It’s a piece of common knowledge, that MS-DOS wasn’t capable of multitasking. For that, the Microsoft-based PC user would have to wait for the 80386, and usable versions of Windows. But like so many such pieces of received Opinion, this one is full of holes. As [Lunduke] investigates, there were several ways to multitask DOS, and they didn’t all depend on third-party software.
A quick look at DESQview and Concurrent DOS was expected from this article, but of more surprise is that IBM had a multitasking DOS called TopView, or even that Microsoft themselves released the fully multitasking MS-DOS 4.0. We remember DOS 4 as being less than sparkling, but reading the article it’s obvious that we’re thinking of the single-tasking version 4.01.
From 2023 it seems obvious that multitasking is a fundamental requirement of PC use, but surprisingly back in the 1980s a PC was much more a single-application device. On one hand it’s surprising given the number of multitasking DOS products on the market that none of them became mainstream, but perhaps the best evidence of the PC market simply not being ready for it comes in the fact that they didn’t.
If you fancy experimenting with DOS multitasking, at least machines on which to do it can still be found.
Writing an operating system for a computing platform is one of those non-trivial tasks few people actually need to do, regardless of whether it’s for a small microcontroller or a larger general-purpose computer. Many of us spend a large amount of our time working on producing robust code for embedded systems, occasionally diving deeper into the abstraction when we’re stuck on a problem. Quite often this work is sitting on top of an RTOS, which we consider a solved problem. [Jonathan Diamond] had picked up a fair bit of knowledge of some of the low-level AVR black magic, as well as some details of how operating systems work internally, and so decided to have a crack a building a toy operating system called KittyOS, for the learning experience alone.
[Jonathan] hastens to add that this is not a practical OS, but a learning platform that needs a few more bells and whistles added to be useful. Aimed at the 8-bit AVR ATmega168 with its mere 16kB of flash and 1kB of SRAM, the diminutive chip can still perform more than well enough to host the rudimentary OS — up to four application tasks, and some basic system call support.
Already, KittyOS sports preemptive multitasking, with prioritization and support for applications written in C. Hardware support is a bit limited, with just serial I/O and a spot of GPIO, but that’s more than enough for a demonstrator. Applications can be loaded into any of the four available slots, with per-slot run state control, using the Python-based host interface. The post is a long one, with an absolute ton of the gory details we love around these parts, and we’re very glad [Jonathan] took the time to make a proper write-up as well as a demonstration video, which can be found after the break.
Continue reading “KittyOS: Writing A Toy OS For The ATmega168 From Scratch”
Ever wondered what it would take to roll your own OS? [Sebastian]’s Snowdrop OS might just provide you with some insight into that process, and maybe even some inspiration.
[Sebastian] created Snowdrop completely from scratch, using only x86 assembly language. It’s more than just bare-bones, and boasts a number of useful utilities and programs including a BASIC interpreter and linker (for creating standalone BASIC executables.) That’s not even touching on the useful essentials, like multitasking and a GUI framework. There are even a number of resources specifically for making game development easier. Because as [Sebastian] puts it, what’s a operating system without games?
Interested in giving Snowdrop a try, or peek at the source code? The binaries and sources section has all you need, and the other headings at the top of the page will send you to the various related goodies. If you have a few minutes, we recommend you watch a walkthrough of the various elements and features of Snowdrop in this video tour (embedded after the page break.)
Snowdrop is an ambitious project, but we’re not surprised that [Sebastian] has made it work; we’ve seen his low-level software skills before, with his fantastic efforts around the classic stand-up arcade game, Knights of the Round.
Continue reading “Homebrew An OS From Scratch? Snowdrop Shows How It’s Done”
Getting into the weeds of operating systems is daunting work. Especially when the operating system involved is a fully featured modern PC operating system with millions of lines of code all working together to integrate hardware and software seamlessly. One such operating system “weed” is figuring out how to handle simultaneous tasks when the processor can only really handle one thing at time. For that, you’ll be looking at the difference between spinlocks and mutexes.
Both of these are methods of making sure that the processor completes a task sufficiently before moving on to the next task. Modern computers are so fast (even ignoring multiple cores) that it seems as if they are doing many things at once. In order to maintain this illusion, tasks need ways of locking the processor to that specific task for a certain amount of time. Of course the queue for performing the next task can get complicated as there are often many tasks waiting to use processor time. Spinlocks are a simple way of holding the processor and mutexes are a slightly more complicated way, but which one is the most efficient use of system resources isn’t that straightforward.
If you’ve ever been interested in operating system details, this one goes deep into the intricacies of features most of us have never even considered the existence of. It’s definitely worth a read, though, and is very well written by someone who is clearly an expert. If you want an operating system challenge, you can build your own operating system as well.
We’re quite used to multitasking computer systems today. Our desktops run email, a couple of browsers in different workspaces, a word processor, and a few other applications, apparently all at once. Looking behind the scenes using a system monitor or task manager program reveals a multitude of other programs running in support of our activities. Of course, any given CPU is running a maximum of one program at a time. Multitasking is simply the practice of switching between active processes fast enough to give the illusion of simultaneity.
The roots of multiasking go way back. In the early days, when computers cost tons of money, the thought of an idle system was anathema. Teletype IO was slow compared to the processor, and leaving the processor waiting idle for a card reader to slurp in the next card was outrageous. The gurus of the time worked to fill that idle time with productive work. That eventually led to systems that would run multiple programs at one time, and eventually to more finely grained multitasking within a program.
Modern multitasking depends on support from the underlying API of an operating system. Each OS uses its own techniques, making it difficult to write portable code. The C++ 2011 standard increased the portability of the language by adding concurrency routines to the Standard Template Library (STL). These routines use the API of the OS. For instance, the Linux version uses the POSIX threading library, pthread. The result is a minimal, but useful, capability for building upon in later standards. The C++ 2017 standard development activities include work on parallelism and concurrency.
In this article, I’ll work through some of the facilities for and pitfalls in writing threaded code in C++.
Continue reading “Code Craft – Embedding C++: Multitasking”
We keep wondering where the Arduino world is headed with the hardware getting more and more powerful. If the IDE doesn’t keep up what’s the point? Now we have at least one answer to that problem. Energia is the Arduino-like-framework for Texas Instruments based boards. They just came out with a multitasking system built into Energia targeted at the ARM Cortex-M4F based MSP432 Launchpad which we covered a few weeks back.
The announcement post gives a couple of examples of uses for multitasking. The simplest is blinking LEDs at different rates. If you wanted to do this closer to the metal you’re talking about multiple timers, or multiple compares on a single timer, perhaps a interrupt-driven-system-tick that has a high enough resolution for a wide range of your blinking needs. But these are not always easy to set up unless you are intimately comfortable with this particular architecture. The Energia multitasking will handle this for you. It’s upon the TI Real Time Operating System (TI-RTOS) but wraped in the familiar IDE.
The UI divorces you from thinking about the hardware at all. You simply launch a new tab and start coding as if you’re using a completely separate piece of hardware. The announcement post linked above mentions that these Sketches are running “in parallel”. Well… we know it’s not a multi-core system like the Propeller but we’ll let it slide. It is certainly easier than building your own scheduler for this type of hardware.
What exactly is multitasking, scheduling, and context switching? This is a great question for those interested in understanding how operating systems work, even small real-time operating systems (RTOS). [Jeffrey] had the same question, so he built a multitasking scheduler for the MSP430F5529 LaunchPad.
These topics are some of the most difficult to wrap your head around in the embedded world. Choosing a project that helps you understand tough topics is a great way to learn, plus it can be very rewarding. In his post, [Jeffrey] goes over the basics of how all of these things work, and how they can be implemented on the MSP430. Overall, it is a great read and very informative. For more information on RTOS, check out a few sections in the FreeRTOS book. Be sure to see his code in action after the break.
[Jeffery] was nice enough to release all of his code as open source, so be sure to check out his repository on GitHub. “Feel free to use it and learn more. I have made the code self explanatory. Enjoy!”
Continue reading “Multitasking On The MSP430F5529 LaunchPad”