ejolson
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 7:13 am

jamesh wrote:
Thu Nov 29, 2018 10:02 am
What you are asking for, I think, is a return to the simpler OS of the past?
In the past there were machines such as the Acorn, Altair, Amiga, Apple and Atari (in alphabetical order) that were designed to satisfy the personal computing interests of hobbyists, experimenters, children, learners and other home users. Over time the original idea of personal computing was replaced by play stations, xboxes and cheaper versions of the office computers used in work settings.

Recently a new machine called the Pi was introduced to bring the experience of personal computing back into the home. The size of this home market, which had gone unnoticed for so long by the larger companies, turned out to be surprisingly larger than expected. Millions of Pi computers are sold each year.

Originally, it was planned that RISCOS would be the main operating system for the Pi. This makes sense because RISCOS was specifically designed for the home market and the Pi was intended to satisfy people's personal computing interests. As we all know, Linux in the form of Raspbian turned out to be the main operating system.

However, Linux is a copy of Unix and Unix was designed to be a multiuser programming and document preparation environment at one of the largest corporations in the world. The likelihood of such an operating system bringing the fun of personal computing back into the home seems zero; however, to a large extent it has worked. Even so, a significant number of questions on this forum arise due to the fact that Linux is a complicated multiuser server operating system.

If one wants guidance from the past how to improve the current personal computing experience on the Pi, it makes sense to look at the operating systems which ran on the personal computers of the past. Unfortunately that past is long ago and it is easy to get so distracted by differences in the hardware as to lose sight of crucial differences in operating system design related to how and by whom the computer was intended to be used. Oh well, it's also worth remembering that Linux started out as a hobby operating system written by a single student for their personal use.

Heater
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 9:27 am

Don't for get that one of those kids growing up with an Acorn, Altair, Amiga, Apple, Atari, whatever, was Linux Torvalds. Who went on to create Linux "Just For Fun" : https://www.amazon.com/Just-Fun-Story-A ... 0066620732

I would dispute the statement that "Linux is a copy of Unix". It's an implementation of a Unix like thing. Which is fair enough if you want to leverage all that existing software for Unix like operating systems.

Unix may well have come from one of the biggest corporations in the world but recall the guys who created it pretty much did it unofficially, "just for fun", to run on what was effectively their personal computer, a PDP 8. They had worked on Multics and got bored with it.

With all that in mind, I would say having Linux on a machine designed for kids to get started with programming and all things computing is very appropriate.
The likelihood of such an operating system bringing the fun of personal computing back into the home seems zero;
I don't follow the reason for this statement at all.

From my perspective Linux did it exactly that in 1996 when I first discovered it and continues to do so today. It ended that long cold "ice age" of MS-DOS running IBM PC clone boredom that had been going on for years and years. It made so many things possible that had not been before.

jamesh
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 9:44 am

ejolson wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 7:13 am
jamesh wrote:
Thu Nov 29, 2018 10:02 am
What you are asking for, I think, is a return to the simpler OS of the past?
In the past there were machines such as the Acorn, Altair, Amiga, Apple and Atari (in alphabetical order) that were designed to satisfy the personal computing interests of hobbyists, experimenters, children, learners and other home users. Over time the original idea of personal computing was replaced by play stations, xboxes and cheaper versions of the office computers used in work settings.
Many of the original 'personal' computers were also used in commercial environments - Apple, PET, BBC Micro etc.
ejolson wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 7:13 am
Recently a new machine called the Pi was introduced to bring the experience of personal computing back into the home. The size of this home market, which had gone unnoticed for so long by the larger companies, turned out to be surprisingly larger than expected. Millions of Pi computers are sold each year.
Tru Dat. We sell about 5M a year now. I suspect that will go up rather than down in the next few years.
ejolson wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 7:13 am
Originally, it was planned that RISCOS would be the main operating system for the Pi. This makes sense because RISCOS was specifically designed for the home market and the Pi was intended to satisfy people's personal computing interests. As we all know, Linux in the form of Raspbian turned out to be the main operating system.
No, Linux was always intended to be the main OS on the Pi. The RPF did no RISCOS work at all.
ejolson wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 7:13 am
However, Linux is a copy of Unix and Unix was designed to be a multiuser programming and document preparation environment at one of the largest corporations in the world. The likelihood of such an operating system bringing the fun of personal computing back into the home seems zero; however, to a large extent it has worked. Even so, a significant number of questions on this forum arise due to the fact that Linux is a complicated multiuser server operating system.
Linux isn't a copy of Unix, and I think its fine for a 'fun' device like the Pi. I think the majority of quesions on the forum are Linux agnostic, or woudl have been asked even if a different OS was in use.
ejolson wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 7:13 am
If one wants guidance from the past how to improve the current personal computing experience on the Pi, it makes sense to look at the operating systems which ran on the personal computers of the past. Unfortunately that past is long ago and it is easy to get so distracted by differences in the hardware as to lose sight of crucial differences in operating system design related to how and by whom the computer was intended to be used. Oh well, it's also worth remembering that Linux started out as a hobby operating system written by a single student for their personal use.
I think most of the lessons from the past have already been learnt.
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jahboater
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 11:04 am

Heater wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 9:27 am
The likelihood of such an operating system bringing the fun of personal computing back into the home seems zero;
I don't follow the reason for this statement at all.
Neither do I.
If anything it is the exact opposite.
Heater wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 9:27 am
From my perspective Linux did it exactly that in 1996 when I first discovered it and continues to do so today. It ended that long cold "ice age" of MS-DOS running IBM PC clone boredom that had been going on for years and years. It made so many things possible that had not been before.
Well said.
I was stuck with MS-DOS, CP/M, even Concurrent CP/M for years and it was so frustrating.
Especially because I was fully aware of what UNIX was capable of. But in those days UNIX ran on expensive mini-computers not available at home. Now something just as good runs on a cheap credit card sized board!

I do not remember anything good from those 8-bit micro days that I would like to bring forward into a modern OS.

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mahjongg
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 12:59 pm

Heater wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 9:27 am
Don't for get that one of those kids growing up with an Acorn, Altair, Amiga, Apple, Atari, whatever, was Linux Torvalds. Who went on to create Linux "Just For Fun" : https://www.amazon.com/Just-Fun-Story-A ... 0066620732
Actually Linus Torvalds started programming on a Sinclair QL, which in my humble opinion is one of the last computers I would call Retro, and yes it was based on BASIC.

Heater
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 1:35 pm

Interesting.

The Sinclair QL was based on Qdos.

Qdos provided things like: process management (it was multi-tasking) , memory management, redirectable I/O, file systems, device drivers and simple window management.

The BASIC in the QL was the command line shell.

Does this all sound a bit Unixish? Does to me.

rotwang
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 2:04 pm

Also remember that while using QL Basic you lost the task management/multi-tasking capability, due to some decisions made in the design of QL Basic, that the block buffering was part of the micro-drive driver, so that you had to duplicate all that code to add any other mass storage device.
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scruss
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 3:57 pm

Typically with the QL, you tended to lose everything quite frequently. We had one of the many thousands of University of Strathclyde loaner QLs. An ambitious machine, but released about 18 months before it was ready. Sinclair's notorious cheapness coupled with UK import tariffs on disk drives meant it had the execrable "knot in a box" microdrives. At least the Strathclyde student shop was good about returns on cartridges. Any device you need to format ten times to see if it would remain the same size is not a good storage device. Since the QL was from the mind of Sir Clive, it also had the awful keyboard, weird connectors (not quite BT phone plugs …) and wibbly-wobbly TV modulator. Replace all of these dubious bits (and maybe throw in a faster processor and more memory) and the QL is a great machine. Unfortunately, by replacing all of these bits, it's no longer really a QL …
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Heater
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 6:42 pm

Ah, Sir Clive Sinclair. "Uncle Clive" as we affectionately called him as kids just out of short trousers. A brilliant man by all accounts, chairman of Mensa and founder of very successful electronics/computer businesses. At the same time, something of a "used car sales man". Always cutting corners to make a sale.

I built the Sinclair Stereo system as a young teenager. Worked a treat. Served me well all the way through university times where it made a great receiver for the campus radio station! That came about because Clive bought reject transistors from a semiconducter company for next to nothing. He tested them to select those that sort of worked and designed the amplifiers to be tolerant of the sub-par specs.

There was the "Sinclair Executive" calculator. The world's first slimline pocket calculator. Which came about because Clive found that if you cut the power to the calculator chip at brief intervals it still remembered its state, thus allowing it to be used with much small batteries.

There was the "Sinclair Scientific" calculator. That came about as Clive realized one could reprogram a regular 4 function calculator chip to do trig functions and such. Except the accuracy was terrible.

Then came the computers... I'm sure that is well enough known that I don't need to go into that.

I never even saw a QL at the time but it sounds like this obsession with cost cutting was it's undoing. In software and hardware.

Anyone interested in the Sinclair history might like to watch the brilliant "Micro Men" documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXBxV6-zamM&t=4188s

Oh, an check out "The British IBM":
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gCyLLFNh24E

From Sinclair came Acorn, which begat the ARM, which saved Apple, leading to the mobile/embedded world as we know it today.

And the Pi of course!

ejolson
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 7:40 pm

Heater wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 9:27 am
I would dispute the statement that "Linux is a copy of Unix".
While a copy is different than a reimplementation from a legal copyright point of view, from a user point of view GNU/Linux is very much like Unix.

As a note, the PDP-8 with its 12-bit address space and missing stack never ran anything similar to C or Unix. The developers at Bell Labs originally used a PDP-7 but soon acquired a much smaller and cheaper PDP-11 for their work. What we know as historical Unix was developed for and ran exclusively on the PDP-11.

To understand the reasoning why a multiuser server operating system such as GNU/Linux seems like an improbable platform for personal computing, imagine using OpenVMS or IBM z/OS. The main point in all three of these operating systems is a type of timesharing that isolates users from the hardware and from each other. On the other hand, the single-owner single-user nature of Pi-style personal computing along with the get close to the hardware realtime needs of the GPIO is just the opposite.
jamesh wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 9:44 am
No, Linux was always intended to be the main OS on the Pi.
It seems I was wrong in thinking that RISC OS was originally planned as the main operating system. I got confused by the early discussions with RISC OS developers as well as reported attempts to license the BBC Micro brand. Thanks for the correction on this.

I agree that most of the lessons from the past have already been learnt. This seems to be the motivation behind the present thread for looking retrospectively at earlier operating systems that were intended to support personal-computing needs.

Heater
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 8:25 pm

ejolson,
While a copy is different than a reimplementation from a legal copyright point of view, from a user point of view GNU/Linux is very much like Unix.
Yes it is. Intentionally so.

I'm not going to worry about copies and copyright law trivia. There are higher level more abstract ideas in play here.

When the Romans put wheels on their chariots it helped build an empire. When Henry Ford put wheels on his Model T it built an empire.

Same idea, very different implementations.

That is interesting about PDP 7 vs PDP 8. Yes I had my wires crossed there.
To understand the reasoning why a multiuser server operating system such a GNU/Linux seems like an improbable platform for personal computing, imagine using OpenVMS or IBM Z/OS. The main point in all three of these operating systems is a type of timesharing that isolates users from the hardware and from each other. On the other hand, the single-owner single-user nature of Pi-style personal computing along with the get close to the hardware realtime needs of the GPIO is just the opposite.
I see where you are going with that idea.

For sure most Pi and Linux machines only have one user. Who needs multi-user capability?

On the other hand the facilities you need for multi-user have a lot in common with what you need for multi-tasking in general, with only one user.

It's great that I, as the only user, can be getting on with stuff in the user interface whilst other processes take care of stuff in the background. Multi-tasking is essential for getting networking working. Or USB, or whatever.

As for that "real-time" stuff, it would be a disaster if my bit-banging GPIO code hung up the only thread an OS had and stalled the user interface whilst it ran.

And what about those other cores we have available? A single threaded OS cannot make use of those.

Nope, I don't want to go back to the stone age of a single thread operating system.

As for "isolates users from the hardware", just get root privs, memory map the hardware registers and have at them how you like. It's your machine, you can do it if you want to.

jahboater
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Fri Nov 30, 2018 11:57 pm

Heater wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 8:25 pm
While a copy is different than a re-implementation from a legal copyright point of view, from a user point of view GNU/Linux is very much like Unix.
Yes it is. Intentionally so.
Solaris was the deliberate re-implementation of UNIX SVR4.
And very good it was.

ejolson
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Sat Dec 01, 2018 12:53 am

jahboater wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 11:57 pm
Heater wrote:
Fri Nov 30, 2018 8:25 pm
While a copy is different than a re-implementation from a legal copyright point of view, from a user point of view GNU/Linux is very much like Unix.
Yes it is. Intentionally so.
Solaris was the deliberate re-implementation of UNIX SVR4.
And very good it was.
It's interesting how different people recollect Solaris in other ways. Back on topic, I suspect an ARM port of Solaris would also be a bit unsuited for personal computing on the Raspberry Pi.

jahboater
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Re: Putting the RPi in the perspective, looking Retro.

Sat Dec 01, 2018 10:35 am

ejolson wrote:
Sat Dec 01, 2018 12:53 am
It's interesting how different people recollect Solaris in other ways.
When UNIX split back in the days of Version 7? people were very loyal to their favorite branch. There was much rivalry, hence the comments in that link. I favored the Bell labs System V side because it was directly descended from Thompson and Ritchies original version, and therefore was the "real" UNIX. A common saying then was: "UNIX is what runs on Denis Ritchies machine".

Roll on a decade or so and UNIX was everywhere, with many different versions.
I had to use several of those versions, but the tier 1 platforms were always Solaris, HPUX, and AIX.
And always, over the years, Solaris was the easiest to use, easiest to develop on, easiest to write clean portable code for.
AIX was a right PITA!

Here is an example. We needed access to some tables inside the running kernel. This was done by finding the symbol table and fseeking inside /dev/kmem for the tables and then read() in the data. Horrible. Solaris provided a library function specifically to do all that in a very simple way.

Back in the days of AIX 4.3 if you wanted run-time dynamic linking (dlopen now) you were expected to write your own linker code by hand (and people did). Horrible.

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