Special Talk

  • Gates&Hillman Centers
  • Traffic21 Classroom 6501
  • Postdoctoral Research Associate
  • Computer Laboratory
  • Cambridge University

The Operating System: Should There Be One?

Operating systems and programming languages are often informally  evaluated on their conduciveness towards composition.  We revisit Dan  Ingalls' Smalltalk-inspired position that ``an operating system is a  collection of things that don't fit inside a language; there shouldn't  be one'', discussing what it means, why it appears not to have  materialized, and how we might work towards the same effect in the  postmodern reality of today's systems. We argue that the trajectory of  the ``file'' abstraction through Unix and Plan~9 culminates in a Smalltalk-style object, with other filesystem calls as a primitive  metasystem.  Meanwhile, the key features of Smalltalk have many  analogues in the fragmented world of Unix programming (including techniques at the library, file and socket level). Based on the themes  of unifying OS- and language-level mechanisms, and increasing the  expressiveness of the meta-system, we identify some evolutionary  approaches to a postmodern realization of Ingalls' vision, arguing that  an operating system is still necessary after all.

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