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Microsoft, researchers release new operating system project: Barrelfish

Barrelfish attempts to treat a multicore server as if it were a distributed network.

You've likely heard of Microsoft's next-gen operating system projects Midori and Singularity, but earlier this month researchers released a prototype for another OS, code-named Barrelfish. Barrelfish is an OS written specifically for multicore environments. It hopes to improve the performance of boxes with such chips by creating a network bus, if you will, between cores. Today such systems tend to share resources like memory. As demand increases, performance of the box decreases as shared resources don't scale well. Barrelfish instead passes messages between cores on its bus, and reportedly uses a database-like approach to keep track of the hardware available.

The project hasn't exactly been a secret. Researchers have been trotting the globe lecturing on it for about a year. But they were shy about releasing code. On Sept. 15, that changed with the release of the first snapshot of the OS.

Microsoft Research, Cambridge, created Barrelfish in conjunction with ETH Zurich, a technology university. Rumors have swirled that the OS is going to be completely free and open source, as it includes some BSD third-party libraries, which are "covered by various BSD-like open source licenses," the Barrelfish team says. But we'll have to wait and see on that. This early take-a-peek code is being released under a copyright held by ETH Zurich and Microsoft.

According to a blog post by a blogger,Advogato,on Advogato, who attended a lecture by one of those globe-trotting researchers:

"... instead of fully isolating program from device via driver, Barrelfish has a kind of database where lots of low level information about the hardware can be found. The kernel is single threaded and non preemptive. Scheduling is coupled with the message passing, an arrival of the message simply activates the waiting thread. It also uses a little bit of the microkernel concepts, running drivers in protected space, like L4 and in general pushing a lot into application domains."

Here is a diagram of Barrelfish from its creators. Click on it for the full research paper.

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