The goal of the Linux-Society (LS, dating back to the mid-90s as a professional club and tech-mentoring group) has been a purely-democratic Information Society; many of the articles are sociological in nature. The LS was merged with Perl/Unix of NY to form multi-layered group that included advocacy, project-oriented learning by talented high school students: textbook constructivism. Linux has severe limitations such that it is useless for any computer that will, say, print or scan. It is primarily used for webservers and embedded devices such as the Android. (Google is high-invested in it).

Technology is problematic. During the heyday of technology (1990s), it seemed it had the democratic direction Lewis Mumford said it should have in his seminal
Technics and Civilization.

Today, we are effectively stuck with Windows as Linux is poor on the desktop and has cultured a maladaptive following. Apple is prohibitive, and all other operating systems lack drivers, including Google's Android, an offshoot of linux.

In the late 90s there was hope for new kernels such as LibOS and ExoOS that would bare their hardware to programs, some of which would be virtual machines such as Java uses. Another important player was the L4 system that is a minor relation to the code underlying the Apple's systems. It was highly scientific but fell into the wrong hangs, apparently, and has suffered from having no progress on the desktop. There is a version, "SE" that is apparently running in many cell phones as specialized telecom chips, but is proprietary. SE's closed nature was only recently revealed, which is important because it is apparently built from publicly-owned code as it is not a "clean room" design it may violate public domain protections, and most certainly violates the widely-accepted social contract.

Recent attempts to enjoin into L4 development as an advocate for "the people" have been as frustrating (and demeaning) as previous attempts with the usual attacks to self-esteem by maladaptive "hacks" being reinforced by "leadership" (now mostly university professors).

In short, this leaves us with Windows, which is quite a reversal if you have read earlier posts here. But, upon Windows, we have free and open software development systems in the forms of GTK+ (the windows usually used on Linux) and the Minimal GNU Windows (MinGW and MSYS) systems. It is very likely this direction that development should go (that is, on Windows) such that s/w can then be ported to a currently-valid microkernel system that includes a driver system that can be adapted by hardware developers to reuse of their windows and apple drivers.

From a brief survey of L4, it appears that the last clean copy was the DROPS system of the early 2010s, was a German effort that used the Unix-like "OS kit" from an American University.

If we are going to be stuck on Windows, then it seems that a high level approach to free and open systems integration, such as creating fully transparent mouse communication between apps so that they can seamlessly work together as a single desktop (rather than deliberately conflicting). This would be very helpful for GIMP and Inkscape, both leading graphics programs that are strong in the special ways, but suffer from an inability to easily interrelate.

Another important issue is the nature, if you can call it that, of the "geek" or "hack." Technology is formed democratically but "harvested" authoritarian-ly --if I can coin a term that Mumford might use. Authority is plutarchy: a combination of aristocracy and oligarchy that is kept alive after all these millennia by using, or maligning, the information society as a part of the civilizing (or law-giving) process that embraces the dialectic as its method. Democratic restoration, that is to put humanity back on an evolutionary (and not de-evolutionary) track, I think, will require the exclusion of the "geek" from decision-making. As is, the free/open s/w culture attempts to give leadership to those who write the most lines of code --irrespective of their comprehension of the real world or relationship with normal users. We need normal people to somehow organize around common sense (rather than oligarchic rationalism) to bring to life useful and cohesive software and communications systems.

Interestingly, the most popular page on this site is about Carl Rogers' humanistic psychology, and has nothing to do with technology.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Notes from emails from Gernot Heiser about L4 and Education

The importance of investing into school kids cannot be underestimated, although I see them as the future technologist, not a free work force.

Particularly in the present situation where in many industrialised countries kids are losing interest in technology and science. If this trend continues we will create a society with a very strong class structure, where the majority has no understanding of technology and limited access to its benefits, and even less understanding of its dangers. Needless to say, this is also a big threat for the economic competitiveness of those countries.

I have been tangentially involved with outreach activities at UNSW. And the scary thing is that in high school, it is essentially too late. The kids have already decided whether they are interested in science and maths, and those who have decided they don't like it are essentially already a lost cause. Regrettably, this is particularly true with girls, who at this age are very sensitive to peer pressure, and are being told by their peers that maths isn't a girl thing. In Australia, there are also studies showing that high school career advisers are also discouraging girls from science and engineering.

Essentially, the battle is already lost in high school, it has to start earlier. Our experiences with running workshop for year-five pupils (especially girls) are much better, they are still open at this stage. This is the time where the interest needs to be nurtured.

The observation that "systems research is irrelevant" has been made before by Rob Pike (http://herpolhode.com/rob/utah2000.pdf) and indeed, OS research was by many considered dead a few years ago. This isn't the situation at the moment, though. For one, Linux has changed the game by making OS code much more accessible, students can now again do research on real systems. Then virtualisation has created a lot of interest and activity in OS issues. However, Rob's observation that people are still largely using the same 40-year-old technology is still true (and virtualisation is essentially used to hack around the limitations of broken operating systems).

The reality, though, is that some of this is the inevitable result of the commoditisation of PCs, and the resulting huge inertia in the basic architecture, processor as well as OS. I don't think there's much hope in changing the PC world in the foreseeable future.

Embedded systems, however, are a different ball game. The embedded systems industry, in different verticals at different times, is realising that they have reached the use-by date of their RTOS technology. Hence they are forced into a change of OS technology, and this is the chance to put in something that's good. I sure believe that this is L4, and that's the reason we have set up Open Kernel Labs.