Oberon (operating system)
Tiled window arrangement of Oberon
|Company / developer||Niklaus Wirth and Jürg Gutknecht|
|Source model||Free and open source software|
|Initial release||1987 |
|Supported platforms||NS32032, several others|
|Default user interface||Text user interface|
|License||ETH Oberon License|
The Oberon System is a modular single user single process multitasking operating system developed in the late 1980s at ETH Zürich using the Oberon programming language. It has an unconventional visual text-based user interface (TUI, see also below in Section 2 User Interface) for activating commands, which was very innovative at that time.
The Oberon operating system was originally developed as part of the NS32032-based Ceres workstation project. It is written almost entirely in the Oberon programming language . The basic system was designed and implemented by Niklaus Wirth and Jürg Gutknecht and is fully documented in their book "Project Oberon" and Martin Reiser's book "The Oberon System". It was later extended and ported to other hardware     by a team at ETH-Zürich and there was recognition in popular magazines     . Wirth and Gutknecht (although being active ICT professors) referred to themselves as 'part-time programmers' in the book 'Project Oberon'.
According to Josef Templ, a former member of the developer group at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich and later member of the "Institut für Systemsoftware" of Johannes Kepler University of Linz, where one version was maintained, the genealogy of the different versions of the Oberon System was the following:
|1985||Start of the Oberon project|
|1987||V1||Internal use at ETHZ. Only simple text editing facilities.|
|1991||V2||Extensible text model and a special editor called Write supporting these extensions.|
|1991||System 3||Extensions to the kernel supporting persistent objects and object-libraries supporting object embedding and object linking. Gadgets, text-editor: Script, and graphics-editor: Illustrate|
|1992||Publication of the Oberon Trilogy: "Project Oberon", "The Oberon System".", and "Programming in Oberon" |
|1992||V4||Functionality of Write integrated into standard text editor.|
|1993||Rel. 1.5||Generic document model|
|1994||V4||Hanspeter Mössenböck's appointment at JKU (Linz), development of V4 moved to Linz.|
|1995||Rel. 2.0||Extension of the document space to the whole internet. Improved bitmap-editor: Rembrandt. Online tutorials.|
|2000||ETH-Oberon||System-3 renamed to ETH-Oberon|
|2002||AOS - A2||Active Oberon System (later renamed to A2)|
Oberon has a text user interface (TUI), which has to be differentiated from the terminal user interface. It combines the point-and-click convenience of a graphical user interface (GUI) with the linguistic strength of a command line interface (CLI) and is closely tied to the naming conventions of the Oberon language. Any text appearing (almost) anywhere on the screen can be edited and can therefore be used as command input. Commands are activated by a middle-mouse click on a text fragment of the form Module.Command (optionally followed by parameters). A command is defined by a procedure, which has an empty argument list. Parameters to the command have to be defined before executing the middle click. There are no checks or any questions asked during command execution. This is sometimes called a "non-modal" user interface (UI). Nothing like a command prompt is required. Although radically different from a command line, the TUI is very efficient and powerful. A steep ascent in the early learning curve makes it a little bit difficult in the beginning. No questions are asked: this is a deliberate design decision, which needs getting used to. Most editors ask the user when closing a modified text: this is not the case in the Oberon System. The usage of the TUI and programming interface is documented in Martin Reiser's book "The Oberon System". It has yet to appear in more commonplace operating systems; it strongly inspired Rob Pike's Acme system under Plan 9 from Bell Labs. Whether the worksheet interface of the Macintosh Programmer's Workshop influenced Oberon's TUI or vice versa is difficult to decide since the Oberon System was based on Wirth's previous computer design the Lilith, and both the Apple Macintosh and the Lilith were inspired by the Alto.
Versions and availability
The Oberon OS is available for several hardware platforms, generally in no cost versions. It is typically extremely compact. Even with an Oberon compiler, assorted utilities including a web browser, TCP/IP networking, and a GUI, the entire package can be compressed to a single 3.5" floppy disk. Versions which runs on bare hardware are called Native Oberon. There are/were native versions for the Ceres, Intel IA-32, and ARM platforms.
The version called Oberon V4 (see also History) is closer to the original operating system developed by N. Wirth & J. Gutknecht. It was originally developed at ETHZ, but when H.P. Mössenböck went to Institut für Systemsoftware at Johannes-Keppler University in Linz (JKU) the development of V4 moved also. Therefore V4 is sometimes also called Linz-Oberon in contrast to ETH-Oberon. The most recent version of V4 and extensions are available at JKU. Oberon V4 appears to be orphaned, there are almost no changes since 2000. Another repository of V4 is Claudio Nieder's Oberon V4, which also shows difference between the different V4 implementations. Since 2013 this page moved to/is mirrored at SourceForge. V4 is closer to what would now be called an integrated development environment than an operating system of its own. There were many extensions written for V4, which are still available from the ftp server of SSW at JKU; some documentation can be found on their web-pages more is normally included in the packages in Oberon's special rich text format.
The computer science department at ETHZ has in recent years begun exploring active objects and concurrency for operating systems, and has released an early version of a new language Active Object Oberon and a new operating system for it, first called AOS and now called A2 and/or Bluebottle. It is available from ETHZ with most source via the Internet. Versions are currently available for Intel IA-32 single and multi-processor systems and for the StrongARM CPU family.
As a part of an industrial research project the Native Systems Group of ETHZ has developed an application-specific operating system called stailaOS which is based on the latest version Oberon OS. It is targeted towards applications like real-time analytics, high performance trading systems, main memory based ERP etc.
Native Oberon stands for the Oberon System running on bare hardware. PC-Native Oberon is the version of the Oberon operating system which runs on IA-32 (x86-32) PC hardware. It has minimal hardware requirements (133 MHz Pentium, 100MB hard disk, and a VESA 2 graphics card with a resolution of at least 1024x768 pixel, optionally a 3COM Network card). The basic system runs from a single HD-Floppy and additional software can be installed through the network. The full installation includes the Gadgets GUI and is surprisingly functional given its small code-base. It is written completely in the Oberon programming language.
Some confusion is caused by the fact that there exists a version called LNO (an acronym for Linux Native Oberon), which uses Linux as hardware abstraction layer (HAL). Its goal was to be as compatible as possible to PC-Native Oberon. The non-native versions of the Oberon System had partially modified interfaces of basic modules.
- ETH Zürich - Oberon page
- Niklaus Wirth & Jürg Gutknecht: (1988) The Oberon System. Report Nr. 88.
- Wirth, Niklaus: The Programming Language Oberon. Software - Practice and Experience, 18:7, 671-690, Jul. 1988
- M. Reiser and N. Wirth: Programming in Oberon Addison-Wesley/ACM Press (1992) ISBN 0-201-56543-9. Out of print.
- N. Wirth and J. Gutknecht: Project Oberon - The Design of an Operating System and Compiler Addison-Wesley/ACM Press (1992) ISBN 0-201-54428-8. Out of print.
- Reiser, Martin: "The Oberon System - User Guide and Programmer's Manual" - Out-of-print - Addison-Wesley/ACM Press (1991) ISBN 0-201-54422-9
- A. R. Disteli, OBERON for PC on an MS-DOS base, Technical Report #203 der ETH-Zürich, November 1993, Reprint.
- J. Supcik, HP-OBERON, Technical Report #212 of the ETH-Zürich, November 1993, Reprint.
- M. Franz, MacOberon Reference Manual, Technical Report #142 der ETH-Zürich, November 1993, Reprint.
- J. Templ, Design and implementation of SPARC-Oberon. Structured Programming, 12, 197–205 (1991).
- M. Brandis, R. Crelier, M. Franz, J. Templ, The Oberon System Family. Software-Practice and Experience, Vol. 25(12), 1331–1366, December 1995. Also: Technical Report 174 of the ETH-Zürich.
- R. Gerike, Wider den Schnickschnack. Oberon System, Teil 1: Anwendersicht. c't 1994 (2) p. 180, Teil 2: Technische Einblicke. c't 1994 (3), p. 240 (German language).
- H. Marais, Oberon System 3, Dr. Dobb's Journal, October 1994, pages 42-50.
- D. Pountain, Oberon: A Glimpse at the Future, BYTE 18(6), 111ff, May 1993.
- D. Pountain, Modula's Children, Part II: Oberon - BYTE 16(3), 135-142, Mar. 1991. Archive.org
- D. Pountain, The Oberon/F System, BYTE 20(1), Jan. 1995.
- T. Börner, Betriebssysteme: Native Oberon für den PC, CHIP 1999, March, p. 131ff (German language).
- Wirth, Niklaus. Designing a System from Scratch. Structured Programming (1989) Vol. 10, pp. 10-18.
- Szyperski, Clemens A., Write: An extensible text editor for the Oberon system. Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (1991). Report 151.
- Muller, Pieter Johannes, The active object system design and multiprocessor implementation. Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (2002). 
- Franz, Michael (2000). Böszörmény, Lászlo; Gutknecht, Jürg; Pomberger, Gustav, eds. The School Niklaus Wirth - The Art of Simplicity. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers. pp. 41–53. ISBN 1-55860-723-4. CiteSeerX: 10.1.1.90.7173.
- stailaOS(ETHZ) Project Page
- Archives of the old Oberon Website.
- The ETH Oberon Homepage
- Genealogy and History of The Oberon System
- Oberon Community Platform - Wiki & Forum
- BlueBottle/Aos/A2 An evolution of Native Oberon with support for Multiprocessor systems with Active Objects (kind of threads running on separate processors, if available) and a Zooming User Interface
- Native Oberon Home Page
- Native Oberon Hardware Compatibility
- Notes and bug repairs for ETH Native Oberon
- Lukas Mathis' Blog about Oberon A nice trace back to the history of user interfaces and Oberon.