Inferno network OS aims to homogenise multiplatform computing

Lucent Technologies has announced that its research arm, Bell Laboratories, has developed a network operating system that it claims will run across almost any type of computer, telephone or device.

Called Inferno and due commercially during the fourth quarter, the operating system aims to fulfill a promise often made to application developers but seldom kept: Write one application and it will run without modification across multiple platforms. These platforms can be as varied as PCs, game machines, set-top boxes, hand-held devices and telephones, company officials say.

Lucent's goal is to pitch Inferno as the one network OS that can run in a consistent manner across such varied platforms, and the company is therefore targeting the traditional computer market as well as entertainment and telecommunications companies as potential customers.

Inferno will run as a stand-alone operating system on computers that use processors from Intel and Silicon Graphics, as well as on processors from Advanced Micro Devices (AMD)'s 29K family. Or Inferno can run as an application under Windows 95, Windows NT, or Unix, says Lucent.

The new operating system would run in as little as 1Mb of memory and present an identical interface to its applications, regardless of what type of device it may be running on, so that the same program can be installed on a number of Inferno platforms.

Applications that run on Inferno are written in Limbo, also developed by Bell Labs, that has roots in C and Pascal, officials say. These applications can be distributed, from inception or dynamically, across client and server platforms.

One application, an interactive shopping catalogue, for example, could run in text mode for users who are accessing it via dial-up modem, show images to users connected by ISDN lines, and offer video clips to digital cable users, officials say.

Inferno and its applications are connected by a networking protocol, named Styx, that is independent of the communications transport layer and can be carried across TCP/IP, PPP, ATM, or modems, they say.

The network operating system is currently in alpha testing. Lucent, formerly a part of AT&T, has created a dedicated business unit to market and sell Inferno. Lucent is currently looking for Inferno licensees among the developer and device driver vendor communities.

More information on Inferno can be found at http://inferno.bell-labs.com/inferno/.

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