Back to Meeting Notes 2017

Notes from the July 2017 Meeting 

The meeting started with the latest Linux News, provided by Nick Vespo. (Normal service has been resumed).

  • Google is close to releasing its successor to Android, called Fuschia. The code is all new, and not reliant on the Linux kernel. The aim has been to support only mobile phones and tablets, and avoid the extra code that Linux contains to handle the wide variety of devices that it supports. The new kernel has the name Magenta. Google must be employing colour consultants.
  • Firefox has released a version of its browser aimed at supporting iOS and Android only. The name is Firefox Focus. It is available as a free download, and has built-in blockers to protect against advertisements and other unwanted observers.
  • Libreboot is an open-source boot facility that avoids the use of a machine’s BIOS. The video showed a comparison of booting using it and BIOS. Libreboot was much faster for the machine to display the full desktop. It is claimed to be free of backdoors that might allow unwanted programs to gain access to the machine, and to be more reliable than non-free alternatives.

Then there were three short items about in-car infotainment and diagnostic systems.

  • The first was an infotainment system for the Toyota Camry that is open source and based on Linux. The claim was made that the system could also be available for other vehicles shortly.
  • Then a diagnostic system was described. It can be either in-car or under-bonnet.
  • The final item described a CAN-sniffer for vehicles. The Controller Area Network (CAN bus) allows devices and controllers to communicate without a host computer. It was primarily designed for vehicles. The sniffer allows a user to see traffic on the CAN, and to use the information for purposes such as problem diagnosis. The video showed the device in operation and its output captured on a computer screen.

The open forum included a discussion about Raspberry Pi usage. A twin-core machine showed a CPU usage of 140% as reported by the top monitoring program. The question discussed was whether the report meant that the usage was the equivalent of 140% of a single core, and how the usage might be distributed between the cores.

After the social break – a lively one, as usual – the main session of the evening was a presentation by David Hatton on Multics.

The Multics system, a mainframe timesharing system, was created as a joint research project of MIT, General Electric and Bell Laboratories. It was started in 1964/65 and became operational in 1968/69. A transfer to Honeywell happened gradually after that and it became a fully supported product in 1973. Development continued until 1983, and it was wound down during the 1990’s with a final switch-off happening in 2000.

The system was a significant influence on the thinking of the Unix developers. David showed slides contrasting the size and cost of a mainframe system – an IBM 704 with approx 144 KB of memory costing $3.5 million in 1969 – with a typical Unix system at around the same time – a PDP7 with approx 8 Kb of memory costing around $72,000.

Some attributes of the Multics system, common on present day systems but unusual at the time of its creation, were …

  •  Symmetrical multi-processing and input/output
  • Segmented memory pages
  • Shared data
  • Security to meet U.S. government B2 level
  • Stack, re-entrant procedures, inter-language calling
  • Dynamic linking
  • Callable system interfaces

David demonstrated the Multics simulator dps8 running on Linux Mint. The simulator can also run on a Windows machine and even on a Raspberry Pi, which can be purchased for less than $A100. The comment was made that the simulator only runs at about half the speed of the original. Very good in price/performance terms.

The simulator name is derived from the name of the Honeywell computers that ran Multics from 1979. It can be downloaded from  http://ringzero.wikidot.com/r1-0-load-and-go

There are pre-built versions for Linux and Windows. For other operating systems the simulator needs to be compiled from source code.  David started the simulator and showed the execution of a few commands, many of which are similar to the Linux commands to perform the same sort of function.

There is an extensive collection of Multics information in various forms available on the website http://multicians.org

An informative look back into the history of computing that helped those present to better understand one of the major influences on Unix and hence Linux.