Stallman: Disk, I/O issues delay GNU OS

The release of a production version of the free GNU operating system (OS) has been delayed beyond the end of the year, as the current development version of the system does not support large disk partitions and high speed serial I/O (input-output), according to Richard Stallman, president of the Boston-based Free Software Foundation (FSF).

"I would say that when two features that are that essential are still missing, we are not at version 1.0 of the system yet," Stallman told IDG News Service in an interview this week in Bangalore. Stallman was however noncommittal on a new release date.

In an interview in March, Stallman said that the production version of the GNU OS was likely to be ready by the end of this year

Developers working on the current development version of the GNU system, also called the GNU/Hurd to distinguish it from GNU/Linux, have found limitations in the Hurd kernel and the GNU Mach microkernel, according to Stallman.

"There are two problems that have to be solved," Stallman said. "One of them is the lack of high-speed, serial-line handling, and the other is the limit on the size of a file system which is at somewhere between one to two gigabytes, which means that if you get a moderate size disk you have to divide it into smaller partitions, which is a nuisance."

To solve the serial port problem, the GNU project is switching from the GNU Mach to the OSKit Mach, a Mach based on the OSKit for OS development from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah. "That version of Mach is supposed to get high speed serial line support, although it apparently isn't there in it yet," Stallman said. Before the GNU project could switch to the OSKit Mach, it had to rewrite the terminal support in the Hurd to support virtual consoles.

The GNU project has also got developers to work on the problem of the limit on the size of the current Hurd file system.

"There are many other things that we want to do that will make the Hurd better, but resolving this issue (of the limit on the size of the file system) is absolutely essential," added Stallman. "I don't think it was realized how bad it is practically speaking not to be able to use whatever your disk partitioning is. Clearly most people are not going to repartition their disks to be able to try out our Hurd based system."

Currently some users work with a development version of the GNU/Hurd system distributed by the open source Debian Project.

The FSF is also modifying the GNU General Public License (GPL), though the fundamental principles will remain unchanged, according to Stallman.

"We have looked at, for example, adding a clause that explicitly states that you give a patent license when you redistribute the software," Stallman added. FSF also plans to incorporate into the GNU GPL a section covering use of software on a computer network. This new section is likely to be based on a similar section in the Affero GPL adopted by San Francisco-based Affero Inc.

The Affero GPL requires anyone modifying a software program to give immediate access by HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) to the complete source code of the modified software to other users interacting with the software on the network, if the original program had a provision for this kind of access.

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