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MenuetOS, an OS Written Entirely In Assembly Language, Inches Towards 1.0

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the go-small-or-go-home dept.

Operating Systems 372

angry tapir writes "MenuetOS is an open source, GUI-equipped, x86 operating system written entirely in assembly language that can fit on a floppy disk (if you can find one). I originally spoke to its developers in 2009. Recently I had a chance to catch up with them to chat about what's changed and what needs to be done before the OS hits version 1.0 after 13 years of work. The system's creator, Ville Turjanmaa, says, 'Timeframe is secondary. It's more important is to have a complete and working set of features and applications. Sometimes a specific time limit rushes application development to the point of delivering incomplete code, which we want to avoid. ... We support USB devices, such [as] storages, printers, webcams and digital TV tuners, and have basic network clients and servers. So before 1.0 we need to improve the existing code and make sure everything is working fine. ... The main thing for 1.0 is to have all application groups available'"

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Assembly == SLOW ; JAVA == FAST! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433555)

ASSembly language? This OS will run as slow as frozen mollasses.

I want my computer to run FAST!

I want an operating system written in Java, running on a java interpreter written in java [add recursion here].

Java is faster than C, so logically, java must be faster than ASSembly. More java == more speed.

Lets get to it!

Re:Assembly == SLOW ; JAVA == FAST! (5, Funny)

scuzzlebutt (517123) | about a year ago | (#45433673)

You keep using this word, "Java". I do not think it means what you think it means.

Re:Assembly == SLOW ; JAVA == FAST! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433835)

There's a reason it was posted as Anonymous Coward!

Re:Assembly == SLOW ; JAVA == FAST! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433675)

I know for a fact that my C code is faster than my Assembly code... since the time I lost track of all CPU pipelining and stuff, while compilers only got better at optimizing. When they release version 1.0, it will probably have to be run on a emulator, perhaps in a quantum computer. :p

Re:Assembly == SLOW ; JAVA == FAST! (4, Informative)

jythie (914043) | about a year ago | (#45433913)

Yeah, outside a few rather narrow cases, modern CPUs have just gotten too complicated to write efficient assembly for.

Re:Assembly == SLOW ; JAVA == FAST! (4, Funny)

arfonrg (81735) | about a year ago | (#45433947)

So, what you're saying is that the C compiler is better Assembly coder than you are. I feel your pain on that one.

Re:Assembly == SLOW ; JAVA == FAST! (2, Insightful)

Guppy06 (410832) | about a year ago | (#45434127)

If a compiler can't produce better assembly than any one programmer, it's time to get a new compiler.

I mean, that's pretty much the point of upper level languages to begin with.

Might actually be the case (4, Insightful)

PhrostyMcByte (589271) | about a year ago | (#45433995)

I know you're joking, but when you write straight up assembly all the optimizations are up to you, and the fastest way to schedule instructions can change a lot between CPUs. While it probably isn't awful slow, it's also probably not as fast as a compiler-optimized C-based equivalent would be, and maybe even a Java one.

Gotta ask ! (1)

amalcolm (1838434) | about a year ago | (#45433559)

Why?

Re:Gotta ask ! (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433593)

Because this fool thinks he can write more efficient assembly code than decades-of-practice optimizing compilers can generate.

Re:Gotta ask ! (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433709)

compilers can never optimise better than a human, if you disagree you havent witnessed the demoscene.

Re:Gotta ask ! (5, Insightful)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#45433883)

Compilers can never optimize better than the *best* humans, operating without time constraints. Very few programmers have that level of skill, or the time to spend on the task. That's why optimizing compilers were invented.

Re:Gotta ask ! (5, Interesting)

jythie (914043) | about a year ago | (#45433983)

I would argue that as CPUs get more complex and programs get larger, we have probably passed the point where even the best humans can optimize better in general cases. Short contained tasks sure, but even with infinite time humans have limits on how much they can keep track of in their heads. As the tasks get bigger and bigger one relies more and more on notes and whiteboards and other tools, at which point one is basically just implementing an optimized compiler from scratch and calling it 'by hand'.

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433899)

Oh, come on. CPU and GPU speeds have for years already been such that demos just aren't impressive to spectators anymore. They may be artistic but nobody looks at a PC demo anymore and wonders how the fuck they managed to squeeze so much out of the hardware when a fucking visualization plugin for a media player can look equally sophisticated when it uses physics acceleration and just acts as cool shit on the screen when you happen to glance that way whilst listening to music and doing something else.

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

arfonrg (81735) | about a year ago | (#45433977)

You've never seen my Assembly... You would take that statement back!

Re:Gotta ask ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45434055)

There's such a thing as premature optimisation ...

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#45433719)

And he's probably right, assuming he's a reasonably skilled coder.

It's the difference between a factory-made mass-produced "good enough for most uses" product and an artisan-made hand-crafted "best of the best" product.

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433973)

No it isn't. That point of view was valid in the 80s. It's complete nonsense now. Unless assembly language magically makes your caches bigger or your memory faster it matters not one iota whether you spend 3 or 4 cycles performing some calculation. Fast code now means cache-aware code, and you ain't gonna be writing your best cache-aware code if you're also pissing around doing register colouring and instruction scheduling "perfectly" instead of 99% perfectly like a compiler does, so you can spend 199 cycles waiting for memory instead of 198.

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

Horshu (2754893) | about a year ago | (#45433767)

Read Michael Abrash.

Re:Gotta ask ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433777)

No, maybe it's just fun for him. What the hell is wrong with that?

Re:Gotta ask ! (5, Insightful)

elfprince13 (1521333) | about a year ago | (#45433605)

Because
* It's fun?
* They can?
* They want to?
* To learn something?


I'm sure there are a few more. Does anyone have not-boring questions?

Re:Gotta ask ! (4, Funny)

plopez (54068) | about a year ago | (#45433809)

Masochism?

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433861)

Because

* It's fun?

* They can?

* They want to?

* To learn something?

Sounds like a rationale for doing drugs. Or having sex. Not sure which of those two /.ers get to experience.

Re:Gotta ask ! (5, Funny)

Java Pimp (98454) | about a year ago | (#45434021)

Neither. That's why we write things in assembly.

Re:Gotta ask ! (5, Insightful)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year ago | (#45433915)

*Because someone should remember how to do this?

Re: Gotta ask ! (1)

stokessd (89903) | about a year ago | (#45434083)

And security, who is going to write malware for that? Iran needs this controlling the centrifuges.

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

NotFamous (827147) | about a year ago | (#45433631)

Gotta answer: 'Cause.

Re:Gotta ask ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433637)

Boredom?

Re:Gotta ask ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433649)

Everyone needs a hobby.

There's no other explanation.

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

jimbodude (2445520) | about a year ago | (#45433651)

Why not?! The fact that it fits on a diskette means that a lot of bloat must have been cut out, leaving functionality. This means faster (and potentially better) software that uses the system's resources more efficiently.

Re:Gotta ask ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45434087)

Why not?!

The fact that it fits on a diskette means that a lot of bloat must have been cut out, leaving functionality. This means faster (and potentially better) software that uses the system's resources more efficiently.

Do you mean that the system can wait for user input more efficiently? Since it's not like there's an abundance of resource-hungry applications for this OS that would benefit from it. And unless he develops a compiler which can compile apps written for a more popular platform as-is, there never will be. In theory you have a point but in practice it's like saying that cleaning railroad tracks by hand makes trains more energy-efficient. True but the more cost-efficient solution to get more performance is to pay for better hardware and not the man months the work takes.

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

pmontra (738736) | about a year ago | (#45433653)

To learn new things? Learning is stuff that matters.

Re:Gotta ask ! (0)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#45433655)

Why not?

If we asked Why? about every project out there, software and otherwise, we'd be stuck with a whole lot of unanswered questions.

Re:Gotta ask ! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433677)

sometimes we need a reality check. Sure this OS isn't practice, however, how can it achieve so much in so little space?? how can something smaller than your word document be an entire operating system?

Re:Gotta ask ! (2)

fisted (2295862) | about a year ago | (#45433943)

because

cc -x c - <<'X' && ls -l a.out
#include <stdio.h>

int
main(void)
{
printf("hello world\n");
}
X

-rwxr-xr-x 1 fisted users 7318 Nov 15 17:25 a.out*

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

poet (8021) | about a year ago | (#45433699)

Outside of the hobby aspect of it, there could be a real future in lower end devices.

Consider the resources that Android takes up. If you have something that is this small, efficient and presumably stable and you need to build out a lot of very small factor devices (phones, ereaders, tablets, medical equipment) something like this would be a very good thing.

Re:Gotta ask ! (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#45433749)

There's already a pretty big market of embedded devices running Linux or FreeDOS... and who's to say that another competitor couldn't offer yet another, better option?

Re:Gotta ask ! (2)

fisted (2295862) | about a year ago | (#45433989)

It's written in portable assembly, right?

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

ebh (116526) | about a year ago | (#45434107)

SWEET16

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

clarkkent09 (1104833) | about a year ago | (#45434013)

They better get it perfect the first time cause this thing will be impossible to maintain for anybody else and possibly for the original developers too. Forget it, there is no practical use for it, it's just a hobby (not that that's a bad thing).

Re:Gotta ask ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45434101)

The question is whether these small, cheap devices that presumably are not powerful enough to use something like OpenWRT would actually use a x86-compatible chip as opposed to, say, PIC or AVR.

Re:Gotta ask ! (5, Insightful)

aitikin (909209) | about a year ago | (#45433761)

Why would someone want to do a rewrite of Minix 20 some odd years ago?

Hello everybody out there using minix -

I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

I’ve currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months, and I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

amalcolm (1838434) | about a year ago | (#45433799)

Don't get me wrong ... I think it's amazing that someone had the stamina to take the project so far. I do wonder if you really need to go THAT far to prove a point or learn sufficient about hand coding in assembler. Each to his own, I guess

Gotta ask ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433831)

Why bother making electronics small?
Why bother looking for dark matter?
Why bother existing?

Why? Because the universe exists, that is why.

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | about a year ago | (#45433917)

So they're easier to carry, there is no good reason and because you have no choice in the matter, respectively.

Re:Gotta ask ! (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about a year ago | (#45433863)

Why not? Assembly programming is a skill and for some an art. It's like asking a sculptor why he does what he does. It's not like we need to justify any project.

Re:Gotta ask ! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433933)

Why? WHY? In a world where http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AAlib [wikipedia.org] , ttyquake, http://www.jfedor.org/aaquake2/ [jfedor.org] , and aalib output for mplayer (http://www.mplayerhq.hu/DOCS/HTML/en/aalib.html) exist, you question the existence of a mere operating system?

Technically everything is written in assembly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433577)

We just trust that compilers know what they're doing.

Re:Technically everything is written in assembly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433721)

By that technicality, it's actually written in machine code, not assembly

Re:Technically everything is written in assembly (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433909)

Naah, on modern CPUs it's written in Microcode...

Finally a fast OS (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433613)

Now can I run Firefox on it to play online games while playing zeroconf-shared music?

That's not the most important thing (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433621)

So before 1.0 we need to improve the existing code and make sure everything is working fine. ... The main thing for 1.0 is to have all application groups available

Nah, main thing is to find a working floppy disk and drive.

Re:That's not the most important thing (1)

ihtoit (3393327) | about a year ago | (#45433825)

I have a (n opened) box of virgin Verbatims and two Dell USB floppy drives (not to mention a Mitubishi IDE LS-120 which also reads floppies!), somewhere around I've also got a still shrinkwrapped box of 20 Sony DSHD disks.

Re:That's not the most important thing (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#45433873)

I keep an LS120 in my desktop PC just in case. Guess how many times I've used it.

I did use the Sony USB floppy once. So I consider that two dollars well spent at a yard sale

Re:That's not the most important thing (4, Informative)

HoldmyCauls (239328) | about a year ago | (#45433853)

Just tried it in Virtualbox, and it has made strides since I last tried it some years ago. Some notes:
Select "Other/Unknown (64-bit)" in the Operating System type drop-down, unless you specifically download the 32-bit version.
Add a floppy controller and add the image as a floppy disk attached to that. Delete the other controllers that are present by default, unless you have a specific reason not to (like listening to your outdated music on disc from within MenuetOS, or loading a WAD or PAK file for Doom/Quake).
Does not work with my work MacBook's iSight camera (afaict).
Boots in 5 seconds, and I'm thinking of ways to demonstrate it to students at the schools where I work.

Re:That's not the most important thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45434033)

but does it come with reversi?

Re:That's not the most important thing (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year ago | (#45434003)

Apparently my company still stocks floppy disks. There's still a bunch in the supply cupboard, even though you can search all the cubes on this floor and not find a single drive. Someone really needs to update the order inventory.

Cool! (1)

elfprince13 (1521333) | about a year ago | (#45433623)

I've been watching this project for ages, and I'm excited to see it slowly maturing. Quite a bit of fun to play with if you have some time to kill.

Re:Cool! (2)

Lawrence_Bird (67278) | about a year ago | (#45433811)

Likewise.. and it illustrates just how bloated "modern" OS have become. Then again, the generally accepted definition of "OS" seems to have changed to include things such as desktop and window managers.

Re:Cool! (3, Insightful)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#45433921)

People want their operating system to let them operate their computer. Conveniently. You can certainly still get command-line-only linux distros if you care, and you're the kind of technology specialist who might get utility out of that.

Re:Cool! (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#45433935)

And an ever-growing array of utility software. What OS is complete without a media player, web browser and Minesweeper?

I can beat that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433697)

I was running GEOS on my C64 25 years ago! Last time I checked, it was all written in assembler, and it was an OS.

Re:I can beat that (1)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#45433771)

But did it support USB, TV tuners, and webcams?

Re:I can beat that (4, Funny)

NonUniqueNickname (1459477) | about a year ago | (#45433849)

But did it support USB, TV tuners, and webcams?

Yes it did! GEOS supported all the existing USB TV tuners and webcams of its time.

Re:I can beat that (1)

arfonrg (81735) | about a year ago | (#45434005)

+1 Virtual Mod point to parent

Re:I can beat that (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433969)

Did UNIX in 1986? I guess that means it wasn't an OS.

In theory this could be awesome (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433701)

.. assuming that they could bring it up to par with modern operating systems (which of course is a gigantic leap of faith) .. in theory it could be the leanest OS EVER created.

Re:In theory this could be awesome (2)

SJHillman (1966756) | about a year ago | (#45433795)

A lot of the bloat in modern OSes comes from having to support a wide range of hardware - it's one of the reasons Linux can scale down to run on a tiny embedded system if you strip out that hardware support and other unneeded features (such as a fancy UI). You might even find that it doesn't scale well onto higher-end systems.

Not open source (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433705)

Well 32 bit is but 64 bit isn't... Lame.

Seriously, 13 years? (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433715)

Microsoft, Apple and Google update their OS about every year or two. If MenuetOS took 13 years to get to version 1.0, how long would it take them to release a bug fix? Is there a guarantee of a hot fix in 7 years or your money back?

Re:Seriously, 13 years? (0)

lil_DXL (3432951) | about a year ago | (#45434043)

It's an open source project, all it takes to speed up development is that more people get involved in it. Almost all of the code of MenuetOS was written by the same guy (who also holds a regular job, according to google), that's the main reason why it took so long. The C compiler included is also the work of a single programmer... guess we could call this kind of software as "vanity software"

Re:Seriously, 13 years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45434059)

Agreed. It astounds me that a hobby project doesn't have the resources to match the deadlines of corporations worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

Re:Seriously, 13 years? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45434117)

Well, the credits only lists 5 people.(one of them only wrote the floppy driver) And I doubt it's a full time job for any of them.

Potential uses? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433717)

What could I potentially use this sort of OS for? In what environment would it be pretty handy to have? Or is this a sort of a cool kids thing where it exists just because it can?

Re:Potential uses? (1)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about a year ago | (#45433963)

Embarrassing the creators of all the OSs that take five minutes to reach desktop.

still around? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433727)

I thought this thing was done years ago. Good to see it going though and a great example that modern operating systems don't have to be written in C.

Does it run on Raspberry pi? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433765)

hmmm probably not... x86...

This is cool but... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433789)

It is entirely a 'cause we can project. It is a misnomer that assembler is faster than C code in practice. Most compilers and optimizers can take advantage of modern hardware's (i.e. x86's) continuing changing architecture. Things that were fast on core2duo may be slower on core i7, and they may have introduced new operations to do XYZ faster still.

Not to mention that securing asm is a nightmare, very very time consuming. Even their '13 years' isn't enough.

you FAIL It (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433803)

kcompany 4 2

Assembly language (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433819)

funny, I was just reading about high level assembly, Art of Assembly Language http://www.plantation-productions.com/Webster/

Nice to see some geeks are still experimenting with assembly language. I haven't heard much about assembly language since I have graduated from college about 10 years ago. Thanks for posting the link.

Lame (2)

plopez (54068) | about a year ago | (#45433823)

Real Programmers write assembly language operating systems on punch cards.

Re:Lame (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year ago | (#45434023)

It's been awhile, but I thought we wrote Fortran on punch cards. It's possible my memory is going.

Re:Lame (2)

lil_DXL (3432951) | about a year ago | (#45434053)

Real programmers use a magnetized needle and a steady hand

Re:Lame (1)

laejoh (648921) | about a year ago | (#45434075)

Maybe they do now, in this decadent era of Lite beer, hand calculators, and “user-friendly” software but back in the Good Old Days, when the term “software” sounded funny and Real Computers were made out of drums and vacuum tubes, Real Programmers wrote in machine code. Not FORTRAN. Not RATFOR. Not, even, assembly language. Machine Code. Raw, unadorned, inscrutable hexadecimal numbers. Directly!

More modern programming language? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433827)

Does the OS come with a more modern application programming language than assembler, such as Forth? I'd like to use it, but fear of having to learn assembler keeps me away from it. So it would be good to have a modern programming language such as a nicely threaded Forth interpreter or a simple LISP system implemented on top of this ... for the rest of us, who are afraid of assembler.

Re:More modern programming language? (1)

roc97007 (608802) | about a year ago | (#45434067)

Assembler really isn't that hard. My first three years as a programmer were assembly language only for embedded applications. It's like anything else -- you memorize stuff and after awhile you see every problem as a list of assembly instructions. Later, using C seemed like cheating, in a way.

Pointless? (2, Insightful)

lil_DXL (3432951) | about a year ago | (#45433897)

"Pointless" as a tag? Really? Is this Slashdot at all?

I wonder ... (1)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#45433905)

... how many developers cheated. Coded their module in C or C++ and ran it through gcc with the -S switch.

Re:I wonder ... (1)

DigitAl56K (805623) | about a year ago | (#45434015)

I wouldn't consider comparing a manually written routine to what GCC outputs cheating. If you have an optimizing compiler available to you, why not learn its tricks so that you can write better code yourself?

Not Open Source (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45433907)

MenuetOS isn't open source. The web page mentions the (dead?) 32bit version is GPL, but the 64bit version is release under a non-free license:
http://www.menuetos.net/m64l.txt

Re:Not Open Source (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45434009)

It's open-source as long as you have a disassembler...

Changing definition of Kernel (2)

canadiannomad (1745008) | about a year ago | (#45433957)

If we are starting to believe that the core of an operating system should include a full GUI, video and mp3 playback, audio, USB, network, etc. for the least possible battery use, then this is a really cool way to go.

Why waste the resources? Just cause we can?

If we are to rethink what a basic operating system of today ought to have right out of the box from the first nanosecond, then I'm sure there is a lot of reengineering that would happen to any Linux or Windows kernel.

Re:Changing definition of Kernel (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45434001)

What's all this "we" stuff? You haven't done anything.

Re:Changing definition of Kernel (1)

canadiannomad (1745008) | about a year ago | (#45434047)

Touché

so.... (1)

smash (1351) | about a year ago | (#45433959)

"With other operating systems it could take weeks to get to know to internal workings of the OS. In MenuetOS you simply could draw a pixel anywhere on the screen if you wanted to without worrying about device contexts and bitmaps etc." It's good for prototyping, he adds.

i.e., from the sounds of it, it is not multi user, and everything runs with superuser privileges. It is written entirely in assembly language which adds another level of complexity for the programmer to deal with.

Whilst it sounds like an interesting research project, and is no doubt likely to be quite a lot faster than any other multi-user OS, those are some MASSIVE trade-offs, especially with regards to security and stability.

Re:so.... (1)

smash (1351) | about a year ago | (#45434007)

and just on that.... you can increase speed by throwing hardware at the problem. you can't increase security or stability by doing that.

Re:so.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45434085)

Perhaps not, if you take into account that the vast majority of all OS users do all of their daily tasks from one account, which also happens to be the administrator account ...

13 Years to 1.0? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45434111)

So obviously their development cycle is much faster than HURD!

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