Security, Microsoft, WinNT, Java, .NET, etc.

A bit of everything in this post. Yesterday and today I have given lectures on the university about file system and computer security. In the FS lecture I have mentioned NTFS, while in the security lectures I've talked a bit about the Windows NT security model and NT kernel. I have openly said in front of students that as much as I don't like Microsoft, I think that NT kernel and NTFS are well-designed. The NT kernel itself has a VMS heritage, and VMS is known as one of the most secure systems. So what happened to Windows?

Win32 API happened. Not many people know that the Win32 API is just a layer over the NT kernel which is mostly undocumented. Applications call into the Win32 API which in turn then makes a series of calls into the NT kernel. I have read a bit about the NT kernel in the Tannenbaum's operating systems book, a bit on the internet and I have to admit that it has a really good design. You can run UNIX environment on top of it and it runs an OS/2 emulation layer. Microsoft now gives away for free their SFU - Services for Unix - package. High-quality POSIX API implementation, korn shell, utilities, etc. You also have an option to install gcc! OK, there are drawbacks as well - not having proper support for position-independent code as ELF binaries have, but it could be fixed. It's a "feature" of Win32 PECOFF loader (A consequence of this is that DLL must be relocated if it can't be loaded into its load virtual address. Relocation means patching machine instructions, so you lose the advantage of sharing code pages. Suddenly you have a new, very similar, copy of the code which already is in memory.).

Although I'm a UNIX user, I have to admit that I admire the NT kernel, its security model, its object-based design and the NTFS file system. I have been unjust when I said to student that I don't like Microsoft. What I actually don't like is:
  • From the programmer's perspective, the brain-damaged Win32 API.

  • From the user's perspective, the idiotic GUI which makes it next to impossible to perform tasks efficiently.

For these reasons I currently avoid Windows in my professional and hobbys work as much as possible. Currently, it is operating system for lamers, not for scientists and programmers.

It would be fun for me if I could get the raw NT kernel, few basic device drivers, a decent shell and documentation. And then to start exploring its capabilities. To build a novel operating system on top of it. I think that it is general enough to support any kind of application area.

But things are changing in the Win32 world. I'm closely following up what is happening with .NET, and I like what I'm seeing. Look for example at the preview of features for C#3.0. Then there is Monad, their novel shell based on objects. It seems that they are striving to take over the UNIX sysadmin base and I think that they will succeed eventually. Heck, they managed to warm me up.

Now, Java. It is a brain-damaged language and platform. I sincerely hope that MS manages to kill it in the long run. I wonder why they still support running Java applications on their OS, since Java is their direct competitor. My prediction is that Java will run terribly slowly in Longhorn (even more so than now.. they will never refuse to run Java programs and VM, but it will run very slowly compared to .NET. Even now it is slower according to some benchmarks.)

There are other interesting projects from Microsoft Research, in programming languages, operating systems, etc. Check out their web site. Too bad that MS has already created an "evil" perception of themselves so that people are automatically skeptical to good things coming out of MS research.

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