AmigaOS 4 developer interview: Why it endures and what the future holds

To the surprise of many, the Amiga operating system endures, with developers continuing to eye new features for the venerable OS. We caught up with AmigaOS 4's lead developer to talk about the system's survival.

Image: Amigaos.net

Image: Amigaos.net

The Cult of Apple is well known. People are not shocked to see massive lines outside Apple stores in the lead-up to the latest iDevice launch. But before that there was the Cult of Apple, back when the company was still Apple Computer Inc. there was the Cult of Mac, whose members, in the face of overwhelming Wintel dominance, doggedly refused to let go of what was then considered a doomed platform.

The Cult of Mac's birth can be traced to the release of the first Macintosh in 1984. With its fancy GUI, it was a revolutionary computer. But it wasn't the only historically significant personal computer released during the '80s. Nor was it the only one to evoke fierce loyalty among its fans. The 1980s also witnessed the birth of the Cult of Amiga, with the first Amiga system — the Amiga 1000 — released in 1985. Like the Macintosh, it was a revolutionary personal computer.

And amazingly, like the Macintosh, the Amiga endures — at least in a form. The Amiga operating system continues to be developed by Belgian software company Hyperion Entertainment, and an ecosystem of vendors are still creating hardware for the system.

The Amiga was originally produced by Commodore, which went bankrupt in the mid-1990s. A series of legal twists and turns culminated in 2009, when a settlement was reached between Amiga Inc. and Hyperion Entertainment. "I am not a lawyer but my understanding is that Amiga inc. retains ownership of AmigaOS 3.1 and earlier while Hyperion owns the changes it has made since," says AmigaOS 4 lead developer Steven Solie.

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"Some may notice that AmigaOS 3.5 and 3.9 are left out. Those releases were done by a contractor named Haage and Partner which is still in business today. The sources to those releases remain with H&P… Hyperion had to rewrite any of the components it wanted from those releases for the 4.x series."

The reason Amiga has managed to endure is simple: It's "purely because of the fans", says Solie. "Without them, the commercial investment would have already dried up. There are commercial companies still investing in AmigaOS such as ACube Systems, A-EON Technology and Hyperion Entertainment itself."

Image: Amigaos.net

Hyperion Entertainment has two full time developers dedicated to the OS, with other developers being either contractors or volunteers. "The Open Amiga organisation has many examples of projects being developed outside the core team for possible inclusion in the OS itself."

"It is a true the vast majority of companies have long left the platform. But the core group of fans is what still keeps things going," says Solie.

The hardware

Although Hyperion has been using serial numbers for copies of AmigaOS since 4.0, it won't reveal sales numbers. Solie's "personal guess" is that the system has 2000-5000 users.

"If you include all the various Amiga clones and emulators we would probably be talking about around 10,000 users [in] total," he adds. "It is really difficult to judge because a majority of the users are rather quiet.

"That said, I think there are still tens of thousands that still remember the Amiga in general. The brand itself is still quite strong to this day. So if you are talking about potential users, we are still looking at quite a large pool."

AmigaOS 4.0, which was released in October 2004 (AmigaOS 4.1 Update 4 was released in December 2011), is based off the 3.1 source code. Unlike the original version of the OS it runs on the PowerPC architecture; Amigas originally used Motorola 68k CPUs.

"The good news [with building off the 3.1 source] is you don't have to waste time cloning and reverse engineering everything — that’s just a vast waste of time," Solie says. "The bad news is some of that code is 68k assembly and is in no shape to run on a modern PowerPC hardware platform.

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31 Comments

Bardamer

1

Only Amiga Makes It Possible !

Davide

2

Very nice read. Keep up with the good work.

I use AmigaOS. The system is fast and responsive.
"Remember when computing was fun?

Jim

3

What a load of BS. A-EON hardly shipped immediately, they announced the product would be ready by Summer 2010 and then it was a year and a half late. It was even a year late for people who preordered!

OS4 itself is almost ten years out the gate but is still in beta. Buggy, slow, crashy, just go read the forums at amigaworld.net. OS4 doesn't even support USB2 yet nor does it have 3D drivers.

The flagship X1000 was originaly pitched as being a game changer because it has an XMOS chip on board and also a proprietary slot connected, but despite having been in development now for over two years OS4 doesn't support these features. OS4 also doesn't even support the typical onboard hardware such as audio, graphics, and networking. Instead the user must purchase PCI cards supported by OS4 to offload these functions. Not to mention that this X1000 system costs over $3000 USD and is slower than a $300 PC you can pick just about anywhere.

Don't even get started on the total lack of software! Virtually ALL of it is Linux ports. There is really only one choice when it comes to a web browser, OWS. The OS4 dev team tried to port FireFox but that effort (called Timberwolf) so far has fallen rather flat, resulting in a crashy and slow application that after three years is barely out of the alpha phase. Remember FireFox 4? You will when you use Timberwolf because that's what it's based on.

You want Amiga? Look up AROS, MorphOS, and UAE. AROS is an open source AmigaOS workalike which can run natively on your PC or under Linux. MorphOS is a commercial effort which also runs on PPC systems and unlike OS4 has solid developer support in the form of actual software, not empty promises. UAE is the venerable Amiga emulator which can run on a regular PC, Mac, etc. Any and all of these options have better support and reliability than OS4, and will cost you thousands less to stand up.

Kamel Biskri

4

Nice and honest interview thanks for that.
A former Amiga user waiting for a cheap machine to comeback.

Kamel

In other words, jim is a MorphOS fanboy.

5

Because he invested in a pegasos back then.
MorphOS isn't AmigaOS and isn't any better then AmigaOS, AROS and MorphOS has even less developers and the claim thats it more reliable than AmigaOS makes you look as retarded as a hipster Apple fanboy, why is it more reliable ? because it is according to you or just because it so happens that you don't have AmigaOS ?
Oh, UAE ? come on....

If you don't like Amiga, then you just could say it like this, "I prefer MorphOS over AmigaOS however" instead going AVGN/Adolf Hitler all over it.

Michael Schauber

6

AROS and MorphOS are the more advanced Amiga systems in the market. OS4 offers nothing more than a glorified UAE clone.

kimmok

7

@jim
>Buggy, slow, crashy, just go read the forums at amigaworld.net.

Mine is not too crashy. A little slow on 667Mhz without L2 on heavy crunch, but super fast on things like disk I/O.

> OS4 doesn't even support USB2

It does.

>yet nor does it have 3D drivers.

It does. But not full open GL yet and not for r700 and newer radeon cards.

> XMOS chip on board and also a proprietary slot connected, but despite having been in development now for over two years OS4 doesn't support these features.

It does. Even though only first developer versions of support SW is out.

>OS4 also doesn't even support the typical onboard hardware such as audio, graphics, and networking.

It does. But not on x1000 yet.

>Don't even get started on the total lack of software! Virtually ALL of it is Linux ports.

Not true. Even though more original SW is wanted.

>The OS4 dev team tried to port FireFox but that effort (called Timberwolf) so far has fallen rather flat, ...

I use Timberwolf only to access my network NAS GUI as it's the only browser on any AmigalikeOS that works with Lacie NAS dashboard (I have tried also with MOS and AROS).

What is needed next for AOS4:
- more SW
- more drivers
- SMP
- cheaper 1GHz+ HW

SLayeRDK

8

More info on AmigaOS 4
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AmigaOS_4
More info on AROS
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AROS_Research_Operating_System
More info MorphOS
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MorphOS

It would be nice if some commenters on anything amiga threads would be more civil.

Plexus

9

Ehhh People complain but they not use the actually system they complain about..
My A1k X1000 is Fast, robust and very funny with AmigaOS4.1 u5.

not like people describe before, buggy slow etc.

what is wrong with some people today??? too little pussy or what?

Frederick

10

AmigaOS4 is quite stable on my Sam440, it's even very fast considering the hardware

Sure AmigaOS lacks a proper memory protection cause its original structure (only some internal parts are protected under AmigaOS4) but the same problems afflict other Amiga like system aswell ..

The same problem about software (not so mutch) but as hobby system is quite usable and funny to use

AliveMOon

11

I have a problem with me!
Difficult to get OS4 compatible computer!
I use the machine is still classic 68K!
Computer games, general word processing, graphics, video edit, e-mail, etc.
Works well for a long time.
PowerPC to be that well-run modern applications.

ArosLoverBoy

12

AROS is UAE emulator clone written by Janus, and is rally slow in real hardware and WinUAE, how is that for trolling :-p, get a life people, we go around drag etch other down…

revs

13

BME kill amiga dreams

Akzsif

14

AmigaOS it is historically Amiga operating system. MorphOS and AROS are just only clones. Both of these systems were created to help Amiga but after more than 10 years of development brought only community split. Amiga has no chance without cooperation all sides of community. People responsible for creation projects like AROS and MorphOS are egoists. They want to be part of Amiga world but they don't help Amiga at all. There is no sense create two Amiga-like systems with all disadvantages of genuine AmigaOS. Instead of one good AmigaOS all of these developers give us three outdated operating systems from previous century. Community should send to hell all of these developers. Well organized community should speak about one modern AmigaOS, not two clones and one system created in spare time. Amiga today is obsolete and Amiga community today is obsolete. There no future for Amiga, is it?

NinjaDNA

15

Nice to see AmigaOS/Amiga getting some publicity, Hyperion AEON and ACube and many developers and fans are keeping the Amiga alive ,and thats a very good thing :)

sadf

16

Ordered me an Amiga os4 machine (Sam 460) after reading this. i dont care if the amiga is old school, i like computing because it's fun, and so, i like alternative os.Looking forward to post from my sam next time!;)

Mike Brantley

17

Thanks for the well-written and informative interview with Mr. Sollie. I'm a longtime fan of Amiga computers but mostly the Amiga operating system, and I'm thrilled that the latter, at least, is still alive and under development. I get great enjoyment and productivity from creative applications from both modern times and the classic era with my two AmigaOS4 computers based on ACube's Sam440 motherboards. I'm very much looking forward to owning -- and will very soon -- the comparitive powerhouse that is the X1000 from A-Eon. Don't get me wrong; Mac OS X, Linux and even Windows7 get some of the daily grind ground up here. But my AOS machines are the computers I enjoy most. Keep this party rocking, folks.

Robert

18

Excellent review. Good to see the AmigaOS alive and kicking in 2012.

AmigaOS 4.1 update 5 is very fast, stable and more importantly is fun to use! :-)

Peter

19

Interesting! I ordered ten X1000 systems to my company today!

treke

20

I'm following the AmigaOS's life since the early nineties (and i learned about its former life). I owned one A1200 with an MTec 030 accelerator board and it was good even for my Computer Engineering univ studies at the time. In 2000 I have put the A1200 to the shelf.
As a SW engineer, having architected some SW systems, i like the Amiga OS concept, which was designed by Car S, AFAIK. It has very good responsibility assignment of the core components and the definition of types of those components (libraries, devices, resources, etc ...). Though, the messaging system could have been designed better - with creation of Msg boxes which could evolve to be protected now.
But - all in all It has foundation that still can be built upon, IMHO.

So why i do not own one next gen Amiga when I'm so found of the technology ?
A: No solid basis. The Sam460 which has a good price/perf ratio (to amiga land) lacks some drivers, so i won't consider it till they are ready. I just wonder that noone from the dev team considers that ?! Should be prio nr.1, IMHO. Remember the fat microsoft guy screaming "developers, developers, developers,.." on video ? You won't get a mass of developers till you provide them a complete product, especially for that price.

Other than that, it looks sufficient to me for development. Has a browser and usable SDK - from what i heard.

tombernd

21

I really liked the Amiga a lot and stuck with it way beyond the Commodore breakdown until 1998. But now there are at least two very good Windows alternatives available (Linux, Mac OS X) and that's why I don't see myself working on an Amiga ever again.

Picture Booth Adelaide

22

A family member linked me to this resource.

Thanks for the details.

rATdrAgOn

23

Woohooo!

You can't argue with believers.

And it is true.
OS4 is a blame of all things, you known as an Amiga. It is wrong fundamentally. Morphos (hell, yeah), and AROS is the way.
And they're not clones, they are the only way out for Amiga to the future. :)
I own some Morphos and OS4.x machine. I use them daily basis. Morphos is far more usable, than os4.x. Period.

Cheers
- a true blue troll :) - made by Hyperion, and teh rael Amigaaa(h) (C)(R)(TM) way of the computing. :)

vox

24

Great interview, explains a lot, thanks Steven!
AmigaOS 4 is not e.g. up to Linux but is way ahead OS 3.9, and it should improve more

Howard

25

I still find the basic structure of Amiga OS superior to the major operating systems out there. Windows with its stupid registry and the way it handles disks and devices, and Linux tied to gather with huge numbers of scripts, with layer upon layer of complexities. With the success of Android, I've never understood why such a simple, logical system, and of such a very small footprint, like Amiga OS, wouldn't be ideal in today's computing market. I guess it would take someone with vision and some cash to make it happen.

David Payne

26

"..Instead of one good AmigaOS all of these developers give us three outdated operating systems from previous century..." One could replace "AmigaOS" with *nix but who says this about Unix, BSDs & GNU/Linuces, despite much older origins than Amiga OS?

In both cases efforts have been wasted re-doing things, but the ability for developers to fork off free software projects & do their own thing also reduces the waste of conflict.

Personally, I believe the feeble hands of various claimants of intellectual property rights have kept all Amiga like systems out of the mainstream. They could have had a smaller piece of much bigger pies if they had not always prioritized legal action.

And Amiga OS should have been on smaller platforms before such hardware was able to run Microsoft or *nix OSs. An Amiga desktop is a niche in what's becoming a backwater.

Vojin Vidanovic

27

Interview is very OK and shows many ups and downs on a rocky road. Its not always Hyperions fault on delays, since they didnt fund the development until end of court case and couldn`t make decisions alone and Amiga Inc hold very littke interest to OS4 until their AmigaDE failed to materialize.
MorphOS is way more optimized because is longer in development, AROS is cross platform like Linux and OS4 is catchimg up fast, that is I will say. I use AROS on PC, OS4 on SAM and am getting PowerBook to run MorphOS

paolo besser

28

@Howard: "With the success of Android, I've never understood why such a simple, logical system, and of such a very small footprint, like Amiga OS, wouldn't be ideal in today's computing market". Just three motivations: lack of SMP, lack of protected memory, lack of common development tools, libraries and middleware like Java and mono/.net. I love AmigaOS simplicity (which is REAL simplicity, not the one that hides complexity with a nicer GUI) and I miss it on current mainstream operating systems, but the only place where I see some industrial application for amigoid systems is the embedded market, where a small footprint OS with well-written applications (that won't crash just because one has written in the wrong memory space) can deal with low powered configurations. Take the Raspberry Pi, for instance.

Arexx

29

"Take the Raspberry Pi, for instance. "
Oh no, not again.

Brian

31

Actually there was as defacto protected mode. I don't recall offhand the package name (my copies of the AmigaFora libraries are in storage) but if you had a 68030/040 equipped Amiga it implemented virtual memory, complete with protection, by patching the hell out of the interrupt vector table. Message passing was patched to do copies instead but there wasn't much, if any, speed hit due to the faster memory. You also had protection on the cheap by using Enforcer and MungWall but it really didn't help much besides letting you know how/why some program crashed due to memory violations. I used to have those both running 24/7 as it was another test I made aside from virus-checking on uploaded software for the Amiga Fora.

Talk about some ancient history ;-). Perhaps I'll take a look at rejoining the community.

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