Sunday, October 4, 2009

Microsoft backed Barrelfish OS goes Open Source

If you happen to believe that Microsoft could never open source one of its operating systems, think again.

No it's not Windows (but hey try ReactOS, it's not bad). A Microsoft Research backed operating system called Barrelfish is now available under an open source BSD license.

Barrelfish is a joint collaboration between Microsoft Research and ETH Zurich, which is a science and technology university. The partners have been working on Barrelfish since October of 2007.

The code is now being made available as Barrelfish is going to be talked about at an upcoming conference and the researchers wanted other researchers to be able to see and experience what Barrelfish is all about.
"It is intended as a vehicle for exploring ideas about the structure of operating systems for hardware of the future," the Barrelfish FAQ states. "We anticipate the main challenges for operating systems will be scalability as the number of cores increases, and in dealing with processor and system heterogeneity. We have proposed a radically different way of structuring an operating system to address these challenges."
So just to recap here. Microsoft is using an open source license to help it test out and validate a next generation operating system.

You could see this potentially as a Microsoft validation of the open source model, if you really wanted too.

As a BSD style license and without any clear open/public source code repository, this isn't an open source operating system like Linux or even say FreeBSD. The way I see it, open source here is a means of distribution and a way for people to openly see what the researcher have done and not necessarily as a means of collaboration or contribution.

I could however be wrong.

If for example this code release does inspire contributions or additional efforts outside of Microsoft and ETH Zurich, Barrelfish could well represent a milestone for Microsoft and the open source community. That is however,  a very big if.

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