[colug-432] OS considered beneficial (Re: Unix Is The Last Operating System)

Jeff Frontz jeff.frontz at gmail.com
Wed Jun 17 19:59:45 EDT 2015

On Wed, Jun 17, 2015 at 12:09 PM, Stephen Potter <spp at unixsa.net> wrote:

> The point is to remove the necessity for the security and management
> tools.  If you are dealing with virtual applications that have a single
> function, where do you need much of this?  Think of the specialized
> hardware appliances we have - network functions, security functions,
> telephony, digital signage, cameras, satellite receivers.  Many of them
> are based on embedded Windows or Linux distributions, but do they truly
> need all the complexity of a complete kernel and OS, or would it be
> possible to embed that functionality directly into the application.

I think there is a major difference of definition for "OS" going on here --
over the past few decades, I've developed/supported/used those embedded
systems you mention (from telephone switches to session border controllers
to medical devices).  My definition of the "OS" is the kernel, section 2,
and [most of] section 3 of the man pages (with whatever from section 8
might be required to get things going).  All that windowing stuff, web
stack (beyond bare-bones TCP and whatever other friends are in the kernel),
shells (and virtually all other section 1 stuff), fancy management tools,
etc. -- that's not what I consider to be the operating system.  That's
app/user space and add-ons.

So (using my definition of OS), yeah, embedded applications of any
complexity (say, beyond just simply blinking a light) benefit greatly from
the complete kernel/OS (from being able to develop/emulate/debug them on
any linux/unix laptop to having a standard programming/operating
environment to all the other things that an operating system gives you).
OK, so some of the esoteric kernel modules could probably be left out but
the penalty for including them is relatively low (and you can always
hand-roll a distro without them).

And embedded applications developed on/for linux/unix also benefit from a
lot of the app/user stuff (shells/debuggers/most section 1 stuff) when it
comes to doing development and support -- let me tell you about the joy of
being able to "log in" to your telephone switch (or firewall or cellular
operations system or satellite telemetry station or medical analyzer or
what have you) to trouble-shoot, especially from 10,000 km away, without
having to use some fancy/proprietary IDE/hardware harness or-- worse--
having to get on a transport and fly to the bottom of the world (Ethan, can
I get an "Amen!1!11" ?).

Not to mention the joy of slapping a python script into place as a
workaround for some hardware deficiency (that wasn't discovered until the
systems shipped).

Heck, speaking of Ethan, take a look at the Pi, BeagleBoard, etc.
Quintessential open-source embedded development environment -- running

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