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Features

Main »» Reviews

An Amiga is an Amiga is an Amiga (04-Mar-2005)  Popular
(Read 13613 times)
AmigaOS 4
DatorMagazin is the first magazine in Sweden to deliver a review of AmigaOS version 4, the operating system that might end the discussion about what really is an Amiga, and if the platform is dead or not. A hint: it seems to be very much alive.

Firstly you should ask yourself what an Amiga really is. The Amiga 500 probably comes to mind to Average Joe, while they who really stuck with it gets something special in their eyes of the mention of Amiga 4000. After Commodore's bankruptcy, the creation of Amiga Inc and later the transfer of assets to KMOS Inc who today owns the rights to the trademark and operating system, the operating system development had stagnated. Friends of Amiga (or fanatics, perhaps), have been shouting wolf more times than has been reasonable in the past and finally some people got tired of the waiting and went over to Linux, Mac OS X or the most unthinkable, Windows.
Those who stuck with the Amiga though, have done so for good and bad, and thanks to the loyalty of the userbase - AmigaOS 4 is now rolling out. "But hold on now!" you say, with DatorMagazin issue 2/2005 in your hand, where we described what could be the new Amiga, the Pegasos computer with the MorphOS operating system.

AmigaOS 4 and MorphOS
We contacted Stefan Nordlander from Amiga Computer Group Gothenburg, a person who not just actively works for the survival of the Amiga, but he's also a betatester of OS 4, to see if he could shed some light over the issue between AmigaOS 4 and MorphOS. -There's not two new Amiga platforms out there. There's one new Amiga, called AmigaOne. Beside that, there's an interesting PPC platform with its primary operating system MorphOS, that is compatible with many of the Amiga programs.

While Commodore/Amiga was bought and later went into bankruptcy, at the end of the 90's, there was alot of brave attempts to create a new market. Phase5 with their A\Box, the pre/box and AMIRAGE, Met@box with PIOS One and so on. None of these ever saw the light of day. Stefan says, when Phase5 went into bankruptcy in early 2000, bPlan was created who in January 2001 announced their first product, the Pegasos. A year later bPlan and Thendic-France started a joint-venture company under the name Genesi. Now they had a new PowerPC platform and through Thendic-France a new "Amiga-like" operating system: MorphOS. It took until February 2003 until the platform saw the light of day outside of the factories in Germany. Meanwhile Amiga had gathered new strengths under a common leader, Amiga Inc.

UK based Eyetech together with MAI Logic had moved forward with the next generation Amiga. First out was the AmigaOne SE quickly followed by the AmigaOne XE equipped with an 800MHz PowerPC G4. Recently the MicroAmigaOne was released, which is a mini-ITX motherboard based around an 800MHz G3 processor, built-in sound, graphics and more. Around the same time Amiga Inc. outsourced the development of the operating system to the Belgian company named Hyperion Entertainment. Hyperion has many years of experience when it comes to developing for the Amiga platform and they are now tackling the rather heavy work of porting AmigaOS to PowerPC.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look as bright for the development of MorphOS. After a time of turmoil, some of the main developers resigned and the main sponsor Genesi quit MorphOS to divert ttheir attention to Linux instead. But MorphOS has a large userbase of dedicated followers, so there's still hope.

-Many feels that it would be best if all the developers would join forces and work together under a single operating system, which seems to be a good idea. Splitting an already small community is hardly good, says Stefan Nordlander, who encourages people to come together and work as one, and DatorMagazin agrees. For a long time people have waited for AmigaOS 4, and finally the time seems right for a release. Approximately one year has passed since the release of the public beta version to all users.

Plenty of applications
An operating system is never stronger than the applications that are available for it. If you check out Aminet, www.aminet.net, you'll see about 72000 packages for download, many of them are applications. The new counterpart to Aminet, OS4 Depot, which focuses solely on software for AmigaOS 4 has today over 200 packages available for download, mostly applications. One would think that there would be mostly small linux utilities that has been recompiled for AmigaOS 4 but there's anything from programs that lets you remote control windows machines, MP3 players, DVD players, PDF readers and lots, lots more. There's also rumours about the porting of OpenOffice and the FireFox browser, which would have been good, to say the least. Thanks to the relatively easy porting of Linux applications to AmigaOS 4, there's a good possibility of a larger software portfolio.

If this isn't enough for any reason, there's currently a project under work that will allow the complete emulation of the old Amiga hardware with the Motorola 68000 processor with all of it's co-processors that the Amiga had. In practice, this will let you play all the old games that you loved back in the day. The rendering programs that you played with as a kid will be extremely fast, but games won't be faster, only the time it takes to load will be any faster here. And if that's not enough you can start any of the other emulators, for example the one for Sony Playstation.

The emulation function is called Just in Time (JIT) and all the functions that existed in the Motorola 68020 processor are emulated. JIT means that each instruction that should be emulated 'translates' into a buffer and is used when needed. Since the G3- and G4-based processors that the AmigaOne platform is based on is intensly faster than the old processors, this way you'll avoid the problem that old applications is emulated too fast.

Just like home
When you've been sitting infront of AmigaOS 4 for a couple of minutes you'll realise how familiar it feels. My old Amiga 1200 has been up in the attic for six months now and my Amiga 500 is dug out from time to time to play an old classic, but apart from that I feel rather out-of-shape when it comes to AmigaOS knowledge. But as said, it feels familiar, and it is a sight for sore eyes. Semi-transparent popup menus on the desktop, colorful icons and a very logical and thought-through user interface makes AmigaOS 4 a pleasure to use. All in all, it's a stark contrast to MorphOS that looks like it was designed by a webdesigner that puts looks ahead of functionality.

The performance of AmigaOS 4 is impressive. You seldom sit around and wait for something to happen, and since it's all written in C++ you've got to say that the developers has done well optimising their code. During the planning stage, and in part also during the implementation, there's some support for multiple processors, threading and improved support for the hardware functions that the old classics sported, just to mention a few.

So what does it cost if you want to run AmigaOS 4? It's not possible, as you might have guessed, to run this on your old classic at home, as it requires a PowerPC processor. The reason for that choice is said to be the fact that alot of the accelerators that were sold were based on the PowerPC platform. If you check with the Swedish reseller GGS Data you'll see that a motherboard is around 6800 SEK and from 7950 SEK for a complete system with AmigaOS 4 preinstalled. More expensive models are naturally also available.

The price for AmigaOS 4 is expected to be around 1000 SEK. So is it worth it? If you're like me, an old Amiga owner that's mostly interested in running old games and get a few kicks of nostalgia now and then, daydream about a time when mortgages wasn't your biggest worry, if your kids would eat their food and if you'd afford buying the latest modem, it isn't worth almost 7000 SEK. If you're interested in the perhaps most interesting development platform since BeOS and value a fast machine that ontop of that has almost zero viruses or other annoying spyware, then this is very much a viable alternative. If you want to, you can also use the machine to run OS X, but that's another story...

Pros:
Fast, stable and neat operating system
Very interesting developer platform

Cons:
The hardware is perhaps a tad expensive

Recommended to:
Those who are fed up with Windows and can't come to terms with Linux or Mac OS X


Joacim Melin
DatorMagazin issue 3, 2005.
Pages 40 and 41 of the 'testing' section.

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Translation by Andreas Loong. - GuruMeditation
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