Playing with Plan 9

I thought it might be interesting to check out the Plan 9 operating system, since it’s sort of the sequel to UNIX and is supposed to have cool new features (like better support for the “everything is a file” concept of UNIX). Luckily, you can download an ISO file for a live/install CD, so I downloaded it and fired it up in QEMU….

It’s pretty weird. It looks kind of like UNIX and Squeak had a child. The GUI is pretty strange and not very pretty, IMHO. A 3 button mouse is pretty much a necessity as they’ve mapped the buttons to different things. I tried to move a window by dragging the title bar of the window, but that caused it to resize rather than move. It seems that you have to use Button 3 to move windows. This was pretty excruciating, because I was on my PowerBook with a 1 button trackpad. For some reason, the scrollbars in apps were totally confusing and unusable to me. It looked inspired by Squeak, with touches like using one of the mouse buttons to execute the word under the cursor and even a cutesy mascot, Glenda the bunny, reminiscent of the Squeak mouse. I thought the shell, rc, might be interesting, but I lost interest when I saw that there seemed to be no filename completion, as least with the tab key.

Well, here’s the screenshots:

plan9_1

plan9_2

plan9_3

2 thoughts on “Playing with Plan 9

  1. Pingback: Marc Abramowitz » The UNIX-Haters Handbook

  2. Ahh, yes. Plan 9.

    I had tried that at one point, myself. Some of the ideas from it are pretty interesting, actually; I like the idea that when you run a GUI application from a shell, it replaces the terminal. It would, however, take me a while to get used to—I background things when I am in a terminal, as opposed to expecting them to run in the terminal. The nice side effect with the way Unix-like systems currently do things is that you can recycle the terminal without quitting the application. If you want to see what I mean, though, try “man -t man” from the rc shell. It yields an interesting result.

    The other thing that I am not so sure about with Plan 9 is that not only is everything—including other networked machines—a file, but everything in the windowing system is text that you can copy, cut, edit, and paste anywhere else. The command structure of the GUI is something that I would not even begin to know how to become accustomed to. It goes against everything that GUI systems that we use today have taught us.

    However, it is good in that the thinking about the system was very much so out of the box, in strange and fascinating ways. I am planning to take a second look at Plan 9 within the confines of an emulator, myself, because I finally got around to setting it up on my system for other things that I need it for, anyway. I attempted to use it for a short time on real hardware, and its lack of driver support made that somewhat hard to do.

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