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River cruiser to ferry MPE exokernel mission

ExokernelAn obscure, elite set of EU computer scientists will tackle the looming challenge of slimming down the 3000's operating system this summer, working aboard a cruise ship plying the waters of Europe's river system. The fledgling coalition of seasoned developers will occupy the Norwegian Avignon Passion II on a route between Budapest and Prague, taking on Eastern Bloc developers at Regensburg, Melk, and Roth along the Danube.

The design team's leadership said they were inspired by the Salesforce Dreamforce cruise liner accommodations at this summer's conference. That 135,000-attendee event will handle some needs for lodging and services from the Celebrity Eclipse. The design team will go the next step and cast off its lines in Central Europe, rather than stay tethered to a pier of prior engineering.

Deck Plans"There's nothing we'll want for while we're afloat," said Jean Noosferd, the group's managing director. "It's just us, three million lines of code, and the passion we have to make MPE as popular as Linux." Microkernels for Linux are lifting the popularity for these slimmed-down instances of an OS.

Working from the concept of an exokernel — MIT designs that are much smaller than a normal kernel such as MPE/iX's current monokernel design, and even smaller than a microkernel — the group will leverage the work of open source teams such as the Polish-based Pjotr Mandate. The object is to reduce the installation and management footprint of PA-RISC-ready operating systems. If successful, the development cruise will dock at Prague and release its team of scientists.

"If not, we sail back to Budapest and rework our designs," Noosferd said. When a new version of MPE emerges from the work, the Passion II will remain afloat to preserve the legality of an adapted and enhanced 3000 OS. The software will be sold and distributed using cloud-based Moonraker servers. HP's restrictions on the MPE source code prohibit new versions to be released in any country. "We'll be sailing between countries," Noosferd said. "International law is in force, and so intellectual property ownership will be preserved."

Operating in close quarters, the set of scientists will be using small teams, the organizational structure that gave the world the initial breakthrough of MPE. "We all believe in mono-tasking," Noosferd said. "Small teams and small projects are beautiful, and working from staterooms aboard the Passion II will squeeze the best from us. It's like the quote from William Morris, 'Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.'  We'll have nothing aboard but bytes and brains." Noosferd said that rumors of powering the developers on a steady diet of Beluga caviar are "as outlandish as running a 3000 from an iPhone."

Like an exokernel, which delivers more direct access to a computer system's hardware, the development cruise will remove most distractions. "Unlike that Dreamforce ship, we won't be released to the sea," Noosferd said. "Like MPE's community, we respect boundaries, such as those riverbanks along our path."

The original MPE was designed to operate in a tiny 64KB memory space. If successful, the entire instance of what being called MPE-ExO could fit on an HP Moonshot micro-server. That low-cost hardware has been promoted as a hosting platform for hyperscaled processor computing. Intel's Atom processors — so-named because of their size — are the workhorses of Moonshot.