posted by Thom Holwerda on Fri 9th Oct 2009 16:28 UTC
IconNot too long ago we published a review of AmigaOS 4.1, which made some readers argue we should take a look at MorphOS as well. However, nobody currently makes any MorphOS compatible hardware, so I had nowhere to go and beg. Luckily, OSNews reader AmigaRobbo generously offered to loan me his EFIKA machine, with MorphOS installed. I took a look at MorphOS, and found a very quick and efficient operating system - which was sadly held back by the limitations of the EFIKA.


The pickle jar

Usually what I do first in a review like this is provide an overview of the history of the operating system I'm about to dive into. The plan for this review is no different, except for the fact that I found it very hard to find good information on MorphOS' rather short but eventful history. This probably has something to do with the sharp disagreements that took place between a number of developers and Genesi, the company funding development. It is likely this condensed history contains errors, so feel free to correct me.

Anyway, I'll do my best to get an as accurate as possible overview of MorphOS' history. You can pretty much follow the AmigaOS history which I jotted down for the AmigaOS review up until the mid-'90s. This was a tumultuous time for the Amiga platform; Commodore toppled over in 1994, and after that, the Amiga trademark was bounced around from owner to owner, but mostly as an empty shell without any real products.

Fed up with all this stuff, a few members of the Amiga community decided to build a new PowerPC platform and operating system from scratch. The new hardware platform was designed and built by bPlan/Genesi, while the operating system was developed by a number of individuals from the Amiga community. This would become known as MorphOS, and it started in 1999.

The earliest versions ran using PowerPC accelerator cards in classic 68k Amiga machines, while also needing parts of the AmigaOS in order to function properly. It wasn't until 2002 that the first, non-prototype Pegasos machines appeared out of collaboration between bPlan/Genesi and Thendic France, which could run either MorphOS or Linux.

Things got a bit hectic and dark in 2004, when several MorphOS developers accused Genesi of not paying them. A page was put on the MorphOS website which detailed what amounts of money Genesi owned the developers; the page itself is gone, but the thread on MorphZone is still there. Development was put on hold.

Genesi responded that they were trying hard to remain afloat themselves, but how exactly the situation has been resolved is still a mystery to me. All I do know is that at some point development picked up again, with Genesi still being the major backer of the effort. Ambient, MorphOS' desktop environment, was released as open source (GPL) too around this time.

The hardware situation for MorphOS used to be relatively bright, but currently, it's all rather bleak. Genesi had the Pegasos I, a PowerPC G3-based motherboard, followed by the Pegasos II, which used a different northbridge and introduced some fixes. The Pegasos II became available as a model with a G4 processor, too. You could also get your hands on a Pegasos II motherboard by buying Genesi's Open Desktop Workstation, a complete computer with casing and all. All of these are currently discontinued.

MorphOS also runs on Genesi's EFIKA, a small motherboard built around the 400 MHz Freescale MPC5200B SoC-processor. Further specifications include a 44-pin 2.5" IDE slot, USB ports, a serial port, stereo audio in/out jacks, a 100Mbit ethernet port, a 33/66 MHz PCI slot, and 128 MB DDR RAM.

Since the EFIKA has been discontinued as well, it is very hard to get your hands on hardware capable of running MorphOS. There have been numerous clues that the MorphOS development team is working on porting the operating system to the PowerPC Mac Mini, and maybe even other PowerPC Macs too. Sadly, after Apple's switch to Intel (have you heard?) this is just a stop-gap solution. Genesi, in the meantime, has more or less dropped their interest in the PowerPC platform, and are now focusing entirely on ARM - which MorphOS does not (yet?) support.

A third platform for MorphOS is classic Amiga machines equipped with PowerPC accelerator cards. A special version of MorphOS, called PowerUP, is available for these machines, and is free to use. The accelerator cards, however, are no longer in production.

This leaves MorphOS in a bit of a pickle. Without any hardware to run on, it's difficult to envision a future for MorphOS, so the rumoured PowerPC Mac port is rather vital for the platform's survival. A port to the sam440ep board would also be welcome, as ACube is still making and selling them.

I'll first dive into describing the hardware used for this review, during which I will also explain why I found it very difficult to review MorphOS properly (clue: it's a hardware limitation). After the hardware, I will detail some of the characteristics of MorphOS and what differences I - not an Amigan - found between AmigAOS 4.x and MorphOS. As a result of MorphOS being very much like AmigaOS 4.x, as well as because of it running mostly the same applications, this review will build upon the AmigaOS 4.1 one. Especially on the applications front, the operating systems have a lot in common, so rehashing everything seems a bit redundant.

As always, keep in mind that I will not compare MorphOS to Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux. Such comparisons are useless and completely beside the point. If you do not understand why, you are probably reading the wrong website.

Table of contents
  1. The pickle jar
  2. Sugar...
  3. ....spice, and everything nice.
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