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Interview with Vita Nuova CEO Michael Jeffrey 104

Little-Fat-Sheep writes: "Lots of talk on Slashdot and elsewhere lately about the future of Operating Systems being massively distributed. Well, the technology exists for years now in the two operating systems offered by Vita Nuova: Plan9 and Inferno. OSNews features today an interview with Vita Nuova's CEO, Michael Jeffrey."
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Interview with Vita Nuova CEO Michael Jeffrey

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  • Ads suck (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    click here [osnews.com] to read the article without supporting the capitalist pigdogs. no ads. one page. printable, baybee, printable.
  • Umm bell labs? (Score:1, Informative)

    by Mall0 ( 252058 )
    How are you going to mention Plan 9 and inferno withough mentioning bell labs?


    • Read the article... (Score:2, Informative)

      by slugfro ( 533652 )
      It mentions Bell Labs several times including the relationship between bell labs and Vita Nuova (i.e. bell labs spun off Inferno to Vita Nuova).
  • Fermentation... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sterno ( 16320 ) on Tuesday March 05, 2002 @06:41PM (#3114830) Homepage
    It amazes me how long it's taken for these ideas to ferment. I mean I was talking with people about the distributed OS concept back in 96 or so. I have to wonder why the concept has sat mostly unexplored for this long. Perhaps more importantly, I wonder why it's suddenly hot again. Is there some actual practical use for the technology that's bringing it back into the light? Or are people just thinking this is the next logical step of P2P and thinking that it will be hot because P2P is?
    • Re:Fermentation... (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday March 05, 2002 @06:53PM (#3114896)
      Wow, amazing. One would think that if you had, indeed, invented the concept of the Distributed OS back in 96 or so, you would know that Plan 9, a fully distributed OS had been around since the 80's. It's amazing how long it takes for a clue to ferment these days.
    • I mean I was talking with people about the distributed OS concept back in 96 or so. I have to wonder why the concept has sat mostly unexplored for this long.

      Because of no real killer app has been found yet. For most distributed computing work PVM/MPI is all you need. Distributing the OS is a neat concept, but, in itself, gets you nothing. It's one of those concepts that was to be the One True Solution (tm) but was proven not essential. Sort of like microkernel OS's. When Linus started Linux Andy Tanenbaum declared it a monster. He argued that at that time starting work on a monolithic kernel was an idiotic idea. He was proven wrong. Same here, I guess. Unix was supposed to be obsolete, but it has served us well thus far, and probably will for alot longer. It's nice to know we have good alternatives to take off when Unix is truly dead.

      • I don't think Linux becoming popular makes Andy Tenenbaum wrong about micro kernels. Linux got popular because it was free (always good for poor college students), ran on their 386 computers (yet again a shot in the arm from poor college students), and somebody got the bright idea of porting the GNU toolset onto it making it a functional cheap Unix-like OS that ran on cheap computers. I think had Minix been more libre licensing slashdot geeks would be chanting Andy's name rather than Linus's. Windows NT, MacOS X, and BeOS are good examples of how Andy hit the nail on the head talking kernel architecture. BeOS was technically cool but poor marketing and Microsoft and Apple heavy handing killed it. Kinda off topic I know.
        • I don't think Linux becoming popular makes Andy Tenenbaum wrong about micro kernels.

          But it does. Tanenbaum predicted monolithic kernels were on their way out of the mainstream and that only micro-kernel architectures would survive. Linux is here to prove otherwise.

          I think had Minix been more libre licensing slashdot geeks would be chanting Andy's name rather than Linus's.

          Minix was a pile of crap. Period. It had no real multitasking, and it's cross-platform support was done by using a lowest-common-denominator aproach at the cost of performace. If all we had was Minix (no FreeBSD, no Linux), Windows would have taken over completely by now and I'd probably wouldn't be taking an Informatics Engineering course since I wouldn't have had the chance to play with an OS at such a low level when I was at the PFY stage. That's life. :)

    • "Perhaps more importantly, I wonder why it's suddenly hot again."

      I think the reason for the increase in popularity is probobally due to the increasing speed of networks, and the increasing popularity of networking in general.

  • Evolve together... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MosesJones ( 55544 )

    Okay so Plan 9 is cool. Useful ? Probably not as it doesn't have any support or applications of note.

    Where as Linux is a poorer OS from a next gen perspective but has the applications and support.

    OS/390 is old school but has great memory management, io and SMP etc.

    The first two are already open source, the third owned by the Big Blue Linux supporter. Wouldn't it be better to have a directed 2 year plan to create a merged platform ? The reality is that Linux right now is in the Bazaar and to get to that end game we need some form of Cathedral project to guide and drive. But picture the end game, a networked OS, with loads of apps, the best SMP, io, memory and domaining support you can get.

    This would be the great killer platform for servers, and a kick-ass gaming platform.

    Unfortunately it won't happen because the only people who could really run this successfully would be a combination of Bell Labs and Thomas J Watson. Damn that would be kick-ass, but Big Blue don't seem to want to take the lead in Linux, and the linux community probably wouldn't let them anyway.

    • by clump ( 60191 ) on Tuesday March 05, 2002 @06:51PM (#3114882)
      One little nit-pick is that the article mentions both Plan9 and Inferno are not Open Source. Also, its important not to look at the significance of these operating systems as in current market saturation, but what new and exciting features they can bring.

      Regarding the 'killer platform', im not sure that Holy Grail exists. However the world proves daily that implementation is more important than design, so just pick what works best for you.
      • From the Plan 9 FAQ [fywss.com]:

        The Plan 9 release is available for free download at http://plan9.bell-labs.com/plan9dist/download.html
        It includes source of the kernel, libraries, and commands for all supported architectures. It also includes complete binaries for the x86 architecture.

        Regarding implementation: You can be the judge of whether this sounds like a good idea:

        Subject: What GUIs does it support?
        The standard interface doesn't use icons or drag-n-drop; Plan 9 people tend to be text-oriented. But the window system, the editor, and the general feel are very mousy, very point-and-click: Plan 9 windows are much more than a bunch of glass TTYs. The system supports the graphics primitives and libraries of basic software for building GUIs.
        A screenshot is available at http://plan9.bell-labs.com/plan9dist/screenshot.ht ml

        Subject: How do I cut and paste with a 2 button mouse?
        Plan 9 really works well only with a three-button mouse. In the meantime, Shift-Right-button will simulate a middle button, but that is inadequate for Acme's chording.
        • From the article:
          15. What licensing covers Plan 9 and Inferno?

          Michael Jeffrey: Neither OS is Open-Source. However, we think that the licensing and pricing is attractive to individuals and corporate users alike.

          Because you can look at the code does not mean it passes the criteria of the OSD or the FSF's guidelines. Put some Plan9 code in your 'Hello World' app and im sure you will be hearing from someone...
        • Correction: plan nine ISN'T open source according to Richard Stallman.

          - the plan nine license requires all changes be sent back to them;

          - you (possibly) can't sell your code for a profit;

          - lots of other problems with the license. (see here [linuxtoday.com] for Stallman's take on it.)
          • Please reverify the current licensing. It has been changed since RMS wrote that. Vita Nuova paraphrases the current license as such:

            The full text of the Plan 9 Open Source Licence can be found at the Bell Labs Plan 9 site. The licence is similar to many Open Source licences.
            The main points are:
            -You can modify, copy and distribute the source code as you wish.
            -There are no royalty payments on the distribution.

            I believe there is a clause, or combinations of clauses, that require you to provide Lucent with source if you distribute binaries only. Sort of looks like a semi-BSDified GPL. Please correct me if I'm wrong -- I'm not completely fluent in legalese.
    • The first two are already open source
      Umm, Plan 9 isn't [gnu.org] open source...
      • by anothy ( 83176 ) on Tuesday March 05, 2002 @07:19PM (#3115093) Homepage
        Plan 9 is open source, but it is not Open Source. that is, it doesn't meet the criterion set forth by OSI for its license to get the "Open Source" mark. you can, however, get full source to Plan 9 for free and use it towards any end, commercial or otherwise.

        note also that the commentary you're linking to is commenting on an older version of the Plan 9 license; most (not all) of the issues have been addressed.

      • Umm, Plan 9 isn't [gnu.org] open source...

        I'm amazed anyone really gives a shit. How many people whining about it are actually systems programmers? I'm happy that they're distributing the source at all- it doesn't bother me that I can't redistribute modified versions. RMS gets tiresome quickly- he doesn't seem to draw a distinction in moral terms between this kind of license and the MS licenses. Moronic.

        Also, I'm sick of hearing RMS talk about how "I'm not a supporter of the Open Source movement." Jesus, put the bong down and join the real world, where you have to cooperate with people.

    • Okay so Plan 9 is cool. Useful ? Probably not as it doesn't have any support or applications of note.
      Where as Linux is a poorer OS from a next gen perspective but has the applications and support.

      OS/390 is old school but has great memory management, io and SMP etc.

      The first two are already open source

      The last question in the interview is about the license, in which he states it is _not_ open source.
    • I'm really getting tired of the argument that a single OS should be targetted at every imaginable application. That's exactly the kind of thinking that has turned Windows into the painful environment it is for any system administrator or programmer.

      For example, the attributes that make a great gaming platform (low latency, lots of multimedia device support, good graphics libraries, easy single-user setup and configuration) are not the same as those that define the server market (high reliability, clustering and RAID, easily automated and administered remotely). Why should Linux (or any single OS) be the "One True Way" for both of these, much less for any and every potential market out there?

      Personally, I'd rather boot into something like OpenBeOS [openbeos.org] (once it's ready, of course) for media work, switch to Linux when I'm doing network code development, and maybe leave a copy of OpenBSD around for the times I'm feeling paranoid.

      • See Microsoft and modular argument. Linux is modular (not that nice an impl IMO), so are the mainframe architectures. Only have one proc ? Don't install SMP. Don't need domaining, don't use it. Don't need X,Y,Z then don't use them. Having a standard OS platform from which you can build your targetted OS is the approach I was talking about. In the same way as you don't compile the ISA support into Linux if you don't need it.

        OSes should be modular, the aim should be to get the best modules available from the best people to create the most flexible platform.

        One size does not fit all, just look at the size of the SUSE distro.
      • You are quite right.

        Any OS tectbook or course will be full of lines like "but we can't say which of [x y z] is the best because it will depend on the application at hand."

        This is true for scheduling algorithms, distributed deadlock detection algorithms, etc...

        Something like an OS is very much intertwined with the problem you are solving. And that means that when you generalize, you lose some of the efficiency.
    • Okay so Plan 9 is cool. Useful ? Probably not as it doesn't have any support or applications of note.

      It does have users & applications.
      It's lacking in desktop software like word processors & spreadsheets & image editors but that does not mean it's not "useful".

      I have a plna9 box on my netwrok and I much prefer working on it than any of the others (FreeBSD & win2k).

      It is used by non-programmers in a few instiutions for text editing and email.

      The mailing list consists of about 50 active posters.

      It's a research OS and the programmers that use it are happy that it is a clean sheet implementation and that it doesn't carry a lot of the hair that some of the other OS's have collected on their voyage through userland.

  • a lot of talk recentlly about massively distributed OSs... but not for the same purposes.

    the main talk lately is about distributed file system and processing power and the privacy issues... not technology issues.
  • I'm a bit confused here. Does Inferno have its own language to be compiled within the VM like Java?
    • Yes, the language is Limbo. It's basically a C
      descendant with a fairly small number of targeted

      I'd go into more detail but I loaned my docs to
      someone else around here and don't have the time
      to go hunt them up right now.
    • by anothy ( 83176 ) on Tuesday March 05, 2002 @07:12PM (#3115042) Homepage
      Yes. Inferno applications are written in a concurrent programming language called Limbo. the language reference manual [vitanuova.com] is available online, as are varous descriptions of programming in the language (and some other papers [vitanuova.com] as well). the language is C-like in structure, with influences from many other places, like Pascal and Algol. of particular note are channels, a data type for inter-process communication which makes writing multi-threaded and/or distributed apps easier than in maybe any other system. it's a beautiful language.
  • In the interview the CEO says "Neither OS is open source". But the web site has downloads for kernel source. Can anyone guess what he was talking about?
    • Re:Open Source? (Score:5, Informative)

      by anothy ( 83176 ) on Tuesday March 05, 2002 @07:06PM (#3114999) Homepage
      note the capitalization. Plan 9 is open source, but due to some traits in the license, it's not considered Open Source as per the requirements of the OSI. Inferno is open source except for a few core components, which are based on a subscription license model. i'm not sure if the license covering the non-core software is Open Source, although it is open source. the core software is clearly not.
  • by evil_roy ( 241455 ) on Tuesday March 05, 2002 @06:53PM (#3114893)
    " I believe Inferno achieved what Java set out to do. "
    • Java has become a ubiquitous development language on devices as diverse as mainframes and mobile phones. Inferno on the other hand has bugger all.

      Like me saying "I believe that Fluffy dinosaurs rule the world" it says more about the gullibility of the believer than the statement.
      • Like me saying "I believe that Fluffy dinosaurs rule the world" it says more about the gullibility of the believer than the statement.

        You can bet your ass taht if there *were* fluffy dinosaurs out there and they were smart enough they would rule the world. Maybe even if they weren't smart but there wre a lot of them and they were really hungry ...
      • If the parent post had put the comment in context you would have seen it was about Java OS not the Java language.
        Bit of a difference there.
  • I'm no expert in all things fractal, but aren't fractals supposed to infinitely repeat? If so, then the fractal program [vitanuova.com] for the Inferno plugin doesn't really generate fractals. Check it out yourself....just keep zooming in. Eventually it gets all pixellated.

    If I'm wrong, set me straight and mod me down and explain fractals to me again...
  • by Anonymous Coward

    We have customers in 50+ countries in every continent, except Antarctica.

    Yet another company that writes off an entire continent. McMurdoans are tired of being the niche-too-small-to-consider.

    When we talk about "penguin power" down here, it's got nothing to do with cheap CDs from LinuxCentral.

  • Why does this article appears under 'Patent pending' topic?
    • I was just about to ask this myself. There doesn't seem to be a suitable topic for interviews pertaining to Plan9, Inferno, nor Vita Nuova.

      Perhaps they should consider creating such a topic if only to showcase the Plan9 mascot, Glenda [bell-labs.com]. By far the most [endearing|1337|funny] mascot among the open source OSes.
  • I decided to download the IE Inferno plugin and run the demos. I was really impressed with the performance. It really seemed much faster than any java applets I've used. And the download times were very short. It looks like a really cool system. But I really doubt it will be used widely. It's been around for a long time and I would venture to guess that only a relative few have ever heard of it. Too bad.
  • Here is the pretty much identical article published in Phrack for easy online reading. [phrack.org]
    Its a good read and shows that while Inferno implements encyption and other security measures, it is not very secure. The author of the article has written a login utility and password cracker for Inferno however his site seems to be down [trauma-inc.com], or temporarily empty i guess, at the moment. It doesnt really cover plan9, just a mention.
    • i've responded to this article several times in several forums. the basic summary of the article is "if you mis-configure something you've installed as root, you can make bad things happen". well, gee, thanks. there's nothing specific to inferno here. inferno itself, either installed on raw hardware (like a normal OS) or hosted on top of another OS installed properly, as per the directions is quite secure, and does not have any known holes in it, nor does it expose any in the underlying system. you are instructed to install the installation as a user other than root - the fact that the author of the 2600 article gets it wrong from step 0 sort of taints his findings.
  • Doing things right. (Score:2, Informative)

    by karlm ( 158591 )
    Plan 9 and Inferno are examples of people doing things the right wayinstead of the easy way. They looked at UNIX and its problems and set out to fix them. I've read a few papers. Some of the features I attribute to Plan 9 may have also carried over to Inferno.

    Private namespaces -> Inferno gives each user/app a private namespace. If you're not allowed to see a file, it'not in your namespace, so there's no way you can even ask to see it. This is a good example of capabilities-based security. This is lightyears past the MS-DOS idea of each disk partition or network share being painfully appearant to the user.

    JIT optimized VM -> DIS, the Inferno VM, is based on a memory machine instead of a stack machine (a la Java and CLR/Mono). This allows for more efficient register allocation durring just-in-time compililation. Stack machines are great for writng smpleinterpreters with small memory footprints. Memoery machines are great for easily recompiling into fast native code. If I could, I'd start on an Open Source VM based on DIS. Toasters are great, but I don't want a crippled VM just so that it's easy to run on an 8-bit microprocessor in a toaster. You guys running SPARC, MIPS, POWER, PPC, IA64, etc. CPUs should notice the performance advantags of DIS more than us poor x86 users because the x86 is pretty register starved.)

    Distributed resources -> in Plan 9, there is a crippled user account without a password that pretty much can't doanything but present cryptographic credentials that prove it's doing work on behalf of a priveledged user. This would allow your dnet client to run on your CPU farm, but not actually be able to log in as you if it got compromised. As far as I can tell, the system is very similar to Kerberos with more types ofcredentials and tickets that never expire. I don't like the lack of ticket expiration , but it's better security than almost anything else out there. Most Beowulf implementations use rsh for performance, so you need to isolate the Beowulf compute nodes from anything remotely hostile, since rsh gives you a root prompt without a password based on the source TCP port number.

  • I would like to highlight some of the good and bad points of Plan 9 and Inferno that were not mentioned in the interview.

    The soul of these systems are the protocols 9P, (the new version will be renamed 2000P) and Styx, even more than the actual OS implementations. The protocol is a bit like raising the abstraction level from TCP "transport" layer to somewhere closer to the "session" layer, although the OSI terminology does not fit very well.

    First important idea of the protocol is, that all functionality or "objects" is mounted remotedly and bound locally as directories, called "file systems" in Plan 9 parlance.

    This means, that naming, user rights management, authentication, encryption and all that which f.ex. CORBA2 provides as complex badly interoperable abstract extensions are there with strict binary interoperability for all heterogenous environments. Of course multiplexing and streaming is there, because you have a set of bidirectional files or "named pipes", if you will.

    Note that all this is independent of the programming language. There are C and Java libraries for accessing 9P or Styx objects.

    An example: the access to TCP/IP functionality is a /net directory (http://www.vitanuova.com/inferno/man/3/ip.html). You open sockets by writing strings to control files. Sockets are created as dynamic subdirectories in the /net and controlled by writing to additional control files.

    The second major point is process security. The file system name spaces are per process. If you only give a process the /net directory, then it absolutely can not access your disk or any other functionality. If you hide the /net/udp subdirectory, the process will not be able to use UDP, never.

    The third point is related to second: inheritance or "stack directories" or "union directories". You can have a base file system like /net, then you can have any number or restrictions or augmentations to this in the form other file systems. You can just bind them as a stack, where the upper directories selectively hide or create new file names to the hierarchy.

    You can give the stack to the name space of any process. Now some of the original names are visible and data to them goes transparently to the original implementation process. Some names are new, and data is routed to the modification implementation. Some of that may be redirected to the original names after checks or modifications.

    And the iplementations can be mounted from anywhere on the network. You can have several machines running several OS' and programming languages with 9P/Styx, and they all are mounted, bound and stacked to one directory, say "/service", for your chosen client process, which does not see the configuration of the system.

    For example low level "device" file systems, see

    http://www.vitanuova.com/inferno/man/3/INDEX.htm l

    and for higher level file example systems

    http://www.vitanuova.com/inferno/man/4/INDEX.htm l

    or in Plan 9

    • OK, and the bad news:

      It is somewhat difficult to port existing Unix applications to Plan 9. There is a POSIX compliance APE environment, but its use id discouraged in the Plan 9 cimmunity. And the environment is full of diffrent "/services" that you should use instead of POSIX system calls to integrate well.

      Inferno VM is currently heavily oriented to one programming language, Limbo. There are projects to run Java on the virtual machine, but they are not exactly production quality or marketable. And the philosophies again clash: you should use the existing "/service" components, not the extensive Java environment libraries. If you are a customer of Vita Nuova, you can get the C source to the Inferno environment, and program in C, too.

      Lack of applications is obvious. There are development tools of course, and a rudimentary Web browser, but not much else.
    • Private Namespaces for Linux

      http://www.ddj.com/documents/s=1782/ddj0112a/011 2a .htm

That does not compute.