Visopsys 0.64 review

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Visopsys is an alternative operating system for PC compatible computers

License: GPL (GNU General Public License)
File size: 5184K
Developer: Andy McLaughlin
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Visopsys is an alternative operating system for PC compatible computers. Under development since late 1997, this system is small, fast, and open source. Visopsys features a simple but attractive interface, real preemptive multitasking, and virtual memory.

Though it attempts to be compatible in a number of ways, Visopsys is not a clone of any other operating system. You can demo the distribution from a "live" CD or floppy disk.

Visopsys (VISual OPerating SYStem) is an alternative operating system for PC-compatible computers which is written "from scratch" and continually in development. The source code is available under the terms of the GNU General Public License. The libraries and header files are licensed under the terms of the GNU Lesser General Public License.

The overall goal of Visopsys is always to cherry-pick the best ideas from other OSes, preferably contribute a few new ideas, and hopefully avoid (re-) introducing some of the more annoying elements.

However many ideas Visopsys borrows from other operating environments, it is not a Windows or UNIX lookalike, nor a clone of any other system. On the other hand, much of what you see in Visopsys will be familiar. There are a number of command line programs that are superficially UNIX- or DOS-like, so you shouldn't have too much trouble finding your way around. It is compatible with existing filesystems, file formats, protocols, and encryption algorithms (among other things).

The bulk of Visopsys is a fully multitasking, 100% protected mode, virtual-memory, massively-monolithic-style kernel. Added to this is a bare-bones C library and a minimal suite of applications — together comprising a small but reasonably functional operating system which can operate natively in either graphical or text modes. It's been in continuous development for a number of years, though realistically the target audience remains limited to operating system enthusiasts, students, and assorted other sensation seekers. The ISO and floppy images available from the download page can install the system, or operate in 'live demo' mode.

Other operating systems can do more than Visopsys; it doesn't include many applications. Needless to say, it's not as good as Linux or even SkyOS or Syllable. On the other hand, it's still a one-person project.

From the perspective of a user — the "but what the heck is it good for?" perspective — its primary selling point is a reasonably functional partition management program (the 'Disk Manager') in the vein of Symantec's Partition Magic. It can create, delete, and move partitions, and modify their attributes. It can also copy hard disks, and has a simple and friendly graphical interface, but can fit on a bootable floppy disk (or CD-ROM, if you're feeling naughty).

The Disk Manager does most of what you'd expect from your basic 'fdisk' tool, whilst maintaining safety through MBR backups and 'undo' functionality. The slightly more sophisticated features, such as copying disks and moving partitions, are the beginnings of a project to create a free alternative to certain proprietary tools such as Partition Magic, Drive Image, and Norton Ghost; the same user-friendly GUI environment, yet still small enough to fit on a boot floppy. What it currently lacks are easily accessible ways to error-check and resize filesystems.

A few other simple user applications are provided. These include a 'Program Manager'; a basic 'User Manager' for administering user accounts and passwords; a 'Keyboard Mapping' program which provides a choice between (currently) UK and US English keyboard layouts; a 'Display Properties' program for setting graphical boot, screen resolution, colours, background, etc.; and a 'Configuration Editor' for modifying the system's configuration files (since there isn't any kind of native text editor, yet!). Additionally there are programs for installing Visopsys, viewing images, and making screen shots, as well as a simple command line shell and associated programs for viewing memory usage, managing processes, and plenty of other simple tasks.

Hardware support is generally limited to devices that conform to popular hardware interface standards, such as VESA, PS2, ATA/ATAPI (IDE), plus all of the standard PC chipset components. Graphics are provided through the (non-performant, but reasonably standard) VESA linear framebuffer interface. At present there aren't any vendor-specific video drivers provided, though this is not so much a design choice as it is the result of limited manpower and time. Memory requirements are small: approximately 5 MB in text mode, and generally less than 20MB in graphics mode depending on screen resolution, etc.

Visopsys supports all variations of FAT filesystem (12, 16, 32/VFAT) as well as read-only EXT2/3 and ISOFS. Upcoming features include support for SCSI, serial mice, resizing filesystems, writable EXT2, and dynamic linking. Ports of the Newlib C library, GNU Binutils and GCC are underway and will be available as add-ons.

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