5 Operating Systems Making Big Waves This Week

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Oct 5, 2010


More about OSes

It's been a busy week for operating systems (OSes). Here's a rundown of what happened and the implications.

1. QNX to Power BlackBerry Tablets

Thanks to Windows, Mac OS X, Ubuntu, Fedora and the not-so-well-known (but no less notable) QNX, the server OS waters were choppier than usual this week. Here's some insight as to what's really going on.

It's not often an embedded OS that controls Las Vegas hotel fountains, car audio units and air traffic control systems makes the news, and this time last week you'd have been hard pressed to find more than a handful of people who had ever heard of QNX.

That is until Research in Motion announced it will be basing its BlackBerry Tablet OS on QNX, which it acquired earlier this year (and promptly made closed source). QNX will thus be at the heart of the highly specced BlackBerry PlayBook tablet aimed at enterprise users when it is released in 2011.

The QNX OS is a far cry from anything RIM has used in its BlackBerry mobile devices before: It's a POSIX OS based on a microkernel architecture, with device drivers, networking stack and file system all running in memory-protected user space. It also features an adaptive partitioning scheduling system, which has an effect similar to Windows SQL Server 2008's Resource Governor: It aims to guarantee applications a set percentage of processor resources, ensuring real-time applications keep running even when the OS is doing a significant amount of multitasking.

2. Anti-malware to Be Built Into Windows?

Of all the enterprise OSes, Windows is susceptible to a vast array of viruses and other malware threats. Because of that, you can make a strong argument for saying anti-virus functionality should be integrated into the OS the same way as the networking stack and browser.

It's interesting to see that a year after Microsoft introduced its Security Essentials anti-malware product for home use, the company announced it will offer it free to small businesses of up to 10 PCs as well.

In doing so, Microsoft is stepping on the toes of partners like Symantec and McAfee, not to mention its own Forefront security offering, but it is also taking another significant step toward integrating anti-virus into the OS -- something the company hasn't attempted since its half-hearted attempt back in the days of DOS 6 and Windows 3.0

3. Fedora Shows Oracle How Open Source Community Development Works

Fedora 14 "Laughlin" beta was released last week, introducing Red Hat's SPICE virtual desktop infrastructure, ipmiutil -- which adds features including Serial-over-LAN and identity LED management, and a preview of systemd, a replacement for SysVinit that acts as a system and session manager and that will ultimately allow faster boot times.

What's significant is that it shows Red Hat's development model in action -- Fedora is a community-developed open source distribution of Red Hat Linux, which includes leading edge stuff that gets tried and tested before -- possibly -- ending up in the officially supported enterprise version of Red Hat.

It's a model that's proved successful for Red Hat, and one that worked for Solaris -- until a few weeks ago, when Oracle pulled the plug on the community that developed OpenSolaris.

Maybe the community development model isn't appropriate in larger organizations -- which makes it all the more fascinating to see what happens to OpenSUSE if and when Novell sells its Linux business to VMware.

4. Ubuntu Gets a New Cloud

APIs for the OpenStack cloud architecture -- which allows organizations to create and offer cloud computing capabilities using open source software -- are being built into the Ubuntu Server OS, The Register reported this week. Rackspace Hosting and NASA, two companies behind the project, are already using OpenStack technologies to manage tens of thousands of compute instances and petabytes of storage, and the initial release is expected in the next few weeks.

Up to now, Ubuntu has looked to the open source Eucalyptus project for cloud functionality, but the full enterprise feature set is available only on a commercial basis. The signs are that OpenStack might prove to be a realistic fully open source alternative for Ubuntu -- if it can be successfully integrated with the Linux OS in future releases.

5. Apple Pays for OS X Copyright Infringements

OS X is hardly ever in the news these days, as Apple neglects its computer OS in favor of phones, iPads and other idevices that run iOS. This week, OS X did make the news, but for all the wrong reasons: Apple has been ordered to pay up to an eye-watering $625 million to Mirror Worlds LLC for patent infringements involving OS X. These relate to features in the OS like Cover Flow, which lets Mac users flick through album covers, Spotlight, which searches a computer's hard drive, and TimeMachine, which saves old versions of files. Apple is challenging the decision. The good news for the company is that with around $43 billion in revenue last year, $625 million will hardly break the bank -- if it ever has to pay it.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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