Quoting Smelly Pooh (plop at redbrick.dcu.ie):
> I wouldn't consider something a failed fad just because it hasn't hit the
> mainstream, nor would I consider something a good design because it has.
> For example VB is quite big, but its design is terrible, same with PERL.
> Really ingenius designs such as ML or Haskell are still stuck in
The difference is that microkernels have been a spectacular failure in
large, well-funded, mainstream projects.
IBM Workplace OS was going to be the portable, modular successor to
OS/2, running on top of CMU's Mach. This was one of the doubtful fruits
of the Taligent consortium. OS/2 and Workplace Shell were going to be
one of numerous "personality" layers on top of Mach, with others to
include Solaris, the OS/Open RTOS, sundry Win32 stuff, and even stranger
things. (Unlike MS-Windows NT, this really _was_ a microkernel
To quote one of the designers (who is guilty of understatement, here):
During the first half of the 1990s, IBM developed a set of operating
system products called Workplace OS that was based on the Mach 3.0
microkernel and Taligent's object-oriented TalOS. These products were
intended to be scalable, portable and capable of concurrently running
multiple operating system personalities while sharing as much code as
possible. The operating system personalities were constructed out of a
set of user-level personality and personality-neutral servers and
libraries. While we made a number of important changes to Mach 3.0, we
maintained its fundamentals and the multi-server design throughout our
project. In evaluating the resulting system, a number of problems are
apparent. There is no good way to factor multiple existing systems
into a set of functional servers without making them excessively large
and complex. In addition, the message-passing nature of the
microkernel turns out to be a poor match for the characteristics of
modern processors, causing performance problems. Finally, the use of
fine-grained objects complicated the design and further reduced the
performance of the system. Based on this experience, I believe that
more modest, more targeted operating systems consume fewer resources,
offer better performance and can provide the desired semantics with
About the same time, FSF was, of course, making the same error -- but
with much less manpower and funding. And none of the other microkernel
efforts ever got very far, either, except maybe QNX and (briefly) BeOS.
But the proof's in the pudding: The great, breakthrough
microkernel-based OS may be Just Around the Corner<tm>.
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