Grabbing the Thread: Spinlocks vs Mutexes

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.

Pocket Forth Invades Your TI Calculator

TI certainly have certainly seen off rivals such as HP or Casio to capture the lion’s share of the calculator market. The TI-84 is a real staple, and with as many units as there are out there, hacking them is a given. However, selecting an operating system for the machine can be a hassle. TI-OS is proprietary and doesn’t really want to let you do everything you’d like to. There are alternatives, but many of them won’t let you easily use your calculator to be — well — a calculator.

[Siraben] has zkeme80 which is essentially ANS Forth (mostly) with extensions for the TI hardware. You can easily extend the system, of course, because it is Forth. You can also use the machine for its intended purpose easily.

Continue reading “Pocket Forth Invades Your TI Calculator”

Roll Your Own Raspberry Pi OS

Writing an operating system is no small task, but like everything else it is easier than it used to be. [JSandler] has a tutorial on how to create a simple operating system for the Raspberry Pi. One thing that makes it easier is the development environment used. QEMU emulates a Raspberry Pi so you can do the development on a desktop PC and test in the virtual environment. When you are ready, you can set up a bootable SD card and try your work on a real device.

The operating system isn’t very complex, but it does boot, organize memory, displays on the screen, handles interrupts, and manages processes. What else do you need?

Continue reading “Roll Your Own Raspberry Pi OS”

Forget Troy. Try HelenOS

Even though it seems like there are a lot of operating system choices, the number narrows if you start counting kernels, instead of distributions. Sure, Windows is clearly an operating system family, and on the Unix-like side, there is Linux and BSD. But many other operating systems–Ubuntu, Fedora, Raspian–they all derive from some stock operating system. There are some outliers, though, and one of those is HelenOS. The open source OS runs on many platforms, including PCs, Raspberry PIs, Beaglebones, and many others.

Although the OS isn’t new, it is gaining more features and is now at version 0.7. You can see a video about some of the new features, below.

According to the project’s web site:

HelenOS is a portable microkernel-based multiserver operating system designed and implemented from scratch. It decomposes key operating system functionality such as file systems, networking, device drivers and graphical user interface into a collection of fine-grained user space components that interact with each other via message passing. A failure or crash of one component does not directly harm others. HelenOS is therefore flexible, modular, extensible, fault tolerant and easy to understand.

Continue reading “Forget Troy. Try HelenOS”

Raiders of the Lost OS: Reclaiming A Piece of Polish IT History

In today’s digital era, we almost take for granted that all our information is saved and backed up, be it on our local drives or in the cloud — whether automatically, manually, or via some other service.  For information from decades past, that isn’t always the case, and recovery can be a dicey process.  Despite the tricky challenges, the team at [Museo dell’Informatica Funzionante] and [mera400.pl], as well as researchers and scientists from various museums, institutions, and more all came together in the attempt to recover the Polish CROOK operating system believed to be stored on five magnetic tapes.

MEERA-400 Tape Recovery 1

Originally stored at the Warsaw Museum of Technology, the tapes were ideally preserved, but — despite some preliminary test prep — the museum’s tape reader kept hanging at the 800 BPI NRZI encoded header, even though the rest of the tape was 1600 BPI phase encoding. Some head scratching later, the team decided to crack open their Qualstar 1052 tape reader and attempt to read the data directly off the circuits themselves!!

Continue reading “Raiders of the Lost OS: Reclaiming A Piece of Polish IT History”

A Slice of Ubuntu

The de facto standard for Raspberry Pi operating systems is Raspbian–a Debian based distribution specifically for the diminutive computer. Of course, you have multiple choices and there might not be one best choice for every situation. It did catch our eye, however, that the RaspEX project released a workable Ubunutu 16.10 release for the Raspberry Pi 2 and 3.

RaspEX is a full Linux Desktop system with LXDE (a lightweight desktop environment) and many other useful programs. Firefox, Samba, and VNC4Server are present. You can use the Ubuntu repositories to install anything else you want. The system uses kernel 4.4.21. You can see a review of a much older version of RaspEX  in the video below.

Continue reading “A Slice of Ubuntu”

Minimal Computer and Operating System: One Button, One LED

DUO BINARY is a very, very small computer system in every possible sense. It runs on an ATtiny84, which has even got “tiny” in its name. The user interface is a single button for data entry and a single LED for feedback, making this binary keyboard look frivolously over-complicated. It uses a devilish chimera of Morse code and a truncated ASCII to enter data, and the LED blinks the same back at you.

We’re guessing that [Jack Eisenmann] is the only person in the world who can control this thing, and you can watch him doing so in the video embedded below. Continue reading “Minimal Computer and Operating System: One Button, One LED”