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Communications of the ACM

Kode Vicious

Stone Knives and Bear Skins

primitive stone weapons, illustration

Credit: Hein Nouwens

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Dear KV,

I recently developed an unhealthy interest in learning how operating systems and systems software work because I had reached the end of an application debugging session that seemed to point to a bug not in the application but in the code it was calling, which resided in the operating system. Luckily, the OS I am working with is open source, so I hoped to be able to continue debugging my problem, as I was told many years ago as an undergraduate that an operating system is just another program, albeit one with special powers. When I attempted to debug the problem, I found that, unlike the tools I am used to in application development, the ones used to debug an OS are primitive at best. In comparison to my IDE and its tooling, the tools I had on hand to continue debugging had more in common with stone knives and bear skins than with modern software. Since I know from your bio that you work on operating systems, I thought I would write and ask: "Is that all there is?" Or perhaps the people who write operating systems are simply so much better at software they do not feel they lack good tools for their work. I feel like the cobbler's child who has no shoes.


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