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A niche for the Hurd - next step: reality check

From: Arne Babenhauserheide
Subject: A niche for the Hurd - next step: reality check
Date: Tue, 28 Oct 2008 09:03:37 +0100
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I did a writeup of the current results. 

As the Brainstorm Phase is finished, it's time for a Reality Check: 

Checking which of the ideas can already be done easily with the Hurd in its 
current state, which ones are a bit more complex but already possible, which 
ones need a bit of coding (could be accomplished in a few months judging from 
the current speed of development), which ones need a lot of work (or 
fundamental changes) and which ones aren't possible. 

If something is clear, just add one of the following to the points: 

- "easy"
- "complex" or "underdocumented"
- "a few months coding"
- "many changes" or "fundamental changes" (like a new Kernel)
- "unfeasible" or "almost impossible"

Also now's the time for discussion :) 

And please don't refrain from adding additional ideas as they come. 

Besides: This text should soon be available in the wiki (I'm pushing right 

(I like the wiki blog very much: Just write a text, save it, and it's 
available - it needs no linking and no other additional effort, and that's 


"Which niches could there be for the Hurd?"

### Basic Results

The result is a mix of target groups, nice features and options of the Hurd, 
reasons for running a Hurd and areas where the Hurd offers advantages: 

#### Nice features and options the Hurd offers

- Give back power to users: arbitrary mounts, subhurds 
- Nice features: dpkg -iO ftp://foo/bar/*.deb
- Easier access to low-level functions
- Advanced lightweight virtualization
- operating system study purposes as its done with minix
- The possibility to create more efficient and powerful desktop environments
- Having a _complete_ GNU System
- All-in-one out-of-the-box distro running a webserver for crash-proof 

#### Target groups and strong environments

- Tinkerers who like its design.
- multicore-systems

### The keyphrases in more detail or with additional ideas

#### Give back power to users: arbitrary mounts, subhurds

Simpler virtual computing environments - no need to setup XEN, everyone can 
just open up his/her computer for someone else by creating a new user account, 
and the other one can login and easily adapt the system for his/her own needs. 
If most systems just differ by the translators setup on them, people could 
even transfer their whole environment from one computer to another one without 
needing root access or more root interaction than creating a new user account. 
"I want my tools" -> "no problem, just setup your translators". 

Also it would be possible to just open an account for stuff like joining the 
"World Community Grid" allowing for easier sharing of CPU time. 

#### Easier access to low-level functions

One important use is for very technical people, who don't always go with
standard solutions, but rather use new approaches to best solve their
problems, and will often find traditional kernels too limiting.

Another interesting aspect is application development: With the easily
customized/extended system functionality, and the ability to contain
such customizations in subenvironments, I believe that Hurd offers a
good platform for much more efficient development of complex
applications. Application developers can just introduce the desired
mechanisms on a very low level, instead of building around existing
abstractions. The extensible filesystem in particular seems extremely
helpful as a powerful, intuitive and transparent communication
mechanism, which allows creating truly modular applications.

#### Advanced lightweight virtualization

There is also the whole area I called "advanced lightweight
virtualization" (see
), i.e. the ability to create various kinds of interesting
subenvironments. Many use cases are covered by much bigger fish; but the
flexibility we offer here could still be interesting: I think the middle
grounds we cover between directly running applications, and full
isolation through containers or VMs, are quite unique. This could
simplify management of demanding applications for example, by partially
isolating them from other applications and the main system, and thus
reducing incompatibilities. Creating lightweight software appliances
sounds like an interesting option.

#### The possibility to create more efficient and powerful desktop 

While I believe this can be applied to any kind of applications, I'm
personally most interested in more efficient and powerful desktop
environments -- these considerations are in fact what got me seriously
interested in the Hurd.

Even more specifically, I've done most considerations (though by far not
all) on modular web browsing environments. Those interested can read up
some of my thoughts on this:


(Just skip the text mode browsing stuff -- the relevant part is the long
monologue at the end... I really should put these ideas into my blog.)

#### Nice features

Another example of features which would be easily possible with the Hurd: 

* media-player translator: 
        - settrans play /hurd/mediaplayer_play
        - cp song1.ogg song2.ogg play
        - # -> files get buffered and played.

or even: 

* cp ftp://foo/bar/ogg play

that's KDEs fabled network transparency on the shell level. 

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