[Oberon] Current Oberon System

Jack Johnson knapjack at gmail.com
Tue Dec 18 03:06:50 CET 2012

On Sat, Dec 15, 2012 at 5:48 AM, Bernhard Treutwein
<Bernhard at wildwein.de> wrote:
> But the active group is much too small ...

Sometimes I see things in other languages and I say, hmm, smells like
Oberon. :) I believe Oberon the language and its ideas will long
outlive Oberon the OS or (Oberon the System), but that saddens me a

I think one ongoing challenge with all niche OSes is that the
surrounding hardware ecosystem changes on a continual basis, so for
new people to become involved in the community they are faced with
either little driver support for their existing hardware or layering
the OS on top of one or more other layers in a way that might not show
off the aspects of the OS that got them interested in the first place.

Unfortunately, I don't think there's a great solution to the problem.
Most mere humans are not adept at implementing hardware drivers, and
some hardware has closed-source drivers and/or poor standards support,
which makes it that much harder or confusing to walk that path. Some
of the virtualization is fine, but can come with either significant
performance overhead, cumbersome interfaces, or driver issues of its
own for the guest OS.

I think there has been some interesting work done with Inferno and the
Dis VM, 9vx and the vx32 VM, Squeak and the Squeak VM, Retro and the
Ngaro VM, as well as some others, to really think critically about the
interfaces between the OS and the VM and ways to get maximum
portability, efficiency, or usability from the VM with minimum ongoing
effort. I especially think it could be interesting to go down this
path and increase support for the OS by porting the Oberon System
(pick your flavor) to someone else's VM and foster collaboration with
others that way. And surely there must be good research out there on
issues surrounding virtualized OS performance that could be used to
significantly facilitate and improve a ground-up implementation.

I also really like the path that Wirth took originally with the Ceres
workstation and I feel Paul Reed is continuing with the FPGA work
where you say heck, current hardware is too messy and expensive, if I
can drive the cost-per-unit down to the floor then the barrier to
entry for novel hardware becomes a relatively easy obstacle to clear.
Raspberry Pi has some closed-source driver issues and maybe some
complexity issues, but I also think that's a potentially fruitful area
of exploration. :)

For me, it's nice to see chatter on this list again. Paul's talk
during the last Oberon Day was very inspiring to me, and I'm just gray
enough to have been philosophically influenced by the Oberon System
even if I lack the ambition to leverage it. I miss the old V2
interface (and still feel that System 3 and the Linz V4 Dialogs
potentially clutter the original flow), but definitely feel the
system(s) could benefit (and have benefited) from ideas in Active
Oberon, Concurrent Oberon before it, potential simplification from
ideas in System 3, and maybe UTF-8 support. And there were other
fantastic ideas left by the wayside -- remember Unistroke integration
and tabs in System 3? SlimBinaries? With a richer support for the
wider ecosystem it might have been easier to hold onto some gems along
the way.

There are a handful of computing ideas that occasionally people
death-spiral around. Alan Kay had this idea that kids could have a
cheap, compelling, portable computer that was easy. Niklaus Wirth had
this idea that a serious workstation shouldn't be that complicated,
and that its OS should be comprehensible. Computing keeps futzing
around the perimeter of these (and other) fantastic ideas and
occasionally dips its toe in, but then people want more or they want
their share of the pie or they extend the simple using the metaphors
and tools that they already know and it gets messy again. And in the
end, easy and simple don't always encourage community. Community comes
together when things are hard.

Not that simple is easy, but Wirth and friends got so much right the
first time it's hard to improve upon.


Somewhere mid-rant, I meant to share that I intermittently leverage
TinyCore Linux with Oberon on top, relatively small and easy. Let the
Linux folks worry about drivers. And hi Paul! Thanks for carrying the
torch. And surely there must be more Oberon diaspora thanks to Michael
Franz at UC Irvine. I need to start asking Google to translate some
Russian Oberon for me....

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