Neptune OS to add Windows personality to seL4 microkernel • The Register

A new project called Neptune OS intends to put a Windows-NT compatible personality on top of the seL4 microkernel.

The project is still in development and not yet working, but remains an intriguing prospect nonetheless.

The secure embedded L4 microkernel – seL4 to its friends – is the result of microkernel operating system research that continued after the Mach generation, the latter being famously used in macOS.

seL4 has its own foundation to back it up and aims to be both faster and safer than Mach. Neptune OS adds another “personality” to seL4, based on the native Windows NT kernel API.

In the project’s own words:

In other words, it hopes to run Windows applications on something that isn’t Windows.

It does this using code from the ReactOS project, which we’ve been covering for some time at The register as it grew, despite some accusations from Microsoft kernel engineers that the open-source operating system uses parts of the “Windows Search Kernel” rather than being taken from publicly available documentation. ReactOS has previously responded to such claims by saying that its code must conform to the “American Standard Method for Reverse Engineering” and that anything else would not be rewritten. More recently, ReactOS developer Alex Ionescu talked about the methods he uses (“Inverting Without Inverting”) here.

ReactOS itself uses code from the WINE project to ensure Windows application compatibility.

However, Neptune OS is still very far from that. For now, it just about manages to bring up a command prompt and let you type commands, and its developers note that “almost none of the shell commands actually work”.

However, it is still a very interesting concept. While Microsoft seeks to encourage developers to use abstraction layers such as dot NET and WinUI, low-level NT foundations may remain stable enough that third-party development teams can usefully emulate them.

WINE’s growing maturity and capabilities demonstrate this – for example, it is part of the Proton compatibility layer that allows commercial devices such as Valve’s Steam Deck to run Windows games on Linux. ®

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