Changes

by Eric W. Schwartz
from the AmiTech Gazette, February 2013

It's a (relatively) new year, new month, new holiday for those with reason to bother, but not a lot of new news. There are a few updates, such as one for the Odyssey web browser (formerly OW8) for MorphOS. A recent event was an on-line interview with one of the MorphOS team programmers. The exact details of this were less important to me than one statement, and the implications that follow it.

In the interview, a change in architecture (as in the hardware and processors that it runs on) was said to be one of the great challenges for MorphOS in the future. It's not something that can really be denied -- PowerPC­based systems are largely a dead end at this point, even though there's still life and use in G4 and GS-based systems, especially for a light and fast OS like Amiga and MorphOS. Still, sooner or later even the fastest PPC systems will look as dated as 680xO systems do now, and the smart Amiga-like operating systems will have to move to new hardware to survive and keep a shred of relevance, be it a standard Intel/AMD PC architecture or something small and streamlined, like the ARM CPU family that powers many of our phones and tablets. In any case, it's apparent AmigaOS and/or MorphOS (AROS is already there in one way or another) will have to move on to survive, and we as users will need to decide whether or not to follow. With the speed the small programming teams work though, it will undoubtedly be years before we'll need to worry too much about it.

The other half of the forward-thinking interview statement said the Amiga software support in MorphOS would need to be dropped to move to these snazzy new future-proof systems. Truth be told, the "legacy" Amiga compatibility has held MorphOS back to a degree, as classic Amiga software was never intended to support things like advanced memory protection or 64-bit multi­core CPUs, and those limitations work back (or forward) to the more advanced OS for the sake of maintaining compatibility. While dropping the Amiga legacy API in Morph or OS4 frees them up for bigger and badder hardware support, how many would want to keep with them if the only software available was the stuff specifically written or ported to the OS? For a clue, look to the open-source AROS, which runs on a wide range of hardware, but lacks the same transparency in Amiga software support that Morph and OS4 currently enjoy. I enjoy using MorphOS now, but at least half or more of the software I use on the system is "classic" Amiga software without an equivalent written native to the new OS. I'm not sure I would keep with it if that capacity was lost. To be fair, there is a historical precedent for this sort of thing. When Windows and Macintosh both had their major changes and advances in architecture and operating systems, compatibility with older software suffered, or was dropped entirely. It's fairly laughable to expect your old Windows 3.1 or Mac System 6 software to run properly on the latest and greatest systems, after all. Personally, I doubt Amiga software support will ever be gone completely from MorphOS and OS4, as there is a certain sense of tradition behind it. There probably will be a few more added levels of abstraction though than now, with the classic stuff running with a metaphorical protected bubble as its own process, while the main system chugs along with its terabytes and multiple cores and whatnot. It would work much like running an Amiga emulator now, though hopefully with more of the transparency and system integration of the API used currently.

I have stuck with the Amiga and its descendants for decades now, and probably will for years yet to come. I have experience with other operating systems, all of which have their own benefits and advantages, but I've never seen any that match the sense of balance of Amiga between ease-of-use, power, and control. Others may have greater power, but they haven't offered much in the way of compelling reasons to move elsewhere. Perhaps the biggest contender in recent times would be my Android tablet. As much as I like the Amiga and MorphOS systems, I'm not sure I would ever be able to use them to work, draw, and more in a package I could hold in my hand while sitting on the couch. Maybe I just needed a whole new paradigm to draw me away from my cozy Amiga complacency, or maybe I'm just playing with a shiny new toy, and will settle back to my usual rut soon enough. Only time will tell.