Interview: Nicholas Blachford, Eclipsis Project Manager, on MorphOS

This weekend was the official launch of a brand new platform, by Genesi. New platforms are rare these days, so this one is something to watch out for. MorphOS is a fully 32bit, pre-emptively multi-tasking operating system for the PowerPC range of CPUs, and is included with each Pegasos motherboard sold. We have some information about the system, three screenshots, and we also talked to Nicholas Blachford, Eclipsis project manager about MorphOS.

Here is the MorphOS platform at a glance:

  • Native PowerPC Operating System

  • Supports Pegasos and Amigas fitted with PowerUP cards

  • Runs Native PPC and Amiga OS (to v3.1) RTG Applications

  • 68K JIT compiler runs applications at up to 75% of native PPC speed

  • Hardware 3D support (3dfx, 3DLabs, SiS + more to come)

  • New Ambient Desktop with 24 bit colour support

  • Fully Skinnable user interface

  • MUI Object Orientated GUI Toolkit

  • Media Player (Frogger)

  • Multi-threaded Image viewer (MysticView)

  • Web browser (Voyager)

  • PDF viewer (APDF)

  • Built in Software Development Kit

  • AHI Audio

  • USB Support

  • Multiple 64 bit Filesystems supported including FFS2 & SFS

  • Click for a larger version

    Pegasos MicroATX Mainboard with:

  • 600 MHz PowerPC G3 (to Dual PowerPC G4)

  • 133 MHz processor slot

  • VIA SouthBridge

  • 2 PC133 RAM sockets (up to 2 Gbytes)

  • AGP X2 slot

  • 3 PCI slots, optional Riser Card.

  • Firewire (IEEE1394) to 400 Mbit data transfer rate

  • 10/100 Mbit Ethernet connector

  • 2 USB connectors + 2 headers

  • Built in Audio (Mic input, line in/out and headphone connectors)

  • SPDIF Audio out

  • IRDA connector for infra-red remote control

  • ATA100 with two channels for up to four ATA devices

  • PS/2 mouse connector

  • RS232 (serial) port

  • Parallel (Centronics) port

  • Floppy drive connector

  • Gameport for PC-compatible joysticks

  • OpenFirmware based BIOS

  • MorphOS and Debian Linux included

  • Low Power consumption: Low Noise

  • Multiple Operating systems supported: MorphOS, Debian Linux, SUSE Linux

  • More info about technical details, read here.

    1. Is a port of MacOnLinux emulator a possibility for Morphos in order to run MacOS9/X?

    Nicholas Blachford: Hmm, this is a difficult one because Apple’s EULA forbids you from running their OS on a different platform. If someone wants to port it they can feel free but I don’t know if it’s something we can get involved in. On the other hand we’ve heard BeOS PPC might run on MacOnLinux and we are actively investigating this. That said MOL does run on the Pegasos Hardware (we supply Debian Linux along with MorphOS).

    2. Is a port of MorphOS to x86 planned?

    Nicholas Blachford: Not at the moment. I would be interested to see some version available under x86 though even if it was just under emulation, that would allow x86 users to see what MorphOS was capable of.

    3. What are the media capabilities of MorphOS? These days people crave for video editors, digital camera support, USB 2, Firewire…

    Nicholas Blachford: We supply a very capable media player built in called Frogger which handles dozens of Audio and Visual formats including of course MP3s. There is TV card support built in.

    There is also third party Multimedia support for: Digital Cameras. A DV video editor is in the works called Motion Studio. Analogue Video was very big on the Amiga (and still used to this day) and this too is in the works.

    Click for a larger version

    4. To which audience MorphOS is targeted exactly?

    Nicholas Blachford: At the moment our market is “Alternative Computing” starting with current and Ex Amiga users, it provides a very similar feel and runs a lot of their software via a 68K emulator (provided it doesn’t access the custom chips). There was and is a great deal of software available some of which has never appeared on any other system so this provides a body of mature software for users to work with, somewhat unusual for a brand new platform.

    Going forward we are up against Windows, MacOS and Linux. We haven’t a hope attacking these markets so we intend to target different niches, there are many specific markets out there which are not dependant on Windows or Unix, they may use one of these Operating Systems but the computers primary purpose in these cases is for use as a tool and we can address these markets, looking at what they need and providing it.

    Even then we can’t stand still, we have to provide advanced and unique technology if we want to survive. So we have other products in development based on our existing technologies such as the Eclipsis which is a powerful convergence device which combines the worlds of Phone, PDA and Laptop and still fits in your pocket.

    On the other hand our hardware is an open platform and we are actively looking for other Operating Systems. We ship with MorphOS and Debian Linux and we are talking to other OS writers / vendors (Gentoo, Mandrake, NetBSD, OpenBSD etc.). We also hope to get Zeta and OpenBeOS working at some point.

    5. Please give us the specs (memory, hard drive, gfx card etc) of the computer that runs MorphOS.

    Nicholas Blachford: The Pegasos is a MicroATX motherboard so the resellers are free to decide which sort of components are used. The current CPU is a 600Mhz G3 which is attached via a CPU card. This can be upgraded later to a G4 or dual G4 card (up to 1.4 GHz).

    The system requirements for MorphOS are low, much lower than the lowest cost systems our resellers provide. It runs happily with Apps in 64MB on a 160Mhz PPC 603 (G2), a 100MB HD should provide ample storage.

    5A. Will there be *hardware accelerated* 3D support and OpenGL?

    Nicholas Blachford: There is Hardware 3D support via the Rave3D and Warp3D APIs. OpenGL API compatible support in hardware and software is being worked on for a number of cards. We expect to be able to provide good support for ATI cards in the future.

    5B. Will there be support for professional audio?

    Nicholas Blachford: There is basic audio but not much for Pro Audio *yet* but that is an important target market for us. Audio users can expect OS level support for Pro Audio in the future.

    6. What kind of performance are we talking about on MorphOS in regards to both YellowDogLinux, OSX and the classic AmigaOS?

    Nicholas Blachford: If you mean responsiveness, it rocks. It destroys everything – even BeOS – and that’s on a G3! MorphOS boots in under 3 seconds. As for classic AmigaOS our JIT engine can run apps at up to 75% of native PPC speed. Even the slowest PPC Amiga accelerators running MorphOS can outrun the fastest Amigas ever shipped.

    7. What is the main web browser in the OS? Is there a possibility for Mozilla?

    The system is shipped with a browser called Voyager which has flash support, another browser called A-WEB also runs fine. We are looking into getting Phoenix (a smaller version of Mozilla) ported.

    Click for a larger version

    8. What language is the main API based upon? Is there support for Java, C++?

    It’s written in C with a little assembly. It can be programmed with a variety of different languages. You can essentially use whatever language you want. Java isn’t available yet but it is in development.

    9. AmigaOS 4 comes out soon, and so is MorphOS. Please compare the two for our readers and explain their good, bads and differences between the two OSes.

    Nicholas Blachford: The aim of the two systems is the same but the approaches are very different. We are creating an entirely new operating system (architecturally similar to BeOS) and inside this we have created an “A-Box” which is compatible with the Amiga OS API. This may sound incredibly kludgy but the original OS has some pretty fundamental limitations and this approach contains these within the box allowing us to create a new modern OS from a fresh start without being tied down.

    Amiga’s approach is to port AmigaOS to PowerPC and at the same try to remove the fundamental limitations. This is in our opinion a great deal more difficult and is very likely to break existing applications. They do have an advantage over us in that they have the original source but this is tempered by the fact they don’t have the original programmers and at least some is known to be in assembly code.

    It’s very difficult to compare the implementations of the two as Amiga have never really shown much working in public yet whereas we’ve just shipped our first production systems and had a public beta going for over 2 years.

    One advantage we have is integration of OS and hardware. We are one of the few companies in the world who design our own hardware and write our own OS (Amiga do neither). When we recently found some hardware bugs in one of the components we were able to get a workaround added in hardware, this can be done in software but that may work by simply disabling something, this is obviously not an ideal solution so in this case close integration worked very well.

    10. Which Mac hardware will be able to run MorphOS? How easy it would be for a Mac user to install MorphOS in his Mac? What about the bootmanager?

    Nicholas Blachford: This is planned for development, next year. Can’t give any details as yet.

    11. On average, how many applications will be available for MorphOS at the time of its release?

    Nicholas Blachford: We can run Amiga apps so we have a running start with the thousands of apps already available, we can’t run apps that required the custom chips but well written applications haven’t done that in a long time. 68K apps can be made PPC native as this is pretty much a recompile with perhaps a few minor tweaks. This has already been done for many apps and many more are in the pipeline.

    There are no Q applications yet as that is yet to be developed but we will have a transition phase so applications can time gain access the more advanced Q functions as they are developed then once Q is ready complete switch completely over.

    12. How exactly do the AmigaOS classic applications will run on MorphOS? Will they share the same desktop with Ambient, or the AmigaOS emulated apps will have to load in their own workbench or another full screen window?

    Nicholas Blachford: Before answering this I should explain a difference between the Amiga and other platforms:

    Amiga apps either opened on Workbench (the desktop) or in many cases opened their own screen, games are usually the only things that do this on other platforms.

    On MorphOS they do much the same (with Ambient replacing Workbench). The emulated apps don’t appear any different from native apps apart from a difference in speed.

    13. Do you have plans to use AA fonts and maybe the Freetype Font library?

    Nicholas Blachford: It’s not in the first version properly but we do plan to support AA fonts. Freetype 2.0 is supported so applications using it supports AA fonts.


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