Lucent Technologies' Bell Labs Innovations last week made available the third release of Plan 9, an operating system geared toward distributed computing. For the first time, Plan 9, conceived in the late 80s, will be offered without charge or licensing requirement from Bell Labs' Web site.
Plan 9 uses a single protocol to refer to and communicate with diverse resources - processes, programs and data. It provides a uniform way to access computing resources distributed across a network of servers, terminals and other devices. "A user could easily engage a number of different programs running on geographically dispersed computers in a single session - including software and hardware that might be considered practically incompatible - without needing to know or care about the details," Murray Hill, New Jersey-based Bell Labs said in a statement.
Most users of the 1995 release of Plan 9 are at research labs. Rob Pike, a director at Bell Labs, said opening the source code "should encourage more people to experiment with it". Plan 9 is especially well suited for running secure Web servers, he said.
Until now, getting the Plan 9 code hasn't been easy, said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president for systems software research at International Data Corp. "But the impression I've gotten from people who have used it is that, like its predecessor Unix - which also came out of Bell Labs - this is striking new thinking. It's small and powerful and very flexible.
"This is a competitor to Linux and Unix, but what may be a problem is that it doesn't have the commercial development tools, database products, applications, middleware or serverware that the other platforms now have," he added.
Kusnetzky said Plan 9 might find use in "infrastructure applications for global Web-based applications and possibly for high-performance technical computing, but it won't be of much interest to most commercial IT organizations until it becomes more of a complete platform rather than a tool kit. The technology is simply too raw."Making it less raw is the goal of Vita Nuova Holdings in England, which said last week it will provide the first physical distribution of Plan 9 and will provide bug fixes, enhancements and e-mail support for the software.