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Issue 056: Operating Systems

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Issue 056: Operating Systems

Welcome to the fifty-sixth issue of De Programmatica Ipsum, about Operating Systems. In this edition, we analyze the aftermath of the Kernel Wars of the 1980s and 90s; in the Library section, we review "Operating System Concepts" by Abraham Silberschatz, Peter Baer Galvin, and Greg Gagne; and in our Vidéothèque section, we watch a demo of the IBM 1401, a computer without operating system, by Ken Ross and Paul Laughton.

Aftermath Of The Kernel Wars

During the 1980s and 90s, computer companies waged an open war for supremacy. We are witnesses of an age that could be described as post-apocalyptic. The dust has settled for the past 20 years, with a small ignition of hostilities around 2010, between members of the mobile duopoly and some late challengers. But to a large degree, we can say that the Kernel Wars are over, and we are privileged observers of their aftermath. But everyone was surprised to discover the winner emerging from the ashes of the conflict.

Ken Ross & Paul Laughton

What was it like to use a computer without an operating system? We seldom ask ourselves this question, used as we are to download and install the operating system most adapted to our hardware at hand. But merely 60 years ago, the IBM 1401 was the most widely used computer system in the planet, and it did so without a matching operating system. How did it work?

Most of you are reading this article on a computer running some flavor of Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, or Linux, on your browser of choice–with a large majority using Google Chrome at the time of this writing. If you are serious about software development, it makes sense to understand how those operating systems work, even if your day-to-day bread-winning activity involves only "higher-level" concepts such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. The preeminence of web browsers as the de facto operating system for "front end" web developers, means that a lot of knowledge of the actual underlying operating system is lost, and this is a tragedy in itself.

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