Exploring GNU/Hurd – The lost operating system

Have You Hurd

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The GNU project hasn't given up on the venerable Hurd project, and this long-running GNU Free OS project has recently received a burst of new energy with the release of a new Debian port.

When Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman launched the GNU project in 1983, his goal was to produce a complete operating system that satisfied his vision of Free software. Stallman (and other developers within the GNU community) started by building developer tools, such as the GCC compiler, and moved on to create program libraries, a command shell, text editors, and several end-user applications. By the late 1980s, one important piece was still missing: a suitable kernel.

The project had already survived a failed kernel development project in the mid-1980s, based around the TRIX kernel. In 1987, Stallman suggested a new effort to incorporate a kernel based on the Mach microkernel, which was originally developed at Carnegie Mellon University. This new microkernel system would come to be known as Hurd [1]. (See the box "Why the Spelling? Why the Name?")

The choice of a microkernel system was consistent with the opinions of many experts at the time, who saw benefit in limiting the kernel to essential functions like memory management and scheduling, while delegating other services to surrounding processes operating in user space.

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