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As requested by a moderator, this question as been separated from my question about microkernel-based operating systems.

In the 1980's, the team that developed C and Unix developed a distributed operating system Plan 9 from Bell Labs. Its descendant Inferno is still with us. Given its impeccable pedigree, the fact that Unix's own creators agree it is better, and the fact that the are accustomed to ideas such as that of a virtual machine today, one would have expected such operating systems to have replaced Linux, Windows, and so on. But this hasn't happened.

Wikipedia cites several opinions as to the probably reasons for the failure of Plan 9, including Eric Raymond's:

It looks like Plan 9 failed simply because it fell short of being a compelling enough improvement on Unix to displace its ancestor. Compared to Plan 9, Unix creaks and clanks and has obvious rust spots, but it gets the job done well enough to hold its position. There is a lesson here for ambitious system architects: the most dangerous enemy of a better solution is an existing codebase that is just good enough.

However, to choose one pet example, in another domain, platforms such as lichess prove that a new upstart platform (in lichess's case a chess platform) can displace established platforms if it offers a compelling enough advantage in terms of a user-friendly experience.

So I would like to ask, why has the world not switched over to Inferno? What, in fact, prevents the world from migrating to distributed OS's, particularly given that virtual machines, multiple CPUs, etc. are commonplace? Is there a "hard barrier" that Inferno has not crossed in terms of its capabilities?

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    $\begingroup$ This question is still problematic, because it is really two questions in one: 1. Why hasn't the world switched to distributed operating systems? 2. Why hasn't Plan 9 or Inferno been adopted more widely? The answers may be related, but they're mostly orthogonal. $\endgroup$ – einpoklum Aug 23 at 21:34
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I followed your link to the “Inferno” Wikipedia page. And there it says this OS is maintained by some group as “open source”.

There are two problems: The group that maintains it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia link. It is a U.K. private company exempt from filing which means it doesn’t do any business. I own a company just like that myself. So the level of confidence in the maintainer is absolutely zero.

The other problem is the license. Most companies will reject any license that doesn’t give them the freedom to do what they want and keep the results to themselves.

And the opinions of Unix’ creators are quite irrelevant today. How many developer hours have gone into Linux this year and how many into Inferno? So which one do you think is better?

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    $\begingroup$ I appreciate your concerns about licensing with companies. Can you address Inferno's license in particular, rather than general concerns? It appears that Inferno is licensed under the GPL2, which would seem to address the concerns you raise about licensing. $\endgroup$ – D.W. Jan 8 at 7:48
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This is part of an answer. Others will probably be able to add other points.

A chess platform has to do a limited number of things, while an OS has to be able to do everything that OSes do, which is unlimited. You need lots of utilities, lots of apps written, and to get those, lots of compilers and coders' tools, etc. It's a much harder thing to get off the ground, and doing so is as much a social endeavor as a technical one. It's quite interesting that Linux took off as it did, but there were other competing projects at the time such as FreeBSD and GNU (which was supposed to be an OS, and not just Linux's utility suite) that have fallen by the wayside. This has a lot to do with choices that Linus Torvalds and others made early on in the process that gradually led to more and more people hacking on Linux and using it, I believe. Some of the choices were reflected in the code itself, but some of them had to do with social factors. Part of it is probably just chance, though. It didn't happen overnight with Linux, either. It took several years before it started to get popular enough that it might have had a chance to grow into the popularity it has now.

The point is that being better isn't enough.

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