What exactly is computer architecture

FOSDEM: Why not just develop a new computer architecture?

The nice thing about the FOSDEM is often the slightly crazy things that you discover when you happen to wander into a lecture. Since the largest European conference of open source developers this year took place completely digitally, such discoveries were not quite as easy as when you wander around the campus of the Free University of Brussels. But they still exist, the nerdy, crazy lectures - this year too. One example of this was the idea of ‚Äč‚ÄčLiam Proven, a technical writer at the Linux distributor Suse. In his lecture "Starting Over" Proven suggested designing a radically new computer hardware.

Time for something new

It is now over thirty years since the IT market standardized on the PC architecture. Since then, no completely new architecture has been built that has completely broken with backwards compatibility. That happened regularly in the '70s and' 80s and brought a lot of innovation. The PC has largely slowed this development.

Proven wants to change that and therefore proposes a computer architecture that works completely without hard drives or SSDs. A new type of computer with an operating system that works without a file system (similar to that of the iPhone's predecessor Palm) can simply store all data in NVDIMM memory modules that do not lose their content even when the power is switched off.

To do this, all you have to do is partition the memory allocated by the operating system so that only data that changes quickly are in RAM and everything else is written directly to NVDIMMs. The file system would be replaced by a large database (like the Palm). Proven wants to write the operating system and the complete software stack entirely in a single programming language (including runtime and compiler). For this he has Lisp or Smalltalk in mind - maybe also one of the newer Smalltalk successors such as Squeak or Newspeak.

Cheap computers for everyone

The whole thing is not supposed to replace Windows or Linux, they could keep the desktop and cloud market. Proven are small, cheap computers around a hundred euros. Schools could pass this on to their students, who can then use it to learn small talk, for example, and thus manipulate and adjust the operating system and all apps on the device directly, which should encourage experimentation. In addition, Proven wants to provide millions of people with computers who can neither afford a PC nor a smartphone, and may not even have the Internet.

Proven developed a fascinating concept in his lecture. Even if it most likely has little chance of success, the idea did not pass the audience of the digital conference without sympathy points. Sometimes the weirdest ideas are the ones that inspire the most. If anyone's interest is piqued, more information (and hopefully a recording of Proven's talk soon) can be found on the FOSDEM website.


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