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Programming Languages Will Become OSes 461

Anonymous Coward writes "A couple of months ago, at the Lightweight Languages Workshop 2002, Matthew Flat made a premise in his talk: Operating systems and programming languages are the same thing (at least 'mathematically speaking'). I find this interesting and has a lot of truth in it. Both OS and PL are platforms on which other programs run. Both are virtualizing machines. Both make it easier for people to write applications (by providing API, abstractions, frameworks, etc.)"
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Programming Languages Will Become OSes

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 17, 2003 @01:50PM (#5102818)
    Already happened: Microsoft BASIC ==> Microsoft Windows
  • Oberon anybody? (Score:5, Informative)

    by sofist ( 556213 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @01:51PM (#5102821)
    Just remember the past. Oberon was an OS an a PL at the same time and I think most of the readers didn't ever heard about it...
  • TRS-80 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    my TRS-80 had BASIC as the OS
  • Use Emacs (Score:5, Funny)

    by aridhol ( 112307 ) <> on Friday January 17, 2003 @01:52PM (#5102832) Homepage Journal
    If you use Emacs, you have a programming language, OS, and editor all in one happy package.
    • by SquadBoy ( 167263 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @01:53PM (#5102844) Homepage Journal
      Yea but you would have to port VIM to get a *good* editor.
    • by bperkins ( 12056 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:08PM (#5102992) Homepage Journal
      Found in someone's sig file:

      Emacs: It's a nice OS, but to compete with
      Linux or Windows it needs a better text
      editor. - Alexander Duscheleit
    • Emacs has an editor? :)
    • by gosand ( 234100 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:45PM (#5103240)
      If you use Emacs, you have a programming language, OS, and editor all in one happy package.

      Yes, be we want OSs to get LESS bloated, not more.

  • Happened before... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by meringuoid ( 568297 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @01:53PM (#5102833)
    ... the home computers of the early '80s didn't really have OSes, they had programming languages. You'd boot a BBC Micro and it would fire up into BBC Basic - with a few * commands for file system manipulation. Or you'd boot a Spectrum and you'd get the same: the name of the system and a prompt to begin typing your program.
    • by Transient0 ( 175617 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:06PM (#5102972) Homepage
      Yes, and interestingly, the article isn't even really saying that OSes and programming languages are the same thing. What it is saying is that any programming language worth it's salt has the potential to become an OS and that it will probable eventually do so for security reasons. Then he tacks on "There will perhaps be new PL's designed with isolation as one of their main goals--or current PL's might be improved/redesigned--so hopefully this requirement of having a 'multiuser PL' will be fulfilled in the future." as his last line.

      The bulk of his argument is sound and has convincing precedent in the examples you give(Micro, Spectrum, etc.) and I could add a few of my own, not to mention the modern example of Java. As for his ad hoc specualtion at the end that programming languages will eventually replace OSes. I'm prepared to call that bullshit until he presents some evidence. I don't see it happening, who wants to code on a machine that can only use one language?

      Of course, the response is that new language will be written to run inside the OS-Language and that coders can work in either these sub-languages or the OS-level meta-language. But really how would this be any different than the current situation with many languages vs. assembler as meta-language only with an additional obfuscating level of go-between.

      my two cents.
      • by dillon_rinker ( 17944 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:52PM (#5103297) Homepage
        who wants to code on a machine that can only use one language?

        The Feds. They've done it before (Ada) and, I'm sure, wouldn't mind doing it again.
        • by -dhan-101 ( 227087 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @03:28PM (#5103649)
          your machine can already only use one language, machine language. fortunately, on top of this, humans have made a bunch of aliases and shortcuts for various commonly used sequences of operations, which developed into "higher level languages" like assembly and then C and then ...

          if people want to use the machine (or OS), but don't like the language it understands, they will build translators from whatever made up language they like to the language the machine does understand (i.e. compilers and virtual machines).
      • I'm not sure Java's virtual machine counts as a full operating system. I do think that Microsoft's .net strategy is much closer. In the .net languages (C#, managed C,, you really do start to blur the lines between the language, the class library and the OS. It hasn't gone all the way, of course. Further the fact that there are multiple languages undermines the idea of a language as the OS. With .net it is multiple languages.

        There are excellent reasons to go this route though. While I'm definitely no Microsoft lover, I do think .net is pretty cool. Even if figuring out what they mean by that is more than a tad confusing.

        Of course in practice the distinction between language and OS has always been somewhat blurry. Take Unix. At what point to you separate Perl, gcc, and the shell from the OS? In a way, in the older versions of Unix it was even more pronounced. Using LaTex involved many shell scripts and custom programs and even writing in it was in effect programming.

        Even early versions of LISP were their own OS and one could argue that UCSD Pascal was as well. (Especially the version for the old Apple II)

        So this is hardly a new thing. The only time I think we can truly make an OS - language distinction is when people start trying to make languages portable and make it used for development. The move to do everything in C for all platforms in the late 80's is a great example of this. This lead to many companies using C instead of Pascal for development and also pushed ANSI C and then the C++ standards. Class libraries tended to be quite separate from the language. However lets be honest. All of this was more of a short blip in the history of languages rather than the typical situation.

        Even going back to "prehistoric" times, when people wrote Fortran code with punch cards could they tell what was the program and what was the OS easily?

  • Really? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by teetam ( 584150 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @01:53PM (#5102839) Homepage
    While this may be conceptually true, there are different considerations involved when picking an OS and a language. A programming language is more like a tool that is selected because it is good for a particular operation.

    A single machine could have multiple languages co-existing for different tasks. Some of these tasks require quick and dirty scripting, some require high performance and some other application programs might concentrate on object oriented features and such.

    The operating system, on the other hand, is typically only one per machine and performance and stability might be the major considerations (other than compatibility with the popular applications around!)

    • While this may be conceptually true, there are different considerations involved when picking an OS and a language. A programming language is more like a tool that is selected because it is good for a particular operation.

      The operating system, on the other hand, is typically only one per machine and performance and stability might be the major considerations (other than compatibility with the popular applications around!)

      I disagree with you there, and I think you didn't think that through yourself. Currently mainstream OSs are designed and optimized for common case. But as we already see, we have demands like Real Time, high throughput and good interactivity that aren't really met by main-stream OS.

      A lot of people have been asking that such decisions would be left tunable in linux for example. Last fall during the quest for high throughput and all those db benchmarks resulted in extremely POOR desktop feel. Software compilation in another window jammed your editor for example, which for a desktop developer is something you never want to be face to face with. Even now the only way to achieve good feel with 2.4 is to buy more memory and turn off swap all together.
      Naturally that nullifies all the benefits that the "clever" mm does for throughput in linux.
      (for the record 2.5 behave a lot better)

      In any case the language selection like you said is alread taking place also with OSes. Neither Linux nor Windows is suitable for hard real time for example.
    • A lot of comments that are being made here seem a little funny to me. I think the term OS is being confused with the concept of emulation layers and applications that provide a lot of functionality. Statements like Emacs and Mozilla are operating systems. Does Emacs or Mozilla control low-level I/O or memory management ? Do they provide process scheduling ? No ! Then things like these are not OSs in the traditional sense.

    • Re:Really? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by l0ss ( 632200 )
      What about development platforms like .NET? These unifeid environments aim to resolve many programming languages, and resources in a unified bundle. This has been a long standing goal for many development environments. We've seen all kinds of Java and C++ wrappers emerge that allow integration into various other languages, platforms, and environments. That said, I think there is a alot to be said about how similar OSs and PLs really are.
    • Re:Really? (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Brown ( 36659 )
      "A single machine could have multiple languages co-existing for different tasks."

      Just as quite a few computers 'round here have multiple OS's installed.

      On this machine, I currently have 2 different installs of Linux, and one of Win2000. They are used for different things; one of the Linux instances is for my desktop machine - customisation, and my 'feel' is important. Another is for testing/playing with, while the windows install is for any apps I need which still aren't around on linux (practually none that I use these days actually).
      I'd suggest that this kind of arrangement is analogous to having differnt languages for different purposes, and is quite common amongst computer hobbyists.

      I'd also hope that performance, stablity/security and compatibility are important criteria when selecting programming languages as well as OS's!

      - Chris
  • This is funny. This exact thing appeared on OSNews earlier this week... and was promptly followed by an unrelated article entitled "Future of Operating Systems: Simplicity". So which is it, simplicity or programming?
  • C64 (Score:2, Funny)

    by dardem ( 182274 )
    Glad I didn't throw out my C64!
  • I want an OS that will write apps for me. Until then I don't think there will be any more than incremental improvements to any software.
  • Behind the times? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Mordant ( 138460 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @01:54PM (#5102856)
    I guess Mr. Flat (what a name!) hasn't ever heard of the LISP Machine. [].
  • Programming Languages become one and the same as Operating Systems. Then Microsoft will come out with "FrontPane," the WYSIWYG OS editor that allows everybody and their brother to create shitty OS interfaces inside of an editor, while writing autrocious code "behing the scenes."

    Shittier than Luna, that is...
  • by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <> on Friday January 17, 2003 @01:57PM (#5102880) Homepage Journal
    I though web browsers and OSes were the same thing.

  • Bah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by p3d0 ( 42270 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @01:57PM (#5102883)
    That's like saying doctors and scalpels are really the same thing because they both perform surgeries.

    OSes and programming languages have some superficial features in common, but they are totally different concepts. This is so manifestly obvious that I'm not even sure how to argue the point.

    However, Mr. Flat's suggestion that languages need better isolation capabilities is a good one. It all goes back to Fred Brooks' point that one in ten programmers is a superstar. I think isolation facilities in a programming language allow the superstar to set the rules that the other nine programmers must follow, making the system more coherent by the guidance of one mind.

    • So what Mr Flat is really saying is that he hasn't looked at Eiffel, Ada, OCL or any design by contract work.

      This really is a bizarre article that most first year students would get marked down for.
    • OSes and programming languages have some superficial features in common, but they are totally different concepts. This is so manifestly obvious that I'm not even sure how to argue the point.

      Your lack of ability to argue it kinda shows how you were also unable to see the similarities.

      Naturally they're not the same thing, but they have a lot more things in common than "superficial features".

      The interface that an OS offers is exactly the same as with languages, i.e. system calls. Granted that there's no lexical syntax involved, but there's a shit load of rules how you must use them, just any other API out there.

      There'd be a ton more to say, about PL intermediate representations and functional binary programs within an os etc. But I'll just say that try remember what Turing et al taught us of computing theory. Where the HW is a turing machine so is an OS.

      And I also disagree with the mythical man-month remark. The other nine should have their license to code revoked.
  • FORTH (Score:4, Interesting)

    by turgid ( 580780 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @01:57PM (#5102884) Journal
    FORTH was and still is such a combination. It's compact, easy to implement and incredibly fast and felxible.
    • You beat me to it.

      I was going to say 'And FORTH people have known this for how many years?'

      I remember writing a VM with Kernel-like memory paging in Miller FORTH on a TRS 80 mdl 1 back in the old days.

      FORTH is the greatest, if you can handle it.

    • Forth has always been both OS and Programming Language...and with some Processors, is the microcode too!

      Forth is hard, very hard, but like assembly can be very, very fast. And is excellent for embedded systems....I mean, it was originally designed to control radio telescopes!

  • by rmayes100 ( 521535 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @01:57PM (#5102886) Homepage
    Microsoft is always pretty quick to recognize new products that could threaten windows dominance. In some ways platform independent languages (most scripting languages, Smalltalk, Java) already implement their own OS on top of the OS they're already running on.
  • This astute piece of observation has made me become far more transcendental. Now I realize that we're all just connected.

    Yet I shall take this wisdom even further: the digital universe is based upon everything being opposite, where you have everything and nothing.

    That's deep, man.

  • don't think so (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jacquesm ( 154384 ) <> on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:00PM (#5102905) Homepage
    This is *not* going to happen.
    For one the wall between OS space and user space is there for a good reason (security) and second different people like to use different languages, and you'll lose a good part of your developers by forcing them into the straightjacket of a single language for a certain os.

    it's been tried before (smalltalk, java) and failed, for these and a whole bunch of other reasons.

  • Idealism (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PourYourselfSomeTea ( 611000 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:01PM (#5102918)
    Actually you see this reflected in modern systems designs such as Cocoa/OC or Java. They are in themselves virtualized operating systems. Adding classes in these adds reusable functionality to the overall system, much like adding functions in Lisp adds functionality to the system.
  • by UpLateDrinkingCoffee ( 605179 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:01PM (#5102922)
    Like java... I think a likely evolution will be towards a single VM that runs all your programs instead of the one VM per app generally used now. More and more of the process switching and memory management will be built into the VM's probably to the point one day where java VM's become operating systems in their own right and only need the underlying OS for drivers to talk to the hardware.
  • by wackybrit ( 321117 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:02PM (#5102928) Homepage Journal
    In the future, when all programming languages will become operating systems, there'll be a lot of competition. Choose the operating system that works the best for you:

    C OS - Every single task you want to achieve has to be split into fifty bite size actions.

    COBOL OS - The literati's dream OS! No longer must you click and drag, but instead type bizarrely syntaxed English to do your work! PROGRAM OPEN CALCULATOR AS NEW PROGRAM

    Perl OS - An open source OS worked on by a bunch of extremely crazy (but clever) bearded anoraks. You can do EVERYTHING in one click or one line of code. Oh, face it, it's just the future of Linux.

    PHP OS - This OS was originally the shell for Perl OS, but some wimps who couldn't work out the Perl way of doing things decided to turn it into their own 'paint by numbers' OS. Unfortunately you can only access the Internet with PHP OS, no off-line facilities are available.

    C++ OS - A simple upgrade to C OS. Still just as complicated, but the ++ makes it cooler to use and adds a host of useless features that are non standard across all implementations. Besides, C OS is for old fogeys.

    Python OS - Supposedly this exists, but since no-one cares, we won't go into it.

    Ruby OS - EVERYTHING is an object. Want to open your calculator app?; please. Need to enter some numbers? calculator.buttons[8].press; It's long, tedious, but at least it makes logical sense.

    BASIC OS - Joe six pack's answer to operating systems. This is Microsoft XP in the future. Anything can be done with point and click, but it's slow, crashes a lot, and is totally lame. Oh, I'm already talking about XP here aren't I?

    • Addendum (Score:5, Funny)

      by Amsterdam Vallon ( 639622 ) <> on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:36PM (#5103184) Homepage

      Java OS - True object orientation meets platform-independent code. Boot once, run it on anything. However, it takes 10 seconds alone to start each application's virtual machine. Early benchmarks indicate cold program starts of the Mozilla browser approaching the 60 minute mark on a dual Pentium system. Future benchmarks are planned and will be measured using a sun dial.

    • C OS - Every single task you want to achieve has to be split into fifty bite size actions.
      I think you mean fifty DWORD-size instructions. ;-)

      COBOL OS ... but instead type bizarrely syntaxed English to do your work!
      Sounds like SQL OS...

      Perl OS ... You can do EVERYTHING in one click or one line of code. Oh, face it, it's just the future of Linux.
      Ditto with, say, bash. Given bash, sed, awk, and netcat one can do pretty much anything at the prompt. Oh, and bash is already the present of Linux.

      PHP OS ... no off-line facilities are available.
      I've been using PHP in command-line mode for quite some time; I don't know what you're talking about.

      C++ OS - A simple upgrade to C OS. Still just as complicated, but the ++ makes it cooler to use and adds a host of useless features that are non standard across all implementations.
      True that!

      Python OS - Supposedly this exists, but since no-one cares, we won't go into it.
      Python is a serious language, though it has some 'features' I find irksome (whitespace as syntax element), it is nonetheless quite powerful and is actually used in the real world.
  • by watzinaneihm ( 627119 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:02PM (#5102930) Journal
    If any programming language/framework has a chance it will become an OS it is .NET.
    And Java is half an OS already, it has its own threading moodel, has memory management etc. Though frankly I believe this paradigm of PLs becoming OSes will be first be seen on handhelds etc. Note that many Cellphones run Java etc. (though now sybian is more commoon).
    • or at least Microsoft's marketing stooges have everyone confused now about whether .net means an OS or a library or a language or a framework.....that's certainly one way of unifying OS & language.
    • by Schnapple ( 262314 ) <tomkidd@[ ] ['via' in gap]> on Friday January 17, 2003 @03:18PM (#5103567) Homepage
      If any programming language/framework has a chance it will become an OS it is .NET.
      Which, if it turns out to be true, explains why Microsoft is not only doing .NET but why they went out of their way and hired Corel to port the CLI and C# compilers to FreeBSD, Mac OSX, and (apparently) Linux (the Rotor project). It's been theorized that in the grand scheme of things .NET is helping Microsoft prepare for the day in which Operating Systems are irrelevant or at least not the way they're done today. And of course the complete class libraries the .NET framework relies upon will only run on Windows, and even when/if the open source reimplementations of them ever catch up, they'll still (in theory) always run best on Windows, to say nothing of the Visual Studio .NET tool always running in Windows.

      Of course the other reason MS might be pushing .NET so much is the money they stand to make off of the hundreds of books they've written on the subject.

      Note that .NET is not a programming language (and I've already seen it used this way in this thread). .NET is a platform (the CLI is like the Java VM) and a framework (the class libraries) but it's not a language. C# is a .NET language, VB.NET is a .NET language, (language).NET is a language, but .NET isn't a language.

      Tip: If you ever ask someone what they're writing their app/web site in and they say ".NET" and can't say anything else (like C# or then they don't know what they're talking about (and I should know - I used to do it myself).

  • Plot: In the year 2003, the technologically-starved masses depend upon the United States government-manufactured item Microsoft Windows to exist and manage their day to day activities. But in the midst of an investigation, a hacker uncovers the chilling source of the product...

    Microsoft Basic is Microsoft Windows!
    Microsoft Basic is Microsoft Windows!
    *shouting at top of lungs*
    Microsoft Basic is Microsoft Windows!
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:05PM (#5102956) Homepage
    ...the partitioning of computer environments into applications, OS, "drivers," "libraries," etc. etc. is arbitrary, cultural, traditional, etc. To some extent it's also based on modularity considerations, and to some extent on marketing/commercial considerations. There's no fundamental logic to "the way things are."

    A few decades ago, MANY environments blurred the distinction between OS and language: FORTH, MUMPS, SMALLTALK, and, indeed, most early versions of BASIC, to name four.

    The traditional textbook discussion of an OS ("provides four interfaces, to the filesystem, to devices, to applications, and to users") is just a discussion of what IBM evolved in the sixties or thereabouts.

    Incidentally, the very name "operating system" indicates the original rationale and function of these pieces of software. They were intended to automate the functions that previously required the manual services of an "operator," thus increasing utilization and decreasing payroll.

    Another example of the arbitrariness of the term "OS" is the way in which various applications programs are now considered to somehow be part of the OS. In Digital's glory days, these were sometimes referred to as "CUSPS"--Commonly Used System Programs. Is grep "part" of UNIX? Is Windows Explorer (not Internet Explorer, but Windows Explorer--the application that displays directory contents and that "start" button at the bottom of your screen--Windows' graphical "shell") part of Windows?

    At one point Apple said Hypercard was "systems software." Perhaps iTunes is "part of" OS X?
    • by iankerickson ( 116267 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @03:41PM (#5103749) Homepage
      No, it's because the term "OS" is commonly used to mean "OE" or "Operating Environment". Linux, being the kernel, is an OS. sh, and all the other shell tools are the OE. You don't have to use sh for your shell or init or any other shell tools, replacing them with other valid executables. A real world example of this is the FreeVMS project. In making a free/libre version of VMS, they don't want to duplicate the work of writing drivers and developing a kernel -- they want to focus on developing analogs of DCL, TPU, the Queue manager, etc. So they're using Linux or FreeBSD for their kernel and writing their own userland.

      Same with Windows Explorer. The "My Computer" icon is part of Windows' operating environment. You can, believe it or not, use Windows without using Explorer (using the command line or a replacement shell like LiteStep). Windows just isn't designed or intended to have its core components replaced so easily. I think there was a court case about it... Anyhow, I used to run Windows NT with just cmd.exe as the shell, which was fun for a few weeks, figuring out how to set control panels from the shell. With cywin & GINA installed, you could put a nearly complete UNIX face on NT and still be able to run Win32 apps.

      Sun is one the only companies I've seen distinguish between an OS and OE. They used to (still?) call it the Solaris Operating Environment, with the SunOS kernel as the underlying OS. The truth is nobody cares. _My_ eyes are glazing over just writing about this. My sincerest condolences to your disintigrating brain. But on the bright side, without the ambiguous use of technical terms, slashdot readers would have a lot less to argue about, and this site would degrade into a competitive festival of increasingly embarrassing personal confessions on sex, drug use, music, government secrets, scams, circumventing the law, satire, and other boring stuff like they have kuro5hin. If we should be so lucky.

  • by MikeFM ( 12491 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:06PM (#5102976) Homepage Journal
    Really good programs all act like a mini-OS unless they are very simple in nature. Everything from games to word processors only provide an engine and let the details be scripted in a higher level language. Web applications I design are designed around an OS-like framework that sets up the system, checks the security, passes off the task to the appropiate code, and then parses the output and sends it to the user. I've been working on a moo-style mud engine in Python and it does make heavy use of Python's security features (as well as it's own) to allow users to program the system in Python without being able to compromise the security of the system. Usually when I develop a program I look at how scripting will work even before I look at how the user interface will work.
  • That is why my dream is a funcional, relational OS -- something built around a Scheme or Lisp D, as in Date and Darwen's The Third Manifesto.
  • Etlinux [] takes a tiny kernel, then adds radically stripped-down versions of the standard demons, rewritten in TCL!

    This might in fact be your daddy's Linux: 2.0 kernel, and the TCL is a very-stripped-down one. Why? Reduced resource requirements: it'll run on a 386sx with 2M ram and 2M disk/flash!

    More features:
    - embedded cgi-capable WEB server
    - a telnet server
    - an email server, with the ability to execute commands sent by email from a remote site
    - CORBA support
    - easy-to-use remote file management
    - a flexible package selection scheme, allowing an easy customization of the system
    - source code available for every component
  • Steering wheels and tires are the same thing.

    Both are required for the succesful opperation of a car. Each require steel in their construction for structural reinforcement. In a pinch, and with a little engineering, theoretically one could be used to replace the other.

    But most striking in their simularities: Both are round.

  • Bad Titles..! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Steveftoth ( 78419 )
    Argh, this paper starts with an interesting idea, that PLs are more like OSes then we realize it, provides some genesis for the idea, but FAILS to back it up..

    All of his examples, the bulk of the paper, are examples of how the RUNTIME system restricts the PL. He talks about the runtime system security model and somehow this is supposed to extend to the definition of the programming language? No, this is not how it works. The runtime system, the sandbox or whatever you call it, is a restriction defined seperatly from the language itself. The JVM is defined seperatly from the Java language. That's why products like JET exist that can compile Java code to something other then bytecode. Because the runtime enviroment is not defined in the language. You don't have to have a security manager, like in perl, you don't have to support a trusted mode in your perl runtime. It's a feature of the runtime, not the language.

    The runtime, by definition is like a mini-OS. Usually, a vm runtime (for perl, java, python, etc...) takes non-native instructions, parses them and translates them into some sort of binary instruction. Since there is no processor that can execute perl natively, this is how it works.

    Neat idea, bad paper.
  • Confusion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by The Bungi ( 221687 ) <> on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:16PM (#5103060) Homepage
    The author of the article is confused. He almos defined the term architecture but he missed it by a hair.

    Systems architecture (and to a certain extent application architecture) revolves around creating "environments" where other applications operate, (note emphasis). Architectures provide services to these applications, which in turn may provide different services to yet more applications (components, web-based solutions, etc.). Thus you can argue that by sitting down and designing and implementing a specific or generic purpose architecture, you're creating a "mini-OS". That much is true. But the OS is simply a lower-level architecture than, say, Java or COM or .NET. It's a more complicated and extensive one, but one nonetheless. The stuff you do with a programming language (or as they like to be called these days - platforms) is essentially a higher-level abstraction than the real OS happens to be.

    So we can argue then that we're moving towards the platform concept where things are interconnected via well-defined interfaces and entry points (that's your APIs) where the OS itself is just another component.

  • by pyth ( 87680 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:23PM (#5103097)
    It is an incredibly retarded idea to integrate the programming language with the OS. Allow me to demonstrate what a PL does: make it easy to write machine code.

    The truly wise path to go is to define an OS/bytecode combination, so that (in a very LISP-like way) security is accomplished by "thought-controlling" programs rather than action-controlling (the MS/Linux model).

    What I want to know is this: Is the LISP bytecode the best, or should a more modern one be used? JavaVM?

  • You mean that programming languages are going to get even more bloated and overly complex!?

    Bleah. Count me out.

    What happened to the idea of modularity? Programming languages shouldn't be OSes. They should have access to a modular interface to different OS elements. But now, "modern" languages include all kinds of crap, like GUI code, that should be kept in nice, modular libraries. You know, so that you, the coder have choice.

  • If you ignore enough details, interpreted languages like perl and gawk are similar to OSes. Those that are integrated with a programming environment, even more so; the RSTS/E Basic environment was a language that worked as an OS. VAX/VMS included interpreted DCL, and thus was an OS that worked as a language.

    However, compiled languages are fundamentally dissimilar to OSes, because the compiler is not needed to run the program once it's compiled. Your OS is not as easily dispensed with!

  • no, they won't (Score:5, Insightful)

    by g4dget ( 579145 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:26PM (#5103119)
    UNIX had it right: put all the isolation stuff into the kernel, and put all the programming outside of it. It's called "modularity". Yes, you do pay a performance cost for it in some cases, but the benefits in terms of simplicity of design are tremendous. Determining what a process can do in UNIX is a fairly simple affair, as is limiting what it can do.

    The best attempt at isolation at the language level is probably Java. The internal security architecture is rather complicated. And even after half a dozen years, Java still does not provide anything like "ulimit" and I wouldn't trust it to isolate arbitrary code within the same VM.

  • Ironic this post comes at the same time of Cringely's comments [] on the subject. Now, not only am I a solaris admin, I guess I'm also a Forth admin!
  • I see more in common between DBMS's and OS's than languages. OS's must keep track of a bunch of stuff. User lists, process lists, memory allocation areas, disk section limits, etc, etc.

    This is more database territory than language territory it seems to me. I see too many applications that reinvent the database from scratch or using wimpy, tangled array thingies. If you don't like database API's or features, and that is why so many of you reinvent your own, then lets look at DB API's and languages (includind SQL) and fix them.

    IBM's AS/400 allegedly uses a RDBMS for many of its OS functionality, I would note. I have not used it extensively, but it usually gets high praises from techies who have.

    Perhaps these "OS's are really X" arguments are ridiculous, but a database is as good a candidate as anything.
  • by gmarceau ( 119282 ) <> on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:33PM (#5103162) Homepage
    I see alot of people getting upset at Mathhew without having read the article. For them, and for those who are reading in diagonal, I'll summarise the important point here.

    At LL2 Matthew Flat posed that, while OS's and programming languages both support application development, by providing libraries of function calls, their difference in focus fundamentaly sets them appart. OS's focus on isolation of code, for security and for stability. Programming languages focus on cooperation, and try to maximize code reuse and efficiency.

    Basicaly, OS hacker and the PL hacker have alot to learn from each each other. They would win at from cross-pollination between the two fields. Matthew then proceeded to show his implementation of what operating system concepts would look like in a programming language, by demoing DrScheme [], a programming environment which can run (and debug) itself recursively.
  • In my eyes, an OS is more like a huge dynamic library than a programming language.
  • Sorry to be a little sarcastic, but the notion of programming languages as OSes is old and familiar to everyone who used (especially micro-) computers in the 80's. Basic, Forth, Smalltalk, Lisp, mainframe assembler,... even Unix was conceived as a set of language as much as an OS.
    The remarkable thing is how people have accepted OSes that do not work like programming languages: MS-DOS and its Windows brood being the most common examples, though many other firms have produced non-programmable (and non-abstractable) OSes in the past: IBM OS/400 being one wonderful example that still gets the Pavlovian juices flowing. Brrrrr.
    The question is not about "mathematical identity". If that's all that matters, I can say that people will eventually become sweet corn. We are, after all, mathematically identical at many levels: consider the structure of living cells or organic molecules.
    The question is how we build and use tools to hide and digest complexity. We program by creating models. Models encapsulate complexity. Can the OS do the same? If so, it's a programming language. Does it impose a single static designer model? If so, it's a crippled OS.
  • by gaudior ( 113467 ) <[marktjohns] [at] []> on Friday January 17, 2003 @02:46PM (#5103244) Homepage
    Pick systems were a database, an OS, and a programming language, all in one. It was a very cool system to work in.
  • I mean, minivans and SUVs are practically the same thing given how most people use them, but that doesn't mean that all SUV drivers are going to switch to Minivans.

    Besides a programming language does something that an OS is never supposed to do, make things human writable (and hopefully readable). Back in the days of DOS you could say people coded to the OS as much as the PL (especially if you were talking about writing ASM) but today they are vastly different.

    Another difference is that the OS does it's job in real time, while a PL doesn't need to.

    If you want to say that programming 'environments' like the Standard Template Lib, the JVM, .NET, the stuff in CPAN are equivalent to OSs, then that makes sense. But the language itself is not an OS.
  • by e aubin ( 121373 )
    Modern programming languages can perform some of the safety features that operating systems provide. Many functional languages "can't go wrong". (meaning the compiler can prove a program does not access memory outside of its own space). Some languags like value Microsoft's Vault [] programming language can make sure an API is used properly. Check out Kernel Mode Linux [] for an example of how a "safe" scheme program can be speed up by executing in kernel space.
  • Ok. So the dude thinks that Perl should now be built to operate as an OS?
    Seems silly to me. I agree that there could be an interesting use for a high-level language that is completly independent upon the underlying OS or be the OS, but I don't think the languages he discusses are going to work.

    Perl is a scripting language that is a bastardized version of every other language. I love perl, so don't think I am bashing Perl. It does a great job at what it does, but making it secure enough to run a multi-user OS is crazy. Look at how strange it does object-oriented stuff, it's ugly. I just think retrofiting a language to do something that it was not ever designed to do is wrong.

    If you want a high-level language that is the OS and also the language you write user applications in, you better create a new language. Java is the closest I have come across that could run as an OS.

    Start from the ground up and build a high-level language that handles, printing, DNS, user authentication, the file system, and every other thing the current OSes handle now as well as provide a kick ass development environment for application programmers.

    Some day we probably will have a language that can do everything but it won't be Perl, or will it?
  • by bokumo ( 169717 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @03:35PM (#5103694) Homepage
    When you get down to heart of the matter, all computers use just one kind of language: the processor's binary instruction set. So you could make an argument that all (Von Neuman architecture) computers are just interpreters for a particular instruction set. Operating systems and programming languages just provide abstractions which make the programmer's job easier. Making a division between operating system and programming language is an engineering decision on where you want to position your layers of abstraction to achieve a good balance between ease of use and speed. It is all just a matter of where you decide to put your abstractions.
    • Mod parent up.

      Seems too many people forget that "rooms, walls and controlled openings" are a good idea. The bigger the building the more important they become. Sure you can have one huge room and put everything in it, but you'll end up partitioning it anyway. And even then either you resort to separate rooms or accept that the furnishings and decorations will be inconsistent within a room.

      Me: One man's impedance mismatch is another man's layer of abstraction.

      It's more likely that someone will add yet another type of "room" than for things to merge together.
  • by DrSkwid ( 118965 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @04:17PM (#5103995) Homepage Journal
    Inferno []'s not an OS/Language hybrid but it is a virtualised unix like OS that will run with identical interfaces, including GUI, on differing hardware & software combinations. It will run natively on some hardware [such as my IPAQ] and hosted elsewhere - such as Windows & Linux.

    It was a project started before Java and shares many of it's aims but went that one step futher by retaining the concept of an OS where you can read and write files etc.

    Dennis Ritchie talks about Inferno and other things []

  • What a load of BS! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Alex Belits ( 437 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @04:19PM (#5104011) Homepage

    The article is an act of mental masturbation, and typically for such acts it takes one property of the unfortunate subject of such "research" and builds a whole theory based on it, regardless of its relevance and applicability.

    Languages are supposed to be designed to allow a programmer to express the implementation of his design. The OS design is supposed to give the program implemented by a programmer means to perform various actions that the programs may need. Between those two things there are libraries that include implementations of various procedures that programs perform.

    This clearly separates what is the environment common for all programs and carries no application programmer's ideas at all, what is designed specifically to be used by a programmer for his specific purpose, and what lies in between, and may be close to the specifics of application (say, SDL) or to be an interface to the OS (libc).

    In this way VMs are OS-like components that run over the OS, and the fact that many VMs are tied to their languages does not mean that this is a good design. In my opinion the fact that there are ties between OS and language beyond straightforward "OS is written in a language" and "language operates within an OS" are what I call "noosphere pollution". It's true that many people when they develop a new OS or language want to make "The Grestest Program Ever" and spill their ideas into areas where they do not belong. This is at best misguided attempt to coerce others into their model of thinking, at worst an attempt to create a system so closed and convoluted inside that no one ever will be able to affect it, leaving the initial developer the only "true expert" in the area. And unless that developer has influence of Microsoft or at least Sun, usually the response is "Screw you, and your giant blob of code!" because it's not possible that developers will happen to agree with every single idea developed by a single person, or a small group of them, even if most of those ideas are sane (do you hear me, Pike?).

    Good (or semi-good) operating systems are designed with a very clear separation between themselves and languages that are used. Nothing required Unix to be separate from C, yet if one looks at the system calls interface and libc he will see nothing that can tie the two together like siamese twins -- there is no builtin type in C that corresponds to any Unix internal structure -- no directories, files, sockets, inodes, etc, all those things are represented by language-neutral and OS-neutral integers, and only libc makes actual OS-specific primitives visible for the programmer. This is why Unix is used with many languages, and C is used with many OS, or without any OS at all.

    This demonstrates the strength of the C and Unix designs, authors were confident enough that their ideas can stand on their own so they didn't add any hidden (and not-so-hidden) strings to trap the user in a messy OS-language symbiotic monster.

    Later people started making giant libraries that LOOK like OS libraries but are tied to some environment that has nothing to do with OS, and tied to a language that they can't be separated from. This was a step back -- it wouldn't if those libraries were more modular, but one glance at monstrosity like MFC gives an idea how much Microsoft wanted "to rule them all". But no, that wasn't enough -- languages with ridiculously large and complex VMs, totally inaccessible from anything but themselves appeared, imitating the behavior of interpreted languages. Java, now C#, I am sure there will be more of this. But there is a difference -- perl has to have a complex interface inside because it is an interpreter and can't just call OS. Java chosen to have an interface deliberately different from anything else, and to build VM and libraries that implement the ideas of its creators and nothing else. And of course, control freak Microsoft didn't make anyone wait before it made its own version -- with some lip service about "multiple languages" that looks like "multiple languages as long as they have Microsoft object model rammed into the middle of them, or it will be a pure hell to use".

    So IMO the "siamese twins" designs are inferior to clearly defined and well-designed interfaces, and are the realm of hacks and control freaks -- with some exceptions for interpreters and things like Forth that are specifically designed not to scale beyond systems where any full-blown OS is too much (Forth developers may take it as an insult, but I believe that it's a good thing that such a closed system stops scaling where its applicability ends).

  • by crmartin ( 98227 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @05:04PM (#5104279)
    ... in this business you'll eventually hear everything twice (or more). If you look back to (eg) Parnas, et al, and the A-7 project, you'll discover that back in the late 70's and early 80's a key notion was that both the OS and the language were part of the "hardware hiding" layer.

    On the IBM System/3 in the later 60's and early 70's, the RPG/II compiler generted a binary that was booted onto bare iron to run. (If you were really down-scale, like I was, the compiler was a bootable 4-foot deck of punch cards and the result was a freshly punched deck of cards that was itself bootable.) This included the code for both the "program" -- the business logic -- and the "operating system" that allowed the program to control card reader, printer, and disk drive.

    On the IBM 1401, people had decks of program cards that did specialized things, like control the printer; you added them to your program. I'm sure Goldstein and von Neumann had something similar.

    What I wonder sometimes, though, is whether this repetition of the same old idea, generation by generation, proves that "computer science" is essentially a dead topic?
  • by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Friday January 17, 2003 @05:09PM (#5104317)
    I'm waiting for the application to bcome the shell.

    You are in a directory, there are many files here. A path leads to the the south and down labeled Mydocuments.

    > look

    There are files here labeled, config.sys and autoexec.bat. A path leads to the the south labeled Mydocuments.

    > take


    > kill

    You smite the file labeled and it crunbles to dust.

    There are files here labeled config.sys and autoexec.bat. A path leads to the the south labeled Mydocuments.

    > South

    You move through the passage and reach the grand chamber of Mydocuments. There are many files here. Passages lead further south and down labeled Mymusic and Mypr0n. To the north is a passage leading up......

  • Throwback (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dirk ( 87083 ) <> on Friday January 17, 2003 @05:30PM (#5104467) Homepage
    So does this mean we are returning to the days where my Radio Shack TRS80 booted into basic? Maybe we can find a great way to store data on audio tapes next.