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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tannenbaum- Trovalds debate (David slaying the Goliath)

    A few days ago while translating a Wikipedia article to Hindi I stumbled on the Tannenbaum - Trovalds debate that happened almost 23 years ago. The GNU operating system was almost ready but it lacked one major component --Kernal. Stallman went for a multiserver microkernal called Hurd. However after so many years even today the Hurd is not ready for commercial deployment. A young university student named Linus Trovalds started a project to build a kernal for for the GNU OS. It was a hobby for him , just a part of his learning. By 1992 Linus successfully build a Monolithic Kernal( with the help of other programmers who co-ordinated over the internet)for the GNU OS .   

    Now Andrew Tannenbaum the renowned OS researcher and professor, who has written books that every computer science student has read at least once, made this post in comp.os.minix the title of post was "Linux is obsolete" . Tannenbaum argued that making a monolithic kernel in 1992 was taking a giant step backwards towards the 1970s. He also argued that the kernel was too strongly connected to the x86 processors which will be history in some time and that in some time the x86 line of processors would be superseded by other processors.


   As it turned out we now know that Tannenbaum was  totally wrong. Even today we use the Kernal designed by Linus Trovalds, of course many others wrote code for it. To this day most computers and servers run on x86 processors of course with time we have moved to the 64 bit version of the x86 processors , however most mobile phones , smart phones and tablets run on RISC processors of ARM.

    Parallela a startup has designed a low cost powerful computer with multicore processors that uses this ARM processors . But even in that computer the default operating system is GNU/LINUX the same kernal whose development was started by Linus. FSF was lucky that Linus Trovalds embarked on this project which was not a serious project to begin with. Just a pastime a rookie taking a shot at the game of big guys and turning himself into a big guy of the computing world.

    Had it not been for Linus the GNU OS might have still been in development even today and worse still the entire Free Software Foundation would have been nonexistent because they won't have had a Free Operating System for which the could have written application programmes.

For every geek, engineering student and IT professional reading this debate is a must the link is given here . Also read what Tannenbaum has to say about his Amoeba Operating System  .

We get to learn so much from this debate that the best in the field maybe wrong , grossly wrong. Who was Linus in front of Tannenbaum in 1992-- Tannenbaum at that time was a professor and operating system researcher who had developed the MINIX OS and was minting money from every copy that was licensed. Who was Linus-- A geeky university student in Finland just 22 years of age. Linus released the source code under GNU GPL making the source code avialable and giving freedom to users to modify and distribute the software.

    Its only much later in 2000 that MINIX was release under BSD licence but by the LINUX had surpassed its capabilites.

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