After a 25 year gestation, Hurd has finally been born. It was a difficult birth and it’s now being kept in an incubator under the care of Debian.
For many years GNU’s always almost ready to be born operating system microkernel, Hurd, has been the butt of many jokes and Facebook memes, so it came as something of a surprise to read in Larry Cafiero’s Friday column that it’s now ready enough for Debian, which is offering a somewhat experimental and unstable release of Debian/GNU Hurd. An earlier attempt at a Hurd based distro, by Arch, seems to have died on the vine back in 2011, although a 2013 posting promises that development is still underway, with no news since.
For those new to FOSS, or who have been too tightly focused on the various flavors of Linux to notice, Hurd is an operating system kernel (more precisely, a microkernel) that was begun in 1990 by the folks at GNU shortly before Linus Torvalds began his grand experiment in ’91 that morphed into Linux. Intended to complete the GNU stack, Hurd is like Linux insofar that its a Unix like kernel, but different in that it has a totally modular construction.
As might be expected, Debian GNU/Hurd is not yet ready for prime time, and probably won’t be for some time to come. The developers at Debian warn that the project “does not provide the performance and stability you would expect from a production system.” According to a FAQ published on the Debian website, at present 79 percent of Debian packages are available to the Hurd project, which is up from just 50 percent in September. This doesn’t mean, however, that all of the packages are ready to run, “as we have obviously not tested all of them.”
There is something of a consensus from many developers that the modular nature of Hurd will will eventually result in added performance and stability over Linux after the bugs are worked out. However, that opinion is far from universal, with some developers expressing the belief that Hurd’s basic design might create more problems than it solves. I’ll leave that to the techno-geeks to work out, as this is entirely above my pay grade (and another reason why we’d like to take on a writer with some technical chops here at FOSS Force if our current fundraising campaign surpasses its goal).
For the time being, it’s obvious that Hurd will remain in the realm of the hobbiest and experimenter, basically the same crowd that adopted Linux in the early ’90s and helped the project get off the ground. Currently there are too few developers working on the project to expect rapid development. However, if Debian and the folks at GNU can get a few bugs ironed out, we just might see the likes of IBM and Red Hat take an interest and contribute development dollars and manpower to the mix. If that happens, the project might advance rapidly. Time will tell.
In the meantime, this is an exciting development for FOSS and one that should be watched closely.
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