Send in your ideas. Deadline June 1, 2024
Theme fund: NGI0 PET
Start: 2019-10
End: 2019-10
More projects like this
Operating Systems

Implement sound support in the Hurd

Add audio capabilities to the multiserver microkernel from GNU

The GNU Hurd is a light weight kernel (the central part of an operating system) on top of the Mach microkernel, with full POSIX compatibility. The mission of the Hurd project is: to create a general-purpose kernel suitable for the GNU operating system, which is viable for everyday use, and gives users and programs as much control over their computing environment as possible. Hurd provides security capabilities like adding access to services for programs at runtime when and only while they need it, and to enable easy low-level development - like replacing a file system during runtime and real-time kernel debugging as if it were a normal program. This project adds an important feature to GNU Hurd: an audio-system with fine-grained access management to physical hardware.

Why does this actually matter to end users?

When you start up your computer, you will probably think twice before you download some random piece of software from the internet and run it. You know that doing so could allow unwelcome guests to your computer and your data. Your computer might even end up in a bot net. So when you see some nice piece of software, you will ask yourself the question: can I really trust the software? Perhaps you will check the origin it comes from. Better safe than sorry.

Did you miss checking something, though? What about the software that is already on your computer before you started? A computer is not much use without an operating system. While most computers are sold with an operating system, actually you have the choice to remove that and install something different. Have you thought about the trustworthiness of that fundamental piece of software - your most fundamental travel companion on the wild west of the internet? Trustworthiness is essential. When an operating system has a so called 'back door' (either intentionally or not), someone could extract whatever user data - like personal pictures or home movies - from your computer. And the worse thing: without you ever finding out. The operating system guards all the other software, and warns you when you install software from the internet. But itself, it doesn't have to ask for permission. Ever. It doesn't just have "access all areas": in fact, it runs the whole show.

With commercial software like Microsoft Windows or Mac OS X that you get delivered when you buy a computer, trust in what their closed operating system does will of course always be a leap of faith: as a user you essentially are given no choice. In proprietary systems you do not have the freedom to study the source code, or to control what really happens. So you either trust the vendor, or you'd better not use it. For an increasing amount of people, after the revelations from whistleblowers like Edward Snowden, that "leap of faith" is not so obvious anymore. They prefer to use free and open source operating systems like GNU Linux, FreeBSD and OpenBSD. These are technology commons: the people that wrote the software allow you to inspect the source code. Even more so, they give you the source code to do anything with it that you like. So you don't just blindly have to take their word for it and trust them, you can take matters into your own hands.

The GNU Hurd is an initiative to take transparency over your operating system and device even further. The project replaces the widely used Unix kernel, which is the fundamental program that controls everything in the operating system. The Hurd aims to separate tasks and responsibilities as much as possible and give users complete control over for example security. This particular project aims to develop an audio system that is as modular as possible: users can easily remove and add access to audio-hardware in their operating system, instead of blindly trusting some audio application. These functionalities bring the GNU Hurd one step closer to realizing the last important software component for a complete free and open operating system.

Logo NLnet: abstract logo of four people seen from above Logo NGI Zero: letterlogo shaped like a tag

This project was funded through the NGI0 PET Fund, a fund established by NLnet with financial support from the European Commission's Next Generation Internet programme, under the aegis of DG Communications Networks, Content and Technology under grant agreement No 825310.