My Turn

PowerOS. Another cool name for a free operating system, much like OpenOS on the page before. However, PowerOS is in fact a different operating system, and when this issue went to press, Ben Martz, PowerOS creator, had much more available on his web site. Thanks go out to Ben for taking the time for this interview.

My Mac- With all the talk of a new operating system from Apple and/or Be, and with
the new crop of PPCP machines able to run multi-OS’s, where do you see your OS fitting in?

Ben: I would guess that there will still be a large number of people with the current batch of Power Macintoshes, just as people still have 680×0-based machines these
days. I think that the open architecture and public availability of PowerOS and other projects like it will make them attractive to hobbyists and (I would hope) educational institutions.

My Mac- If someone from the PC side came to you asking for a Intel port of PowerOS, would you be willing to do that?

Ben: I couldn’t do it without a great deal of research, but I would be happy to help someone else do it.

My Mac- Will Mac applications run under your OS?

Ben: Not immediately. There has been some talk of writing a library to ease the transition from the Macintosh Toolbox to PowerOS, but that’s purely speculative right now and isn’t an issue until the system has been distributed and tested.

My Mac- What are the key benefits your OS will have over System 7.5.x?

Ben: Speed, reliability and ease of expansion. I believe that by designing the system from scratch, with none of the legacy code that weighs down the Mac OS, significant speed increases can result. I would target reliability with protected memory and preemptive multitasking, two phrases that have been thrown around far too much these days. Protected memory means that if a user program does something horrible, it won’t bring down the entire system, like in the Mac OS. Preemptive multitasking means that even if a user program tries to hog system resources, every program will still get its fair share of time since the system preempts the impolite program.

My Mac- How many people are involved in this now and what has the response been?

Ben: I’ve had offers of help from about 30 or 40 people and I’m actively working with about 5 of them now. I must have gotten about 8,000 hits on the PowerOS web site
the day that its URL got posted to MacInTouch. In the following days, I received between 400 and 500 pieces of email pertaining to PowerOS.

My Mac- Being a “free” OS, how do you feel about users getting into the code and changing things?

Ben: The OS will be free. I don’t believe that the kernel source code will be freely available since it should be possible to add just about any feature you want via the
PowerOS plug-in APIs. I will, however, make the kernel source available to people who have the knowledge to fix serious bugs or make significant improvements.

My Mac- PowerOS will feature a “plug-in” type architecture. What does that mean?

Ben: This means that any major sub-system will be replaceable with your own code. For example, it you don’t like the file system that PowerOS has, you can develop your
own and have it coexist with PowerOS’ or replace it entirely, all without having to touch the kernel source! A big one that a lot of people have expressed interest in is the GUI plug-in API. This will be similar to what Apple originally announced that Copland’s Appearance Manager would have been, allowing you to change the entire look and feel of your system on the fly!

My Mac- You state that PowerOS will support TCP protocols. Will this be part of the OS, or will this, too, be a plug-in?

Ben: I believe that “basic” networking protocols, like the TCP/IP suite, are an essential part of any major operating system, so they will be built in.

My Mac- What’s your programming background? Any schooling, or are you self- taught?

Ben: My programming skills are entirely self-taught (with the help of many friends and helpful people on the Internet). I’ve been using the Mac since the Macintosh 128K came out so many years ago, and have been developing for it since the Macintosh Plus came out.

My Mac- What was it that prompted you to start this?

Ben: I hate the Mac OS (it’s slow and buggy) and I hate Windows. No one else was doing anything, so I thought I’d work on a solution to the problem. Of course, a year later,
MkLinux came out and everyone started using that, but I think that there’s definitely still interest in this system.

My Mac- MkLinux is, indeed, becoming popular. Do you use it?

Ben: I currently have two 1GB drives set up with MkLinux DR2 and the beta of the 2.0.x linux server. I’ve found it very useful to be able to link my system code in ELF format using gcc under MkLinux.

My Mac- Java and ActiveX are all the rave right now. Will Java have a place in PowerOS?

Ben: I’ve had several people suggest that PowerOS needs a built-in Java VM (virtual machine) and I agree that it would be terrific, but I have to put it on the backburner until the core OS is stable. I would like to mention that Java applets would probably be able to run with the help of a Java loader plug-in, just as there will be a loader for ELF binary files and maybe even PEF later.

My Mac- Last question. If you could have five people of your choosing, each with a different skill, working on the OS, what would you want most?

Ben: I would like to have someone who has in-depth knowledge of operating system development for PowerPC-based Macintosh computers. (Any ex-Apple OS developers would be welcomed!) I could use someone who has experience designing quality APIs. I could use someone who has proven experience with scheduling algorithms to implement something better than round-robin scheduling. I could also use someone who has extensive knowledge of implementing modern memory management on a PowerPC 60x processor.

For more on PowerOS, check out their home page at

Tim Robertson (

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