It took two decades, but BSD -- the operating system that dominated the Unix world during the 1980s and 1990s before being supplanted by the open source Linux kernel -- is now ready for embedded computing. That's according to the RetroBSD project, which has announced success running BSD on modern embedded hardware.
BSD was born in the late 1970s when developers at the University of California, Berkeley began building the system as an add-on to AT&T Unix. Interest in BSD grew after AT&T commercialized its operating system in the early 1980s, making it much more expensive to run Unix. By the late 1980s, BSD had emerged as a complete standalone clone of Unix.
By the early 1990s, lawsuits stunted the development of BSD and some variants designed for PC hardware. Although some BSD-based operating systems survived and remain under active development today -- including FreeBSD, OpenBSD and NetBSD -- Linux became the Unix-like kernel that came to dominate the open source computing world. In the meantime, BSD itself disappeared into the shadows.
Aiming to change that, RetroBSD programmers have been working for the last five years to make the original BSD 2.11 OS run on modern hardware. They have now succeeded in porting the platform to embedded devices with PIC32 hardware. The complete OS can run with as few as 128 kilobytes -- yes, kilobytes -- of RAM memory.
Another OS, LiteBSD, also now runs on similar hardware. LiteBSD is a port of BSD version 4.4 and requires more memory (specifically, 512 kilobytes instead of 128) than RetroBSD.
For Unix history buffs, that news will be exciting on its own. For VARs, it's also interesting because it means additional free, open source operating systems are available for embedded devices. They could prove attractive as IoT takes off, especially because they offer licensing terms that are more liberal in some respects than those of Linux-based platforms.