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Dennis Ritchie's Plan 9 Version 3 OS released Open Source

By maynard in News
Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 11:19:44 PM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)

Dennis Ritchie, collaborator with Brian Kernighan in the creation of UNIX and the C programming language at Bell Labs back in the early 1970's, has released his next generation operating system Plan 9 to the public under what appears to be a Debian Free Software Guidelines compliant Open Source license similar to the original BSD and MIT public licenses; read the Bell Labs press release and license -- Bruce Perens over at Technocrat.net has already given his preliminary thumbs up to this license!

Plan 9 is arguably the most advanced network distributed operating system ever created. Some of its features include:
  • Complete network transparency of all files across the cluster with all physical devices and system services treated as files in a hierarchical namespace Yes, this means that (with the proper privileges) I can read/write to a remote character or block device since, just like in UNIX, it's represented as a file.
  • Complete application transparency across architectures allowing a user to start an application which runs on a separate system of another architecture without even knowing (or caring) where the application is executing from. This is far beyond just running a remote X client on your X server since the file directory and systems space is universal across a Plan 9 cluster. As far as the user is concerned all computers act together as one system!
  • Plan 9 ships with a Windowing environment called 8½, a print spooler, shells, a C compiler, and most of the standard UNIX utilities.
  • Binaries are available for x86 and base kernel/library source support for Mips, DEC Alpha, and Power PC architectures.
Read the Release Notes for a listing of it's capabilities, and the documentation and papers page for comprehensive documentation on programming, the user interface, implementation, and installation.

This is long waited for in the hacker community. I had the opportunity to meet with Dennis Ritchie last June at the USENIX Technical Conference in Monterey and asked him if he could release Plan 9 under a Free license. He replied that he and his superiors in Bell Labs were in contact with attorneys who were hashing out the possibility of a Open Source release of Plan 9, but he didn't know if or when the lawyers would give the green light to go ahead. This release marks the day Plan 9 will start getting serious recognition for it's advances to computer science in the distributed computing field. This is not some thread over the network MPI cluster library like Beowulf, but represents a completely new mechanism for sharing filespace, physical devices, and a user environment across a cluster of computers.

Plan 9 has been available to the research community for over a decade prior to this release having been originally available from Bell Labs under a somewhat restrictive and expensive proprietary license since the late 1980's (though it always included source). Apparently they have finally woken up and decided that if they want Plan 9 to be taken seriously among the development and user community a Free Software approach is the best way to gain mind share. We should thank Dennis Ritchie for his perseverance with Bell Labs attorneys and executives in getting this software to the public (never mind all that he has done for computer science in general).



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o Release Notes
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Dennis Ritchie's Plan 9 Version 3 OS released Open Source | 26 comments (26 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Normally, I would not vote for a so... (1.00 / 1) (#2)
by Nyarlathotep on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 08:26:32 PM EST

Nyarlathotep voted 1 on this story.

Normally, I would not vote for a software release story, but Plan 9 is pretty cool. I suppose we may never need the HURD.
Campus Crusade for Cthulhu -- it found me!

I've seen window managers (9wm I th... (2.00 / 1) (#5)
by jovlinger on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 08:40:35 PM EST

jovlinger voted 1 on this story.

I've seen window managers (9wm I think) that purport to emulate 8 1/2 - and they're horrendusly ugly. I've never actually played with plan 9, but if people can fall in love with it (and many people have) despite that interface it must be somethin' special. I'm looking forward to seeing how much of 8 1/2 was lost in the translation. Does anyone want to share why they love it so? Johan

It's nice to know that the guys who... (2.00 / 1) (#6)
by Netsnipe on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 09:11:34 PM EST

Netsnipe voted 1 on this story.

It's nice to know that the guys who worked on the original Unix at AT&T are still at churning out great OSes. It's interesting to note that they too are helping propelthe Open Source Software movement as well.

Andrew 'Netsnipe' Lau
Debian GNU/Linux Maintainer & Computer Science, UNSW

This is by far the best written, mo... (2.00 / 1) (#4)
by bgp4 on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 09:37:19 PM EST

bgp4 voted 1 on this story.

This is by far the best written, most informative article I have read on k5.
May all your salads be eaten out of black hats

Dennis Ritchie is better then Jesus... (3.00 / 2) (#8)
by iCEBaLM on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 09:37:22 PM EST

iCEBaLM voted 1 on this story.

Dennis Ritchie is better then Jesus

THIS is a write-up... (2.00 / 1) (#3)
by SgtPepper on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 10:01:39 PM EST

SgtPepper voted 1 on this story.

THIS is a write-up

Wow! This is great news. I almost... (3.50 / 2) (#7)
by Potsy on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 10:04:58 PM EST

Potsy voted 1 on this story.

Wow! This is great news. I almost spit water all over my monitor when I saw this.

The thing that I wonder about is, is the license really open enough to where a project like Debian could make their own distribution of this thing? If so, this would be terrific news indeed. Still, I am in "wait-and-see" mode, because I suspect that there might be some little catch somewhere that would prevent this from taking off.

I would love to see Plan 9 take off like Linux. Then we would have a popular, free operating system that wansn't just another Unix, but a whole new design that went beyond traditional Unix.

Re: Wow! This is great news. I almost... (4.00 / 1) (#9)
by slycer on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 11:36:02 PM EST

As much as I hate to do this.. I'm going to throw a couple of links to That Other Site, which has recently posted this tidbit too..
It looks like the answer to your question is probably "no"

Here and Here

Apparently the person that posted these worked @ Lucent..

[ Parent ]
Re: Wow! This is great news. I almost... (none / 0) (#11)
by rusty on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 11:53:57 PM EST

It kinda looked like that guy was full of it. Maybe the distro doesn't include all the tools you need, but the license is more like BSD than GPL, as far as I can tell.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
Re: Wow! This is great news. I almost... (none / 0) (#12)
by analog on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 11:55:39 PM EST

Well, I'll give those Slashdot posts all the trust I usually do to 'authoritative sources' that give hotmail email addresses.

While his points about the add-on tools (if true) may or may not be material, the license under which the OS itself is being released is very close to a BSD license; it allows modifying, distributing, incorporating into a commercial product, etc. As the base OS and a compiler are both available, I would imagine any tools needed to make it a useful system would begin to show up shortly.

One last (somewhat off-topic) point. On TOS, there is a fairly sizable group of folks whose main form of entertainment is writing troll posts that come as close as possible to sounding real. When good news is posted from a large company, they frequently post 'retractive' statements as former employees, etc, and then chortle over their successes in the 'sid=' threads. Food for thought.

[ Parent ]

Debian Plan 9 release (4.00 / 2) (#10)
by maynard on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 11:53:22 PM EST

The thing that I wonder about is, is the license really open enough to where a project like Debian could make their own distribution of this thing? If so, this would be terrific news indeed. Still, I am in "wait-and-see" mode, because I suspect that there might be some little catch somewhere that would prevent this from taking off.
OK, two points to address, Debian release and licensing:

  • I can't speak for the Debian project, but if they accept the license then they may well decide to release a distribution. They've already committed to a HURD distribution, why not Plan 9? I note that Vita Nuova has already announced they will release a Plan 9 V.3 distribution (a new Inferno release), but it doesn't look like it will be free. I note that according to the licensing terms this is perfectly legitimate. One would assume Debian could do much better on the freedom front, however. :-)

  • According to my untrained eyes (IANABSL (that's I Am Not A Blood Sucking Lawyer) ;) the license looks OK. Here's the only funky part I'm not too sure about:

LUCENT, at its sole discretion, may from time to time publish a revised and/or new version of this Agreement (each such revised or new version shall carry a distinguishing version number) which shall govern all copies of Licensed Software downloaded after the posting of such revised or new version of this Agreement.

Which reads to me like they can change the license at will, but previous versions of the OS and source released under previous versions of the license retain the previous licensing stipulations. Other than that it looks pretty much like a MPL/BSD/MIT license. Cool!

Read The Proxies, a short crime thriller.
[ Parent ]
License versions (2.00 / 1) (#14)
by rusty on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 12:34:31 AM EST

That's totally standard (versioning licenses). I think all the big Free software licenses say something to that effect. It's just a notice that they reserve the right to update the license if someone, say, finds a loophole.

AFAICT, the license looks like a BSD. Which is very cool. :-)

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

License revision (none / 0) (#26)
by kmself on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 05:22:49 PM EST

Good eye. The distinction between the license revision clause of Plan 9 and of the GNU GPL is this:

  • The Plan 9 license version language appears to apply automatically to all revised versions of the covered work postdating the license revision.
  • The GNU GPL states that, for a given work, the work is covered by the current or any later version of the GNU GPL, at your discresion.

The GPL language means that if licensing terms are modified, you can choose to apply the current or a later version of the license to a particular distribution. You cannot take code under a later version and backtrack it to an earlier version of the GNU GPL. However, the reversioning doesn't take place automatically.


Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

good write-up... (1.00 / 1) (#1)
by hattig on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 10:31:26 PM EST

hattig voted 1 on this story.

good write-up

cool beans (3.80 / 4) (#13)
by 31: on Wed Jun 07, 2000 at 11:59:11 PM EST

It sounds like a dang cool system... maybe all those computers in the closet will finally resemble something useful.
on a slightly irreverent note, I want to be able to download it off satelite, just so I can say I've gotten Plan 9 from outer space.

Re: cool beans (1.50 / 2) (#18)
by Dace on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 07:27:45 AM EST

I want to be able to download it off satelite, just so I can say I've gotten Plan 9 from outer space.
"When I was a kid computers were giant walk-in wardrobes served by a priesthood with punch cards."
- Arthur C. Clarke
[ Parent ]
One quibble (3.00 / 1) (#15)
by corbet on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 12:44:00 AM EST

Plan 9 isn't a Ritchie project, so far as I've seen - it's Rob Pike who seems to be behind most of this work.

I tried Plan9 (sort of) (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by Dacta on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 01:39:29 AM EST

Back in '95 or '96 I came into 4 sun 3/50's without keyboards or mice, and only two working monitors.

One of the few operating systes that would run on it them was Plan 9 (NetBSD was the other).

I did some research into it then, and it sounded great. Everything is a file, and so you can do file operations on anything.

I never got it to boot, though. A combination of the lack of a keyboard and trying to run it via NFS off a 486 Linux box with only a 200M hard drive - well, it was fun trying!

If anyone wants to give it another go, I've still got the Suns. You can have them, if you pick them up in Adelaide, Australia!

Has anyone actually used it? (was Re: I tried Plan (3.00 / 1) (#21)
by tommasz on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 11:42:58 AM EST

Given the relatively narrow distribution this has had in the past, how many people have actually used it? This isn't like Linux where so many were able to draw on their past Unix experience since Plan9 is (intentionally) not a Unix clone. I'd be interested in hearing any first-hand reports from real users.

[ Parent ]
Re: Has anyone actually used it? (was Re: I tried (3.00 / 1) (#22)
by sergent on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 12:14:12 PM EST

It doesn't like my VGA. I was needing to get a new one that is not so nasty anyway, and this helped edge me along. (I don't need fancy 3D stuff, so a $50 board is fine...) So wait until Monday or so and I will be running it.

[ Parent ]
Changing the world (3.00 / 1) (#17)
by sergent on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 01:58:08 AM EST

This is gonna change the world. You heard it here first.

But seriously -- this is way cool news. These are some of the smartest guys on the planet... no, seriously. I'm working on installing this right now.

I'm somewhat worried that people are going to look at it and fault it for not being something that regular joe users can get work done with from day to day; that kind of analysis misses the entire point of doing research.

There's some synchronicity in all this for me because I just recently started reading about this stuff. And I just started using wily last week...

Wily! (3.00 / 1) (#23)
by jovlinger on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 01:40:10 PM EST

ugh! How I <em>tried</em> to like wily. It looks so cool!
I tried to get used to chording mouse buttons, switching back and forth between editing and typing... finally, I realised that I could not live without emacs key bindings and language mode support.
The rest of emacs I can take or leave (leaning towards take), but those key bindings are just too deep in my cortex to unlearn.

[ Parent ]
Re: Changing the world (3.00 / 1) (#24)
by Anonymous Hero on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 12:30:54 PM EST

These are some of the smartest guys on the planet... no, seriously. I'm working on installing this right now.

No, they are just better software developers then most. There are not that many new ideas here. They are taking what computer science said are good operating system features and made them practical, i.e. exactly what enginers are supposed to do with any science.

I think it's more a comments on the majority of operating system developers being stupid then it is a comment on these guys being especially smart.

[ Parent ]

FINALLY!!!! (2.00 / 1) (#19)
by Alhazred on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 10:20:11 AM EST

Plan 9 is as far beyond Unix and Linux is beyond DOS.

It might even kill Linux in the long run...
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
Ok, time to switch (1.00 / 1) (#20)
by Neuromancer on Thu Jun 08, 2000 at 10:36:52 AM EST

Well, I'm sold. Now all we need is to recompile all of the gnu software to plan 9, and life is good.

License analysis (5.00 / 1) (#25)
by kmself on Fri Jun 09, 2000 at 02:51:50 PM EST

Following is derived from a write-up I did for some folks who care about this sort of thing. It's a rough first read, use it as a starting point, not gospel.

Lucent has released Plan 9. They've written their own license in the process: http://plan9.bell-labs.com/plan9dist/license.html.

Quick synopsis:

  • License allows for commercial and noncommercial use, though it doesn't define the terms, they're not meaningfully distinguished, making mooting the distinction.
  • Primary grant addresses both copyright and patent, language similar to MozPL and IBM PSL. Trademarks are addressed seperately.
  • This isn't a strict copyleft -- alternative licensing of object code and modifications appears to be allowed.
  • There is an obligation to provide modifications to the original developer, on request. This is a forced disclosure clause similar to the SCSL language.
  • There is an obligation (3.4) of source distribution to third parties who receive the work in non source-code form. Whether or not this is sufficiently strong to be a copyleft, or could be weakened over several generations of derivation as with the Artistic License, is somewhat unclear. It appears that different rights to modifications may be allowed to apply to the original work than from third party modifications, though sources must be distributed. I don't believe this is a copyleft.
  • Termination language is interesting, and contains a "quit if claimed" clause -- the license terminates if any IP actions are initated:

    6.0 Termination
    The licenses and rights granted under this Agreement shall terminate automatically if (i) You fail to comply with all of the terms and conditions herein; or (ii) You initiate or participate in any intellectual property action against Original Contributor and/or another Contributor.
    (ii) reads as a mutual non-agression pact to my eyes. This is a step up from the IBM PSL language, though less broad than the patent trap I'd proposed at the second OpenSales licensing workshop.
  • Disclaimers of warranty and liability -- MEGO boilerplate, though some of the language differs from what's commonly used. The real lawyers should look it over.

I'm developing a theory of licensing I apply to both corporate and non-corporate entities. I loosely (and toungue-in-cheek) call "fear and greed". Classic business sense, no pejorative (and if you'll look up the terms in a search engine, most of the top hits involve busines and/or finance).

Free software licenses reflect an organizations fear and greed motivators. Fear being the things an orgainization is afraid of -- either losing control of or being hit with. Greed being the things an organization is hoping to secure -- benefits, direct or otherwise.

"Fear and greed" analysis of the Lucent License:

Fear motivators: The standard warranty and liability terms. As with most companies, trademark and patent are addressed, as with Netscape, Sun, and IBM. Contribution of modifications appears to be a concern, reflected by the requirement of contributing modifications at request. Unique to this license are limitations as applied to specific Lucida fonts included in the Plan 9 OS, though whether these represent valuable property of Lucent, third-party works which cannot be licensed, or both, I'm not sure.

Greed motivators: For a corporate license, this is fairly friendly to both developers and other companies -- termination patent language could offer fairly broad protections. The only readily apparent rights / obligation asymmetry is in the section 4.0 requirement to provide modified sources and documentation to the original developer on request. This may not be a minor consideration to some potential licensees. I don't see this as a standards-promotion license in the same manner as a BSD or MIT/X license -- proprietized development of the work doesn't appear to be permitted under 3.4.

That's a quick and sleep deprived read. Corrections welcomed.

Karsten M. Self
SCO -- backgrounder on Caldera/SCO vs IBM
Support the EFF!!
There is no K5 cabal.

Dennis Ritchie's Plan 9 Version 3 OS released Open Source | 26 comments (26 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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