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22 marzo 2012
Technologies: AROS: Cooperare Necesse Est
The following is the translation of this post appeared on the italian blog on May 21,2011: despite almost one year is already passed by since that post, its actuality is still strong, especially concerning the new Directory Opus Magellan Cross Bounty and the recent Odissey Web Browser port by Fabien "Fab1" CoeurJoly; it summarize my basic idea about how the actual NG Amiga and like Operating Systems can find a way not to compete each other but instead, in a pure "divide et impera" fashion each one cover the different market segment and promote a better interoperability.

Sorry if lately i did not took care of my posts; might seems improbable but am still putting back the pieces from my SCALE exhibit; my main laptop started to behave erratically, with long pauses between keyboard inputs up to 10 seconds, USB that is not recognizing devices and sticks and browsers that regularly freeze when am trying to watch flash videos or trying to use google voice; [fixed last year with a re-format :NDR] to this add an increased workload (and a decreased paycheck :/) to have a snapshot of my actual situation.

There is an unfinished article here where am trying to talk about the ABIv1 development and the new kernel features (like VESA screen dragging and a further modularisation); there are still several details to be ironed out, including the optimisations made by Kryztof "Deadwood" Schmiechoviz(check) for some Graphics.library functions and the actual work in progress of Pavel "Sonic" Fedic concerning the graphic subset that will target Wanderer and the GUI; worthy to mention also the hard work made by Toni Wilen and Jason McMullan for the continuous improvement of AROS 68k, now also able to boot in some real hardware machines (despite optimization is still lacking); their work also have been helpful in improving AROS retrocompatibility and in making several native libraries that were not yet created work; lastly, i need to mention that Kalamatee continued its work in improving Wanderer and in its transformation in a modular tool, which should also be possible to add "plug-ins" (like the fanous tree view shown here some time ago).

But the real focus of this article is a post that I made on the Amiganews.it forum, proposing my personal point of view on how a cooperation could be set up between Amiga OS,MorphOS and AROS. Here is the post text:

I am taking the occasion to spin-off this amigaworld.net thread where, for the third(!) time in the last six months, somebody ask if there is a way to join forces between the three Amiga and like OSes.
Since am aware of the clear differences, both architecturally and philosophically speaking, existing nowadays between the several Amiga-like oses and also of the strong opinions among their developers and users, will not discuss of it.

Instead, will take advantage of the topic to underline some, for me, important points:

1) Amiga and like systems transversally cover almost all the available processors (ARM [hosted], PPC, X86, 68k for AROS, PPC on mac hW and pegasos for MOS, PPC fo os4 and 68k for classic) and price ranges (low for AROS, middle for MOS and classic HW, high for OS4);

2) is well known that Amiga and like systems are now reduced to a hobby market range with a very reduced number of users (probably all together in the single digit of the thousands) and that is a big no-no for any commercial venture since a ROI is not guaranteed;

Honestly i tihnk that those two factor are something that we should take advantage of: rather than try to have a dominating platform over the other two, right now i think the most important factor is make people aware that amiga and like systems exists, that there is a basic coherence among them and that all together cover most of the consumer computing; then would be good to work to increase the user base - no matter of what system and finally , once users are present, give them a way to use all three systems together in a workflow almost seamlessly.

Is my presonal opinion that Amiga and like systems have still appeal in the hobby market even among the non-amiga users that do not like the idea to user windows or mac and that consider linux too hard to handle properly: also, usually people does not have just one hobby: rather it might also be interested in side activities such as collections, robotics, ham radio, etc.

Think for a moment what potential can have for a person -probably even an ex amiga user that owns an old pc or an old ppc mac- and, due to the fact that those machine are by today standard and requirements obsolete, cannot use it; the possibility to have Morphos and AROS in those two machines running almost the same applications that communicate via network and therough AREXX keeping their own files synced or sharing the data processing - a case that i have in mind (because have a close experience with it) is about the fater of a close friend of mine, that used amiga to handle its Ham radio staton; right now i think is using windows but you can see how it might have been easier for him to use both AROS in the PC and the amiga, both communicating through AREXX; pity thisa example is purely academical since the ham radio software have never been ported on AROS.

I assume the fact that, for an hobbyist that includes computing in its interests (possibly amiga and like), there is an added value in using its favorite machine to accomplish hobby related tasks. But, in order to reach this optimal situation i think that some level of cooperation are required: of course i cannot expect that all os4, morphos and AROS developers decide to join forces for it; what i consider more feasible instead is that some base ground can be laid down in order to increase the interoperativity.

This can be obtained providing both developers and users of adequate tools;
For the developers is important that some key libraries and technologies are available in all three systems to make the development and porting of application easier; those may be in example MUI, AREXX,SAMBA, AHI, LUA/RUBY/PYTHON, language bindings in the same style of Zulu and Zuby, maybe some extra tool such as QT and WxWidgets [there is lately some resistance to it due to the fact that those are not native toolkits, problem is we are in a chicken-and-egg situation: NDR]; every os can handle it in a personalised way but is important that base features and API need to be common or similar;

For final users instead, is important to have a way for the three systems to "talk" and "work" together: in example two portings of the same software can talk through AREXX,or a Lua or Python script that can be made run in two different Amiga Systems but it behaves in the same way and display in the same way thanks to libraries like Zulu (my favorite) that will allow to hae common GUI everywhere.

With this approach is possible from one side to keep authonomy between all Amiga and like Systems and also keep the hold on the market segment where the system has its main focus (advantage for the flavor-specific developers) and, from the other side users are allowed to use and interoperate the flavors in a coherent way (advantage for final users); as a plus, a similar versatility should look more viable for new users towards all flavors and with more users usually there is the hope that there might be more interest for investments from commercial entities on the technology [and - with some daydreaming, if and when somebody might decide to port AROS towards other non-amiga 68k machines (vecchi mac 68k, falcon, maybe even x68000) so to allow the use of AROS even in those systems and in the same time make AROS become a vaid option to still use those system proficently for their own hobbies].

Would like to hear other opinions about my viewpoint.

Despite the text above was supposed - beside its length - to be self-explicative, want to further explore what said above:

- the first important problem is not the disappearance of one of the Amiga-like OS, rather than the disappearance of the Amiga philosophy and way of doing things as a whole: there are very few users left (as said above, in the single digit of thousand overall) and,unless made for 'acts of love', is simply not feasible for complex commercial programs, not suitable for the so-called average Joe and, among geeks, is either considered extinct,useless or its existence ignored, also due to the fact that new generations never used one and also that those seems to have a more 'disposable' approach towards consumer electronics hardware and software.

Now, with the Amiga and like OSes stuck in a stuation like this, bickering among neighbors can only do more harm than good and ultimately lead also the most hardcore fans to think it is a lost cause.

What was my proposal, then?
1) that each flavor continues to take care of its main reference target hardware and their base core technologies, since full spectrum coverage from all systems combined is, and will repeat it more and more, a vantage point;

2) An agreement is sought on the technologies (like network protocol, scripting languages and IPC scripting languages like AREXX, interpreted languages with binding like lua and zulu, GUI libraries like ZUNE,MUI [and others if required]) and in a minimum subset of commands features and API needed to have an advanced interoperability between the systems; those are basic networking and distributed computing needs though, but Amiga os and like have been sorta left behind in this part:

To tell the thuth, those tools, especially the interoperativity ones should be part of every operating system; a (big) problem of the original Amiga OS was that the OS Maker support got lost in the moment on other systems small and home LAN were flourishing (though the same home maker did not do any effort to create a network infrastructure too as far as i know) and therefore Amiga OS was left behind until third party apps and stacks did not appear; however, is indeed a basic need now to have ways for applications and file systems to interoperate between them and between like OSes and with other OSes, o course.

If can also be done in a more amiga-ish way even better.

3) [is a necessary repetition] Is essential to be aware that right now the very same idea of what has been Amiga OS, its own philosophy, its user experience, its coding style and guidelines and the technologies related with it are endangered; in my opinion is very important to increase the external awareness of the EXISTENCE of Amiga and like oses, its usefulness on hobby projects and is available on omst of the processors and platforms (am a bit biased on this when i think on AROS but ppc is well covered by os4 and MorphOS too);

4) When the 68k AROS port from Jason and Toni started to deliver usable results i personally thought that this was the good time to propose AROS not only as a viable actively developed alternative for old 68k machines and homebrew hardware like monimig and Natami, but also as a viable alternate OS for other 68k platforms such as Atari falcon, the japanese x68000, and even (heresy!) ST machines and propose itself as a transversal OS for active retrocomputing use;

5) Last but not least [and another for me fundamental repetition] is the most difficult thing to do: change the way we are relating with each other; when the 'Red vs Blue' war was exploding on the net, i already stopped using proficiently Amiga and getting interested on it since at least a couple of years earlier and so lost (fortunately?) this part of Amiga history; as far as i hear from several users, seems that the actual state of things is broken beyond repair [in some cases perhaps kept artificially so] but then i can see people like Fabien 'Fab1' Coeurjoly, Itix and others help other developers to port their programs on other Amiga-like systems (see OWB, mplayer,screenrecorder); something even unthinkable just some year ago; all this reminds me the dynamics of a dying small country town like the one I grew up in Italy, as said in one of the answers to the same forum thread as above:

...am honest to say that i refuse to have a revenue oriented viewpoint at the situation, at least i refuse to think that there should be a winner system: main problemis to have a user base that is transversal to all Amiga and like systems, that should be the goal instead to behave like disputing neighbors in a small town in risk to disappearance thay, instead of working together to make tihngs such a tourims flourish to keep the place alive and thriving, mind only to fight with each other; yes because THIS is EXACTLY the actual situations; and while some of you might enjoy to be the disputing neighbor, i don't; since i used to live and grow in a place with people behaving the same way, i feel so frustrated to see all good work and a nice potential thrown away in name of some few ego-stroking personalities.

Nothing else to add, guess the above is self-describing; so now is time to act.
10 febbraio 2009
Diary: Technologies: AROS - Happy new year with Fireworks show!!!

My A1200/030 still working fine despite three years of inactivity

Sorry if i was not around lately, I have been in Italy for the christmas holidays and also had my religious marriage there. Now that I am back to the states, is time to talk again about AROS.

While i was abroad,i was, when pssible giving a look at AROS progresses using my PC in italy: a celeron with dial-up connection at 56k, therefore i was unable, due to lack of bandwidth, to see the newer deoms posted on Youtube and Vimeo until I came back to the states.

I also been able, to my own delight, to put back on duty my old 1200 in order to retrieve some more material to post on the net, such as old .mod files and found out how, after three long years of total inactivity, is able to boot perfectly (unlike my Macintosh Performa 6400, that cannot see its internal drive), and had the feeling of a real Amiga system on my hands; this brught, of course, in doing some comparisons with my actual AROS system that am using right now.
Beside AROS is basically an AmigaOS 3.1 clone, now its usability is of course improved from its ancestor and, despite some bad system hand due to Dopus, or some keyboard shortcut not working as expected, the experience is pleasant. If somebody would be able to fix the glitches, it might be even improved.

I recently installed the version 1.0.2 of VmWAROS in my virtual machine: following the instruction i first installed version 1.0 and then, once I retrieved the update ISO, AROS found it and mounted it on the desktop (and this is already a good improvement) and I simply had to make the "VmWUpdate" script run (its icon is under my software/System Apps in the Amistart menu); it updated everything quite fast, in around five/ten minutes. I will make some more tests in the future, also considered that am preparing < a href="http://scale7x.socallinuxexpo.org/conference-info/schedules" target="_blank"> my speech for the SCALE expo next February 21st (1.30 to 2.30 pm PDT program track B).

2008 has been the best AROS year so far: important bounties like self-compile and SAM-440 port have been accomplished: the first one, in particular, as stated from me here[link] has also raised considerably the porting of other applications from other operating systems, together with the GTK-MUI library developer by Kalamatee for E-UAE; furthermore, the development of VmWAROS reached its first milestone and now, at 1.0.2 version has bvecome even more stable and mature getting its own characteristics such as NewIcons (in a special verison for AROS made by Ken Lester itself), the PDF file reader PoorPDF and AmiBridge, a basic integration script system between UAE and AROS.

But the most exciting things begun to happen towards the end of the year: among them the ongoing port of Ignition, a nice spreadsheet program ported by Matthias "Mazze" Ruster

, then the port of mplayer made by Krysztof Smiechowicz starting from the Morphos port mantained by Fabien Coeurjoly; it is actually an "early beta" and has a quite basic GUI but has finally brought in AROS a decent video and audio support; then there is the OWB port by Stanislaw Sszymczyk that deserves to be treated apart.

And then we have the work of Michal Schulz, still ongoing with its own two bounties - the AROS Efika port and the USB mass storage bounty - its lalatest contributions on AROS before to dedicate itself full-time on the ANUBIS project: not too long ago he stated on the IRC channel that he had been able to boot an AROS CD throug USB CD-ROM: later in its own blog, Michal explained more deeply what was still lacking for an adequate handling of the USB CD-ROM on AROS:

Every modern USB presents itself as a SCSI conforming bulk-only mass storage device to the system. Therefore, in order to do any IO operations, I have had to do them in the old good SCSI style. Therefore, the mass storage class do contain a DirectSCSI method and exposes it to rest of the world.

What a coincidence! I have added a few-lines long implementation of HD_SCSICMD to the .device layer of mass storage. I have started AROS in QEMU and forwarded the USB->PATA converter with a DVD attached to it and AROS CD inside (I didn't want to test anything special, but it was the first CD I saw on the desktop). AROS booted and stopped. Then, the timeout errors appeared. A lot of them. A bit disappointed I've left my desk and did something else. Suddenly, the CD started to spin and AROS booted from USB CD device! Great!

A short investigation showed, that the CD filesystem used in AROS performs the INQUIRY SCSI command with a fixed size, whereas the USB protocol provides a much shorter data in return, which leads to a timeout. Then, it tries to get the full-sized TOC and such. Anyway, AROS team will either need to fix CD filesystem a bit, or I will have to give up 10 second timeouts in mass storage and introduce four pipes there: two of them with very short timeout (100 miliseconds or so) and two with the 10 second timeout.

So now AROS can mount and boot even from the majority of USB sticks; considered that the transfer protocol supported so far is USB 1.1, the best results can be obtained with SFS, that takes around one minute to boot; for some reasons both SFS and FAT are not supporting cache durinf the data transfer and, therefore, are quite slower.

Still from Michal Shulz, we have good news even on the EFIKA port: the last January 26th Michal put on line a first beta version of AROS for EFIKA here, followed by a second version here due to some problems from Open Firmware in retrieving all packages: Other than that, Michal is aware that this version has still big glitches and has been released for debug purpose. According to him The Efika 512 source tree, once upgraded the sources with the latest contributions, reached the size of 150 megabytes, including a complete GCC tolchain and some more utilities.

O1i accepted the Phase 1 UAE Integration bounty: the results achieved so far are quite good: UAE opens its amiga windows under AROS, the amiga pointer is synced with the AROS one ad the integrated windows, that now runs at almost full UAE speed, can be re-arranged, mopved and resized from AROS controls. At htis moment there are still things not working properly in the integration, such as menus, closing gadget, border gadgets and non-workbench screens. The border gadgets, according to o1i are the hardert to get implemented; plus at this moment is not possible to launch Amiga OS programs from Wanderer; it is required to have an Amiga OS window open(such as workbench or a shell prompt) to launch the programs.

Mmartinkna posted a screenshot of AROS running under Parallels Desktop in Mac OS X; From what Paolo Besser wrote in its blog, Parallels Desktop is offering a better experience compared to VmWare, also because sound is working there. For the best experience possible, Paolo advise to set AHI preferences as AC97 (both for Music and for Unit 0) and to set ConfigIP to use the RTL8029 card.

Kalamatee has recently uploaded in SVN the beta version of its RTL8168 PCI and Gigabit NIC driver, asking for testing in the forum. Having still several glitches the driver is not considered workling; he is also trying to fix further the ata.device,especially for what concerns the legacy compatibility list.

Stanislaw Sszymczyk is the best purchase made by the AROS community in the recent times: its skills as programmer were already highlighted from the accomplishment of the self-compile bounty and now are further confirmed from its new task: the AROS OWB port; the first screenshot posted before christmas, desipite being just a google page with wrong colors and basic fonts, made me get strongly excited; the further status updates came so fast that it was looking unreal: OWB can already adequately show complex pages like Google maps and Google docs.
And, as a bonus, Stanislaw, going on with the development, enriched the toolshed available for the porting of new software: the new SDL port fromthe mainstream solved the messed-up colors problem seen in the first test screenshot and the new version of SSL, the 0.9.8j got ported too.

Since the Bounty requirement list asked for a Zune Interface for the browser, and also that the browser itself might be used as a zune component, the solution adopted by Stanislaw, once he realised that for some reason the AROS Genmodule generated code was not liked at all from the Webkit code, to write a static library that interfaces between the C++ webkit code and the C zune code; being the WebView interface properly implemented there has been no further problem: the screen redraw is incremental and therefore there is no need to redraw the page completely as the Webkit port of Rob used to be; the only reason that made Stanislaw not use the graphics.library instead of SDL was the missing alpha channel support in the first one.
Stanislaw thanks in its page Jorg Ströhmayer for the good organisationof its code in the OS4 port; that helped him in build the GUI onm Zune; he also revealed that "has been a pleasant experience" code again under MUI: its own tests with RegisterClass and its limitations made him build its own personalised tabbed browsing class complete with closing gadget.
Writing the class took Stanislaw around one week of work and brought him of fix some Zune bugs and to better understand its inner workings; the final resulting class bring OWB to be able to do tabbed browsing. Another requirement for the bounty was the use of Datatypes; Stanislaw's opinion is that the best Datatypes use should be for image decoding: actually OWB use internally an object hierarchy belonging to the ImageDecoder class, that implements different libraries according to the file format to decode; therefore Stanislaw wrote a new class that uses datattypes to decode pictures but this class use is actually limited from the following factors:

  • Picture datatype doesn't support progressive image decoding
  • AROS datatypes.library has no support for DTST_MEMORY source type
  • PDTM_READPIXELARRAY metod of picture datatype returns a data array with 0 values in alpha channel, requiring additional time-consuming processing

Because of that, the class had to inherit all those restrictions and therefore the image got decoded only once its data is all in memory, using also temporary files for that (and of course missing the progressice decoding); this limitation set back the Datatypes support only for those file formats that are not supported elsewhere.
For the future Stanislaw plans to add UTF-8 character set support to AROS, to use Zune widgets for handling forms and to allow more applications to use the Browser class at the same time; the latter one, according to its blog, due to lack of results has been momentarily set apart.

The latest surprise is coming from James "Jahc" Carroll, author of WookieChat: just some days ago he ported finally its SabreMSN on AROS, filling another important gap in the software landscape of the operating system. James needed the port of Open SSL to port the application; the port has been made by Stanislaw Sszymczyk; some components such as codesets.library are not supported or are faulty but the port of SabreMSN shows as AROS finally is achieving some room and respect in the Amiga developers heart, also thanks to the hard work of its developers and supporters.




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