An Operating Systems Vade Mecum
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18-10-2010, 03:38 PM

Raphael A. Finkel

Traditionally, a vade mecum (pronounced ‘‘VAHdee MAYkem’’) is a laboratory manual that guides the student step by step through complex procedures. Operating systems are complex mixtures of policy and mechanism, of algorithm and heuristic, and of theoretical goals and practical experience. This vade mecum tries to unify these diverse points of view and guide the novice step by step through the complexities of the subject. As a text, this book is intended for a first course in operating systems at the undergraduate level. The subject has so many individual parts that its practitioners and teachers often concentrate on subareas and ignore the larger concepts that govern the entire subject. I have tried to rectify that situation in this book by structuring the presentation about the dual ideas of resource management and beautification.

To unify disparate threads of discussion, I have taken the liberty introducing names for recurrent themes and glorifying them with the title ‘‘principles.’’ I hope that this organization and nomenclature will help the reader to understand the subject better and to integrate new ideas into the same framework.

Each technical term that is introduced in the text is printed in boldface the first time it appears. All boldface entries are collected and defined in the glossary. I have striven to use a consistent nomenclature throughout the book. At times this nomenclature is at odds with accepted American practice. For example, I prefer to call computer memory ‘‘store.’’ This name allows me to unify the various levels of the storage hierarchy, including registers, main store, swap space, files on disk, and files on magnetic tape. I also prefer the single word ‘‘transput’’ to the clumsier but more common term ‘‘input/output.’’ Although I found this term jarring at first, I have grown to like it. Each chapter closes with a section on perspective, suggestions for further reading, and exercises. The perspective section steps back from the details of the subject and summarizes the choices that actual operating systems have made and rules of thumb for distinguishing alternatives. It also fits the subject of the chapter into the larger picture. The suggestions for further reading have two purposes. First, they show the reader where more information on the subject discussed in the chapter may be found. Second, they point to research articles related to the subject that describe actual implementations and
areas of current activity. The exercises also serve two purposes. First, they allow the student to test his or her understanding of the subject presented in the text by working exercises directly related to the material. More importantly, they push the student beyond the confines of the material presented to consider new situations and to evaluate new policies. Subjects that are only hinted at in the text are developed more thoroughly in this latter type of exercise.

A course in operating systems is not complete without computer project and implimentations. Unfortunately, such exercises require a substantial investment in software. The most successful project and implimentations for a first course in operating systems involve implementing parts of an operating system. A complete operating system can be presented to the class, with welldefined modules and interfaces, and the class can be assigned the task of replacing modules with ones of their own design. A less ambitious project and implimentation has the students first build a simple scheduler for a simulated machine. After it is completed, it can be enhanced by adding virtual memory, transput, and other features. If the necessary software is not available for these assignments, students can be asked to simulate particular policies or algorithms in isolation from a complete operating system. Several exercises in the book give guidelines for this sort of project and implimentation.

This second edition of the text differs from the first in several ways. Many figures have been added, both to clarify individual points and to unify the treatment of different subjects with similar diagrams. For example, the history of operating system styles is now adorned with consistent pictures. The nuts and bolts of process switching has been moved from Chapter 2 to Chapter 1, and a new section on virtual-machine operating systems has been added. The discussion of page-replacement policies in Chapter 2 has been enhanced with fault-rate graphs drawn from a simulation. Analysis and simulation are described near the end of Chapter 2. Chapter 9 on co-operating processes has been enlarged with a major new section on the communication-kernel approach. The Hysteresis Principle has been introduced. Minor errors and inconsistencies have been fixed throughout the text.

I owe a debt of gratitude to the many people who helped me write this text. The students of Bart Miller’s operating system class all wrote book reviews for an early draft. My parents Asher and Miriam and my brothers Joel and Barry devoted countless hours to a careful reading of the entire text, suggesting clarifications and rewording throughout. My colleagues Bart Miller, Mary Vernon, and Michael Carey read and criticized individual chapters. Michael Scott’s careful reading of Chapter 8 and his keen insight into language issues in general were of great help. I am also grateful to Charles Shub, Felix Wu, Aaron Gordon, Mike Litskow, Ianne H. Koritzinsky, Shlomo Weiss, Bryan Rosenburg, and Hari Madduri for their helpful comments. This book was prepared using the Troff program on a Unix operating system. I would have been lost without it. Finally, I would like to thank my wife, Beth Goldstein, for her support and patience, and my daughter, Penina, for being wonderful.

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