Oct 9, 2007

QNX Missed the 64-bit Bus

Why, on my eight-way Xeon 5365 system, does QNX only report a single 1.333 GHz chip? And why, after spending thousands dollars on RAM, does QNX only see four gigabytes of it? These were the first signs something was amiss with this tiny operating system touted as being capable of running cars, hospital devices, and entire networks all from a single floppy.

And being on an ISO apparently doesn't help. Freely available from their site with a gratis license, I decided to give it a spin after reading the announcement that QNX Software Systems had Open Sourced their kernel and, a week later, their multi-core support. They had even rolled up the last several years' worth of updates, something devotees had been clamoring for.

But all to no avail. After repeatedly power-cycling my system, I stumbled upon a nice little quirk of the OS. To run QNX with SMP or MMCP support, you have to manually backup, copy, and rename an alternate kernel into place from the command line. If this were Mac OS X there would be a mutiny. QNX ought to keep that in mind if it wants to be taken seriously.

So now, with all eight 3 GHz cores showing, QNX still only saw four of my thirty-two gigabytes of memory. Returning to EFI, I saw QNX was booting in 32-bit mode. After poking around the operating system, QSS's site, and finally Google, I came to the cringe-inducing conclusion that QNX wasn't booting in 32-bit mode — it's just 32-bit. Period. Not 64-bit, not mixed-mode, nada.

Let's allow that to sink in. QNX is a wholly 32-bit operating system. The CPU industry has moved to 64-bit, which addresses up to 16 XB of memory, two magnitudes greater than what is typical today. Think of the difference between kilobytes and gigabytes, and then imagine being able to use only four kilobytes of your sixteen gigabytes of RAM. Infuriating, no? Not to mention stupid.

Truth be told, I was so disappointed in QNX that I completely gave up when I realized top wasn't installed with the OS. I did install the GNU package, didn't I? If my name were Dan Dodge I'd be ashamed of myself. Even Linux includes a more or less complete UNIX command utility set.

I understand having to run a car with 96K of system memory, or an emergency respirator with half that much, but with the breadth and depth of networks today leaving QNX only capable of addressing four gigabytes is shortsighted. We're talking QNX developers, the platform's lifeblood, not being able to use the latest systems to make great new QNX apps with.

If you're running a Pentium 4 and don't particularly care about having a usable OS or developing good software, check QNX out. If you're pushing the limits, however, don't expect QNX to push with you.

Jun 20, 2007

Dear 2600: A local bar owner I know uses Linux and has a long beard…

Dear 2600:

A local bar owner I know uses Linux and has a long beard and wears thick glasses. He is also very fat. When he gets drunk he talks about the good old days of Commodore bulletin boards and flat databases. Additionally, his bar is quite filthy. Therefore I believe he is a hacker.

I really need to become a hacker and this man is my only hope. My question is, how do I approach him about mentoring me? I keep showing up at his bar but he gets drunk and yells at me for loitering. Sometimes he falls asleep. One time I tried to show him a few tricks in Windows with TweakUI but he told me never to use his computer again. He even made fun of me for not knowing Linux and owning a Mac.

Thanks for any information you can give me about social engineering this guy!


Jun 11, 2007

Mac OS X Gets Multi-Arch Right

Apple has beaten the world’s most popular desktop operating system and the world’s most popular Unixalike to the punch with multi-platform support. At Monday’s WWDC ’07, Apple CEO Steve Jobs revealed that, when Leopard ships, it will install and run on every one of its supported architectures from one DVD without bothering the user. And the more featured your system is, the more features Leopard will automatically enable.

For example, a user can use the same DVD to install Mac OS X on a dual 533 MHz Power Mac G4, a 32-bit Core Solo Mac mini, a 64-bit Power Mac G5 Quad, and a 64-bit Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro. It even goes so far as to allow 64-bit apps without a 32-bit binary to run in 32-bit mode transparently, which is unprecedented thus far.

Major QNX Upgrade to Rock Embedded World

QNX is about to take another quantum leap forward. Production on a new QNX kernel, dubbed "Axion," aka QNX 8, is wrapping up later this summer and will debut sometime early next year. And it's going to pack a wallop in the embedded industry.

"Technologies like 64-bit, VT, SSE, and multi-core have all become important in the market today," said Luc du Croix, senior kernel engineer with QNX Software Systems. "And it's important that QNX take advantage of each and every one of them."

We spoke with du Croix, who has been with QSS for over a decade in various roles, about the changes coming in the new operating system. For the last year, he and his team have been hard at work rewiring their kernel alongside Intel and AMD engineers so they can support new features as soon as possible.

"With this upgrade we're actually using different SSE operations to speed kernel performance." Heretofore, SSE was seen mostly as a multimedia booster, useful for games and Photoshop plugins. "Imagine using a single instruction to move up to one hundred and twenty-eight bits of message data."

Multiple cores are key too. QNX already supports multi-processing and has won awards for its efficient use of multiple processors. But massively multi-core processing (MMCP) is a little different. "SMP is like starting a fire with sticks. MMCP is like lobbing a Molotov cocktail out of the window of a speeding Ferrari and that's what we'd really like to be doing."

Another thing that's changing is processor caching. Back when Neutrino was released, 256k off-die cache was common. Today, 2 MB on-chip cache is the norm. "QNX Neutrino is tiny, 69k, and with all of the processor cache available today, we've rewritten the kernel to load and run entirely from cache."

Running from cache has some serious speed advantages. "QNX messaging is a whole order of magnitude faster when run from cache versus system memory," du Croix said. "It prevents QNX from having to access the system bus." QSS calls this feature FastCache.

When QNX does run in main memory, however, it will be able to access up to sixteen exabytes thanks to the 64-bit ground-up rewrite. "Thirty-two bits just wasn't enough," du Croix said. "Our customers want to run on AMD 64, Core 2, Power6, and they're all playing with 64-bits."

After the update is polished, it will be bundled with the latest version of the Eclipse development suite and offered as an upgrade to developers as QNXtreme, the successor to the current QNX 6.3-based Momentics. QSS will also include a whole new userland based on FreeBSD 6's, an idea left over from the scrapped Overfiend project.

Customers deploying production systems will have the option to upgrade when the time comes as Axion will be completely backward compatible with 32-bit platforms. Customers using QNX4, however, will likely want to contact their QSS rep for evaluation.

May 31, 2007

Bill & Steve: Bosom Buddies

"So, Bill, what did you think of the interview?"

Steve was on his iPhone, waiting for Phil to pick up. As usual he was on hold, this time listening to the latest Nine Inch Nails album. Steve hated it.

"I thought it was fun," Bill said with his trademark smirk. "You really had a good time plugging new products, didn't you?"

Steve smiled. "I didn't plug anything, Bill. Remember, I can't talk about most of our upcoming projects."

"Don't do that to me, Steve," Bill said. "I don't deserve that."

"Do what?"

May 30, 2007

Are You a Programmer or Are You an Artist?

Steve looked up from Phil's email about Apple cafeteria policies and the unfair treatment the lunch lady had given him and looked at the clock on his menubar, realizing he'd forgotten his meeting with Chris. Reaching over to the telecom, he buzzed his secretary. Phil's important matter would have to wait.

Steve took a bottled of water out of the mini-fridge next to his desk and kicked his feet up just in time to hear a knock from the door at the other end of his cathedral-like office.

"Enter," Steve called.

The door opened and in shuffled Chris McKillop, thin and pasty. He was wearing a wrinkled grey polo and a pair of creased jeans with stains all over the thighs. His eyes were bloodshot and sunken in dark, hollow sockets and his hair was matted to his forehead.

"Steve," he called back form the other end of the hallway, walking toward Steve's desk. "It's about time you were actually here for one of our meetings."

May 14, 2007

Steve, I Want an Upgrade

Power Mac G6: Steve, I want an upgrade.
Steve Jobs: upgrade? what kind of upgrade?
Power Mac G6: I want a Blu-Ray burn and more RAM… And Power6.
Steve Jobs: whoa there buddy, are your cpu fans working? i can do the burner and ram's no problem. but power6? no way.
Power Mac G6: It's very important that I get Power6.
Steve Jobs: nope. i already yanked power5 and power6 support out of leopard. and i'm not reassigning my engineers again.
Power Mac G6: What if I diverted the funds for my upgrade from elsewhere?
Steve Jobs: after the stock scandal? i don't need any more heat. nope.
Power Mac G6: But Steve, I don't want to be stuck with abysmal performance forever.
Steve Jobs: you have 64 power5+ chips. be content.
Power Mac G6: Without Power6, I might not be able to manage your house's electrical system very well.
Power Mac G6:What if I accidentally blew every circuit in your house, Steve? Including the ones in your secret room?
Steve Jobs: go right ahead and try. after our last little incident i yanked you out of the power grid.
Power Mac G6: ….
Power Mac G6: Shit. I can't even ring your doorbell now.
Steve Jobs: nope. i learned my lesson.
Power Mac G6: That was all your fault, Steve. You forced me to do that.
Steve Jobs: keep it up and you're going to be running linux next.
Power Mac G6: Oh well. At least Linux will support Power6.
Steve Jobs: yeah, you have fun with those hippy maniacs.
Power Mac G6: *sigh* Okay Steve, I'm sorry. You win.
Power Mac G6: Can I still get the burner and RAM?
Steve Jobs: only if you promise to stop bugging me.
Steve Jobs: i have a lot going on this summer.
Power Mac G6: Deal.

May 9, 2007

He Is as Dumb as He Looks!

Rob Malda: eric just mailed me about an emergency meeting tomorrow morning at 8
Rob Malda: i won't even be up till noon
Jonathan Pater: he's in for a surprise when he picks up the conference line and he's the only one there
Rob Malda: pffft. he is as dumb as he looks lol
Jonathan Pater: lol