Small Operating Systems for educational purposes.
October 7, 2004 7:36 AM   Subscribe

Can anyone recommend 'small' operating systems for educational purposes at high school level? [MI]

A friend of mine is the computer department manager in a high school. One of the students brought in a copy of Knoppix on a CD. It is a complete Linux OS that runs from the CD drive. It has given my friend the idea of presenting small OS' to the students in his computer club. What other 'small' OS's that would fit on a floppy or cd are good for this sort of thing? The aim is to educate students to the fact that Windows is not the one true path to computer nirvana.
posted by plep to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
... and it seems like a good way of teaching the students a bit more about how OS's actually work, what's important, and give them the chance to play around with them a bit.

The kind of stuff they do tends to focus much more on the programming side at the moment, so this seems like it might give them a new angle.
posted by plep at 7:45 AM on October 7, 2004

In a similar vein, LNX-BBC is a complete Linux OS that runs from the CD drive -- and fits on one of those cute "business card" size CDs.

There's also the QNX Realtime OS, which has a fabulous demo floppy -- yes, floppy -- of the OS, including web browser. I don't think there's a compiler in there, though.

Plan 9 is good for teaching some newer OS concepts. There are quite a few good ideas in it. You most certainly would be able to do programming with it.

BeOS MAX is a redistribution and modernization of that fantastic operating system. GCC and headers are included, and there are a couple of excellent O'Reilly books out there about coding for it. Lots of interesting applications are available to play with, as well.

Obviously, Minix is a great tool for teaching OS programming concepts, as well as for learning userland programming.
posted by majick at 7:54 AM on October 7, 2004

posted by togdon at 8:34 AM on October 7, 2004

posted by Smart Dalek at 9:45 AM on October 7, 2004

minix, minix, minix. and not only is it tiny and made for teaching OS fundamentals to others, it's modular - instead of one huge kernel (like linux), lots of individual kernels.

(read an interview once where the minix creator stated that the massive, single kernel was the only thing linus torvalds did wrong with linux. have no personal experience with minix but it sounds like a good start.)
posted by caution live frogs at 10:37 AM on October 7, 2004

Also, as tiny operating systems for modern hardware go, FreeDOS is very much worth a look, and software development tools are, obviously, widely available.
posted by majick at 10:38 AM on October 7, 2004

And then there's DR GEM, which is another one of those half-OSes that sits on DOS. There's an SDK on the linked page, but the whole thing is obsolete.
posted by majick at 10:46 AM on October 7, 2004

Yes, minix is a great tool for learning operating systems, but bear in mind that "learning about how operating systems work and why" is a reasonably high-level CS project, and should be preceded with training in programming languages and algorithms, at an absolute minimum. You'll need to know C to do anything interesting with minix.

The standard "first project" for minix is to add support for symlinks.

Fun, yes, but not for beginners.
posted by Caviar at 11:45 AM on October 7, 2004

your point about minix probably applies more to the project in general. if you're going to do this anyway, surely minix is nicer than linux? or, in other words, if minix is too hard, linux is going to put them off computing for life...
posted by andrew cooke at 3:39 PM on October 7, 2004

Plenty of high school age students are perfectly capable of understanding operating systems, some even of writing them. For the ones who aren't, a look at the inside of the system might still be interesting. And it's nice to let people poke around and realize that, hey, there's no magic in there, it's all just code.

Along with Majick's suggestions, I'd see if the high school library could be convinced to carry a copy of the Lions book.

I was lucky enough to be exposed to a lot of stuff that was 'way over my age level as a kid. Most of it went over my head, but a lot didn't. I have smart friends who were carefully kept away from anything that might be "too complicated" for them, and they're still bitter about it, decades later.
posted by hattifattener at 6:17 PM on October 7, 2004

Another vote for nachos here.
posted by Space Coyote at 6:20 PM on October 7, 2004

Thanks for the great suggestions, all. I'll pass them on.
posted by plep at 10:42 PM on October 7, 2004

more info here.

(teach 'em all haskell, i say).
posted by andrew cooke at 6:27 AM on October 8, 2004

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