A Dream of an Ultimate OS

A paper and a talk presented at MacHack'95, The 10th Annual Conference for Leading Edge Developers.

The abstract

This is a dream, and as such, it is made of shreds of reality shuffled and rearranged in sometimes bizarre combinations. It has been brewing on for over ten years, feeding on dissatisfaction with many of the major modern Operating Systems.

Indeed, it is glaringly obvious that the only thing a user does at a terminal is requesting, reading and modifying textual information, arranged mainly into tables or scrollable lists. Nevertheless, the user often has to apply different and completely disparate commands to achieve exactly the same modification, for example, to delete an item (line) from a list as in:

Furthermore, despite the fact that an OS is swarmed with tables:

common database functions like inserting a record into a "table" with hashing a key, retrieving a record/field using a simple/concatenated key, and linking tables, are conspicuously missing among the core kernel services.

This paper is an attempt to imagine what an OS would look like and how it would work if looking for a word foo in something and deleting/closing/stopping this something -- be it a paragraph of text, a network connection, a subscribed newsgroup, a process - would all require roughly the same sequence of mouse clicks/keystrokes, and would be understood and interpreted in the same spirit by the operating system.

It has to be stressed that the paper was written in the Spring of 1995. Several points discussed in the paper -- for example, a database of all configuration information (registry), the desktop as a homepage -- have since become cliche. However, it was only in the Fall of that year that Netscape publicly mentioned the idea of an active desktop. In 1995, Microsoft did not even consider itself an Internet company. Furthermore, the paper was written before a BeBox (which actually used a custom database for a file system) was announced.


The text of the paper off this site [HTML document, 40K]

MacHack brochure

transparencies of the talk [.ps.gz, 16K]
that complements the paper

Kernel of a simple OS in C++