Harmony (operating system)

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DeveloperNational Research Council Canada
Written inC, Assembly language
Working stateDiscontinued
Initial release1985; 38 years ago (1985)
Marketing targetResearch
Available inEnglish
Update methodCompile from source code
PlatformsMotorola 68000 (VMEbus, Multibus), Atari ST (520, 1040), Digital Equipment Corporation VAX
Kernel typeMicrokernel
Preceded byThoth
Succeeded byMessage Queue eXecutive (MQX)

Harmony is an experimental computer operating system (OS) developed at the National Research Council Canada in Ottawa. It is a second-generation message passing system that was also used as the basis for several research projects, including robotics sensing and graphical workstation development. Harmony was actively developed throughout the 1980s and into the mid-1990s.


Harmony was a successor to the Thoth system developed at the University of Waterloo.[1] Work on Harmony began at roughly the same time as that on the Verex kernel developed at the University of British Columbia. David Cheriton was involved in both Thoth and Verex, and would later go on to develop the V System at Stanford University. Harmony's principal developers included W. Morven Gentleman, Stephen A. MacKay, Darlene A. Stewart, and Marceli Wein.[2]

Early ports of the system existed for a variety of Motorola 68000-based computers, including ones using the VMEbus and Multibus backplanes and in particular the Multibus-based Chorus multiprocessor system at Waterloo. Other hosts included the Atari 520 or 1040 ST. A port also existed for the Digital Equipment Corporation VAX.[2]

Harmony achieved formal verification in 1995.[3]


Harmony was designed as a real-time operating system (RTOS) for robot control.[2] It is a multitasking, multiprocessing system. It is not multi-user.[2] Harmony provided a runtime system (environment) only; development took place on a separate system, originally an Apple Macintosh. For each processor in the system, an image is created that combines Harmony with the one multitask program for that processor at link time, an exception being a case where the kernel is programmed into a read-only memory (ROM).

Although the term did not appear in the original papers, Harmony was later referred to as a microkernel.[3] A key in Harmony is its use of the term task, which in Harmony is defined as the "unit of sequential and synchronous execution" and "the unit of resource ownership".[2] It is likened to a subroutine, but one that must be explicitly created and which runs independently of the task that created it. Programs are made up of a number of tasks.[2] A task is bound to a specific processor, which may be different from that of the instantiating task and which may host many tasks. All system resources are owned and managed by tasks.

Intertask communication is provided mostly by synchronous message passing and four associated primitives.[2] Shared memory is also supported. Destruction of a task closes all of its connections. Input/output uses a data stream model.

Harmony is connection-oriented in that tasks that communicate with each other often maintain state information about each other. In contrast with some other distributed systems, connections in Harmony are inexpensive.[2]

Applications and tools[edit]

An advanced debugger called Melody was developed for Harmony at the Advanced Real-Time Toolset Laboratory at Carleton University. It was later commercialized as Remedy.[4]

The Harmony kernel underpinned the Actra project — a multiprocessing, multitasking Smalltalk.[5][6]

Harmony was used in the multitasking, multiprocessor Adagio robotics simulation workstation.[7][8]

Concepts from both Harmony and Adagio influenced the design of the Smalltalk-based Eva event driven user interface builder.[9]

Harmony was used as the underlying OS for several experimental robotic systems.[10][11][12]


Harmony was commercialized by the Taurus Computer Products division of Canadian industrial computer company Dy4.[13][14][15][16] When Dy4 closed down their software division, four of Taurus' former developers founded Precise Software Technologies and continued developing the OS as Precise/MPX, the predecessor to their later Precise/MQX product.[17]

Another commercial operating system derived from Harmony is the Unison OS from Rowebot Research Inc.[18]


  1. ^ Tanner, P. P.; Buxton, W. (1985). Some Issues in Future User Interface Management System (UIMS) Development. User Interface Management Systems. Berlin. pp. 67–79.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Gentleman, W.M.; MacKay, S.A.; Stewart, D.A.; Wein, M. (February 1989). "Using the Harmony Operating System: Release 3.0". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  3. ^ a b Cattel, Thierry (1995). "Modelling and Verification of a Multiprocessor Realtime OS Kernel". In Hogrefe, D.; Leue, S. (eds.). Formal description techniques, VII: proceedings of the 7th IFIP WG 6.1 International Conference on Formal Description Techniques (PDF). IFIP Advances in Information and Communication Technology. Boston, MA: Springer. pp. 55–70. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-34878-0_4. ISBN 978-1-5041-2881-0.
  4. ^ Rowe, P. Kim; Pagurek, B. (1–3 December 1987). "Remedy, A Real-Time Multiprocessor System Level Debugger". Proceedings of the 8th IEEE Real-Time Systems Symposium (RTSS '87). San Jose, Califorinia, USA: IEEE Computer Society. pp. 230–240. ISBN 0-8186-0815-3.
  5. ^ Thomas, Dave; Berry, Brian (July–August 2004). "Using Active Objects for Structuring Service Oriented Architectures Anthropomorphic Programming with Actors" (PDF). Journal of Object Technology. 3 (7): 7. doi:10.5381/jot.2004.3.7.c1.
  6. ^ Duimovich, John (12 January 1989). "Garbage Collection in a Multiprocessor Smalltalk System" (PDF). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ MacKay, Stephen A.; Tanner, Peter P. (1986). "Graphics Tools in Adagio, A Robotics Multitasking Multiprocessor Workstation" (PDF). Graphics Interface Proceedings 1986: 98–103.
  8. ^ "Workstations '85 Session: Robot Simulator from Canada" (PDF). Silicon Gulch Gazette. No. 42. IEEE Computer Society. October 1985. p. 2.
  9. ^ McAffer, Jeff; Thomas, Dave (1 July 1988). "Eva: An Event Driven Framework for Building User Interfaces in Smalltalk". Graphics Interface Proceedings 1986: 168–175.
  10. ^ Green, David; Liscano, Ramiro; Wein, M. (24–26 September 1989). "Real-Time Control of an Autonomous Mobile Robot Using the Harmony Operating System". Proceedings of the Fourth IEEE International Symposium on Intelligent Control. Albany, New York, USA.
  11. ^ Elgazzar, S.; Green, D.; Gentleman, W. M. (14–16 June 1988). "Open System Architecture of a Multiprocessor Robot Controller". Proceedings of the 7th Canadian CAD/CAM and Robotics Conference. Toronto, Ontario.
  12. ^ O'Hara, D. H.; Elgazzar, S.; The, G. (December 1987). "ALTER-Harmony: Control of PUMA Robot from Chorus Multiprocessor". National Research Council of Canada. Ottawa, Ontario. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  13. ^ Dryden, Alex (11 July 1988). "Business". The Ottawa Citizen. p. 11.
  14. ^ Rottman, Michael S. (4 March 1991). "A Common Interface Real-Time Multiprocessor Operating System for Embedded Systems" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on March 31, 2021. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. ^ Bergrman, Rich, ed. (April 1991). "Operating Systems Standards Working Group (OSSWG) Next Generation Computer Resources(NGCR) Program First Annual Report: October 1990" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on March 31, 2021. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  16. ^ "The DY-4 Collection at YUCoM — Manuals and Guides". York University Computer Museum. 2018.
  17. ^ luc (29 July 2020). "Mati Arno Sauks February 27 1951 July 25 2020 (age 69)". Canada Obituaries.
  18. ^ Zhu, Ming-Yuan (May 2012). "The Next Hundreds Embedded Real-Time Operating Systems". doi:10.13140/RG.2.2.28990.69445. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)

Further reading[edit]

  • James, J.; Rowe, K.; Gray, L.; Vishnubhatla, B.; Wan, C. F.; Wilson, M. (1985). "Experience Porting the Harmony Operating System.". Proceedings of the 6th IEEE Real-Time Systems Symposium (RTSS '85). San Diego, California, USA.: IEEE Computer Society. pp. 88–99. ISBN 0-8186-0675-4.
  • Forsey, David R. (1985). "Harmony in transposition: A toccata for Vax and Motorola 68000". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Parr, R. K. (1986). "TCP/IP Ethernet Support for the Harmony Operating System". University of Waterloo. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Riese, H. M. (1986). "Towards Harmony on Sylvan". University of Waterloo. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Wong, Wai Victoria (1987). "Concordia Cum Vaxen: Porting Harmony to the VAX-11/750". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Roth, G.; O'Hara, D. (May 1987). "A Holdsite Method for Parts Acquisition Using a Laser Rangefinder Mounted on a Robot Wrist". Proceedings of IEEE Conference on Robotics and Automation. Raleigh, NC. pp. 1517–1523.
  • Barry, B. M.; Thomas, D. A.; Altoft, J. R.; Wilson, M. (4–8 October 1987). "Using Objects to Design and Build Radar ESM Systems". Proceedings of the Conference on Object Oriented Programming Systems, Languages and Applications. Vol. 22. Orlando FL. pp. 192–201.
  • O'Hara, D. H. (2–4 February 1988). Multiprocessor Robot Control for Assembly: A Demonstration with Tactile Feedback for Prismatic Shaped Block Insertion. 7th International conference on Robot Vision and Sensory Controls. Zurich, Switzerland.
  • Gentleman, W.; MacKay, S.; Stewart, D. (1988). "An Introduction to the Harmony Realtime Operating System". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Thoreson, D. V. P. (May 1988). "Harmony Multi-Tasking Runtime Support for the Ada Rendezvous". Royal Military College of Canada. Kingston, Ontario. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • Archibald, C. C.; Gentleman, W. M.; O'Hara, D. H. (14–16 June 1988). "Realtime Feedback Control Using a Laser Range Finder and Harmony". Proceedings of the 7th Canadian CAD/CAM and Robotics Conference. Toronto, Ontario.
  • O'Hara, D. H.; Kurtz, R. "Prismatic-shaped Block Insertion: an Application of a Multiprocessor Robot Controller using Harmony". National Research Council of Canada. Ottawa, Ontario. {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  • MacKay, S. A.; Gentleman, W. M.; Stewart, D. A.; Wein, M. (26–27 September 1988). "Harmony as an Object-Oriented Operating System". Proceedings of the ACM SIGPLAN Workshop on Object-Oriented Concurrent Programming. Vol. 24. San Diego. pp. 201–203.