[Techtalk] Re: Considering an OS change

Alvin Goats agoats at compuserve.com
Fri Apr 18 01:45:05 EST 2003

> As long as we are getting philosophical, I think 'operating system' is 
> synonymous with distribution. Because it is a system. A bare kernel doesn't 
> do much, we need all the applications and utilities packaged with it to be 
> able to do anything.

Being an old fogey with Linux and still in possession of Generic Linux
with kernel 0.41 which conveniently fit on a single HD floppy disk
(1.44M or 1.2M), the kernel is the OS. The original Linux had the
functionality of DOS and not much more. But it was still the OS. fdisk,
format, these were utilities like the MS-DOS fdisk, format... (Be aware,
it only ran on hard drives of the MFM/RLL types and does NOT recognize
ESDI, IDE or SCSI). Word processors? What's that? ;)

Making the case that the distribution is the OS goes back to the
Microsoft vs. Digital Research wars with DOS (Disk Operating System, NOT
to be assumed to belong to Microsoft and originally developed by
Mainframe manufacturers like Univac, CDC and IBM). MS-DOS and DR-DOS
both had the main kernel which did the same thing, only Mickeysoft
decided to check whose kernel it was that was running with the
Mickeysoft apps and hence made the statement "You are not running
Microsoft DOS. This software may not function properly with a different
Operating System". We really don't want SuSE checking to see if it's
apps are running on RedHat, Mandrake, Slackware... and then telling us
we can't run the software as it isn't SuSE. :)

As for the applications and utilities packaged with the kernel making an
OS, this is what Microsoft has tried to do by telling us that Internet
Explorer is integral to the OS and has to be there, even if I want
Netscape instead. This has been repeated with mediaplayer (I want
RealPlayer) and other things. Again, a very bad and dangerous approach.
The app is an app and is independant of distro. 

My StarOffice runs on ALL distros of Linux, RealPlayer runs on all
distros, ApplixWare  runs on all distros, so the distro is irrelevant;
only the rev of the kernel is important. Additional libraries may be
needed, but again, they are distro independant. 

Many drivers and utilities have their source from other OS's and chip
sets. The floppy driver has certain routines that are due to the floppy
controller chip and as such, these basic routines are the same for
MS-DOS, OS/2, Windows, Linux, C/PM, DR-DOS, Solaris and others. Hard
drive controller code goes all the way back to the IBM Model 3340
Winchester (35/70Megabyte, 1973 era 2 disk, 4 head, 188 cylinders, LARGE
disk pack) for the IBM System 370; the floppy drive controller is a hard
drive controller of limited capability (Intel 82072 Single/Double
Density Floppy Disk Controller supporting IBM 3740 single densiy (FM
( http://www-1.ibm.com/ibm/history/history/year_1973.html ) or IBM
System 34 
( http://www-1.ibm.com/ibm/history/catalog/catalogpage_0000001984.html
)Double Density format (MFM, aka "Winchester" Encoding), 2 head, 255
step pulses or tracks or cylinders - do you know of any floppy drive
using this many?, from the Intel Peripherals Handbook, 1990). Two of
these chips could run the Model 3340 Hard Disk Pack. Take a look at the
links, the floppy drive was an 8 inch monster and the computers had
nothing to do with the PC and took up most of an office, but we did
leverage their technology. Basic low level access is independant of OS,
only the OS to low level device is different.

Most tape utilities are OS hacks of the original TOS (Tape Operating
System) used by ancient mainframes from pre-hard drive times). What is
written and how it is written to tape is typically independant of OS, as
it is with disk drives. And by what is written, I mean the headers that
encapsulate the data and not necessarily  whether you are backing up
Univac, 360 OS, VMS, DOS, or Linux. 

There are some apps and utilities developed for a particular distro,
many of which can be compiled and run on other distros. I have rpm on
Slackware, I've picked up packages for Mandrake and SuSE, Debian too.
And have them installed in a Slackware distro. Biggest problem I had
with rpm was creating the directories it wanted for it's package
database files. ;)

So again, the kernel is the OS and the distro only prepackaged
embellishments. More like MS-DOS with Quattro Pro, WordPerfect, Harvard
Graphics and Generic Cad and MS-DOS with Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and
AutoCad; same kernel (OS) with different apps and utilities that do the
same basic thing. :)
> The various distributions often patch the kernel, and make various custom 
> modifications, so I think 'operating system' is a perfectly good term for 
> them.

True the distros patch the kernel; RedHat tends to distribute "bleeding
edge" kernels before all bugs and security issues are found, hence a
large number of security alerts. Slackware is typically a rev or two
behind, but when released has most all of the bug and security patches
installed, hence a fewer number of security alerts. The same patches to
the kernel of the same kernel rev. :)

The custom modifications tend to be which directory things are placed
and how some items are handled. Slackware has only one rc.d directory
with many files; others have many directories with single files in them
handling the same functions. This still doesn't affect the kernel , only
the directory structure (the appropriate directories and files are
defined in various scripts). This is why help from someone using one
distro may not be able to help someone using another. I can't help
anyone with RedHat, Mandrake, SuSE, Debian et al problems as Slackware
doesn't have the same directory structures. But we can all run the same
kernel rev. Which ultimately affects how apps and utlities work. Thus I
CAN help with things like cdrecord, BRL-CAD (rpm distribution only for
Linux, no tarballs), UDF modules, RealPlayer, Netscape, Mozilla, kde,
gnome, fvwm, etc. What I may not know is what directory an app may go in
for a particular distro. So I'll disagree in principle. :)


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