Oberon (operating system)


Tiled window arrangement of Oberon
Developer Niklaus Wirth and Jürg Gutknecht
Written in Oberon
Source model Open source
Initial release 1987[1]
Available in English
Platforms NS32032, IA-32, Xilinx Spartan, and many others
Default user interface Text user interface
License BSD-style[2]
Official website www.oberon.ethz.ch

The Oberon System[3] is a modular single user single process multitasking operating system developed in the late 1980s at ETH Zürich using the Oberon programming language.[4] It has an unconventional visual text-based user interface (TUI, see also below in Section 2 User Interface) for activating commands, which was very innovative at that time.


The Oberon operating system was originally developed as part of the NS32032-based Ceres workstation project. It was written almost entirely (and since the 2013 edition, now is described entirely) in the Oberon programming language .[5] The basic system was designed and implemented by Niklaus Wirth and Jürg Gutknecht and its design and implementation is fully documented in their book "Project Oberon".[6] The user Interface and programmers reference is found in Martin Reiser's book "The Oberon System".[7] It was later extended and ported to other hardware[8] [9] [10] [11] [12] by a team at ETH-Zürich and there was recognition in popular magazines.[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18] Wirth and Gutknecht (although being active Computer Science professors) referred to themselves as 'part-time programmers' in the book 'Project Oberon'.[6] In late 2013, a couple of months before his 80th birthday, Niklaus Wirth published a second edition of Project Oberon.[19] It details the implementation of the Oberon System using a RISC CPU of his own design realized on a Xilinx FPGA board. It was presented at the symposium[20] organized for his 80th birthday at ETHZ.

According to Josef Templ, a former member of the developer group at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, Zürich and later member of the "Institut für Systemsoftware" of Johannes Kepler University of Linz, where one of the versions (V4) was maintained, the genealogy of the different versions of the Oberon System was the following:

Year Name Remark
1985   Start of the Oberon project
1987  V1 Internal use at ETHZ.[3][21] Only simple text editing facilities.
1991  V2  Extensible text model and a special editor called Write[22] supporting these extensions.
1991 System 3 Extensions to the kernel supporting persistent objects and object-libraries supporting object embedding and object linking. Gadgets, text-editor: Script, and graphics-editor: Illustrate
1992 Publication of the Oberon Trilogy: "Project Oberon",[6] "The Oberon System".",[7] and "Programming in Oberon"[5]
1992  V4 Functionality of Write integrated into standard text editor.
Rel. 1.4 Desktops
1993 Rel. 1.5 Generic document model
1994  V4 Hanspeter Mössenböck's appointment at JKU (Linz), development of V4 moved to Linz.
1995 Rel. 2.0 Extension of the document space to the whole internet. Improved bitmap-editor: Rembrandt. Online tutorials.
2000 ETH-Oberon System-3 renamed to ETH-Oberon
2002 AOS - A2 Active Object System[23] (aka Act. Oberon Sys., later renamed to A2)
2013 PO 2013 - V5 Re-implementation of the original Oberon System in FPGA

User interface

Oberon has a text user interface (TUI), which has to be differentiated from the terminal user interface. It combines the point-and-click convenience of a graphical user interface (GUI) with the linguistic strength of a command line interface (CLI) and is closely tied to the naming conventions of the Oberon language. Any text appearing (almost) anywhere on the screen can be edited and can therefore be used as command input. Commands are activated by a middle-mouse click[24] on a text fragment of the form Module.Command (optionally followed by Parameters, which are terminated by ~). A command is defined by a procedure, which has an empty argument list. Parameters to the command have to be defined before executing the middle click and must be explicitly scanned and retrieved by the procedure. There are no checks nor any questions asked during command execution. This is sometimes called a "non-modal" user interface (UI). Nothing like a command prompt is required.

Although radically different from a command line, the TUI is very efficient and powerful.[25] A steep ascent in the early learning curve makes it a little bit difficult in the beginning. No questions are asked: this is a deliberate design decision, which needs getting used to. Most editors ask the user when closing a modified text: this is not the case in the Oberon System. The usage of the TUI and programming interface is fully documented in Martin Reiser's book "The Oberon System".[7] A short introduction to the user interface can be found on Niklaus Wirth's home page.[26] The later versions Oberon V4 and Oberon System 3 enhanced the basic interface with different but incompatible implementations for buttons, drop down menus, and other active elements.

Similar user Interfaces still have to appear in more commonplace operating systems. Rob Pike's Acme system under Plan 9 from Bell Labs was strongly inspired by the Oberon TUI. Whether the worksheet interface of the Macintosh Programmer's Workshop influenced Oberon's TUI or vice versa is difficult to decide: Oberon System was based on Wirth's previous computer design the Lilith, and both the Apple Macintosh (and its precursor Lisa) and the Oberon System (on Ceres and its precursor Lilith) were all inspired by the Alto developed at Xerox PARC.

Versions and availability

The Oberon OS is available for several hardware platforms, generally in no cost versions. It is typically extremely compact. Even with an Oberon compiler, assorted utilities including a web browser, TCP/IP networking, and a GUI, the entire package can be compressed to a single 3.5" floppy disk. There are/were versions which emulated the Oberon OS on top of another operating system and versions which run on bare hardware. The latter ones are called Native Oberon. There are/were native versions for the Ceres, Intel IA-32, and ARM platforms. In 2013 Niklaus Wirth adapted the basic system as described in "Project Oberon"[6] to a current FPGA design. According to the preface of the 2013 edition, the whole system compiles in less than 10 sec on a Spartan-3 board.

A version of the Oberon System 3, which was integrated in the Microsoft Windows OS was Plugin Oberon.[27]

The version called Oberon V4 (see also History) is closer to the original operating system developed by N. Wirth & J. Gutknecht. It was originally developed at ETHZ, but when H.P. Mössenböck went to Institut für Systemsoftware at Johannes-Keppler University in Linz (JKU) the development of V4 moved also. Therefore, V4 is sometimes also called Linz-Oberon in contrast to ETH-Oberon. The most recent version of V4 and extensions are available at JKU. Oberon V4 appears to be orphaned, there are almost no changes since 2000. Another repository of V4 is Claudio Nieder's Oberon V4, which also shows difference between the different V4 implementations. Since 2013 this page moved to/is mirrored at SourceForge. V4 is closer to what would now be called an integrated development environment than an operating system of its own. There were many extensions written for V4, which are still available from the ftp server of SSW at JKU; some documentation can be found on their web-pages more is normally included in the packages in Oberon's special rich text format.

The computer science department at ETHZ has in recent years begun exploring active objects and concurrency for operating systems, and has released an early version of a new language Active Oberon and a new operating system for it, first called AOS and — due to copyright issues — now called A2, and/or Bluebottle. It is available from ETHZ with most source via the Internet. Native versions (A2), i.e. running on the bare hardware, are currently possible for Intel IA-32 and X86-64 single- and multi-processor systems and for the StrongARM CPU family, versions running on top of another operating system are available on Windows (WinAos), Unix (UnixAos), Linux (LinuxAos), and OS-X (DarwinAos).

As a part of an industrial research project[28] the Native Systems Group of ETHZ has developed an application-specific operating system called stailaOS which is based on the latest version Oberon OS. It is targeted towards applications like real-time analytics, high performance trading systems, main memory based ERP etc.

Native Oberon

The Oberon0 installer running under QEMU in Debian Wheezy. The presentation of the partition table illustrates the comprehensibililty of the system in general.

Native Oberon[29] stands for the Oberon System running on bare hardware. PC-Native Oberon is the version of the Oberon operating system which runs on IA-32 (x86-32) PC hardware. It has minimal hardware requirements (133 MHz Pentium, 100MB hard disk, and a VESA 2 graphics card with a resolution of at least 1024x768 pixel, optionally a 3COM Network card). The basic system runs from a single HD-Floppy and additional software can be installed through the network. The full installation includes the Gadgets GUI and is surprisingly functional given its small code-base. It is written completely in the Oberon programming language.

Some confusion is caused by the fact that there exists a version called LNO (an acronym for Linux Native Oberon), which uses Linux as hardware abstraction layer (HAL). Its goal was to be as compatible as possible to PC-Native Oberon. Other versions of the Oberon System, i.e. without Native in the name, had partially modified interfaces of low level modules. In 2015 Peter Matthias revitalized LNO under the Name OLR (Oberon Linux Revival[30]) as a multi-platform Distribution running seamingless under Intel x86, RISC-V, MIPS, and ARM. It runs nicely on the Raspberry Pi. Since mastering the Oberon User Interface is absolutely non-trivial, you might proceed to André Fischers Oberon System 3 Tutorial. An expanded version of this tutorial used to be available as a book.[31] The whole book is available as e-book in a single user license in every installed version of System 3 (Windows, Linux or Native). But this presents the classical hen and egg problem: You have to master the user interface to have access to the documentation of the user interface.

Project Oberon (FPGA)

In 2013 Niklaus Wirth and Paul Reed completed a re-implementation of the original Oberon System for the Digilent Xilinx Spartan 3 FPGA Starter Board. The work included a revision of "Project Oberon",[6] identified as Project Oberon (New Edition 2013). The system has since been ported to a Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA Development Board by Saanlima Electronics. In 2015 Paul Reed collaborated with Victor Yurkovsky in the creation of OberonStation, a Xilinx Spartan 3-based computer designed specifically to run Oberon.



RISC-5, the CPU of Project Oberon based upon Wirth's RISC architecture.[32] Not to be confused with RISC-V.

See also


  1. Irena Kulka. "ETH - Oberon - Welcome to Oberon". Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  2. 1 2 Niklaus Wirth & Jürg Gutknecht: (1988) The Oberon System. Report Nr. 88.
  3. Wirth, Niklaus: The Programming Language Oberon. Software - Practice and Experience, 18:7, 671-690, Jul. 1988
  4. 1 2 M. Reiser and N. Wirth: Programming in Oberon Addison-Wesley/ACM Press (1992) ISBN 0-201-56543-9. Out of print.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 N. Wirth and J. Gutknecht: Project Oberon - The Design of an Operating System and Compiler Addison-Wesley/ACM Press (1992) ISBN 0-201-54428-8. Out of print. Online version of a second edition.
  6. 1 2 3 Reiser, Martin: "The Oberon System - User Guide and Programmer's Manual" - Out-of-print - Addison-Wesley/ACM Press (1991) ISBN 0-201-54422-9
  7. A. R. Disteli, OBERON for PC on an MS-DOS base, Technical Report #203 der ETH-Zürich, November 1993, Reprint.
  8. J. Supcik, HP-OBERON, Technical Report #212 of the ETH-Zürich, November 1993, Reprint.
  9. M. Franz, MacOberon Reference Manual, Technical Report #142 der ETH-Zürich, November 1993, Reprint.
  10. J. Templ, Design and implementation of SPARC-Oberon. Structured Programming, 12, 197–205 (1991).
  11. M. Brandis, R. Crelier, M. Franz, J. Templ, The Oberon System Family. Software-Practice and Experience, Vol. 25(12), 1331–1366, December 1995. Also: Technical Report 174 of the ETH-Zürich.
  12. R. Gerike, Wider den Schnickschnack. Oberon System, Teil 1: Anwendersicht. c't 1994 (2) p. 180, Teil 2: Technische Einblicke. c't 1994 (3), p. 240 (German language).
  13. H. Marais, Oberon System 3, Dr. Dobb's Journal, October 1994, pages 42-50.
  14. D. Pountain, Oberon: A Glimpse at the Future, BYTE 18(5), 111ff, May 1993. Archive.org
  15. D. Pountain, Modula's Children, Part II: Oberon - BYTE 16(3), 135-142, Mar. 1991. Archive.org
  16. D. Pountain, The Oberon/F System, BYTE 20(1), Jan. 1995.
  17. T. Börner, Betriebssysteme: Native Oberon für den PC, CHIP 1999, March, p. 131ff (German language).
  18. "[Oberon] Project Oberon, 2013 Edition". Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  19. Olaf A. Schulte. "ETH Zurich Multimedia Portal: video, audio, podcast, webcast, live-streaming - Niklaus Wirth Birthday Symposium". Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  20. Wirth, Niklaus. Designing a System from Scratch. Structured Programming (1989) Vol. 10, pp. 10-18.
  21. Szyperski, Clemens A., Write: An extensible text editor for the Oberon system. Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (1991). Report 151.
  22. Muller, Pieter Johannes, The active object system design and multiprocessor implementation. Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich (2002). pdf
  23. Using the mouse and the keyboard http://www.ethoberon.ethz.ch/ethoberon/tutorial/Mouse.contents.html
  24. Franz, Michael (2000). "Oberon - The Oberlooked Jewel". In Böszörmény, Lászlo; Gutknecht, Jürg; Pomberger, Gustav. The School Niklaus Wirth - The Art of Simplicity. Morgan Kaufmann Publishers. pp. 41–53. CiteSeerX accessible. ISBN 1-55860-723-4.
  25. Wirth, Niklaus (2015). "How to use the Oberon System" (PDF). Retrieved 24 November 2016.
  26. Zeller, Emil Johann (2002). "Fine-grained integration of Oberon into Windows using pluggable objects" (PDF).
  27. stailaOS(ETHZ) Project Page
  28. Archives of the Oberon Website.
  29. Matthias, Peter. "Oberon Linux Revival". Retrieved 31 August 2016.
  30. André Fischer & Hannes Marais: The Oberon Companion. A Guide to Using and Programming Oberon System 3. vdf Hochschulverlag AG (1997). ISBN 978-3728124937
  31. Wirth, Niklaus. "FPGA-related Work". ETHZ. Retrieved 12 September 2016.

External links

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