Amiga: Get Your Head Out of the Sand

It was a nice departure last week, to write about not so serious matters, in order to make fun of everything and everyone (including myself). Today, however, it’s back to more serious matters (if you can call computer matters ‘serious’, of course): Amiga OS4. Or how it will fail utterly if Hyperion/Amiga Inc. don’t get their heads out of the sand. Note: Sunday Eve Column.

For years now, Hyperion has been working on the successor to AmigaOS 3, surprisingly called Amiga OS4. For years they’ve been releasing test versions of it; with each of those releases, flurries of screenshots and feature descriptions were sent our way to spark our interest. I think I speak for many when I say that they succeeded fairly well in doing just that: in every Amiga-related thread on OSNews, there are numerous people stating interest in Amiga OS4. Amiga OS4 may have a potential customer base the size of YellowTAB’s Zeta.

Yet, only three men and a cow are able to actually run the damn thing.

Which is obviously kind of sad. The problem is a lack of hardware. Amiga, Inc., who licensed the development of Amiga OS4 out to Hyperion, demands that Amiga OS4 can only be obtained through buying a computer that comes bundled with it. But– if there is no company that even makes PowerPC-based Amiga-compatible computers in the first place– how are you going to sell your operating system?

Before I continue, let me confess that I have little to no experience with the Amiga (other than this review). However, I think that goes for about 95% of the people who read OSNews and/or belong the potential customer base of Amiga OS4. While this on the one hand means I might overlook important things due to not knowing the whole scene inside-out, it also means I have a fresh and open view to it all.

But let’s get back to the question: how are you going to sell an operating system if there’s no hardware to run it on? There are various solutions, if you ask me.

Most logically: get hardware vendors to make hardware for you. Currently, as I said, there is no company doing just that. EyeTech used to make AmigaOnes which are capable of running OS4, but besides those three men and a cow, nobody has one, and they are currently unavailable. Rumours are abound that Hyperion is in contact with other hardware companies to build Amiga computers, but little to nothing has yet came out.

But to be honest, who can blame the potential Amiga makers? Why would you go through all the troubles of making a computer for only 10 possible customers and a sheep? The slim market simply is not worth it. Sad enough from an OS enthusiast’s viewpoint, but completely understandable from a commercial viewpoint.

Yet, many in the Amiga scene say ‘just wait until a new Amiga computer comes out’. The fact that it are mostly AmigaOne owners asking for patience seems like an irrelevant detail.

A second, extremely controversial, option, would be to ‘port’ Amiga OS4 to run on Genesi’s Pegasos PowerPC platform. Due to the opennes of the Pegasos platform, any vendor can use the schematics provided by Genesi to build Pegasos clones.

This option is controversial because of the alleged shady past of Genesi. What really happened, nobody really knows, but enough happened to create a seemingly uncrossable rift between Genesi and Amiga Inc./Hyperion. While to a casual observer the ready-made (roughly speaking) availability of a PowerPC computer seems like too good an opportunity to not take, many inside the Amiga community will disagree. The chances of Amiga OS4 running on the Pegasos platform are close to zero.

A third option would be to port Amiga OS4 over to generic hardware. And with generic hardware I mean normal x86 hardware. PowerPC Macs may also be a possible target, but with the switch and all, it isn’t a very forward-thinking option (despite porting to PPC Macs would be a lot easier compared to porting to x86). I am not knowledgeable enough to figure out how much work exactly would be involved in porting Amiga OS4 to x86, but I think we’re safe to say it would be a pretty daunting task.

The major problem here is that it would introduce a new problem for Amiga OS4: hardware support. It would have to start where all really alternative operating systems have started: with extremely poor hardware support. This is exactly what they are trying to avoid by going with closed hardware. That is not the only problem. Another problem is that going the x86 route means you suddenly have a lot more competition: Linux, BSD, Zeta/Haiku, and maybe even SkyOS and Syllable. And last but not least, it would introduce the concept of piracy to Amiga OS4, depriving Hyperion of possible sales.

In conclusion, all the possibilities seem rather unlikely. The best option, looking at it from an outsider’s perspective who doesn’t bear any grudges and old fueds on his shoulders, the Pegasos route seems the best option. The problems are more emotional than technical. Pegasos computers appeal to a whole lot more people than just Amiga users: Linux support for the Pegasos is supposedly excellent.

But if Hyperion and Amiga Inc. are not able to pull their heads out of the sand– that is, to forget past grudges and move on for the sake of the platform– then I don’t think Amiga OS4 will ever make it to my or your desktop. Not in a ready-for-the-desktop kind of way, but in a no-way-to-actually-buy-or-run-it kind of way.

Sad, really.

–Thom Holwerda

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