Roadmap 2016

Norman Feske norman.feske at ...1...
Tue Dec 22 13:28:24 CET 2015


the end of the year 2015 is approaching. So it is time for planning our
activities for the upcoming year. I plan to finalize the roadmap until
mid of January. Hereby, I'd like to kick off the discussion. It goes
without saying that everyone of you is invited to join in!

Before I come to my suggestions for 2016, let me briefly revisit the
outcome of the roadmap for the past year. One year ago, I suggested
three main topics to work on, namely the use of Genode as
general-purpose OS, the advancement of our custom base-hw kernel
platform, and the use of the seL4 kernel. In the discussions following
my posting, many further points were raised, most prominently the need
for through documentation, package management, and a sustainable quality
of the base system in terms of stability and performance. In top of
that, we received quite a few wishes of higher-level functionality such
as a modern web browser or other typical desktop-computing features. Of
course, we were not able to address all those topics but I am overly
happy that we reached the point where a hand full of us (including me)
are using Genode as their day-to-day OS. When I initially switched to
using the Turmvilla scenario [1] at the end of May, the experience was
admittedly a bit painful. But now, just a few months later, the beauty
of the system becomes apparent as all the pieces come so nicely
together. The performance, stability, and device-driver support have
reached a level that leaves people impressed every time I have the
chance to show off my system. Once people become interested, there is
now the book available, which provides a smooth introduction into
Genode. The feedback I receive about the book is overwhelmingly
positive. So we did something right in 2015. :-)

After having passed the point where a few of us are able to use Genode
as day-to-day OS, we should put the emphasis of the upcoming year on
ways to make Genode accessible for a wider community. In a recent
posting [2], I identified two possible ways to do that. The first way
would be publishing a series of step-by-step guides that explain how to
put Genode components together in order to create custom system
scenarios. Those articles could be accompanied by screencasts or
live-system images. Example scenarios could be the Turmvilla scenario,
building a home-computer-like system for kids using the Raspberry Pi
(like the Genode system my kids are using), building a network appliance
like a data diode, tinkering with the USB Armory, etc. Those articles
should be inviting to people who enjoy the building of systems. The
second way would be to showcase a system with practical value to end
users. I am thinking along the lines of a disposable OS like Tails that
allows the user to browse the internet via the Tor network. But that is
just an idea.

In this spirit, I propose the overall focus of 2016 to be: Let us make
Genode accessible to the world outside the inner circle of us enthusiasts.

On a technical level, this motive implicates the following topics:

* The deployment and management of Genode systems, i.e., by bringing
  forward Emery's work on the Nix package manager. This direction also
  reinforces the need to achieve binary compatibility between the
  various base platforms to make the distribution of binary packages,
  reproduceable builds, and continues test-and-integration scalable.

* Supplementing Genode with user-friendly means to configure the
  system (e.g., wireless network, audio, display settings). Right now,
  I use Vim as configuration front end, which is cool, but also
  intimidating to less technical-minded users.

* Accommodation of common desktop use cases like plugging in a USB
  stick to work with the files stored on it. Also disk encryption comes
  into mind.

* Optimization of Genode for the use on a laptop, e.g., addressing
  fan control, power management, suspend/resume, and similar features.

There are also other possible avenues to support the stated goal:

* Identifying ways of how Genode could play a role in related projects
  like Qubes OS. For example, we could promote the use of Genode as a
  tool for building App VMs as Qubes subsystems. Granted, this scenario
  leaves the architectural benefits of Genode with respect to its small
  TCB complexity unused as Qubes still relies on Xen, and Linux as
  Dom0. But Genode would still (possibly) provide value to the Qubes
  project. Maybe, there would be the prospect to replace Dom0 with
  Genode in the longer term? However, to drive this direction of work,
  we would certainly need someone who is actually using Qubes and has
  the natural incentive to work on such an integration.

* Making Genode-based systems easily deployable on Amazon's EC2. Similar
  to the previous point, it would be beneficial to have someone working
  on this topic who is naturally interested in cloud computing.

* Foster the cross-pollination of the seL4 and Genode communities. I
  got enthusiastic responses about my seL4-related work. There is
  definitely a strong interest in this kernel and a growing
  anticipation for formally verified software. Today, seL4 lacks a
  scalable user-level architecture. This would be the perfect place
  where Genode could step in. Genode would ultimately allow the seL4
  community to move beyond static system scenarios.

Assuming that we succeed in drawing the attention of a broader audience
to our project, we should make sure that Genode's API won't undergo
major changes soon after this point. Today, I still see a number of
deficiencies in the current API. In the past year, we successively moved
to a new model of the API (dubbed server API) that promotes the
construction of components as state machines rather than procedural
programs. All recent components are designed in this style to the great
benefit of their robustness. We should finally promote this style
towards the base API and get rid of some mistakes we made in the past,
in particular the reliance on side effects by using the globally visible
Genode::env. I think that we should finalize this API renovation until
the mid of 2016. This will also be right the time for updating the
Genode book.

These are my thoughts about the upcoming year. Now I am curious about
yours! :-)



Dr.-Ing. Norman Feske
Genode Labs ·

Genode Labs GmbH · Amtsgericht Dresden · HRB 28424 · Sitz Dresden
Geschäftsführer: Dr.-Ing. Norman Feske, Christian Helmuth

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