posted by Eugenia Loli on Mon 19th May 2003 17:32 UTC
IconGenesi was very kind to send us in a fully featured Pegasos-based computer with MorphOS and Debian pre-installed. Here is our review with a number of screenshots of the supported OSes. Update: That machine has now being donated to the Computer History Museum in the Bay Area.

The hardware

MorphOS First of all, we all have to understand what we are dealing with here. Genesi's business is to create a brand new platform. Not just OS software. And not just hardware. But a brand new platform based on the IBM/Motorola PowerPC G3 and G4 CPUs. In fact, the whole point of the Pegasos platform is for users to select the OS(es) that they want to run by buying only the motherboard & CPU and then adding supported hardware on top of it and literally building the system from scratch. Does it sound too geeky? Trust me, it is. And this can be the biggest strength of this platform or its main drawback for wider adoption. It depends how you see it.

The motherboard itself is a slick piece of hardware. It is a MicroATX mainboard (236 mm x 172 mm), 600 MHz PowerPC G3 750 CXe, (scaling up to a Dual PowerPC G4 MPC 7450). Two sockets of PC133 RAM (up to 2 GB), an AGP slot, 3 PCI slots, USB 1.1, Firewire 400, RealTek NIC, AC97 sound card, two ATA-100 channels, PS/2 mouse and keyboard. I was sent a G3 at 600 Mhz and except for the fact that the machine arrived with the CPU card floating around (it didn't have any screws or holders to keep the CPU in the slot during shipping-- so beware if you are moving houses), the CPU did deliver according to the expectations (glxgears -- just as an example -- delivers between 50 and 60 fps in software mode with an ATi Radeon 7500 AGP, while my dual Celeron 533 on Mandrake does between 80 and 90 fps with a 3Dfx Voodoo5).

If I am to pick my favorite feature of the system that would be its noise levels: the system is completely silent. Worse point: It's price. At around $450-500, it is pricey. For this amount of CPU power and motherboard, I wouldn't personally pay more than $250-300. But hey, Pegasos is exotic in many ways and that compensates a bit.

So, the hardware is slick, but what is the hardware without the actual software, right? Currently, with the Pegasos platform you will find two operating systems included and further supported: MorphOS 1.3 and a port of Debian GNU/Linux 3.x.

MorphOS

MorphOS MorphOS is an interesting little operating system, but it is too little to lead the "platform" idea all by its own. The version I was sent (1.3) was problematic and nowhere near a true 1.0 commercial release, quality-wise. The main reason why someone would want to run MorphOS is to get access to the thousand of AmigaOS software via its emulation "A-BOX" kit, which enables MorphOS to run classic Amiga programs, 68k/PPC that do not depend on the Amiga's custom chips (there are no more than 80-90 native MorphOS applications/ports that I could find in one place). Unfortunately, except for a handful of supported AmigaOS applications, the rest wouldn't just refuse to run, they would completely crash the system (so much for protected memory). Reseting the system left me with an un-initialized keyboard that wouldn't work until I turned off the machine completely and left it off for 10 seconds or so. I presume that one of the ways MorphOS manages to boot in less than 5 seconds is by not initializing the hardware during boot-up. Yes, you read that right, it only takes 5 seconds to boot up to a fully functional MorphOS, and yes, MorphOS feels extremely fast (loading apps, UI responsiveness etc). UAE (Amiga Emulator) runs on MorphOS, but it is not a real solution in this case, as we could run UAE on our Windows too if we need to. The whole point of MorphOS is to load AmigaOS software easily and painlessly interacting normally with the native apps. But that part is not worked out perfectly yet.

The OS came with a media player (Frogger) that can play divx and mpeg, there are three browsers available for it, with similar page rendering capability as Netscape 3 or 4, Bochs to run a text mode Linux in it, two or three games (all from Epic-Interactive), a graphics editing application, a WinAMP-like mp3 player. Two glaring omissions are an IM app that can do AIM, MSN and/or Y! and a text editor. I needed to edit a few text files, and the AmigaOS apps I downloaded while searching for a text editor wouldn't always work. There is accelerated 3D support in the OS (mostly with Voodoo3 cards), but I didn't find any 3D apps that utilize the 3D stack, so I can't really comment on its performance.

MorphOS The second biggest problem with MorphOS is the nonexistent networking stack (the Genesi pages talk about AmiTCP, but that was not part of the installation I was sent). You will need to run a shareware application (in my case was "Miami") which loads a networking stack in the userspace on the fly in order to access the network. Other problems include the non-existance of MIME types (I don't even get an "open with" context menu), while Ambient itself and its pref panels is less than intuitive. Also, the window manager buttons are extremely small, I had really hard time... aiming and shooting at them with my mouse. The widgets also look unfriendly and there is no real coherant look for the applications. Usually applications look different than other apps.

Overall, MorphOS doesn't have the sparkle that a modern OS should have. It feels like a remnant of another era. A beloved era for many people for sure, but another, older era nonetheless. I don't see MorphOS (in its current shape) as the main attraction for this platform, unless Genesi puts a number of engineers to work hard to bring this OS up to speed and usability levels that other OSes today like OSX, Linux or Windows have. It seems that this is happening though, as this new screenshot of Morphos 1.4-alpha shows, now with AA fonts. I will definately be following the development of the OS closely.

Table of contents
  1. The Hardware, MorphOS
  2. Debian, OSes, Conclusion
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