That being said, there is still enough to talk about even if I didn't commit to using it as my daily operating system (what I usually do for reviews like this). Let's describe some of the low-level stuff first, obviously starting with the kernel MorphOS is built around.
MorphOS' kernel is called Quark, and it's a microkernel, which earns it lots of brownie points from the start (I prefer microkernels from a strictly aesthetic point of view). It has a lot of 'advanced' features (for the Amiga world, anyway), such as protected and virtual memory and SMP support, bu tits most defining feature, from an Amiga standpoint, is probably the ability to run entire operating systems in so-called "boxes".
Quark currently has two boxes, the first of which is called QBox. QBox is used for low-level process only. The second box ia ABox, which provides the API for applications, and is also fully compatible with AmigaOS 3.1, the last Commodore version of the venerable operating system. Thanks to Trance, a JIT compiler for 68k code, MorphOS has a high degree of compatibility with older AmigaOS software. Wikipedia adds that "for applications running under this new PowerPC ABox kernel 68k code runs as subroutines inside PowerPC tasks. For 68k or PowerPC applications it's completely transparent if some library, hook, interrupt is still 68k or already using PowerPC code."
The desktop environment used by MorphOS is Ambient, which provides a lot of advanced features but also provides the necessary legacy support for AmigaOS, such as support for the ARexx scripting language. It has support for all sorts of fancy effects, assuming you have a supported graphics card with a working driver, of course. Luckily, there is a very clear list of supported cards. Ambient also comes with a lot of built-in utilities, such as a tool for searching files, a picture viewer, a sound player, a text viewer, a system monitor, and more.
MorphOS has a 3D stack derived from TinyGL, but it has been largely overhauled so that it no longer bears much resemblance with the original tinyGL, which was designed as a subset of OpenGL for embedded devices. MorphOS also ships with Goa, which provides fully compatible reimplementations of Warp3D.library and Warp3DPPC.library, used in AmigaOS. USB support is handled by the Poseidon USB stack, which supports just about any USB device you could throw at it.
If you compare the default, out-of-the-box experience of AmigaOS 4.x to that of MorphOS 2.3, it becomes clear that the MorphOS team is more willing to make concessions to the modern times, and make the operating system a little more inviting to non-Amigans.
The various preference panels, which sport unhelpful archaic names in AmigaOS 4.x, use more sensible and descriptive names in MorphOS, as well as being grouped together in a System Preferences (Mac OS X) kind of application. This makes it a lot easier to find the settings you're looking for.
My biggest gripe with AmigaOS 4.x was the file manager, which carried over a lot of archaic and Amigisms. These Amigisms made sense at the time the Amiga could still be considered advanced, but in this day and age, they are just annoying relics that serve no purpose. The MorphOS file manager is a bit more modern in that it uses the browser paradigm for file management instead of the spatial one. While I personally prefer the spatial paradigm, it's very hard to implement right, and when done wrong, it becomes a major nuisance. In other words, I'd rather have a browser paradigm than a badly implemented spatial paradigm.
The file manager has other niceties too, such as the drop-down lists which lets you switch between showing only icons or all files - in AmigaOS4, this often-used toggle is buried in the context menu, which annoyed me quite a lot.
The MorphOS team also shows its commitment to newcomers to the Amiga world by loading the Click-to-Front utility by default. As you may remember, the Amiga does not bring windows to front when you activate them; you need to click a special title bar widget to bring it to front. I found this rather annoying, as more often than not, this widget would be covered by another window. The Click-to-Front utility allows you to double click anywhere in the window to bring it to front. I can't use AmigaOS or MorphOS without it.
On a shallower note, I'm still not entirely sure what to think of MorphOS' default theme. It's all a little too busy for my taste, filled with 1px borders. The icon set is absolutely stunning, though. Of course, Ambient is fully skinneable, so if you don't like the default theme, go out and find one that does suit your fancy.
...and everything nice.
How do you come to a conclusion about an operating system which was very hard to enjoy due to not having enough memory to play with? Well, all I can do in the case of MorphOS is assume that the experience of actually using MorphOS as my daily operating system is roughly similar to that of AmigaOS 4 - but then I'd be unfair to MorphOS.
Even from a more casual user experience with MorphOS it becomes clear that the alternative Amiga operating system feels a lot snappier, even on hardware that is more than considerably slower than the hardware I tested AmigaOS 4 on.
On top of that, MorphOS feels more welcoming to new users, as the development team have put time and thought into making it more open to people who've never used the Amiga before. Terminology is updated compared to AmigaOS 4, which makes it easier to find the settings and things you're looking for. The file manager is infinitely more usable thanks to a few small but very welcome additions. Sure, this takes away some of what Amigans would call the charm of the Amiga, but it also makes it easier to use for newcomers like myself.
And that's the crux, really. Like I said in the AmigaOS 4 review, the number of ex-Amigans is dwindling, and dwindling fast, and the portion of that number willing to shell out a lot of money for a new Amiga is even smaller. In other words, you need to draw your users from somewhere else if you want to remain viable.
It is clear to me that the MorphOS team is trying to look for ways to make the operating system more appealing to people outside of the Amiga community, and I applaud that. The anticipated port to PowerPC Macs means the operating system will suddenly have a huge pool of machines it can be installed on, and if they price it right, I can certainly see a number of people here on OSNews willing to give it a go. Snow Leopard is Intel-only, and knowing Apple and its 3rd party developers, Leopard is already dead and buried, ceremony held, tombstone put in place. Sure, you can run Linux, but wouldn't it be nicer to run something more exotic?
As much as a port to PowerPC Macs would help the platform, it is by far not a solution. With Genesi focussing entirely on ARM, I can only hope for a MorphOS ARM port, but how that would affect application compatibility remains to be seen.