This article includes many exclusive pictures, 5 new AmigaOS4 screenshots and some exclusive AmigaOS4 information. Within the first section of this article I will try to give some relevant background information about the history of new Amiga products. Then sections will follow regarding the new PowerPC based Amiga hardware platform, the new AmigaOS4, how users can contribute and finally I will write about the potential niche markets for new Amiga systems.
The wait for an entirely new Amiga computer is almost over. Nearly 10 years have past since we saw an entirely new Amiga desktop computer. A large part of these 10 years have been frustrating for AmigaOS fans, who saw Amiga’s parent company, Commodore, go under at a time when Amigas were still selling incredibly well for the European home computer market and within the graphics/video field all around the world.
The original Amiga computer (mpg video link), since its release in 1985, was extremely innovating and revolutionary in many different regards. For instance, Amiga’s Original Chip Set (OCS), was years ahead of contemporary chipsets available on other platforms. This advanced chipset made the Amiga the first home computer to be able to show photorealistic pictures with up to 4096 colors simultaniously back in 1985. This revolutionary system also came with a 32 bit pre-emptive multitasking operating system, nearly a full decade before similar desktop offerings existed from Microsoft and even more recently from Apple. With the release of new PPC based AmigaOS4 systems, the Amiga community itself will take a giant leap towards becoming on par again with these two commercial desktop OS giants.
Maybe you now wonder: “How did this all start to come into fruition?”. Well that’s a very long story, so I shall first sum up only a small part of related historical events and after that I shall devote seperate sections to the new PPC hardware and the new PPC native Amiga operating system:
After many years of bad luck and the changing hands of Amiga technology, Gateway, another multi-billion dollar giant eventually acquired Amiga in 1997. Soon after they realized that the Amiga market welcomed them anxiously, they committed (mpg video link) themselves to bring the Amiga computer back for the future. It is no secret that monopolistic forces within the computer industry stopped them from doing so. Then two and a half years ago, Bill McEwen and Fleecy Moss, two previously sacked Amiga employees from the Gateway era, finally were able to buy Amiga from Gateway. The new company currently works together with many 3rd parties to develop a new PPC based desktop computer running AmigaOS4, while they themselves are mainly developing AmigaDE, the Amiga Digital Environment. AmigaDE is a revolutionary new technology which should eventually enable users, including AmigaOS users, to use whatever AmigaDE content on any device regardless of CPU or operating system. Unlike other platform independent technologies the AmigaDE has extremely small memory footprints and fast execution speeds for multimedia purposes. For more information about this technology there is a demonstration video available giving a good indication of some of the potential.
The new Amiga company also has had to deal with its ups and downs, with its downs mainly caused by the recent slowdown of the techmarket. Gary Peake, Amiga’s Director of Developer Support summed it up pretty well in this public message. At the time of this posting Gary was just recovering from a heart attack himself (it happened only last month!). The fact that he continues to work with much devotion for Amiga Inc. so soon after his unfortunate health experiences, shows the amazingly dedicated spirit the AmigaDE/OS team has for realizing their dreams.
After Commodore went bankrupt, the Amiga community itself continued to enhance the platform. The Amiga developer community created new hardware solutions based on mainstream hardware technologies to enhance Amiga hardware from the late 80s and early 90s. Gradually the market moved more and more towards retargetable software solutions supporting mainstream graphic cards, sound chips and even hybrid PPC co-processor solutions. In many ways the AmigaOS4, which is being developed under the management of Hyperion Entertainment, is the result of this ongoing evolution, while taking the OS an enormous step forward. Because of the power of modern hardware, the original combination of proprietary mainboards are no longer necessary. Instead, AmigaOne computers will consist of PowerPC based motherboards using off the shelf USB, PCI and AGP hardware expansions. These new AmigaOne boards are based on MAI Logic’s Teron CX/PX hardware architecture.
Although the OS will run natively on modern PowerPC processors, it will also include a high performance fully integrated 68k JIT emulator mainly for legacy software support. The AmigaOS4 will also continue to support the current range of PPC enabled Amigas. Ben Hermans, the AmigaOS4 project manager, recently informed me that the new USB stack for AmigaOS4 already works with Highway and Subway USB controllers.
Regarding Graphic cards support, 2D/3D drivers for ATI Radeon, Matrox G450/G550, Voodoo 3, Permedia 2/3 and Matrox Parhelia graphic cards are under development or already finished. The 3D drivers, Warp3D and OpenGL 1.3 support are being implemented by Hyperion Entertainment themselves.
The first AmigaOneG3-SE board has the following specifications and is already available to a select group of developers, the end user version will come bundled with AmigaOS4 and will have a different ROM as compared to the developer board:
– Soldered G3 PowerPC processor at 600 Mhz
– 2 133 MHz FBS SDRAM slots for upto 2GB Graphics support
– AGP slot on 2 buses
– 4 PCI slots Legacy Support
– FDD/Serial/Parallel/PS2 keyboard and mouse
– BIOS ROM with OS4.0 extensions
– 2 USB connectors + 2 more on headers
– 10/100 Mbps Ethernet
– AC97 (Audio)
– MC97 (Data/Fax/Modem)
– UDMA 100/ATAPI – 2 channels (4 devices)
– Gameport/Real time clock
The price of an AmigaOne/AmigaOS4 bundle excluding VAT and eventual shipping costs is expected to be around 550 USD. A more expensive version of the motherboard called the AmigaOne-XE is also planned, this board will include a socketed G4 CPU and a trade-in option for AmigaOneG3-SE purchasers will be available through AmigaOne dealers.
The development of a PPC native AmigaOS
The completely rewritten PPC native AmigaOS kernel with lots of new features, including memory protection, virtual memory, resource tracking and a hardware abstraction layer has taken most of the time to be properly implemented. Development of AmigaOS4 has mainly been taking place on classic Amiga computers with the usage of PPC upgrade boards, PCI bridges and mainstream graphic cards. However I am glad to report that the AmigaOS4 boot process for the AmigaOne hardware is already implemented, the complete port will soon start as the final BIOS ROM is completed. In case you wondered, AmigaOne boards have been debugged with usage of TurboLinux, here are some photos of the OS running on an AmigaOne pre-production board. Next to a much more advanced kernel, another major overhaul was done on AmigaOS’ new fully costumizable Graphic User Interface. The team have put alot of effort in making the new Intuition and ReAction GUI system for AmigaOS4 as advanced and cleanly implemented as possible. Out of the box you should be able to customize just about anything of the user interface, here are some screenshots demonstrating some of the Menu configurability.
The new kernel and graphics system are fully PPC native. However considering the enormous scale of the project, some AmigaOS libraries will remain 68k executables until they are rewritten in later versions of the OS, hence the integrated 68k emulator will be used. Next to the pieces mentioned above, the following new software have been confirmed to be included in AmigaOS4:
– PPC native media player with DiVX support
– PPC native AmiNetStack – TCP/IP stack
– PDF viewer and printing system based on Ghostscript and xPDF
– New installer based on InstallerNG
– Advanced new HD Prep Utility
– PPC native AmiFFS2 – new reimplementation of the AmiFFS
A more detailed list is available here. Note that this earlier list is still lacking some of the above mentioned pieces. Some parts are still heavily under development though and will not make it into the initial AmigaOS4.0 release, but they are planned to follow in future updates, these parts include a new Datatypes system and a fully integrated AmigaDE. The remaining 68k code will gradually be ported to PPC native code.
The AmigaOS4 team have made it clear that they want to implement everything as cleanly as possible, this to ensure that they won’t run into major problems for the future. This, of course, has taken alot of time and effort, but the team is now implementing the finishing touches for the initial enduser release. A version for Cyberstorm powered PPC Amigas is expected to arrive first. AmigaOS4.0 should be a solid base for Amiga Inc and its partners to expand upon their future enhancements. Many existing retargetable 68k and PPC applications should be able to run on AmigaOS4.0. Also there already appears to be a healthy interest for AmigaOS4 software development, some publicly known titles include Realsoft3D and Audio Evolution. You can read about these two titles in a recent AmigaFlame article here and some other software including the internet browser IBrowse and the office package OpenOffice.org in another article here.
Currently it is important for Amiga Inc and its partners to have a clear indication of how many AmigaOS4 units will be sold initially. They want to get clear figures on the minimal AmigaOS4 userbase, to be able to attract more software developers. This is one reason outlined in Amiga’s latest executive update for the new Amiga club promotion. By joining the “I am Amiga Club” for 50.00 USD, (EUR 50.00, or GBP 32.50), you will be able get a free Amiga T-shirt and a 50 USD (EUR 50.00, or GBP 32.50) discount coupon for usage with either an AmigaOS4, AmigaOS4/AmigaOne bundle or complete AmigaOne desktop computer purchase. The membership is being sold at Amiga’s online shop and at the websites of some AmigaOne dealers, namely Computer City (The Netherlands), KDH Datentechnik (Germany) and Vesalia (Germany).
I am pleased to see that hunderds of people have joined the Amiga club already. This means that we can initially look forward to an AmigaOS4 community of at least the size of Be Inc’s BeBox computer. Of course not every AmigaOS4 costumer has joined the club yet, as not everyone gets their information from Amiga websites, some people are on vacation and many others want to be able to read a review or see the finished product before making use of such a promotion. The latter is of course understandable, but it would help alot if you could show your support now. Remember that those AmigaOS4 developers have written amazing commercial and/or completely free software titles for the Amiga in the past. Good promotion sales now, would give the 30 or so involved OS developers an important thumbs up for their efforts! So if you are sure you want AmigaOS4, then please act now! Also if Amiga can show that there is a big enough interest in AmigaOS4, more hardware companies could be convinced to support AmigaOS4.
Finally it would be great if people would be able to make hardware/software developers, potential users and retailers aware of the soon to be released AmigaOS4 desktop multimedia operating system and the new PPC based AmigaOne hardware. The more people join our efforts, the better chance we have in making a difference and offering a viable alternative within the computing industry. Also other alternative operating systems can add alot of added value to the AmigaOne hardware platform, especially during the initial period while expanding the AmigaOS4 software library. There are many good OS projects out there, each serving its own purpose and each offering its own benefits. The new AmigaOne platform should be brought to the attention of alternative OS developers.
Going after AmigaOS4 niche markets
It is obvious that the people who already joined the “I am Amiga Club” are true AmigaOS fans. They know AmigaOS’ benefits like: good hardware optimised performance, unmatched responsiveness, unmatched multitasking and a low bloat memory footprint. For them AmigaOS itself is the killer application. What will be more of a challenge is to convince people who haven’t used AmigaOS for many years, let alone the people who have never even touched it. That’s why I believe the Amiga community has to concentrate on different niche markets, step by step expanding, more and more into the mainstream.
I believe the first important niche markets, would be the professional graphic/video and music/audio markets. The Amiga still has a well known and positive image within these market segments. Great audio, 3D rendering and graphic manupulation software started out on the Amiga platform. Video capture and editing on the new Amiga could, when well implemented, become very interesting to general computer hobbyists again. The solid high performance multitasking nature of AmigaOS would be a huge advantage here. Another killer application for AmigaOS could be presentation/multimedia production software like Scala. Many people have come into contact with this excellent piece of software, also because it came bundled with many sold Amiga systems in the past.
Then there still is a huge demoscene where the Amiga computer still has a truly astounding reputation. The scene could offer a huge pool of talent, for instance the people behind Maturefurk (last year’s winning Assembly demogroup with their 68k Amiga demo Lapsuus) are also the people who created the top selling game Max Payne. Already alot of good Amiga PPC demos are being released at DemoParties, new cleanly implemented hardware like that of the AmigaOne will allow demos to be pushed to even higher quality levels.
Although there have been some very good wordprocessor titles available for the Amiga in the past, the Amiga computer does not have a well known desktop publishing and wordprocessing history. Current users need to be kept contented with packages like OpenOffice.org, offering good compatibility with mainstream applications, but IMO for the first years to come it is unlikely that new users will be attracted to our platform for such usages. Similarly internet tools and webbrowsers are imporant to please the users, but will not by itself attract many new users. However the high degree of user interface costumizability offered by many such applications on the Amiga, could prove to be a selling point. Luckily a new PPC native version of MUI will become available for AmigaOS4, while a highly improved version of ReAction comes integrated with the new operating system.
Finally there are the gaming and nostalgia emulation scenes. Apart from a couple of exclusive game titles, most of the games will likely be ported from other platforms. It will take a long time before the new Amiga has established itself firmly enough to get the top selling titles first. Regardless entertainment titles have proven themselves to be essential for the success of desktop systems and luckily the Amiga has an excellent reputation within the gaming industry. Also the AmigaDE, when it becomes succesful on target platforms like PDAs, cellphones, game consoles and STBs, could offer a good and simple source for new Amiga games development. One should not forget that the Amiga platform was also the birthing ground for many good emulators (including games consoles) and for the people who want to use classic Amiga software demanding old chipsets an improved PPC version of UAE would be a very important tool. It should be noted however that there is a company developing a PCI based solution to connect an A1200 motherboard, which should then allow direct AGA chipset access.
What is your opinion? How can we make the best impact with only limited resources?