Last Saturday I attended a MorphOS demonstration in Rotterdam. MorphOS is a PPC AmigaOS clone capable of executing many 68k and PPC classic AmigaOS software titles through seamlessly integrated emulation. This article takes a close look at MorphOS’ current state of development and includes some recent screenshots of the PPC native Ambient GUI environment. MorphOS has already been under development for several years, and an early version has been available for PPC equipped Amigas for quite some time now. This early version however did not yet have its own GUI environment, but instead can emulate a Workbench 3.x AmigaOS GUI environment. Initially, MorphOS was even being evaluated by Amiga Inc. to become the official new AmigaOS4 desktop operating system, but as Amiga Inc. had just spent almost 5 million dollars on acquiring Amiga’s assets, they understandably wanted to remain the owner and fully in control of future AmigaOS releases. However bPlan, just as understandly, could not agree to such terms as they had already done alot of work themselves and view MorphOS as a fundamental part of bPlan’s future products. So, no agreement could be reached and the legal status of the OS has been in doubt within the Amiga community ever since (allegedly, because the development team has had access to AmigaOS source code). Of course many different aspects and views are to be considered, which however go far beyond the purpose of this article.
Currently MorphOS runs with its own PPC native AmigaOS-clone GUI environment , called Ambient, on 600 Mhz G3 powered beta-tester PEGASOS boards. This microATX form factor motherboard includes a processor slot which can take a processor card with up to 2 MPC 7450 G4 PPC CPUs onboard and most likely G5 CPU in the future. Two G3 beta-tester boards equipped with ATi Radeon graphic cards running MorphOS were being demonstrated in Rotterdam, and my first impression was: “Wow, this OS boots really FAST!”. The OS only takes 5 seconds to boot into a full desktop GUI environment as shown in the provided screenshots. Certainly something you would only expect from AmigaOS! After this, several 68k and PPC Amiga applications were being demonstrated, and all of these ran with remarkable performance. The OS and most applications seem to fly, especially compared to Macintosh OSes as while running similar software titles, which in the case of the Macintosh simply seem to crawl on similar specification hardware!
To summarize, first impressions were: impressive bootup speeds, fast and seamless retargetable AmigaOS 3.x 68k and PPC software compatibility and a fast overall GUI experience. On the hardware side, the PEGASOS is a compact, well designed motherboard and a complete system operates very quietly. However, my impression was also that still quite some work needs to be done until MorphOS is ready for general consumers. The three beta-testers/developers demonstrating MorphOS had just received a new software update from the core MorphOS team, which broke compatibility with quite a few applications as well as introducing some bugs. Although the OS itself was still pretty stable, many emulated applications did not function properly. There was also a bug in the sheduling which caused performance problems while running some software titles simultaneously. For instance, window dragging with a movie playing simultaneously inside was being demonstrated and the movie indeed continued to play flawlessly while dragging, at least until it suddenly stopped playing. Most of these problems are expected to be solved by the time the MorphOS/PEGASOS teams attend the big German Amiga fair, which is to be held on the 7th and 8th of December 2002 at the Eurogress in Aachen. This video coverage of last year’s main German Amiga event includes an interesting interview with bPlan’s technical director Gerald Carda.
Thendic-France, has acquired the rights to organize and manage the worldwide distribution of bPlan’s PEGASOS motherboards, which should ship with both MorphOS and Yellow Dog Linux operating systems when available. For the future this company also plans to make a handheld computer called the Eclipsis, which will be based on PEGASOS and MorphOS technology. Additionally, an AGA compatible custom chip is also planned, which should allow usage of classic AGA chipset bound software, as well as adding some new powerful features.