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Old 10-10-2004, 09:34 AM   #1
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Conceptually, how about an OS on a ROM?

I started messing about with computers in the days of 8-bits, if any of you remember CP/M. I got fluent in MS_DOS 2 and 3, and the earliest WincurseGatesdows, but then . . .
Then I encountered the magical Atari 520ST, the most logical computer ever built, and became absolutely spoiled by it. If you've never seen one, it was a 16-bit with 24-bit busses for graphics, and when you turned it on, in the two seconds the monitor would take to warm up, there was the operating system, and the GUI all simple and powerful and elegant and fast - faster than anything I've encountered since no matter how powerful the chipset.
The manual was a pamphlet-sized 16 pages, with large type. It told you absolutely everything you wanted to know. There were three graphics modes, which I probably misremember as b&w 640x480, 4-color 640x240, or 16-color 320x240, which seems puny now, but at the time the graphics were sharper and faster that anythin Applish or DOSical.
It was fast loading, fast responding and fast executing commands (there was no command line interface, the windowing system was tightly bound to the chip) because the operating system (TOS) was burned into a ROM (I don't remember if it was EPROM or what, but I kind of think it was before all that - we're talking 1984) so it was astoundingly ruged - in six years of using that machine for every task an IBM could do but better, my machine only crashed when trying to use the provided BASIC. Never ever ever ever ever not even once through hours of use with data bases, BASIC compilers, C compilers, games, random pattern generators, RPGs, never did that machine crash.

So conceptually, why haven't other makers followed that example? I know - at least I believe - that Atari's foray into PCs was unsuccessful because it was closed architecture at a time when open was the only intelligent choice, and other silliness on the part of the suits at Atari; but wouldn't it be possible to have a PC with a very fast memory chip with the OS on it? Of course, in the Linux world the expectation is to recompile regularly, but can't chip-burning equipment be cheaply put on the motherboard now? Wouldn't that make the OS that much faster, and quicker on startup, and more rugged? Or is an OS loaded into RAM from a hard drive unavoidable?

And for those wise in Linux lore and mysticism, remember I'm a novice. Since being spoiled by my ST, I've lost all patience with wrestling with OSes; a computer should be a tool doing my bidding hahahahaha I'm mad with power! and not a whining snivelling nincompoop that requires my endless fiddling to do it's job. So keep those replies in short firm words. Thanks awfully.
And let me once more add:
!!!!!!!!!!!!!I'M ON LINE IN LINUX!!!!!!!!!!!HOOORAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Old 10-10-2004, 11:18 AM   #2
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There are a lot of embedded linux machines out there that start with the OS on a flash chip. They typically either run by loading the entire root file system into memory, or with a JFFS (or better yet, JFFS2) file system which allows you to mount the root file system directly on the flash.

There are issues, and reasons why this isn't used on PC's. One... boot time means nothing to most people. It make more sense to work hard to make sure linux can suspend and wakeup properly then boot fast. If it can do that there is hardly ever a need to reboot in the first place. Two... those types of memory devices (flash, EEPROM, ect.) are very slow to write to. They also have a much shorter life span then your average hard drive, and they cost a lot more for storage space.

Of course, even having the linux kernel on a flash chip wouldn't make it boot any faster really. Most linux machines do a lot on every bootup. Most notably, the init scrips are usually setup to launch your x windows system near the end of the init cycle. It is starting all those programs that takes a while. The only thing you can really do about it is not have the system start programs you don't need/use, and reorder your init scripts so you can get to your preferred login method as soon as possible.
Old 10-10-2004, 10:54 PM   #3
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Ah, I see. Several good points. I suppose I just assumed from the fact that every Windows machine I've ever known had to be shut down and rebooted every few days to stay running, that quicker startup would be desireable; but constantly running a rugged OS does make more sense.
Still, I always thought Atari was an amazing story of being ahead of your time and behind the curve all at once!


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