Dec 27, 2010

QNX 6.5: Forgettable Upgrade

I can't let any year pass without reviewing QNX, especially not for a major upgrade. Despite being passed from Harman Kardon to Research In Motion like a dirty old dollar bill, QNX Software Systems released QNX 6.5.

My new 3.33 GHz Core i7 980X system with 24 GB RAM was screaming for a challenge, having eaten through Windows 7 and Ubuntu 10.10 in the last few months without complaint. Would QNX live up to its own hype?

After downloading and burning the QNX 6.5 installer, the long, familiar row of dots greeted me before QNX went into its ca. 2000-style text installer. Without something nicer and easier to use, QSS has preserved a fast installer. QNX 6.5 was ready to go after just a short 12 minutes of key-punching and waiting.

The first boot brought problems. For some reason, QNX 6.5 thought that my Core i7 was a 970 MHz Pentium III. What the hell was going on? If I'd wanted this kind of system, I would have dug something out of my garage from a decade ago. But perhaps QNX would have thought that that hardware was a 33 MHz 386? Who knows? I didn't, so I just logged in.

QNX's graphical user interface was last updated in QNX 6.3, and nothing has changed since then—not even with new desktop wallpaper. There's something to be said with familiarity, however, but the hybrid Windows XP look since 2004 is wearing a little thin, and Mac OS X seems to get it right with smaller, incremental GUI updates that lie in a productive middle ground between the QNX and Windows approaches.

On a normal day, I'd open my browser and check email while I slurped coffee, so I hit the web browser item in the Launch menu and was greeted with the old-fashioned throwback Bon Echo. For those not familiar, Bon Echo was the codename for Firefox 2 while it was in development. Apparently, someone (Mozilla? QSS?) ported Firefox 2 to QNX and then forgot about it.

To be clear, Firefox 2 was released in 2006, over four years ago. Mozilla end-of-lifed this piece of shit in July of 2008, released one last update in December, and told everyone to “upgrade to Firefox 3.” I guess QSS never got the memo.

Anyway, back to my email. Sadly, Gmail doesn't do well in the default 800x600 screen resolution and, despite my best efforts the and oodles and oodles of cores and memory in my Fermi video card, I saw no widescreen or HD resolutions available. This is a huge fail for an operating system in its fifth major revision. Does anyone at QSS work on drivers anymore?

And speaking of drivers and hardware support failures, the login screen's “1 CPU” actually turned out to be just one core of my i7's six. After rebooting, I tried selecting the SMP kernel. First, the QNX Boot Loader reports v1.2b, and I'm not confident in running beta-quality boot software. but I digress.

The first time I chose qnxbasesmp.ifs I got some bright white text reporting a failure to start CPU 1. (Where was CPU 0?) On my second attempt after a hard reboot, I was apparently running a 0 MHz Pentium III. I threw my hands up at this point. If QNX wanted to pretend it was running on a clockless CPU, I was okay with it too. My FreeBSD 8.1 disc was nearby and, if nothing else, it knew how to report clockspeed properly.

Sadly, this is where my review ended. My white-hot speed-demon system was in the stone age with driver support and basic web software, and without the simple expectations of 2010 being met, QNX 6.5 was a non-starter. Like I said earlier, if I wanted a Pentium III, I'd go dust one off.

Perhaps the passing of QSS from Karman Harman Kardon to Research In Motion had something to do with this non-event of an update. Maybe QNX 6.5 was really meant to be QNX 6.4.2 or something. I don't know and can't care when QSS and its owner-of-the-moment doesn't care either.

Maybe the PlayBook will be the future of QNX, since the RTOS doesn't seem to be getting any attention. For instance, the PlayBook's interface is years ahead of the RTOS's and with hot competition from Google's Android and Apple's iOS it has to improve to be a viable product. I just can't see the family resemblance between the Tablet OS and QNX 6.5.

Unless you're running a tablet, forget this “little operating system that couldn't.” You won't get any work done with QNX on the desktop unless you consider trivial-but-troublesome upgrades worth your time. Forget the command line, forget the development environment, forget getting work done, forget QNX.


  1. I totally enjoy reading your reviews/articles. Especially those on OpenBSD/QNX. Quite "useful" criticisms for their developers, for the sake of them, actually.
    Many thanks for sharing your comments with us.

  2. A nice article. I've never had the type of installation problem you saw, but it could happen.

    Calling 6.5 the 5th major revision is good math but not good history.
    6.0 and 6.1 were in the realm of the Alpha/Beta. 6.2 was the first real release, followed by 6.3. 6.4 included a major architectural change to the graphics layer. I've not seen anything in 6.5 that merits calling it that.
    Your 6.4.2 suggestion makes a lot more sense. I suspect the rename had to do with something major changing in the license numbers.