How Icaros Desktop brings the Amiga experience to x86 PCs
- 19 June, 2012 12:40
The core development teams of AROS and Icaros are "never big enough and everyone's help is greatly appreciated".
"We are all volunteers and there is very little money involved in the project. The AROS community is practically auto-financing some features of the OS with a well-working bounty system, but most parts of OS and related software come thanks to the unpaid effort of their coders.
"Everyone can help: Look at me, I never wrote a line of C code, but I could create a distribution!"
Besser says that the next big step for AROS from his point of view is the integration of AROS M68K (which runs on the Motorola 68k architecture that the original Amigas used) into AROS x86 "and allow running AmigaOS software under Janus-UAE [a customised port of the UAE Amiga emulator] without the need to use the AmigaOS 3.x and KickStart ROMs".
There are no Microsoft Office-like applications available for AROS; however the browser, OWB, supports Google Docs.
"Today we suggest people interested in these old applications to buy the cheap Amiga Forever kit from Cloanto," Besser says. Icaros includes AmiBridge, which is a scripting system that integrates Amiga Forever files into AROS and uses Janus-UAE to run M68K games and applications in a semi-transparent way, sharing the clipboard and portions of the filesystem, while taking advantage of Janus-UAE's JIT x86 support.
"It's a win-win scenario, because Amiga programs find the exact environment they would expect, and always run without problems, at the full speed allowed by the host processor," Besser says. "Icaros Desktop will always allow people to use Amiga Forever files, but we wish to be completely free from legacy binaries and still give people an environment to run old software. After all, AROS has always been meant to be 1:1 compatible to AmigaOS on the M68K platform, and Icaros must take advantage of this."
The most challenging part of putting Icaros together has been dealing with scripts. When Icaros was created "AROS was practically unusable due to complete lack of useful software," Besser says. "We needed a 'Plan B' solution for almost everything."
Icaros' shows off its task management capabilities.
An example he cites is displaying PDFs. To compensate for the lack of a program capable of displaying PDFs, Besser resorted to using a script that employed Ghostscript to create jpegs of PDF pages, which were then sent to an image viewer. Thankfully most of these scripts have now vanished, to be replaced by proper applications.
"Every new release [of Icaros] is a little big adventure," Besser says. "There's always a new feature to add, and a compelling way to do so, until a better solution replaces it. I like it."
Modern operating systems can still learn lessons from AmigaOS' ease of use and responsiveness, Besser believes. "That's something I can now find only on some niche OSes and on the most powerful mobile phones." ("Please, give me the ASSIGN command on Windows!" he adds.)
At the same time, Besser has been willing to borrow ideas from other operating systems. "I changed many AROS default options to make it behave in a more modern way, meaning a way that I feel more suited to people now accustomed to very different OSes than AmigaOS.
Although the OWB browser doesn't support HTML5 video or Flash, you can still access YouTube videos.
"Look at Icaros Desktop as a bridge built on the canyon that divides AmigaOS habits from the ones of Linux and Windows."
Icaros Desktop takes up much of Besser's spare time ("it's always too little for what I wish to do," he says) and the project accepts donations to help push development forward. Besser also maintains 'day job' working as a VMware technician at an Italian corporation and contributes to IT magazines. ("And then there is the most challenging job of the world: Being a good father to my son and husband to my wife," he says.)
Rohan Pearce is the editor of Techworld Australia. Contact him at rohan_pearce at idg.com.au.
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