Hurd mentality

It’s been more than 25 years in the making and yet most people have never heard of it. Now the Free Software Foundation’s Hurd operating system may finally get to show what it has to offer.

A little history: decades ago Richard Stallman began work on a completely free (as in freedom) Unix-like operating system. Frustrated by the increasingly proprietary software world around him, Stallman set about to rewrite the tools and applications that made up a typical Unix operating system.

To his credit he worked tirelessly over the years and developed a huge amount of software. The only problem was that he didn’t have a kernel, the bit that runs at the heart of an operating system and coordinates all the tools and applications.

Stallman had started developing a kernel for his operating system which he called Hurd, but it was never quite finished.

Fortunately, completely independently of Stallman, Linus Torvalds had developed the Linux kernel while at Helsinki university. Torvalds had the kernel and Stallman many of the applications, which made for a natural relationship. The result was Linux (or GNU/Linux as Stallman prefers calling it).

Motivated by his passion for real free software, Stallman never gave up on his dream of finishing Hurd and creating his entirely free operating system and continued to work on it. Now it looks likely that he may yet achieve that.

In a posting on the GNU Hurd website earlier this month, the Hurd development team said that it has made significant progress on the operating system. So much so that it said that there was “a real plan to release a Hurd variant of Debian with their next major release, Wheezy”.

Debian is a community developed version of Linux that is most closely aligned with Stallman’s ideals as it rejects software that is not completely free.

Debian is also notorious for only issuing new releases when everyone is satisfied. Which usually means new releases are often delayed well beyond their expected date. Nevertheless, Debian’s Wheezy release is expected in late 2012 or 2013 and is likely to include a Hurd version.

GNU Hurd Screenshot
GNU Hurd Screenshot

That doesn’t mean users can’t already try out a test version of Hurd to see what progress has been made. GNU Hurd’s Samuel Thibault has produced a Debian GNU Hurd CD set which includes a graphical installer. That image can be downloaded for testing now. There is also a prepared virtual image which can be used for basic testing.

Alternatively the Debian project has set up a dedicated section on its site to deal with Debian/Hurd issues. There are instructions on that page to help users install Debian Hurd for the first time.

Hurd is unlikely to replace Linux, or any other OS, in the near future, but after 25 years of development it is certainly a step forward, no matter how small.

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Hurd mentality