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Microsoft's Barrelfish operating system is an experimental OS looking to bring improved multicore performance to Microsoft's OS's  (Source: Network World)

"Barrelfish hackers and hangers-on, Zurich, August 2009 "  (Source: Microsoft/ETH Zurich)
Microsoft tests out multi-core improvements that will eventually be rolled into Windows

Microsoft has long cooked up new and experimental operating systems whose features eventually got rolled into its central Windows offerings.  Most recently it's been dabbling with Singularity, an experimental OS designed for increased reliability thanks to kernel, device drivers, and applications being written in managed SING# (an extension of C#) code.  Another test OS is Midori (not to be confused with the web browser), an OS that sandboxes applications for security and is designed for running concurrent applications, a feature geared towards cloud computing schemes.

Other recent efforts include its Windows Azure OS, a cloud computing OS currently offered for free to developers.

Now Microsoft has unveiled another new OS prototype codenamed "Barrelfish".  Barrelfish is an OS optimized to run on multi-core machines.  Namely, Barrelfish uses message passing and a database like system to pass information between cores.  Typically OS's use share memory schemes, which become very inefficient when resource demands are high.

The new OS was jointly created by ETH Zurich, a technology university, and Microsoft Research, located in Cambridge, Mass. 

Interestingly, it uses some open source BSD third-part libraries, which are "covered by various BSD-like open source licenses."  This has led to speculation that the new OS may be free and open source, not terms you typically would associate with Microsoft.

According to developers who have attended conferences on the new OS, it reportedly brings some of the Midori/Singularity sandboxing protections onboard.  Additionally, applications reportedly have an alternate route of accessing information from devices like graphics or sound cards.  A large deal of device information is reportedly stored in a central database that can be queried.

Writes developer "AudriUSA", "... instead of fully isolating program from device via driver, Barrelfish has a kind of database where lots of low level information about the hardware can be found. The kernel is single threaded and non preemptive. Scheduling is coupled with the message passing, an arrival of the message simply activates the waiting thread. It also uses a little bit of the microkernel concepts, running drivers in protected space, like L4 and in general pushing a lot into application domains."

As Intel and AMD expand their 4, 6, and 8-core lineups and approach even higher core counts, using these resources efficiently will be a crucial operating system responsibility.  It will be exciting to see what kind of improvements that Microsoft can accomplish with Barrelfish, as these improvements will surely be rolled into successors to Windows 7.



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Not a novel concept
By gstrickler on 9/28/2009 2:41:05 PM , Rating: 5
Mach explored this idea over 20 years ago. Mach had two key features, a "microkernel", and IPC message passing to communicate between threads and processes.

Short history, the message passing introduces too much latency to be used in the microkernel envisioned by Mach, however, later hybrid kernels keep the IPC, but use a small monolithic kernel and isolate many of the higher level functions into separate module. It's not the Mach microkernel, but it's not a monolithic kernel either, it's a hybrid that gives the advantages of using IPC with better performance. Many of those changes were rolled back into the BSD source. This is the basis of Mac OS X.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mach_(kernel)

"The Mach virtual memory management system was also adopted by the BSD developers at CSRG, and appears in modern BSD-derived UNIX systems, such as FreeBSD. Neither Mac OS X nor FreeBSD maintain the microkernel structure pioneered in Mach, although Mac OS X continues to offer microkernel Inter-Process Communication and control primitives for use directly by applications."

"The lead developer on the Mach project, Richard Rashid, has been working at Microsoft since 1991 in various top-level positions revolving around the Microsoft Research division. Another of the original Mach developers, Avie Tevanian, was formerly head of software at NeXT, then Chief Software Technology Officer at Apple Computer until March 2006."




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