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Syllable: A different open source OS

By Jeff Park on August 23, 2006 (8:00:00 AM)

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Syllable is a new OS built for speed, with low hardware requirements. After trying it out, I was really impressed. Syllable is a great OS with a lot of potential.

I downloaded version 0.6.1 of the GPL-licensed OS, which is the latest stable release. It was easy to burn the ISO file to a CD, but installing it was less simple. You have to manually set up your partitioning, then set up the boot loader. It's not rocket science, but after installing Linux distros with automated installers, I found the Syllable installer left much to be desired. The install isn't overly difficult for anybody with experience partitioning, but it is not for the timid. That said, the online documentation does a good job of explaining everything you need to know.

Once I had Syllable installed, I was floored by how fast it was on my test machine, a 1.8GHz Pentium 4 with 512 MB RAM. Syllable blew away Windows, Linux, and Solaris as far as speed is concerned. From the time the boot loader came up to the time the login prompt appeared was just under eight seconds. It took another two seconds or less from the time I logged in to the time the desktop was ready to go. I think the computer's POST (power-on self test) activities took longer than the OS took to boot. Applications seemed to take about one second to come up (although I think the Web browser took almost two seconds). I've never seen responsiveness like that out of a stock install of any other desktop OS. The only thing even close is my trusty old Palm PDA.

I was also impressed by Syllable's simplicity. I'm a power user and I like to have a billion controls, but I also enjoy a simple, easy-to-understand layout. In the simple and easy category, Syllable excels. It has very few controls, yet it has everything I need to get up and running. It may not be super-configurable, but it is uncluttered and easy to figure out. That simplicity allowed me to have a fully functioning desktop, configured to my taste (as much as possible), in less than 10 minutes from first boot.

Glitches

However, this is still software in development, and it was not without issues. I ran into several little problems while using Syllable. Some were bugs, some were user interface issues, some were program stability issues, and some were lack of program features.

The first problem I ran into was setting up the network. I entered the network settings but they would never save. After trying two or three times, I searched on the Web and found out how to edit the configuration file by hand. Once I saved the file the networking worked perfectly. I made a note of this in Syllable's documentation wiki and was later informed that the bug was fixed in a later build and will not be an issue in the next release. That was the only problem I had setting up the OS.

The UI issues are really minor. Everything I noticed pointed more to the UI not being finished rather than there being any real problems with it. For example, there are some windows that have Cancel and OK buttons (in that order) while others have OK and Cancel buttons in the reverse order. There are also some settings windows that have save buttons and some that don't (where the data is saved when you exit). These aren't really problems, but they are inconsistent and can be a little confusing.

The third issue was with program stability. I had two programs freeze on me -- the date/time utility and the Web browser. Neither of these affected the stability of the OS, which kept right on going as if nothing had happened. Unfortunately, I couldn't figure out how to force quit the applications, so I just minimized them and went on my way. I was not prevented from opening another browser window or from accessing any other program, but I couldn't reboot the OS. Apparently Syllable's shutdown procedure couldn't close the frozen applications, so it just sat there until I manually rebooted. This was a minor inconvenience, as it did not happen often.

The last set of issues I had were the ones that mattered most to me -- the lack of features in some applications. Once again, this is beta software on a beta OS, so expecting perfection is premature. However, the lack of features and limitations of the applications greatly reduces the usefulness of the OS itself.

For example, Web standards support on Abrowse, Syllable's Web browser, only cover basic HTML and CSS. This made Web pages such as My Yahoo! and Gmail unusable. All of the simpler Web pages I tried, such as NewsForge and OSnews, rendered just fine. The email client, Whisper, didn't really work for me. I could check my email, but I kept getting the same messages downloading multiple times. I also wasn't able to figure out how to send any email; Whisper just gave me errors. I'm sure that, with time, these bugs will be fixed, but for now, they reduce Syllable's overall usefulness.

Overall, I was pleased with Syllable's speed and ease of use. Most of its drawbacks come from it not being finished yet. The glitches were minor and the lack of features in its applications come from them not being finished yet. I feel kind of guilty complaining that a browser that's on version 0.4 isn't full-featured enough, but for now, these issues prevent Syllable from being useful as a full-time desktop OS.

Still, I love its speed, simplicity, and security. Think about it -- who's going to write a virus for Syllable? It's stable and fast -- what more could you ask for?

Although it's not about to replace my main OS, Syllable is an amazing accomplishment. To think that a small team of developers created such a fast and useful OS makes you think anything is possible.

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on Syllable: A different open source OS

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What kind of kernel design does Syllable use?

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 24, 2006 02:50 AM
"I'll just bet I'm not the only one that's asking this question. Here's the answer from the Syllable site."
As Syllable is a fork of the AtheOS operating system, the author of AtheOS (Kurt Skauen) said "I often ask myself that question too. The kernel is very modular and it has a well-defined interface between the kernel and its device drivers and file systems. Given that each component communicates through a thin, well-defined interface and each component does not know much about the others, it resembles a micro-kernel. I am not sure if this is the right term though, since all kernel components live in kernel-space and are not protected from each other, and these are all properties of a monolitic kernel. I am a bit confused<nobr> <wbr></nobr>:)"

In reality, it is easiest to think of Syllable as a monolithic kernel with modular device drivers. Only high-level functions such as the appserver use the client/server model.

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Tried it once

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 24, 2006 04:59 AM
I tried it once and it wouldn't accept my USB keyboard and it worked extremely weird with my Logitech MX500 mouse. Well, I figured it probably doesn't have a lot of hardware support seeing as it is quite new and still beta. I hooked up a PS/2 mouse and keyboard, played around with it for a bit. I got it to start freezing and got it to a complete crash in about 10 minutes. I'd say it's still got a LOT of work to do on it, but it might turn out to be something good in the future.

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See Also:

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 24, 2006 05:19 AM
<a href="http://os.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=06/06/06/1929232&tid=150&tid=138&tid=132&tid=16" title="newsforge.com">http://os.newsforge.com/article.pl?sid=06/06/06/1<nobr>9<wbr></nobr> 29232&tid=150&tid=138&tid=132&tid=16</a newsforge.com>

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Re:See Also:

Posted by: Joe Klemmer on August 24, 2006 09:01 AM
Yeah. It's deja vu all over again.

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Help Wanted

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 24, 2006 07:30 AM
The devs of this project are extremely friendly, encouraging, and helpful where possible - if you are even thinking about wanting to help, go for it!

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Re:Help Wanted

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 24, 2006 11:03 AM
"It's stable and fast -- what more could you ask for?"

Applications that run on it? Just a thought<nobr> <wbr></nobr>...

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...login prompt appeared under eight seconds...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 24, 2006 03:11 PM
...because Syllabe _doesn't_ actually DO ALMOST ANYTHING!

It's nice and well designed, but it's not really a workable OS!

Lack of features == speed.

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Re:...login prompt appeared under eight seconds...

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 24, 2006 09:43 PM
I get that on my DamnSmallLinux-based install on a Celeron Coppermine 566MHz, with 32MB of RAM. If a well-tuned linux install (2.4.32 kernel, starting no daemons at startup) can do that on 1/3 the hardware power, Syllable must be doing _something_ under the hood to slow it down. I also get the UI running xtdesk, conky, and openbox-2.3 up in about 3 seconds.

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Not popular != secure

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 25, 2006 12:30 AM
That the system is still unpopular doesn't make it inherently secure. The author of this article doesn't mention the system's design being security-oriented, or even at least security-concious. I think it could be a dangerous comment, but I'd rather think that the author is misinformed about information security.

Even if there are currently no virus targetting this OS, it is rather naïve to think that someone couldn't write one with great ease.

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Good for them

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 25, 2006 12:38 AM
I think it's great that we're seeing new and interesting developments in OS design and competition to the standard Linux systems.

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Re:Good for them

Posted by: Anonymous Coward on August 25, 2006 11:53 AM
Why is this so "new and interesting"?

All they seem to be doing is the tired/tried and true monolithic-kernel-with-modular-drivers thing that all the *nix (BSDs too, not just Linux); perhaps well-engineered and free of legacy decisions and cruft and that sort of thing (which must help a lot in the speed department), but nothing fundamentally new. Unlike odd ducks like Hurd or Coyotos or CapROS.

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