UNIX, PLAN-9, then Brazil and now Inferno

Update on Bell Labs Network OSes

Ted Kochanski -- Sensors Signals Systems and Media Signals Corporation

In May of 1996, Lucent Technologies announced the Inferno network operating system and Limbo programming language. Inferno's heritage begins in 1967 with Dennis Ritchie's and Ken Thompson's work on time sharing operating systems that led to UNIX. Subsequent improvements to the network performance of UNIX and interconnection-independent communications concepts, by Dennis Ritchie's "gang" (Sean Dorward, Tom Duff, Bob Flandrena, Tom Killian, Jim McKie, Rob Pike, Dave Presotto, Ken Thompson, Howard Trickey and Phil Winterbottom) at Bell Labs' renowned Computing Sciences Research Center (C, C++, Uucp, Yacc, Lex, Make, Awk, Grep, Troff, Datakit, Xunet, etc.,), led to Plan-9 and Brazil. see --- http://plan9.bell-labs.com/plan9/ for more details.

Inferno was derived from Plan-9 to enable interactive cable television set-top-boxes to connect with video-on-demand servers seamlessly and transparently. The "gang" conceived a new multimedia network operating system based on multiple layers of abstraction and christened it Inferno, after the book by Dante Aligheri.

Inferno was announced by Lucent in May 1996, and in September 1996 a beta version was released; with the first commercial version, Release 1.0 following in March 1997. In November 1997, Release 2.0, enhanced Inferno's real-time, multimedia capabilities and also enabled the Dis Virtual machine to process Personal Java Byte Code.

The Inferno Network Operating System (NOS) is designed to be "the information dialtone" for interconnecting hand held and other thin-client devices with remote servers and applications. Inferno uses multiple layers of abstraction: the Dis virtual machine isolates the processor from the application code; the Styx messaging protocol isolates the application from network transmission protocols; a virtual OS provides the application with system services. Inferno supports multi threading, multitasking, security and authentication at the most fundamental levels. It features a compact kernel (less than 1 MB minimum memory required) with graphic and math libraries and the Unicode 16 bit character set. Other key features include the use of computable name spaces, which allow a process to execute in a distributed manner across the network; resources represented as files, to simplify the allocation; dynamic configuration at compile, load or run time and automatic garbage collection (modified market sweep).

Inferno can run on variety of processors as a Native OS (AMD29000, ARM 7000 and StrongArm 110, 1100, Intel X86, MIPS 4000+ , Motorola 68030, SPARC (Ultra, Micro), PowerPC 603, Mitsubishi M32RD (release 3.0), Hitachi SH3, SH4 (release 3.0) Cirrus CL-PS7110 and CLPS7500FE) and also on top of a variety of OS's (RISC Unix, Linux, Win95, Win NT) and can be easily ported to others.

Mike Skarzynski leads The Inferno Network Software Business Unit that is responsible for marketing and support of Inferno. A number of prototype applications of Inferno were exhibited at the Fall 1996 Comdex show in Las Vegas including the OmniBox Interactive Television (http://www.omnibox.com) user interface, developed by Sensors Signals Systems, a "smart telephone with Internet features" and a multiplayer, interactive, gaming-environment developed by Vita Nuova (http://www.vitanuova.com) of York UK. At fall CES, 1997, Phillips introduced the Inferno powered IS-2360 screen-phone with a StrongARM microprocessor. Network Systems Division of Lucent recently announced the Inferno powered Pathstar Access Server (functions as a central office IP switch-router to enable voice and data services over IP networks). Intel and Lucent have introduced a screen phone hardware development platform and driver and software development environments based on the StrongARM microprocessor.

This presentation is based on Dr. Kochanski's experience with using Inferno to network interactive devices, such as retail kiosks to local and remote information servers. For more information, check out the Inferno web site http://www.lucent-inferno.com from which you can down load release 2.0, complete with compiler, API, debugging tools and several sample applications, for several OSes including, Windows, Solaris and Linux. Dennis Ritchie's gang holds forth at http://inferno.lucent.com. As a further bonus, Inferno web sites tend to encourage us to become Renaissance technologists. The key question is, are you Dilbert or Thomas Jefferson -- a little Dante anyone....

"If, reader, you are slow now to believe
what I shall tell, that is no cause for wonder,
for I who saw it hardly can accept it.
Dante Alighieri, Inferno

Ted Kochanski, Ph.D., founded Sensors Signals Systems (http://www.sensorsys.com), in 1992, to consult on systems engineering and cofounded Media Signals Corporation (http://www.mediasignals.com), in 1997 to develop and market networked retail kiosk systems. He received his S.B. degree in physics from M.I.T. in 1974 and the Ph.D. in Plasma Physics and Controlled Thermonuclear Fusion Research in 1981 from the University of Texas at Austin where he continued to work as a research scientist on soft x-ray and magnetic imaging of tokamaks and signal processing. In 1984, he joined the M.I.T. Lincoln Laboratory where he founded and led the VAX Computer Users Group. In 1991, Dr. Kochanski led an experiment to measure Bistatic radar reflections from the ocean surface, with the results published in Oceans 92.

His recent work with both Sensors Signals Systems and Media Signals Corporation, has focused on multimedia systems architecture, video compression and transmission. He's been Chairman of the IEEE Boston Section Consultants' Network and was elected to the IEEE Boston Section Executive Committee in 1997. He was on the steering committee for the 1996 Technical Conference on Telecommunications R&D in Massachusetts where he presented a paper on "Gigascale Integration for Telecommunications Applications". Since 1996, he's been an enthusiastic advocate of Inferno across the far flung reaches of the planet.

Last updated: Mon Jul 6 13:04:08 EDT 1998