posted by Fulvio Peruggi on Mon 17th Jul 2006 11:14 UTC
IconThe latest article in our OSNews OS contest: Learn about MorphOS, the heir to the Amiga legacy. This article chronicles its bumpy history, its still-compelling features, and the current state of MorphOS development.

What is MorphOS?

I think this will be the most asked question among all readers of this article. It's likely that you never heard this name - MorphOS - before in your life, but it is extremely likely that you heard another name: Amiga. In this introduction it is enough to say that MorphOS is currently an enhanced clone of the AmigaOS (the Historical Notes section explores the details of this connection).

MorphOS in action 1 Although a functional clone of the AmigaOS is a nice experiment, the real potential for MorphOS is found in its ability to provide for more advanced OS features not found in the AmigaOS. This is possible because MorphOS is built around a very flexible, powerful, and compact microkernel called Quark, whose structure is totally unrelated and independent from the Amiga and Linux kernels.

One distinctive feature of MorphOS is that it has a small "footprint". A complete installation requires less than 15 Megabytes for the whole OS. Even less is needed if one desires to optimize one's running environment and leave out unused and/or non-essential parts of the OS. Another distinctive feature of MorphOS is its speed. It is not certified as a RTOS, but in use, its responsiveness is very close to Real Time operation.

Hardware platform

MorphOS in action 2 MorphOS runs exclusively on PowerPC processors. Two specific hardware platforms are currently supported: the PPC accelerator boards for Amiga computers (developed by Phase5 and known as CyberStorm and Blizzard) and PegasosPPC motherboards (distributed by Genesi and also used in a product called ODW, Open Desktop Workstation). PegasosPPC boards are initialized by the HAL/OF (Hardware Abstraction Layer / Open Firmware), a BIOS-like software created and maintained by Genesi for its PPC products (and available under license for every designer/manufacturer of PPC-based products). Potentially MorphOS can run with minor changes on any PPC board initialized by the HAL/OF: it is known, for instance, that this OS already runs on EFIKA 5K2 boards.

MorphOS is proprietary OS except for some parts that are open source. It is currently available for free only to owners of the above-mentioned Amiga/Pegasos hardware. After on-line registration, owners can connect to an FTP site where it is possible to download an ISO-image for burning a MorphOS boot CD. Also upgrade software is available on the FTP site.

Installation

The installation of most operating systems is usually a long operation, and may sometimes become a real nightmare if you are unlucky or unskilled. A small footprint OS like MorphOS shows its advantages even in the installation phase, both in terms of time and simplicity.

Put your MorphOS boot CD in the drive and select it as a boot device in the HAL/OF. MorphOS starts directly from the CD in a default configuration with minimal hardware requirements. This takes less than a minute. Now you should use the OS partition utility to create at least one boot partition on your hard disk, and the formatting utility to format this partition. Then you can launch an installation script that loads MorphOS therein (the script manages a number of circumstances and special cases, but basically it copies all the system files and directories, with default configuration files, from the CD to the hard disk).

Now, you should eject and remove the MorphOS boot CD from your drive, and reset the Pegasos/ODW (either pressing the reset button or with the key combination CTRL-WIN-WIN). After a few seconds you will return to the HAL/OF screen, where you should set an environment variable that stores what's the boot partition and the relevant hard disk.

It's done! (The user must perform slightly more complex actions with old versions of the HAL/OF, but newcomers can only get new versions...)

Total time required for all the previous operations: no more than 5 minutes! But you will have another surprise: let MorphOS start from your hard disk and count the time that is necessary to boot into the plain OS environment. You will find that this occurs in less than five seconds: welcome to the lightning OS!

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