Today, most Amiga users and developers own PCs next to their Amiga platform(s). The PC platform is currently the only “cheap” solution available to give access to modern day hardware. This is why many Amiga fans use it as a development platform or use PCs for applications which aren’t available for the currently dated Amiga hardware platform . Of course, this is soon to change with advent of new PPC based AmigaOS 4.x compatible computers on the horizon, as well as a huge variety of AmigaDE enabled devices. But there is also another way: run AmigaOS on your PC. This article will review a new product, AmigaOS XL, which allows you to run the AmigaOS under any modern PC. Screen shots included.
In the past, AmigaOS emulation was not a popular solution within the Amiga community, as it offers sub-optimal performance. However, after almost a decade of virtually no major hardware advancements and the rapid increase of raw computing power found in modern day graphic chipsets and processors, this eventually allowed AmigaOS to be emulated on PC hardware with acceptable performance. The biggest bottleneck however has been the multi-processor nature of the classic platform, where several chips specialized at certain tasks take the workload off the central processing unit. This ingenious design is hard to emulate on mainstream hardware solutions like that of the PC. For instance, emulating complex Amiga games which run smoothly on ancient 7 Mhz Amigas with only one Megabyte of memory sometimes are rather jerky under emulation on modern day PCs with hundreds of times more raw processing power and memory available to them. During the late nineties, it became apparent to the Amiga community that emulation would play an important role in the future of the platform as the original 68k processor it uses is not being developed anymore and tops at clockspeeds of just 66 Mhz. However, even on such dated hardware, the efficiency and performance of AmigaOS often makes its user feel as if he or she is using a top model modern day computer. The user interface is far more responsive than any other desktop solution available, and features preemptive multitasking between applications, which react immediately at lightning speed. But, when using such classic 68k based platforms for processor intensive tasks like rendering 3D graphics (once an Amiga dominated niche market), or other complex calculations, the platform shows its age and all of the sudden feels like the dated machine it truly is in comparison with today’s mainstream hardware solutions.
During the last couple of years, developers within the Amiga community started to philosophize with ideas of emulating mainly retargetable standards and ripping out as much custom chip dependency as possible, this together with new Just in Time compilation techniques would result in an enormous increase of emulation performance. This brings us to AmigaOS XL, this package was designed to get the most out of AmigaOS emulation on x86 hardware while maintaining compatibility with retargetable AmigaOS standards. Thus for emulation of old Amiga games which depend heavily on classic custom chips it is best to stick with emulation solutions like Amiga Forever in combination with a (pre-configured) AmigaOS 3.0/3.1 enhancement package like “Amiga In a Box” or AmigaOS 3.9.
Many Amiga fans also own PC hardware next to their Amiga platforms despite disliking the fundamental architecture. I myself own a x86 laptop and desktop system for use with alternative OSes and development tools.
The AmigaOS XL package comes with two 68k AmigaOS emulators for the x86 platform, namely Amithlon and AmigaXL for the QNX Realtime Platform. An included CD contains a full release of the free for non-commercial use QNX RtP 6.1 distribution and another CD includes both Amithlon and AmigaXL emulators, as well as AmigaOS 3.9 and full releases of StormC 3.0 Professional, AmigaWriter 2.0, ArtEffect 3.0 and lots of extras. Also included is a small AmigaOS XL logo label to stick onto your computer. This content comes in a nicely blue waved box with bold statements like, “The most powerful and compatible Amiga you have ever seen!” printed on it.
Some printed sheets explain the basic setup of the emulators in both German and English languages. Also included are printed German manuals for both ArtEffect and AmigaWriter. English documentation for ArtEffect, AmigaWriter, AmigaOS 3.9 and StormC is provided for on the CD.
– StormC is an Amiga Inc AmigaOS (68k/PPC) and AmigaDE certified C/C++ developer package. However the version included is only suited for 68k code.
– ArtEffect is a powerful paint program and image processor combined, which supports masks, filter PlugIns and unlimited layers.
– AmigaWriter is a good word processor which supports features like Word document import, footnote management and TrueType fonts with AntiAliasing. It also supports the use of all common and many exotic image formats through AmigaOS datatypes.
One thing that does draw the user`s attention is the look of the standardly provided toolbars for both ArtEffect and AmigaWriter, as they are drawn with use of only few colors. This was done to allow these applications to run well with low specced Amigas. Although they don`t look that bad there are more colorful looking toolbars available for download.
System requirements: Any modern x86 compatible processor. To be on the safe side, Haage&Partner states 500 Mhz and 128 MB of RAM as a minimum. In practice, it will run well on less.
– AmigaXL supports all common graphic-, sound-, modem- and network cards through QNX 6.1. To know if AmigaXL runs well on your system just download the QNX Realtime Platform for evaluation. If you can successfully connect QNX RtP 6.1 to the internet, Amiga applications running within AmigaXL will be able to use this functionality as well. The same goes for sound emulation. AmigaXL has good support for both paula and AHI retargetable sound, but to be able to enjoy this feature, your soundcard needs to be properly supported under the QNX Realtime Platform.
– Amithlon supports a much smaller variety of hardware. I successfully tested it with Matrox G450 graphic cards and the Soundblaster PCI 128. I failed to get Amithlon to work properly with ATI Rage Mobility graphic cards on several systems (used in many Laptops, including mine). Although Amithlon offers greater performance levels as compared to AmigaXL, most people would need to assemble or buy a pre-assemled PC specificly for use with Amithlon so to get the most out of this emulator.
ArtEffect 3.0 running on the AmigaXL emulator
Before installing AmigaXL, you will need to get QNX RtP 6.1 up and running. This is a lightweight realtime operating system well known by many Amiga users, and therefore excellently suitable for hosting Amiga XL. Installing this operating system is very easy to accomplish, it can be done in around 5 minutes. The QNX RtP CD is directly bootable, but also after inserting the CD on a PC running Windows, a setup menu will pop up (in case the automatic startup of CDs is disabled you need to manually double click the setup icon which can be found in the root directory). You will be offered the option to install on a seperate partition or as an image file on a FAT-32 formatted Windows partition. A bootloader menu will automaticly be added on older Windows versions, but if you dislike using the bootloader simply delete the QNX related lines from your Windows config.sys script-file and instead use the CD or a bootdisk to boot into your image filed QNX RtP distribution. You can also use the QNX RtP CD or bootdisk to boot into seperately partitioned installations, so actually no extra bootmanager would be needed. Also must be noted that QNX RtP offers multiuser support, but does not yet have an automatic login option, so you will need to choose a root password and add at least one user to be able to log into the operating system.
To log into the operating system, simply choose to run QNX RtP in the bootloader menu or boot up using a RtP CD or bootdisk and choose to run the Realtime Platform from your harddrive. Login as “root” or a previously specified user and you will boot into QNX6.1. After choosing the correct display setting you will be presented the desktop environment. Finally choose the correct keyboard and localization settings and you`re done.
To install the Amiga XL emulator, insert the AmigaOS XL CD and click on the “Installer” button located under the “Applications” group on the shelf. This will bring up the Package Installer. Subsequently double click the “QNX CD-ROM Repository,” then select “AmigaOS_XL for x86” under the “Emulation” group. (Under “Description,” you will see that Amiga XL uses 21 MB when installed.), Choose to install it, and shortly afterwards you`re done. A new entree was made in the Launch Shelf under “Utilities”. Select it, and you will boot directly into AmigaOS!
Amithlon uses only minimal Linux pieces to start an emulator. One thing that is very impressive is that (if your hardware is supported) you will be able to boot directly into AmigaOS from the AmigaOS XL CD itself. Actually, to demonstrate Amithlon, you don`t even need a harddrive, as everything needed will be stored on a virtual RAM-disk! This is a very nice feature which enables you to easily demonstrate AmigaOS to people who don`t want to be confronted with installing “unfamiliar” (dangerous?) OSes onto their systems. The installation of Amithlon on a harddrive is well described within this article.
Finally, I should tell of the existance of pre-assembled and fully pre-installed AmigaOS XL computers. For instance Haage&Partner demonstrated AmigaOS XL on pre-installed AmigaOS XL systems to Amiga fans at the Amiga 2001 show in Cologne. Also, Extreme Computing will be showing their new AmigaOS XL powered solutions at the upcoming AmigaExpo show to be held on March, the 29th – 31st, 2002 in Baltimore.
AmigaWriter 2.0 running with the AmigaXL emulator
By default, Amiga XL and Amithlon will startup AmigaOS with a 15bit display and 800×600 resolution. To alter this, double click the “System” disk-icon, next the “Prefs” drawer and finally the “ScreenMode” icon. Now you can select your desired ScreenMode. I use a 16-bit display and 1024×768 resolution, as higher resolutions don`t make much sense on the 14.1 inch display of my laptop. (Don`t forget to test a ScreenMode before saving it to your preferences!) Also located in the “Prefs” drawer is a “Locale” preference utility. Start it to select your prefered languages and time zone. AmigaOS XL supports 20 languages; applications installed later on will automatically try to install in and use your prefered languages as well, but I should add that you can also manually overwrite this default application behaviour by the use of Tooltypes (Tooltypes are specify parameters used by programs and can be edited via the icon tab of icon information windows). Also, additional languages can easily be added by the user. Finally, you may want to use another keymap for your keyboard than the American one in the default installation. However, only a German keymap is provided for but others can be easily added afterwards. Other preference programs deal with the printers, sounds, fonts etc used by AmigaOS. You can also manually choose different patterns or background pictures for use with your Workbench desktop, Screens and Windows (all seperately). And finally, new mouse pointers can easily be added and some alternatives are already included.
The general interface will be very familiar to Amiga users of AmigaOS version 2.0 or newer. The Title bar, Windows and gadgets are still in the same style as in 1990. (Actually even the visual ‘free diskspace indicator’ from 1.x versions has been re-implementated into AmigaOS!). The benefit of the familiar standard look is that most ex-Amiga owners will feel right at home. The Close window gadget on Amiga windows are located on the upper left of window title bars, on the upper right there`s a Zoom gadget to quickly switch between two different window size/position settings (Tooltypes), and the most right gadget is for windows Depths, which allows you to change the depth position of windows. One handy tool I like to use is the ClickToFront commodity which can be found in the System:tools/commodities drawer (Note the use of a frontslash instead of a backslash in directory structures). This tool allows you to simply double click anywhere within a window to bring it into the forefront instead of using Depth gadgets. (This is often more useful as compared to having the active window to be at the forefront all of the time or to automaticly bring up the window upon which the mouse pointer is currently positioned.) To activate this functionality, you can simply double click its icon and, if you want to keep using it all of the time, you will simply need to drag the Icon into the System:WBStartup drawer. Next time you boot up your system, this program is automaticly activated. Finally, the upper most right gadget is normally the Screen Depth gadget which allows you to instantly switch between Workspaces, which are called “Screens” on the Amiga.
A fairly new standard included program for AmigaOS is a program starter called AmiDock. Since the release of Workbench 2.0, many Amiga users use handy application launchers for adding new menus and submenus to the title bar menu or add docks with (click-to-launch-application) pictures. AmiDock is very similar to the latter approach and is very powerful. You can simply drag and drop icons of programs or drawers into the Dock. Afterwards you will only have to click the icon located on the Dock to start the represented application or bring up the contents of a certain drawer. You can use endless AmiDocks simultaniously, and in my opinion such Docks are more powerful and user friendly as compared to the Startbars commonly used on other platforms . By default, the AmiDock is snapped to the bottom left screenborder in AmigaOS XL, but you can have them anywhere on your desktop as you desire. Also note that the backdrops used with AmiDock can be changed and that you can choose between a horizontal and vertical orientation. If you are too much attached to Startbars, AmiDock is easily removed from your system and a Startbar utility is easily added for its replacement. AmiDock is located in the WBStartup drawer, simply delete or move it elsewhere and AmiDock will be removed from your system the next time you boot into AmigaOS. Similar programs can easily be dropped into this drawer so that the next time you boot AmigaOS these programs will be executed automatically. You can also assign a start priority to such programs by the use of Tooltypes so that you can tell the OS in which order these programs should be executed.
One other new feature found in AmigaOS is the ability to place GIF animations (with default tool:AnimatedIcon) onto the desktop. It allows AmigaOS users to easily personalize their desktop environment — for instance, by having a rotating boingball somewhere displayed on the desktop. With the use of Tooltypes you can also assign such animations to programs so they act as real animated GIF icons. A very welcome novel idea in my opinion. Also, generally speaking, AmigaOS is extremely modular and customizable, so you can make it function and look similar to most common operating systems in use today. For example, you can add pop up menus, use textures in windows borders, add or change window gadgets or add whatever GUI functionality desired. You could for instance make AmigaOS look more like QNX so to achieve a more unified appearance when using Amiga XL. I recommend downloading the GPLed version of Directory Opus4, as it offers very powerful filemanager functions. Hundreds of such workbench enhancing utilities can be found on Aminet, the world`s biggest collection of freely distributable Amiga software. Files uploaded to Aminet are generally archived in lha format, a with AmigaOS XL included unpacker tool called Unarc supports lha, lzx, arc, arj, zip, zoo and tar archive files. These and many more filetypes are already recognized by AmigaOS XL through the use of a pre-configures file type recognition program called DefIcons. It is a powerful and flexible program and can be found in the preference drawer.
Now for some other handy tips: The Amiga key function is generally assigned to the Windows key on a PC keyboard. Pressing both “Amiga” keys simultaniously together with the Control key will result in an AmigaOS reboot. AmigaOS reboots very quickly into its GUI, more so then any other mainstream OS currently available. During an AmigaOS reboot, QNX and Linux hosts won`t reboot themselves, thus I was able to reboot into a standard AmigaXL configuration with 16-bit 1024×768 GUI in around 12 seconds on my 700 Mhz Duron/ATI Rage Mobility AGP/128MB test desktop system. Copy & pasting of text is done by pressing the right “Amiga” key in combination with “C” or “V” respectively. Pressing the left “Amiga” key together with the letter “M” allows you to page through Screens (workspaces). Pressing the left “Amiga” key in combination with the letter “N” will always bring the Workbench Screen into the forefront. The Command Line Interface is started by double clicking the “Shell” icon located in the System:System drawer. Upper and lower case differences are preserved and displayed within AmigaOS, but the system is not case sensitive. With the up-arrow key, you can bring back previously given commands, and the down-key allows you to go back to given commands in the other direction. The left and right arrow keys will move the cursor left or right without altering the given text. Powerful wildcards can also be used and XTerm-like features can easily be added. Command files for use with the CLI are stored in C: (actually this is the same as System:C), so any new commands can be easily added by dropping a new CLI program in the System:C drawer. The Startup-Sequence scriptfile is located in S: and editing this file is also a method of changing the startup behavior of AmigaOS.
Now for some Amiga XL specific features: When paging through Screens (workspaces) with AmigaXL, you will notice that the QNX RtP desktop is considered as just an ordinary workspace. The QNX desktop environment all the sudden has an AmigaOS title bar with a Depth gadget, pressing this Depth gadget will immediately take you back to AmigaOS. Also Haage&Partner wrote a special program located in C: called QNXLaunch, when using this program as a default tool for an icon it allows you to specify QNX programs to be launched when double clicking the specified icon. For instance if you insert the following in Tooltypes “COMMAND=phplay” a double click of the icon will result in AmigaOS switching to the QNX RtP desktop environment and launching QSSL`s Mediaplayer. This feature greatly adds to the feeling of a very well integrated and powerful AmigaOS emulation. One feature supported by Amithlon and not by AmigaXL is that you can burn CDs with software like BurnIT or MakeCD.
Overall, the AmigaOS emulation provided by both Amithlon and AmigaXL emulators is very convincing. The AmigaOS performance is greater as compared to earlier emulation solutions like UAE, especially in the case of Amithlon, but the main benefit for me is excellent stability. To see how stable AmigaXL really is, I did not turn off or reboot my test desktop system for over a week. As I already tested many 3rd party software titles, I decided to only use included programs like ArtEffect, AmigaWriter and to further play with AmigaOS XL software to learn more about its behavior. (Using untested software would have been asking for troubles in this stability test as many Amiga programs look for custom chips and their behaviour are therefore unpredictable). During this whole week the system did not crash once! Only one program hanged for eternity — this was the ViNCEd console handler replacement. I could however continue to use AmigaOS without problems and could just move the window into the background for more convenience. Particularly for a first release, this AmigaOS XL package is amazingly mature with regard to stability.
A major Con is that you cannot use or develop PPC based Amiga titles (you can however use it to rewrite 68k assembler code into better portable C code). The emulation is only limited to 68k code. For instance, Amigadog`s Movie player only runs on PPC powered Amigas, and therefore the DVD playback feature it supports can`t be used with these emulators. Also most classic AmigaOS game titles cannot be used directly when using these emulators. Some newer game titles supporting retargetable standards like Exodus, Freespace and the excellent free internet multiplayer Dynablaster-clone Dynamite do work, however. For more freely distributable and retargetable software I recommend browsing through GFXBASE reviews. Also people are working on solutions for these problems. You can, for instance, already run a port of the Universal Amiga Emulator within the emulated AmigaOS environment, but as with any UAE solution currently available this is far from optimal. A list of software already tested under AmigaXL and Amithlon can be found here.
Another problem which exists with all Amiga emulators is that almost no other systems than Amiga computers themselves are able to read 880 Kb/ 1760 Kb formatted Amiga diskettes. Mainstream diskdrive controllers can`t find the beginning of tracks on Amiga disks, as classic Amigas write entire tracks at a time without the use of sector gaps. Only Individual Computer`s Catweasel ISA based controller can currently add this feature to PCs. Another problem which arises is that newly inserted diskettes are automaticly detected by Amiga drives but not by common PC diskdrives. CD/DVD drives luckily do support this feature, and therefore after inserting CDs or DVDs, a CD icon will pop up on your Amiga desktop and it will work perfectly. The same does not happen while inserting diskettes. Therefore, with Amithlon you need to manually tell AmigaOS that it has to check for a new diskette with the command “DiskChange pc0:”. For Amiga XL it is best to copy the contents of a disk onto your harddrive from the QNX RtP “side.” You can see and move AmigaOS files stored on your harddisk from QNX RtP and vice versa.
One last Pro is that AmigaOS XL comes with a good AVI and Quicktime player called “Action”, which is a cutdown version of “MooVId” that supports 3ivX, OpenDivx among other codecs. A MP3/WAV/AIFF player called “AMPlifier” is also included. For testing the multitasking and multimedia performance of AmigaOS XL, you could use the example multimedia files stored on the AmigaOS XL CD. There are trailers of both “Charlie’s Angels” and “Monsters, Inc.” included on the CD. Copy these files to your harddisk to see how well several movies can be played simultaniously. You can do fancier multimedia stuff while emulating AmigaOS on PC hardware as compared to actual natively written PC operating systems!
A clear picture of AmigaOS XL running on my Laptop
At a recommended retail price of 150 Euros, AmigaOS XL does not come cheap. It, however, offers a great value considering the features and performance it provides. Amithlon and AmigaXL greatly supplement each other to offer one very powerful and flexible AmigaOS emulation package. If you own a well supported x86 PC platform, AmigaXL and Amithlon will both offer a remarkably stable AmigaOS operating environment. Many Amiga developers are already using AmigaOS XL for application development and testing.
“Is this the future of Amiga computing?,” you may ask. Although this package offers a very valuable addition to the options currently available, the future of Amiga computing lies with PPC based Amiga 4.x compatible computers and other AmigaDE enabled solutions. At the Benelux Amiga Show Amiga`s CTO clarified that Amiga Inc. sees a future in the development of Amiga home server platforms. These servers should be able to communicate with all kinds of AmigaDE enabled consumer devices and also connect these wirelessly to the internet. Of course, AmigaOS XL improvements are also under development and it will become an even more powerful and compatible solution in the future. For instance, an Euro update is already available.
AmigaOS XL is a must have package for Amiga fans who also own a x86 PC platform and for every other OS enthusiast who wants to discover alternative ways of implementing software into operating systems as compared to other solutions offered by the mainstream.
Haage&Partner demonstrating AmigaXL on a pre-assembled Silverblue 1800+ AmigaOS XL PC
The Amiga 1000 perplexed the computing industry when it was released in 1985. It was the world`s first multimedia computer which could show up to 4096 colors simultaniously, it supported plug-and-play (called autoconfig) and had many dedicated chips taking the major workload of the main CPU. People in the computing industry could not believe how the orginal designers could have put so much power into one computing device. Other special abilities were genlockable graphics, shared libraries, long file names support with the allowance of spaces, stereo sound and a flexable and fast Graphic User Interface (GUI). But the best feature of all was its 32-bit pre-emptive multitasking. The original designers had to sell the original Amiga technology to Commodore. From then on, the development team worked under Commodore, but the original Amiga designers were very unhappy by many design, funding and marketing decisions made by the Commodore management. Hidden in later AmigaOS versions are Easter Eggs in which the development team states that they made the Amiga and Commodore killed it.
The A2000 and A500 were released in 1987 and were aimed at graphic professionals and gamers respectively. The A2000 is a highly expandable machine i.e. Processor/Graphic Boards, Soundcards, Modems, Video Toasters, etc., can easily be added. Amiga`s special graphic features as well as NTSC/PAL support as standard were important reasons why it became hugely popular at graphic studios (i.e. Disney Studios and Warner Bros) and special effects companies (i.e. later movies include milestones like Total Recall, Terminator II, Jurrasic Park and TV series like Babylon 5 and SeaQuest). But Amigas were also used for critical tasks at, for example, NASA, due to it`s special multitasking abilities and stability. Commodore made much money with its Amiga line of computers without doing major marketing. Most of the profits, however, were spent on IBM emulators for Amigas and support for Commodore`s IBM-clone branch, to the frustration of Amiga fans, developers and original designers. The professional A3000 with a full standard 32-bit hardware architecture was released in 1990 with the support for higher resolutions and a faster CPU as standard. The last computers built under Commodore were released in 1992, namely the A1200 and A4000 which allowed the display more than 640,000 colors simultaniously from a 16.8 million color palette.
Harald Frank demonstrating Amithlon on his PC
Meanwhile, Commodore`s PC branch began to make major losses which resulted in a bankruptcy in 1994. The last product to come from the Amiga team under Commodore was AmigaOS 3.1, which was a very good and stable Operating System. The Amiga technology changed hands several times during many years of legal fights and bankruptcies of new Amiga owners. Then finally in 1997 Gateway bought the Amiga technolgy and promised to bring back the Amiga computer into the stores, but strangely and suddenly, Amiga`s new president resigned and sold all his $11 million dollars worth of Gateway shares simultaniously to when the current Amiga CEO and enthusiast Bill McEwen was fired by the Gateway management team. The project eventually got cancelled but on 1 January 2000. Amiga`s CEO Bill McEwen and Amiga`s CTO Fleecy Moss announced that they bought the Amiga technolgy and products for millions of dollars.
Today, there are many leading Amiga community figures like hardware designers and famous programmers working for Amiga, Inc. Many people will only remember the Amiga computer as an old 1MB 7 Mhz system from the 80s running WB1.3. This is mainly due to many IBM clones companies doing massive marketing for their machines and making the Amiga close to invisible to the general public.
Things have changed much over the years, but even through after many years of having no proper support from an owner company, the Amiga community continued to advance the platform. Today, Amigas are mostly highly expanded machines running with top 68k and older PPC CPUs. AmigaOS developers are currently working with various hardware companies like the Eyetech Group, Elbox, Merlancia Industries, bplan GmbH, Matay and others to further advance the platform with new G3/G4/G5 PPC processor and PCI/AGP hardware solutions.
It is hard to estimate how many Amiga users or fans there are today. However, judging from the existance of thousands of Amiga related websites, thousands of people visiting dozens of Amiga shows annually, and hunderds of thousands of pagehits generated by main Amiga community portal websites, it must still be quite substantial. Amiga users left worldwide are mainly coders, graphic artists, hackers and other computer professionals who are proud owners of their machines but use other platforms as well.
PCI Spy utility running on Amihtlon
About the Author:
Mike Bouma is a long time Amiga user and developer, well known member of the Amiga community, member of the ‘Phoenix Developer Consortium’, and owner of the ‘AmigaRing‘. He can be reached via email on email@example.com.