A possible next evolutionary step for computers is persistent memory: large capacity non-volatile main memory. With a few terabytes of nonvolatile RAM, who needs an SSD any more? I will sketch out a proposal for how to build an versatile, general-purpose OS for a computer that doesn't need or use filesystems or files, and how such a thing could be built from existing FOSS code and techniques, using lessons from systems that existed decades ago and which inspired the computers we use today.
Since the era of the mainframe, all computers have used hard disks and at least two levels of storage: main memory, or RAM, and secondary or auxiliary storage: disk drives, accessed over some form of disk controller using a file system to index the contents of secondary storage for retrieval.
Technology such as Intel's 3D Xpoint -- sold under the brand name Optane -- and HP's future memristor storage will render this separation obsolete. When a computer's permanent storage is all right there in the processors' memory map, there is no need for disk controllers or filesystems. It's all just RAM.
It is very hard to imagine how existing filesystem-centric OSes such as Unix could be adapted to take full advantage of this, so fundamental are files and directories and metadata to how they operate. I will present the outline of an idea how to build an OS that natively uses such a computer architecture, based on existing technology and software, that the FOSS community is ideally situated to build and develop.
It talks about Lisp, Smalltalk, Oberon and A2, and touches upon Plan 9, Inferno, Psion EPOC, Newton, Dylan, and more.
You can download the slides (in PDF or LO ODP format) from the FOSDEM programme entry for the talk.
It is free to register and to watch.
In theory you should be able to watch the video on the FOSDEM site after the event, but it seems their servers are still down. I've put a copy of my recording on Dropbox where you should be able to watch it.
NOTE: apparently Dropbox will only show the first 15min in its preview. Download the video and play it locally to see the whole, 49min thing. It is in MP4 encoded with H.264.
- Read the script on Google Docs.
- View the presentation in PDF format.
- View the slideshow (only) in LibreOffice Impress format.
- View the slideshow with speaker's notes in LO Impress format.
I had three or four people who kept bugging me that I ought to get my rear over to Xerox PARC and see what they were doing. And so I finally did. I went over there. And they were very kind and they showed me what they were working on.
And they showed me really three things, but I was so blinded by the first one that I didn’t even really see the other two.
One of the things they showed me was object-oriented programming. They showed me that, but I didn’t even see that.
The other one they showed me was really a networked computer system. They had over a hundred Alto computers, all networked using email, et cetera, et cetera. I didn’t even see that.
I was so blinded by the the first thing they showed me, which was the graphical user interface. I thought it was the best thing I'd ever seen in my life.
Now, remember, it was very flawed. What we saw was incomplete. They’d done a bunch of things wrong, but we didn’t know that at the time. And still, though, they had the germ of the idea was there and they’d done it very well. And within, you know, 10 minutes, it was obvious to me that all computers would work like this someday. It was obvious.