Arcan as Operating System Design

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Time to continue to explain what Arcan actually "is" on a higher level. Previous articles have invited the comparison to Xorg ( part1, part2 ). Another possibility would have been Plan9…
Time to continue to explain what Arcan actually "is" on a higher level. Previous articles have invited the comparison to Xorg ( part1, part2 ). Another possibility would have been Plan9, but Xorg was also a better fit also for the next (and last) article in this series.

To start with a grand statement:

Arcan is a single-user, user-facing, networked overlay operating system.

With "single-user, user-facing" I mean that you are the core concern; it is about providing you with controls. There is no compromise made to "serve" a large number of concurrent users, to route and filter the most traffic, or to store and access data the fastest anywhere on earth.

With "overlay operating system" I mean that it is built from user-facing components. Arcan takes whatever you have access to and expands from there. It is not hinged on the life and death of neither the Linux kernel, the BSD ones or any other for that matter. Instead it is a vagabond that will move to whatever ecosystem you can develop and run programs on, even if that means being walled inside an app store somewhere.

As such it follows a most pervasive trend in hardware. That trend is treating the traditional OS kernel as a necessary evil to work around while building the "real" operating system elsewhere. For a more thorough perspective on that subject, refer to USENIX ATC'21: It's time for Operating Systems to Rediscover Hardware (Video).

This is a trick from the old G👀gle book: they did it to GNU/Linux with Android and with ChromeOS. It is not as much the predecessor mantra of "embrace, extend and extinguish" as it is one of "living off the land" — understanding where the best fit is within the ecosystem at large.

From this description of what Arcan is — what is the purpose of that?

The purpose of Arcan is to give you autonomy over all the compute around you.

With "autonomy" I mean your ability to move, wipe, replace, relocate or otherwise alter the state that is created, mutated or otherwise modified…
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