Exciting Upcoming OS Improvements

19 10 2007

I must apologize for the lack of posts – the first few weeks of the semester, plus the job hunt, are extremely time-consuming. I have half-finished drafts of 3 articles, but no time to do the solid revising and research they need. I try to make my technical entries very precise, accurate, and backed by links to reputable sources.

But this is just a brief entry, because I’m excited for upcoming updates to three wonderful OSes:

Mac OS X Leopard
This has been anticipated for some time. It ships on the 26th of October if you weren’t already aware, and has some wonderful features. TimeMachine initially excited me the most. I heard about it while watching a periodically updated blog post of WWDC 2006 coverage with coworkers at NetApp, and to us it immediately suggested that Apple finally wised up a bit and implemented snapshots in one of their filesystems. The fact that TimeMachines requires an external hard drive makes it clear that this isn’t quite the case, which is a bit surprising given that it has been acknowledged that Leopard has at least some support for ZFS. Supposedly Leopard will only support reading from ZFS – alas, my dreams of a dual-boot Solaris/OS X Macbook with a shared ZFS pool will have to wait for another day.

More exciting to me is the addition of DTrace to Mac OS X in the form of Instruments, a snazzy GUI on top of DTrace. This is going to be a killer developer application. DTrace is very powerful, and fairly flexible, but has a bit of a learning curve to do more advanced things. I’m very optimistic about how discoverable an Apple GUI can make this.

And of course, after many years of using multiple desktops on Linux, they’re finally in OS X. For those who can’t wait, or don’t want to upgrade just for multiple desktops, Desktop Manager and Virtue Desktops work reasonably well, though for obvious reasons they’re no longer under development.

That said, my Powerbook is finally going, so I’m probably just going to buy a new Macbook next time the hardware is updated, and get Leopard that way instead of shelling out money for an upgrade. If it weren’t time for a hardware upgrade for me, I think I’d probably still do it just to have DTrace on my Mac.

OpenSolaris Project Indiana
What is Project Indiana? Many things, but primarily two things: an effort to create an all-open-source version of OpenSolaris (which currently includes some binary blobs to run well), and a place to prototype things like the new installer, stable ZFS root and boot, and the new package system. It was uncertain when a prototype of all these things would arrive, but it seems that a developer release will be available in the next couple weeks. This is enough to make me hold off on finishing customization on the new workstation I just got; I’m going to wait, and install this development version from scratch. I’m sure I’ll run into plenty of bugs, but that’s fine – it’s exciting! Also, an additional benefit of doing a reinstall is that I can make an extra slice for doing live upgrades of my system, which the preinstalled configuration doesn’t support. I can’t wait.

[Update: Found a very thorough description of Project Indiana.]

KGDB in Linux
Despite being postponed, it looks like a proper kernel debugger is headed into the mainline Linux kernel. Linux has actually had kernel debuggers for some time, but they were external patches. Being in the mainline kernel will mean better stability and will likely increase use among kernel developers.

This doesn’t directly impact end users, because most users don’t debug kernels. It does however affect them indirectly, because it will help kernel developers find (and fix) bugs faster. For kernel developers, a proper kernel debugger is a blessing. I used kmdb extensively this summer working in the Solaris Kernel Group. I can’t imagine how frustrated I would have been without it. Being able to step kernel code makes it almost as easy to debug as userland code (with some exceptions, obviously). Mac OS X has also had a well integrated kernel debugger (two in fact) for some time as well.

I’m really glad Linux is finally going to integrate this – the Apple documentation on kernel debuggers is spartan, and Solaris is still (unfortunately) not as easy to get up and running as Linux, and anyone who wants to hack on a kernel benefits greatly from having a solid kernel debugger. Hopefully this will encourage more people to jump the gap to kernel work, since this makes it more approachable.

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