Sunday, December 24, 2006

Search from Firefox address bar

I've been using Google toolbar for Firefox for a long time. There is a Firefox feature which can make the use of the toolbar reduntant by doing Google search from Firefox address bar. For a single word search, Firefox takes us to the homepage of the first search result found. It is like the "I'm feeling lucky" feature of Google search. Just like the infamous "failure" or "miserable failure" and "I'm feeling lucky" combination does. But if we enter more than one word string in the Firefox address bar, it is like normal Google search, and makes installing Google toolbar unnecessary.
A cool feature of Firefox which many are not aware of.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The toilet

1- Say, there is a common toilet with many doors.
2- A person can enter from only one of these doors at any time i.e. the door to enter is fixed for him.
3- A door can be used for entry into the toilet by many persons i.e. it is a common entrance for some persons.
4- Only one person can use the toilet at a time.
5- There is a toilet supervisor whose job is to see that persons behave properly.
6- The supervisor gives each of the persons who use that toilet a number so he can recognize them when they come to use the toilet.
7-The higher the number the higher the chance of the person getting to use the toilet.
8- If a person is using the toilet and another person comes up whose number is bigger, the supervisor kicks the first person out and lets the second person to use the toilet. The kicked one get to use the toilet once the bigger number person is finished. The same fate awaits the second person if another person with even bigger number comes. In this case however, the first kicked person has to wait even longer. If the small number person is one unlucky guy he will find all persons coming with numbers bigger than his and he never gets to use the toilet or may have to wait for too long.
9- Seeing the plight of persons with small numbers the supervisor decides to help them out. He now puts a lock on each door. A person with small number now has option to lock as many doors from inside as he wants.
10- A door is open unless someone is using the toilet and has locked it from inside.
11- Any person can enter if his door is not locked and no higher number person is using the toilet. If a smaller number person is using the toilet when higher number comes and the door is not locked, the supervisor kicks the smaller person out and the higher number person uses it. The smaller person can reenter once the higher number person is done.
Now the supervisor is happy. The person who got small numbers can happily use the toilet if they lock the doors. But the person using the toilet often don't lock all the doors, so they still get kicked out by higher number person whose door they didn't lock.
This also cause another problem. Now sometimes the higher number person can't use the toilet because his door is locked by smaller number person who got kicked up by another person with a number somewhat in the middle of the other two. The highest number person should be using the toilet but the door is locked so he can't. Instead the middle person is using it. The supervisor didn't like it but he can't do anything with present rules so he does something else to help out the highest number person in such cases.
12- Now when a smaller number person goes in the toilet and locks a door, and a higher number person comes to that door, the supervisor exchanges the numbers of the two persons for the time while the small number person is using the toilet.
13- Once the person using the toilet is done, the two get their numbers back. The smaller person opens the door and comes out. And the higher number person enters the toilet.
14- If a person with a number somewhere in the middle comes before the (original) small number person finishes, he sees that a bigger number person is using the toilet since smaller and higher guys have exchanged their numbers. After the guys is done, the real higher number guy gets his number back and enters the toilet. So the middle guy has to wait for both the other two persons and gets a chance to use the toilet after them.

Now substitute the toilet with processor, supervisor with scheduler, persons with processes, and numbers with priorities. 1- to 8- describe the priority based scheduling with preemption. 8- is known as process starving. 9, 10, and 11- constitute what is known as priority inversion.
12, 13, and 14- are examples of priority inheritance.

The analogy isn't perfect though, and there might be some loopholes.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Outstanding OpenSolaris questions by James McGovern

James left a comment to one of my earlier posts and suggested I answer some of the outstanding questions he posted on his blog sometimes back. Though I am not an authority on this, I will try to answer some of them as per my understanding. I was thinking of replying in comments section but it became too long, so here is a reply to James comment.

Hi James,
Unfortunately I have little information related to SPARC chips. It's an open architecture and anyone can see the specification and is free to implement.
I don't think Sun produces SPARC chips for appliances as they are a server-focussed company.
Maybe Fujitsu does it. I have heard of SPARC chips in some cameras, but you'd have to google search to find out more.
Regarding OpenSolaris, I believe community is much more capable to answer those queries. e.g. I searched Xen community list there and it seems they have some working Xen code for OpenSolaris. Of course, Xen itself is not yet complete, so Xen for OpenSolaris would take time. Looking at the activity there, it seems Xen is the future of OpenSolaris virtualization.
Headless/Diskless clients under Solaris have been supported for quite sometime.
About legal implications of running OpenSolaris, I know none that exist. You are free to distribute your product with an OpenSolaris distribution as long as the existing files you have used from the community and modified are open sourced under CDDL. If you've added any new files, you are free to choose whatever license you want for your files if that license permits it. CDDL is less viral in this regard.
That's my understanding. I'd suggest to throw these questions to OpenSolaris list. They'd sure give you detailed and authentic reply.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Virtualization is where the action is !

Virtualization is the buzzword in the world of Operating Systems these days. Recently KVM - Kernel based Virtual Machine capability was introduced into Linux. When completed, it would make it possible to run Windows ( maybe other OS too) as a guest OS on top of Linux in the newer Intel and AMD processors that have support for virtualization.
KVM is virtualization specific to Linux. Other virtualization technologies also exist some of which like VMware are very advanced and allow many more OS's as hosts and guests.
Another virtualization technology under development is Xen which will be a real competitor of VMware as it will have support for many OS's just like VMware and can be used with older processors as well. Xen is an open source project unlike VMware which is proprietary.
Then there's hardware virtualization which allows one set of hardware to run many OS's. UltraSparc T1 aka Niagara is supposed to get Logical Domain ( LDom ) support in the near future which will allow one Niagara processor to run many different versions of Solaris OS simulaneously.
IBM and Sun have had hardware virtualization in their big iron for a long time but now even smaller machines can have it. Solaris for example allows a form of virtualization with Zones where a machine with Solaris 10 or some OpenSolaris distro can run dozens of virtualized instances of the the OS. Each Zone is a secure virtual OS instance on which applications can run which can be compromised without compromising other zones in the same system.
With all these different virtualization techniques in Unix, Linux, Mac OS X and even in Windows, user today is the king! What was unthinkable a few years back is now possible thanks to all the advances in technology, be it open or proprietary.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Sun to release iPod like player !

Heard a rumour that Sun has finished working on a killer mp3 player. It'll be on offer for a free 60 day trial once the tussle between engineers and marketing is resolved. Engineers are opposing marketing people's move to name it Sun Java Secure Media Pocket Player, but they're willing to accept if the name is shortened to SJSMPP as long as no one knows what it stands for after its release.

Well, that was a joke by my insider-friend. Wondering if such a player if ever released would be able to run on minimized version of Solaris.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

GNU/Solaris ?

Sometimes back, The Register had an article titled "Is 'GNU/Solaris' emerging from Microsoft-Novell deal?"
But GNU/Solaris is already there, even with OpenSolaris under CDDL which is not GPL but another open source license. Maybe the reporter didn't do the homework right! Or perhaps he meant something else when he said GNU/Solaris.

ZFS in Mac OS X ?

Seems it wasn't just a rumour. ZFS is going to be in the upcoming MacOS X! Very cool to know ZFS is being ported to other OSs. It is already being ported to FreeBSD, along with DTrace. Porting ZFS to other OS is good for them as well as Solaris and Operating systems in general. It gives more visibility to such great technologies and innovation that they rightly deserve. It also gets other OS users to experience and use such powerful stuff. That would definitely attract more users to Solaris also, mainly those who still have to know how different Solaris 10 and OpenSolaris are to prior releases, and their capabilities.
The story and screenshot of ZFS in OS X was first broken here:

Some blogs discussing it are at:

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Linus Torvalds on GPL kernel modules

It's no news that Linus is a very good software programmer. There are other aspects of his character that are admirable. On the Linux mailing list today he stressed on why it is not good on the part of developers or open source zealots to force people to use software only the way developers want.
Responding to a suggestion that a time limit be set ( 12 months was suggested) after which kernel won't be allowed to load non- GPL tagged module, he said users should be allowed to use software the way they want. He tries to make the difference between use and distribution clear.
Software developers can only force people to distribute software the way developers want. How they use it should be left to the individuals.
Linus says, "There's a big difference between "copy" and "use". It's exatcly the same issue whether it's music or code. You can't re-distribute other peoples music (becuase it's _their_ copyright), but they shouldn't put limits on how you personally _use_ it (because it's _your_ life)."
He further makes it clear that he hates the idea of forcing on people the GPL way,
"In other words, you guys know my stance. I'll not fight the combined opinion of other kernel developers, but I sure as hell won't be the first to merge this, and I sure as hell won't have _my_ tree be the one that causes this to happen.
So go get it merged in the Ubuntu, (Open)SuSE and RHEL and Fedora trees first. This is not something where we use my tree as a way to get it to other trees. This is something where the push had better come from the other direction.
Because I think it's stupid. So use somebody else than me to push your political agendas, please."
Well said!
List archived at:

Live Upgrade

Solaris OS has a pretty cool technology if we want to upgrade our computer to some later release of the OS. It is called Live Upgrade. It basically works like this:
When you first install Solaris on your computer, you leave some disk space free for the future. It is not a problem since disks are cheap now. Only thing is to remember to set aside some space during first installation. When at some later time a new release of the operating system comes up and you want to install it without having to shut down your system, you can use Live Upgrade. It basically is really Live Upgrade. No downtime while upgrading. Now how many OSs have such cool stuff!
Ok so you are ready to upgrade. You just make a copy of your existing operating system boot image. It's just a command away and the empty disk space has the copy of existing Solaris. Another command and the copy gets upgraded to whatever newer release you have. Once the upgrade is over, simply set the newly upgraded space as the boot option and just one reboot after this you are running the latest bits of the OS. See? The downtime is just one reboot. All the time the system was upgrading you were using the system while the upgrade was going in the background. It just made your system a bit slower, that's all!
Though an individual can afford to waste a couple of hours in upgrading the system by shutting it down, data centers don't have such luxury. That's why they use Live Upgrade. The downtime when they want to use the latest OS is just one reboot time. It has an additional advantage. If for some reason the upgrade fails and you can't reboot into the newly upgraded partition, just revert back to the old working disk partition as your boot OS and it will work fine!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Solaris 10 update 3 released

Solaris 10 update 3 seems to have been released and is available for download. I have Solaris 10 update 2 which I installed mainly to learn the new cool ZFS (which I love, btw...thanks for making filesystem management so easy, guys!).
Time to get a hand on update 3 soon, before heavy traffic hits the download sites. Wonder if it has any new features for an individual user like me. It'll have bug fixes so worth getting it.
Thanks to milek and uadmin for the heads up.

Trends in CPU design

For the past few years, in the processor field, the trend has been slowly shifting from a single high Hz CPU to multicore processors. Intel has Xeon dual core and has managed to paste two such chips to bring out what it calls quad core, AMD still has only Opteron dual-core CPUs and is likely to release native quad-core chip next year. There are other smaller players like Azul claiming to have much more cores in a CPU but the real players are only four of them, the remaining two being IBM and Sun Microsystems. IBM along with partners worked on designing Cell chip but it is a special-purpose processor, not for general computing. Sun surprised everyone last year with its eight-core Niagara processor also known as UltraSparc T1. It not only had eight cores in a single chip, but has the capability to run 4 simultaneous hardware threads in each of them giving an impression to the OS of running on a 32 CPU machine.
Sun is going to follow it with Niagara 2 which will have twice the number of threads in each core, thus a virtual 64 threads in eight cores! While Niagara has one floating point unit (FPU) shared by all 8 cores thus slowing down the floating point performance, Niagara 2 will have an FPU for each core. It'll also run with a higher clock rate. So it will be a complete server-on-a-chip when it comes out next year. Seems to be the most interesting processor at present.

More about Niagara 1 at :

about Niagara 2 :
Official Sun doc

Cell processor info at:
Official IBM link

Monday, December 11, 2006

Microsoft Unix

It sounds funny now, but Microsoft once actually had the most widely installed Unix base. Its version of Unix was called Xenix and it was distributed in the 80's by many vendors. What happened to it since then? Well, Microsoft sold it to SCO and moved on to develop OS/2 with IBM and then Windows NT.

Wikipedia has some interesting tidbits of information for Xenix here.
How it looked like back in the 80's? Here is a screenshot from wikipedia.

System V release 4, the standard for Unix today was formed by merging SunOS, BSD, Xenix, and System V.

Of course, the legacy of Microsoft Xenix is still around. But where to look to see the history of Unix ? All the flavours of Unix are closed source, or are they? Thanks to open sourcing of Solaris, we can now take a look into all the real Unix code and find some gems of Copyrights that silently narrate the history of Unix development.

For example, to see how the development of Unix has passed on from the University of California at Berkeley to AT&T and Microsoft to Sun Microsystems, have a look at this tar code.

Such is the beauty of Unix. Decades older than any other present day OSs and still holding on its own in the modern world. Not only that, it manages to beat others often in their own game and still come out at other times with such innovations that are the envy of the youngsters. Even spawning dozens of clones which are cool in their own way. Ubuntu, anyone?

Me? I'm happy with my good ol' Unix. Solaris, that is. For me.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

MacOS X and Linux expert views , anyone

I must confess I haven't touched Linux for a long time now. The last time I seriously worked on it was RedHat 7.2 Linux which I used to learn MPI during my masters. I know it definitely has progressed a lot in the last few yrs. So, what are the new features added to the kernel or the distributions since then. I can't seem to remember any apart from some filesystems and lots of drivers.
Newer version of MacOS X will have X-Ray technology which is nothing but DTrace with a nice GUI on top.
If you know of some good features that are in Linux now, especially which are as revolutionary as the ones in Solaris ( see my last post) and are not available elsewhere, please leave a comment. I might try a new distro sometime soon.
Xen, I think would be a cool addition, but it is not unique for Linux. It will be very interesting to work with, though.

Best Operating System for geeks?

Most wannabe geeks would say Linux, though it is just a kernel and not an OS. Some would answer Ubuntu or Gentoo depending on which is the 'in thing'. A few people would perhaps say MacOS X is the best. Windows, of course, is not the one geeks want to be associated with.

One more OS is making waves in the academia and business world and with serious geeks for the last yr or so, after it was open sourced. For all the right reasons. That is the grand daddy of all, the most popular Unix - Solaris OS. No other operating system, not even Linux can claim to have as much geeky meat as Solaris. Some of the mouth watering stuff in Solaris 10, especially for geeks include:

Zones - software virtualization feature which has no match in any other OS. I can't remember which technology in any other OS comes even close. BSD jails, perhaps.

ZFS - the ultra modern file system, again with no match. The only thing that comes close is VxFS but ZFS is free with source code in the open.

DTrace - again no match anywhere. The capability to look into each and every place into the kernel and other parts in a running system using DTrace is unparalleled. It has been winning accolades all over. SystemTap for Linux is still not complete and its design makes it unlikely to be able to compete with DTrace in the future.

BrandZ - It gives you the capability to run Linux apps on top of Solaris. For example, you can run a version of Linux like CentOS right inside a Solaris Zone. Say you want to play Quake or use Google Earth which don't have Solaris apps; just create a Zone in Solaris, install your Linux in the zone and play away with the apps which are available in Linux. How more geeky can one get!

Of course, serious business won't play games. For them there are other more serious features like:
Fault Management Architecture (FMA), Service Management Framework(SMF), etc.

Linux is a good Operating System and has the advantage of having more drivers. But in almost everything else, Solaris scores higher. Now that it is open sourced it should get people interested in creating drivers. The community and codebase of Solaris is called OpenSolaris. Looking at the number of posts and projects there, it really looks like a dynamic and vibrant group of geeks.