day knows... as much as I don't like it, each system has strengths and weaknesses.

      Linux is a fantastic system for serving web content and doing databases and back end systems stuff

      Microsoft, like it or not, has made a desktop and whether by fair play or not, taught most of the world to use it.

      Macintosh has incredible strengths in the graphic design world. They have found a way to get the desktop out of the way of creativity.

      BSD has great strengths in virtual host setups (down to splitting the processor / memory usage).

      Each OS has a strength, the key to a good system is using the *best* tool for a given job and not buying into one system that does it all.

      I love Linux and am an advocate for open source. I run Linux machines, but I also run Windows Machines because there are tasks that are easier on each. Both OS's have a place.

      Just as there are many styles of education and learning, so too are there different ways of approaching the problem of the desktop. By having choices, we are enabled to choose what works best for our style. Otherwise, you folks running Themes wouldn't bother changing the defaults.

      Nitch OS's have a place too... and thank's to the devoted masses who keep their missions alive, we all benefit from them, even if other companies lay off their work force or swallow them whole.

      Because of visionaries discovering a great way to do something the collective pool benifits.

  • DancinSantaOS is coming!

    Keep your flues open!

    Dancin Santa
  • by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Friday October 05, 2001 @01:00PM (#2392642)
    There's an old adage that every mistake that has ever been made with computers has been made three times. It originally referred to the mainframe, minicomputer, and PC eras. That could probably be extended to at least five times today by adding "client/server" and "web" environments. One of the strange aspects of computing is that everything has to be started from scratch and nobody seems willing to even consider the lessons learned in the past.

    Given this, I would prefer to see a list of operating systems in which things were done RIGHT, but which are no longer in use or from which lessons are not being learned. Multics, TOPS-10, and TOPS-20 come to mind. Any others?

    • by stego ( 146071 )
      >>everything has to be started from scratch
      >>and nobody seems willing to even consider the
      >>lessons learned in the past.

      Except maybe Apple, who rewrote their entire OS based on Unix for its proven stability, ability to play nice with others, etc etc...
      • Except of course, that this ignores the lessons regarding Unix's abyssymal UI; ignoring the lesson that OS demands on hardware have to be as minimal as possible (esp. wrt the graphics system); ignoring areas where Unix could stand improvement, e.g. security models, filesystems, etc., etc.....

        Unix is not the end all be all of OSes. Reimplementing it means that EXACTLY the mistakes of the past will be made, as opposed to a random assortment of mistakes and successes -- including new ones -- by trying something different
    • A rather obvious answer to that would be AmigaOS.

    • The OS's mentioned here are people who *want* to write from scratch. They want an OS to their own specifications. For mainstream OS's, Unix-style has seemed to work very well, and has been used as a base for numerous OS's.
    • Fits on a 5.25 inch disk and runs well in 128kb of memory! Fast and easy to use!
      • Fits on a 5.25 inch disk and runs well in 128kb of memory! Fast and easy to use!

        My favorite was the unnamed OS that came with the AIM-65 (6502-chip-based) machine. It fit in a 4k EPROM and ran well in 1k of memory and an additional 4k of EPROM for application code such as the assembler. Problem was it completely filled the EPROM so when I wanted to upgrade the assembler to handle new 6502-C instructions, first I had to rewrite some of the existing code to take fewer bytes, to make room for the new stuff.
    • Lisp Machines: Symbolics' Genera, TI's Explorer (not MS Explorer), LMI's Lambdas, Xerox's Interlisp boxes, BBN's Jerichos, MIT's CADR, and MIT's CONS. (Now watch the ignorant slashdot "there is no OS but Linux, and Linus is its prophet" kiddies denigrate that which they so fundamentally fail to understand -- code=data, extensible languages, etc. Is it the fault of their universities? Is this the fault of GNU for picking UNIX to clone instead of the LispM?)
    • Apollo's (then HP/Apollo, then HP) Domain/OS (originally Aegis) was the world's first network-based workstation operating system. By this I mean that it was developed to be a seamless part of a network of clients, servers and devices. It was a vaguely UNIX-like OS (which had UNIX emulation packages to layer on top of it) which was tied to the Apollo hardware.

      Up until the RISC revolution, Apollo's hardware was not very exciting, but the Prism architecture in their DN10000 line made their OS really shine as an accedemic and scientific computing platform. Also, their DSEE (forunner of and superior to ClearCase) source control and versioning environment made it a powerfully compelling environment for large teams of programmers who needed to work collaberatively.

      A great platform, gone forever because their marketting sucked and HP had no vision. :-(

    • ...or from which lessons are not being learned. Multics, TOPS-10, and TOPS-20 come to mind. Any others?

      And all this time I thought lessons from Multics were in fact well learnt and understood? You do know where name 'Unix' (originally, pun intended)
      comes from, right? :-)

    • Spring from SunLabs combined the efficiency of Unix with the extensibility of Plan 9 (and then some), and added in some nice features like single-system-image clustering (which, like all other features, was eventually hacked into Linux in the form of Mosix).
  • BeOS...? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by joestar ( 225875 ) on Friday October 05, 2001 @01:00PM (#2392647) Homepage
    I knew BeOS long time before Linux. So if after years of existence BeOS is not yet a mainstream OS, I don't see why I shouldn't call it a "niche OS"! AtheOS on the other part, is likely to become a mainstream. If only it could come with many more supported videocards...
    • The word nich doesn't distinguish between having a small following now but more later, and having a small following now but none later. It only means having a small following now.

      However it does seem odd to group BeOS with all of these up and comming OSen, seeing as BeOS is as dead as OS2 and DOS.
    • I would assume they didn't consider Be a niche OS since it had a descent number of people actively working on it on a regular basis. Most of the listed OS were small groups of people. If there was a group at all.
    • So if after years of existence BeOS is not yet a mainstream OS, I don't see why I shouldn't call it a "niche OS"! AtheOS on the other part, is likely to become a mainstream.

      So what constitues a mainstream OS? what number of users? what number of developers? What market share?

      Seriously, How would you define it?

      of hand I can think of at several quals, but there have to be more. And these may be messed up.

      1) Main population of users is not restricted to a specific location or region.
      2) Probably a lot more users than developers
      User base consists of a substantial fraction of the total user base.

      But what counts as substantial? If Apple was just starting, would 10% of the market be considered mainstream?

      and which markets?

    • So if after years of existence BeOS is not yet a mainstream OS

      BeOS is pretty much dead since it was bought by Palm [prnewswire.com]. Hopefully we will see elements of BeIA in some future Palm device.

  • I like the idea of setting up profiles that allow you to fire up all the programs necessary for "text processing" applications.

    I don't know how easy it would be to use this system, but at least it's innovation. It's the most original OS interface idea I've seen since the virtual desktop.

  • Why can't every OS be based on a set of common standards and have some proprietary extensions to differentiate itself from the others? And every OS should support a number of common API's for applications to run on them. If you buy an app it should run on most OS's. Some apps can be specific to some OS's because of their features.
    • What would this standard API look like? POSIX sucks, but if the standard API was non-Unix-y, then Unix wouldn't be able to efficiently support it. Trying to put a common API on top of very different architectures would just be a mess.

  • How about we start the SlashdotOS project, to go along with it SlashdotOffice and who would want to miss the Slashdot.NET development package which includes the Slashdot# c compiler.

  • Niche - and quixotic (Score:3, Interesting)

    by kingdon ( 220100 ) on Friday October 05, 2001 @01:02PM (#2392662) Homepage

    My vote for the most obscure goes to FreeVMS [panix.com]. Warning: very little code got written and there hasn't been activity in years. But the way in which it failed was interesting: no one wanted to do anything unless it had the blessing of Digital ^W Compaq ^W Hewlett Paqard. The biggest leverage of the proprietary OS was over the minds of the users/enthusiasts/etc. One could argue about whether the legal issues were real, but the free unices managed to get around legal issues with Unix including the setuid patent [].

  • What about VSTa? (Score:2, Informative)

    VSTa [vsta.org] is a very promising upcoming OS, with a microkernel architecture and very modular design. Why wasn't it mentioned in that list? Development seems to be active. I know of someone at MontaVista who spends all his spare time working on VSTa. It's supposed to be similar to Plan9 in a few ways, very advanced, research-based, designed by people experienced with kernel and OS programming... It already supports SMP.
  • by johnjones ( 14274 ) on Friday October 05, 2001 @01:03PM (#2392668) Homepage Journal
    wake up vx-works and Itron are some of the most deployed O/S's in the world so what do you call niche ?

    ones that the general public uses ?
    (ever thought about the O/S in a mobile phone)
    or even yourt Set Top Box pluged into your TV

    just because it doesnt screem the version and who made it does not make it less of a O/S


    john jones

    p.s. oh and linux need to sort out threading I found out today (-;
    • Taken to an extreme, aren't all OSs niche OSs? After all, couldn't you say that Windows X is a niche product since they have to make so many different versions for different markets? Similarly, doesn't IBM use different OSs for different markets?
  • by adadun ( 267785 ) on Friday October 05, 2001 @01:05PM (#2392679) Homepage
    In my (somewhat limited) experience with niche operating systems for PCs, they can roughly be divided into two categories:
    • "Toy" systems that are written by a few hackers "just because they can". Those are typically written in (x86) assembler and even eary versions can produce a nice looking GUI. (Note that "toy" systems can very rigid and functional, despite their name.)
    • "Research" systems that are written by researchers to prove a point. The rarely have a GUI (unless the research involve real-time graphics as for Nemesis [sourceforge.net]).
    Both kinds are extremely hard to install, only run on a very carefully selected set of hardware, and don't really gain much appreciation other than from a very small group of followers. Followers from both groups often look down on eachother.

    Lately, the operating systems research has come to a slowdown, but the operating system hackers (that produce the "toy" systems) are gaining more and more momentum. The latter can most likely be contributed to the success of Linux. Can the former be explained by that operating systems now is a fully explored area?
    • niche operating systems for PCs, ...can be divided into two categories

      They can be divided into one category: illegal operating systems.

      • I hadn't thought of that aspect of SSSCA. So, that means that undergraduate Operating Systems classes will be shut down, since they typically use reduced-complexity or toy OSes for programming projects, while graduate OS classes will be renamed "Stupid Windows Tricks".

        Can we have some well-spoken and photogenic hacker volunteers to run for seats in Congress? Please?
        • Your request implies that some well-spoken, photogenic hacker exists. That may be the big problem to solve first.
        • The classes will probably continue, but the Universities, Professors and students will have to be specially licensed to handle non-Certified operating systems. Comp-Sci students will probably have to have periodic FBI background checks to prove that they can be trusted with such dangerous code.

          And outside of school, dangerous tools like compilers and debuggers will have to be controlled and licensed as well.

          The future's looking so bright I could cry.

    • You left another important category:
      • "Wannabe" systems that are written by idealistic, hopeful and often naïve developers, often trying to emulate the success of Linux. Some of these are clearly over-ambitious. But it all has to start somewhere (apparently Finland works for some people).
  • by Tim Macinta ( 1052 ) <twm@alum.mit.edu> on Friday October 05, 2001 @01:06PM (#2392685) Homepage
    When I first looked at the title I mis-read "niche" and thought somebody had created a "Nietzsche" operating system. Now that would be a niche OS. What would such an OS do? I supposed it could complain about Jesux [geocities.com] users.
  • Another resource (Score:3, Informative)

    by Z4rd0Z ( 211373 ) <joseph at mammalia dot net> on Friday October 05, 2001 @01:10PM (#2392709) Homepage
    FreeOS [freeos.com] is another good place to find out about these kind of operating systems.
  • Dare I mention that the Forth language IS an operating system in its own right? Damn good one too!

    • Dude, i loved BeOS as well, I hate Microsoft, and i am writing this on a G4 running OS 10.1...

      Apple had more to do with killing BeOS then M$ did. Remember what happened when apple rolled out the G3? yeah that's right, it refused implicately to share or allow data that was instrumental in porting BeOS on up to the new proccessors... BeOS had a lot of momentem at the time and i believe it was build 2.4 or 2.5 I was running on my 8600 at the time.

      When apple shanked them on the G4 it was the begining of the end, they switched gears to port it to x86, the BeOS box took a dump... momentum shifted and everything came undone....

      It took as long as last saturday for me to actually use my Mac as my main box again.
    • The Canon Cat, created by macintosh creator Jef Raskin after he left apple, had an OS written in Forth (and also a forth interpreter you could access). It was kind of a neat machine in that it didn't have a concept of files. The entire state of the machine, user data and all, was put onto a 720k floppy disk, sort of like the OppcOS mentioned in article. I have a cannon cat and it actually is quite a joy to work with. Some of the UI ideas implemented in the Cat are still light years ahead of OS's that run on today's machines, and they work suprisingly well even at the Cat's 5Mhz clock speed.
  • by hajmola ( 82709 ) on Friday October 05, 2001 @01:18PM (#2392739)
    but an OS is nothing without applications - and only until there are applications for an OS, can its usability and robustness be truly measured.
  • by MattW ( 97290 ) <matt@ender.com> on Friday October 05, 2001 @01:20PM (#2392753) Homepage
    The fact that there's all this open source driver code helps make other OS's possible, and also helps make them more usable (in case you need a new driver for the niche OS). The contribution of a device driver writer for linux is obvious when you get your linux distro and have the device; but there is a big secondary benefit in the way they help contribute knowledge that can be used by others on other projects.
  • by Ortado ( 89074 )
    By far has to be FreeDOS [freedos.org]. Although development is slow, and the user base pales in compairason to others like Linux or FreeBSD, it's really amazing what they've done. The developer's list has 500+ people on it (most inactive) and recently the system is getting pretty good. Back 10 years ago, DOS was by far not a niche OS, but today it has become. Sad it is, but glad that some people accually understand that for such a simple OS, it's quite extendable.

    Oh, and of course, by favorite GUI to go ontop of FreeDOS: DWin [sf.net]. Not much to use yet, but i really enjoy it.
  • by McFly777 ( 23881 ) on Friday October 05, 2001 @01:53PM (#2392899) Homepage
    I am thinking of developing a new OS with the aim of making everybody happy.

    I think I will call it CheeriOS.

    Hmmm... you don't think General Mills will mind do you?

  • So far, I'm not seeing many niche Unixen out there, save for Minix (which I'm half-tempted to port to a virtual machine).

  • I'm working on a Nietzsche operating system.

    Not only is it very abstract, it's downright existentialist. If you try to log in as "God", it tells you you're dead.
  • "Niche" implies that there's a particular, small area in which it would be extremely useful. The OSes listed in this article are pretty vanilla for the most part, implementing the usual set of OS features, but with programmer's own pet technical bent ("Written entirely in assembly language," "Highly modular," and so on). As such, while these may be fantastic learning projects, the world is not clamoring for operating systems that differ in minor technical ways.

    Quite possibly, the world is not needing another OS in the traditional sense. When someone uses Windows, for example, he or she thinks of the "OS" as being Explorer, Internet Explorer, and certain common applications. It doesn't matter that they're running on top of the Windows kernel or the Linux kernel or whatever...that level of detail is irrelevant unless you make a hobby out of being concerned with it. The separation of a computing tool into "OS" and "application" is outdated. A better angle is to focus on what computers get used for most commonly, and then write a so-called operating system to give you the support you need to provide those tools to users. Writing the OS first is akin to the usual mistake of architecting a 3D engine without any clue as to what game it should be used in. That's the backward approach.
  • Interesting OSes (Score:5, Informative)

    by DGolden ( 17848 ) on Friday October 05, 2001 @02:27PM (#2393072) Homepage Journal
    EROS is a very promising O.S. - orthogonally persistent, cool security.

    An "interesting" OS is AROS [aros.org] - it's AmigaOS, but open-source on x86, complete with Amiga-style:

    pre-emptive multitasking.

    total lack of memory protection, except for "cooperative" m.p. via semaphore locking.

    blazingly fast IPC by by-reference message passing

    on-the-fly shared library function patching

    user-space device drivers (though, without any memory protection, user space is a pretty abstract concept :-).

    integrated GUI + unix-like shell.

    Also has a fun "soft-pseudo-reboot in a fraction of a second" feature, based on just freeing all memory except the kernel + vectoring to the kernel entry point - whcih means, you may crash due to lack of memory protection, but you'll be back up,very,very quickly :-).

  • Where's EROS, the Extremely Reliable Operating System that Eric Raymond wrote about no too long ago? OppcOS sounds a lot like it - saves its entire state to disk periodically, has no "file systems" - but in a quick peruse of the OppcOS site, I couldn't find any mention of whether the two are/were related. EROS sounded very promising, and unless its development has been abandoned, should have been on this list. (EROS used to have a web site, whose URL I cannot remember - obvious guesses like www.eros.org seem to be pr0n sites.)

    Little help?

  • EROS [eros-os.org]. No, it isn't an OS that displays pr0n. It stands for Extremely Reliable Operating System and is used as a test bed for new OS enhancements such as OS persistence and token security. Besides, these guys get a real kick out of showing how they can kick the plug out of the wall and have their machine back up moments after they put the plug back in.

    Another OS of interest is JOS [jos.org], a Java based OS. While I agree with them in principle, they defined too large of a scope initially and ended up drowning in their own specs. Maybe one day we'll see an awesome OS out of them, but not today.
    • They mentioned something like EROS, called OppcOS [sourceforge.net].

      Not even out of PreAlpha yet, and only two developers.

      The plug out of the wall story was actually about KeyKOS although I bet EROS would survive that test also.

      I like EROS's idea of having no filesystem. A hard disk is the permanent memory map, and regulary memory is just cache for it. The capability system is a very interesting one also, allowing fine grained security for every part of the system even peripherals (But I suppose OppCOS would have that even though I can find no info on it.)
      • I like EROS's idea of having no filesystem. A hard disk is the permanent memory map, and regulary memory is just cache for it.

        That was actually an idea that originated in MULTICS [multicians.org]. Unfortuantely for MULTICS, most of the devlopment companies pulled out leaving HoneyWell with the sucker. And HoneyWell managed to bungle their marketing to no end. As a result, there have only ever been a handful of MULTICS machines in existance.
  • Microware OS/9 (Score:2, Informative)

    by justanyone ( 308934 )
    There's a small company named Microware [microware.com] based in Des Moines that's been producing a small Real time operating system for at least 10 years. The OS is named "OS/9". It was popular for use in set top boxes. The interesting thing about it was that any component of the OS could be turned on/off while it was running; it used a dynamic lookup table to be able to reconfigure itself on the fly. Microsoft never would dream of a no-reboot-necessary-ever Op system! (or could it?) Microware used to have their OS in a lot of cable TV set top boxes. They've been purchased recently, and I don't know how widely they're used, but it was a pretty cool OS for a while!
  • Why is it... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by humming ( 24596 )
    ..that every programmer that thinks he knows something has to either write his own programming language or Operating System?

    • Re:Why is it... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Pyrosz ( 469177 )
      Simple really.

      For the fun of doing it.
      Its like baking a cake. You can go out to the store and buy one, or you can bake one yourself. Its pleasure to eat something you made with your own hands.
    • For the same reason that people who know something about English (for instance) write their own poetry, prose, legal contracts, etc.
  • Hey... (Score:3, Funny)

    by seanmeister ( 156224 ) on Friday October 05, 2001 @03:00PM (#2393189)
    They left out emacs!!!

    (ducks and runs...)
  • One successful project that wasn't mentioned is FreeDOS [freedos.org], a free reimplementation of DOS. Unlike the others it already has a huge amount of software written for it. Still beta though.
    • I use freedos sometimes. When I do bios updates or flash my DVD-Players, I boot from a freedos floppy. No MS for me.

      Did you know how hard Win ME makes it to create a decent boot disk for flashing, Geeze. I tried to patch the DVD player of my girl-friend and had to try lots of stuff to get into dos mode.

      So now I live in a 100% OpenSource World. linux & freedos.
  • I don't understand why there are so many niche operating systems that aren't acting like a niche operating system. If someone is going to write a niche operating system, I think it would more beneficial to make it specialized and make operating systems for things that people will use one computer for. Someone should make MySQL into an operating system for example, then it could take full advantage of all hardware available. Many people dedicate whole computers to DB's and Webservers and such anyway, why not just take it to the next level?
  • Freedows (Score:3, Informative)

    by alumshubby ( 5517 ) on Friday October 05, 2001 @04:20PM (#2393547)
    Maybe this is unhealthy nostalgia on my part, but remember the Freedows [freeos.com] operating system? Apart from at least one personality involved, it sounded like an interesting idea. I wonder if it's still percolating in somebody's basement or if it'll ever get dusted off and looked at afresh. The Alliance OS [freeos.com] project was going to use the same cache-kernel technology, but it apparently hasn't budged either.

  • I mean no disrespect to the creator(s) of SkyOS, but at least they should have been creative with their icon design. See what I mean? [skyos.org]

To write good code is a worthy challenge, and a source of civilized delight. -- stolen and paraphrased from William Safire