Adventures with AROS

by James Lawrence
from the AmiTech Gazette, April 2010

Yes, it has been a long time since I've written anything for the newsletter. One of the bad side effects of a down economy is the increased workload of those left doing the work. Time that I used to have investigating the intricacies of computers is now spent on much less rewarding pursuits (job). Besides, the world I used to know, desktop computers, is going the way of fossil fuels and heading toward a hand-held, mobile future. All that is fine I guess and I am participating in it somewhat, but it still lacks that satisfying control I have at the desk. I have an iPod Touch and as much as I enjoy Apple kicking Microsoft's ass in the mobile arena, I can't help but feel Jobs is shooting for the "Next Great Satan" at least until he drops dead. I'll give him credit for ushering in possibly the next great paradigm shift in computing, the iPad, but the jury is still out on that one. Bonus points for shifting discussion away from telephones (boring) and iPods (ditto) that dominate the otherwise interesting Apple podcasts. Therefore, I will declare that what is left of the desktop is now in the domain of Amiga.

Whenever I look for something to demo at the meeting, I check in to see the state of affairs for AROS. AROS used to be an operating system that I could rely on to boot on the most modest of PC hardware. I enjoyed the fact that a useless PC in the Microsoft world got a new lease on life in AROS's. Unfortunately, they changed something in the code and I found increased difficulty to even get a machine up. There are postings stating DMA is at fault and can be disabled at boot up, but many machines I tried just failed and I set aside AROS for a year to let it mature a bit more. Recently, a friend of mine gave me a decent spec laptop with a 2.66 MHz P4 and 1.25 Gigs of ram and I thought I'd visit AROS again before I put some version of Linux back on it.

At the meeting I brought in the laptop and the latest version of AROS. Based on my previous experience with installing AROS, I went straight to HDtoolbox and used it to partition and format my drive to Amiga filesystem. It is hardly an intuitive experience and printed instructions by your side is necessary. I managed to fumble my way through the process and ended up with a drive with Amiga filesystem and bootable bits set. I did the suggested reboot and went about installing the OS.

After the reboot, I clicked the "Install OS" button and it became obvious that the previous HDtoolbox work was all for naught. I had very few options and decided to go with the default "use the whole drive" and "Smart Filesystem (SFS)." I was taken back a bit with the SFS Filesystem bit at first but was happy with ability to use the higher performance filesystem option. I was even happier with the amazing speed that the SFS formatted. I recall spending hours formatting drives with the old FFS. I don't miss that a bit. With the drive formatted, time to install the system. That went surprising well and was quite fast within the posted time of about 20 minutes. The only part that threw me off was that I also checked off the "install development tools" option that was not calculated in the install times and added another 15 minutes. Fortunately, the whole process was completed right before the computer meeting ended. To my amazement, the machine booted right up without any issues at all. The part that irritates me is that I could not get the laptop to boot into its native resolution and was limited to the default VESA 640x480 screen in 16 bits. I messed around with a lot of boot settings and those resulted in a black screen. I'll dig through AROS docs and see if anything will work.

At the April meeting, I'll show if I made any progress getting my laptop to boot in other resolutions. I see that the Poseiden USB stack is now included in the AROS distribution. I've seen it in there to some extent before but did not get it to work. I mentioned this to Eric and Mike, and with their experience, we'll see if we can get it to run. One of my biggest gripes with Amiga based systems is the inability to use USB flash drives for storage and moving files around. Using Flash drives would make my world a lot easier.