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All that comes in the mind of an italian guy moved to california
20 settembre 2009
Diary: Technologies: AROS: Fall colors over the MESA...
Want to begin this article with a sad note: at the end of August my actual company decided to downsize and to change its location, and am among the laid-offs, so right now most of my effort in front of this keyboard goes in finding a new job in order to pay the bills and keep the apartment; hope to be able to dedicate time to my advocacy back soon (that of course means i will be employed): please cross your fingers...

[update in november: still no job, will let you know of anything].

The month of October looks like has been a bit unfortunate for this blog: several times, trying to look at the content, i was greeten from a white page: by the way the black-out (or white-out i might say) affects almost all the ilcannocchiale blogs: it is the second time that I sent notification to the webmasters about this and lately am starting to consider to move this blog in a more affordable platform, maybe even self-hosted.

But let's go back and talk about AROS. Right now the most important news in AROS front are the following ones:

As said last august, Krysztof "Deadwood" Smiechowicz ported version 7.5 of MESA to AROS, for now in software rendering mode only. Latter in the month he also ported GLU,GLUT and added a revised version of SDL that can use MESA. The addition of MESA as library allowed  people, especially Matthias "Mazze" Ruster to port some new games on AROS; among the contributions we have now Block Out II, a 3d Tetris clone, Abuse, a well-known platform game, a first attempt to port Open Red Alert (that later has been removed due to a bad bug in the upstream that prevent enemy AI to operate), 3d Pool Billiard (running kinda slow due to the software renderer, kinda playable if you keep the window at stamp size).

September news is that Deadwood decided to accept the Gallium 3d Bounty. Krysztof already started to meddle with Gallium 3d at the time of the MESA port; he started getting decent results, as seen in this movie here on youtube. Following those embrionic attempts, Deadwood compiled a version of GLExcess that includes the nVidia Gallium driver and, compared to the old software-only compilation, the difference is really remarkable.

The latest additions to the already rich porting gallery of Deadwood are the OpenAL/alut/ogg/vorbis libraries. Those libraries, as said from deadwood itself in AROS-exec, are used in several open source games to provide the sound experience; their porting will open the door, together with the perfecitoning of MESA and Gallium, to porting some open source 3d games, such as Warzone 2100, AssaultCube and Cube2; and is known the plan to use the hardware acceleration together with Cairo in order to improve Wanderer responsivity and performance, but as far as i know is all still related to Deadwood progresses.

Talking about 3d and Mesa, last month the e-zine The Vague came out for AROS using the last MESA port of Deadwood; e-zines are well known to amiga users thanks to the demoscene; though i was hardly been a follower, remember an Italian one made called Infamia - at the time even Tadsince1995 used to cooperate with it as coder - and reminding the experience I started The Vague. The AROS version is in the same .lha archive with the Amiga PPC and Morphos version; once double clicked the icon a requester ask to start either in full-screen (for 640x480 resolution) or windowed (as i started it being in qemu at 800x600x24 resolution) ,whether to use sound effects and the music replay rate. Nikos posted a youtube video of The Vague running on AROS here.

The Vague volume 1 on AROS

Its been exciting to see some good demoscene art and nice music on AROS: i liked The Vague and am waiting for further numbers, and possibly even more e-zines and (why not?) some AROS demos too :)

Last August the code of the Poseidon stack finally got released under APL and built together with the nightly builds, making so complete the Poseidon Bounty, the so far most contributed bounty in AROS history. I tried the stack on my old laptop, where a known incompatibility with the USB SIS controller so far occured, with November 12 nightly the USB devices are still not recognized, by the way. Once i find a way to download OWB from the nightly (writing the URL and then use wget to download it seems a good one), will post the dump of PCItool from my old laptop in order to help the debug.

Icaros 1.1.6 is already on the works but, since this blog post is kinda late, let me talk about the version 1.1.5, that I tried both as iso image on qemu and as live CD on the old laptop. So grub worked fine, but when I tried to select my sis900 network card with DHCP form the network control panel and press the "use" button in order to test OWB performance, the system froze hard. Everytime.
In defense of the network control panel, by the way, doing the same with the latest nightly worked pretty fine, apart the missing OWB in the nightly - beside an OWB folder and a OWB icon in extras/networking - for don't know what reason; i understand that OWB cannot be added to the nightly both for weight and license issues but my personal suggestionis to replace the actual useless directory with a script that might download the latest version on RAM, for new installs.

And, talking about OWB, our Stanislaw Szymczyk , after a while where he took a pause from AROS development, released another new version of OWB. The Version 0.9.9 is downloadable, as usual, from the sand-labs web site and this time introduces, beside the usual flattening of several bugs, a loader, called StartOWB, that uses the artwork made by michaels and helps to track the long first loading (caused by the fontConfig cache building); beside that, now the main application menus are finally available with the right mouse button as for every other AROS application, giving it a standard interface. As far as i know,  the AREXX port in OWB is still missing, but hope Stanislaw will fix this soon.

The new OWB splash screen,designed by michaels

And then let's talk once more about the hidden hero of AROS, Matthias "mazze" Rustler: most of the software used on AROS has been ported by mazze, starting form several games (, then the unfinished port of Ignition Spreadsheet (that i still hope one day will be finished), LUA and its extensions, zulu and siAmiga - that are providing the base ground for several utilities, panels and give easy way for beginner programmers (like me) to produce something in AROS: the last fatigue of Mazze is the porting of Scout, the famous low-level tool for manage tasks under Amiga OS; undoubtely this might help to get rid of some annoying freeze of some shell windows or commodities, though for the well known lack of protected memory on Amiga OSes is still better to reboot the system as fast as possible.

Going further, any AROS user had to deal with the well known problems with our version of Dopus: despite being invaluable for file management, it has strong issues with advanced operations, such as extracting files, viewing pictures, even personalising buttons; this is due to the fact that this dopus port is pretty old (from 2000, if i remember clearly): now a new bounty  has been introduced in Power2people.org, for the port of the latest version of Dopus actually for Amiga OS-4 only; the bounty has been accepted by Neil Cafferkey and hope will improve this invaluable tool.

Last September once again Pianeta Amiga was held in Empoli, despite the fact that this year was held only at Saturday and the flow of people is really at its own minimum. This Year AROS was highly represented from, as usual Paolo Besser and, straight from the United Kingdom, Steven jones that brought its iMica platform. But here is the outcome according to Paolo Besser:

Thanks to Enrico Vitali and other well-known people of the italian Amiga community, the event has been amusing and interesting, but... well, I can't hide the mixture of bitter sweet feelings that left me only half happy. The good news, at least for Icaros Desktop, is that every visitor of the fair had the chance to see it in action, and most of them stopped at my table, asking for more informations or to see some demostration. I've also got many congratulations and many thanks for the effort, asking me for keeping up "the good job", but the bad news about all this, is that Pianeta Amiga this year lacked of visitors. Numbers had been fairly low (I've personally counted about 100 visitors) and the exhibitors themeselves were a tiny group that could comfortably stay in less space than the half area of the Palaesposizioni reserved to the event. "In the good old days you could see a crowd of people making long tails in front of the ticket booth - said Enrico while we were taking something to eat at noon - but today...", unluckily today's Pianeta Amiga loosely reflects the situation of the whole Amiga market. A tiny, fragile community which is hardly trying to keep its platform alive, even if the interest decreases a little more every year, and even if the whole IT market has completely forgotten the Amiga. So we have to thanks ACube, VirtualWorks, AmigaKit.com and everyone else that still persists, and spends money every year to organize a event which has just become a symbol, a tradition for the community, but which is practically perceived like a hobby, a nice meeting day with other people who share the same passion, even by people who professionally operate in the Amiga business.

It is sad for me to hear that despite the good news in the Amiga market (the SAM availability last year, the MorphOS on Mac Mini, icaros, iMica, Ares one, the settlement of the Amiga-Hyperion cause,etc., one of the last Amiga events is gone so unnoticed; despite my hopes, i think it is realistic that next year Pianeta Amiga might not be hold, if this is the trend; of course i expect thngs to change, but who knows....

Frustrations and disillusionment might hit even die-hard supporters. Many of the Aros-exec usual lurkers know Nikos: beside being a strong fan of the platform he is also one of the testers and one of the main bounty contributors ever, but in this thread he say that decided to take a leave from AROS, disappointed from the apparent lack of progresses, especially in the hardware acceleration section. By the way this happened just before Deadwood released its new MESA port and announced the start of the Gallium3d Bounty. The community reaction has been something you will rarely see in other open osurce community: almost everybody sent its own comment to nikos (including myself) expressing support; that convinced him to stay and luckilly for him, the new results on AROS seems to keep him busy...

Another AROS-friendly machine recently surfaced: provided by Pascal "Phoenixkonsole" Papara, the ARES one is an AMD Athlon x2 powered machine provided in a small tower case, bigger in size than Steven's Atom powered iMica; the graphic card is a performing nvidia GeForce 7200 with 256 megabytes DDR2  video RAM; phoenixconsole expects support from Gallium3d in order to enhance 3d capabilities; the machine hosts 1 gigabyte 800mhz DDR2 RAM (can be expanded up to 8 gigs) and can host up to four 5,25" devices; has a DVD/RW drive and a 3,5" floppy drive (foreseeing a catweasel support); it has a SoundBlaster Live as sound card and the network card is a Realtek RTL8139d that has a RTL8139 family chip and, quite interestingly, just today Hitchhikr released an rtl8169.device driver that in theory should support it. Paolone had occasion to test it with its Aspire One netbook and said it works nicely, adding another device to the netbook puzzle (right now still wireless and sound are unsupported on Aspire One).

Phoenixkonsole also plans to put in bundle with Ares One Icaros Desktop and a suite of programs for AROS including: the registered version of FryingPan and the incoming AROS Port of Cinnamon Writer: the latter one fills another software gap under AROS, presenting the first Word Processor available for the platform.

Cinnamon Writer is about to spice AROS

Now, if only Ignition port were finished we surely might had a decent AROS base office suite, together with MuiBase; the actual problem in finishing Ignition is non trivial. According to mazze itself in this thread on AROS-exec, it is depending from the actual order of "struct node":

Problem is that AROS has the elements of "struct Node" wrong on X86. This is supposed to be fixed with ABI V1. Unfortunately, Ignition makes *heavy* use of linked lists.
I could:
-continue porting when V1 ABI is released

-fixing list handling in Ignition which would be a lot of work which wouldn't be any longer necessary when V1 is out

-compiling me a version of AROS with the right order of Node. I could continue porting but I couldn't release the result until V1 is out.

All sucks somehow.

Further in the thread, phoenixconsole ask for how long might still take to Staf Verhaegen to finish the ABI 1.1; Staf's answer does not look too encouraging:

If I don't get help months to years from now. Problem seems to be that for being able to work on ABI V1 you need very good knowledge of AROS internals, Amiga OS internals and low level programming. It seems it is difficult to find people that have these capabilities and want to do it as their hobby activity. Additionally no glory or money can currently be gained by it.!!!

Staf is quite right: actually very few people have the required knowledge to help him in fix the ABI, and the actual AROS documentation, that should help provide that kind of knowledge is still kinda incomplete: lately even the quite famous "Linux lady" Carla Schroeder wrote two articles about the importance of documentation in Linux magazine: they can be found here and here, hoping to give guidelines for the actual coders, and maybe some non-coder to help therm in write it.

Simone "samo" Bevilacqua finally ported BOH to AROS, and it behave nicely even under qemu! BOH is one of the new generation commercial software available on the Amiga platforms (a little but, considered the platform diffusion, important avantguarde of a hopefully bigger production that include even Cinnamon Writer itself) and has been prepared for all the Amiga platforms so far: os 4, morphos and now even AROS. Despite some gitches with the sound due to the SDL libraries (and i expect things to imnprove thanks to the recent Deadwood work), the game runs fine even on qemu.


This coming year, God and Cash willing, is my intention to attend once more the Southern California Linux Expo in Los Angeles; will introduce the new features of AROS, the Icaros distribution, the new software and, if possible, even a native AROS box. Will write more about it soon; just mind that if somebody want to help me next february can get in touch with me at the email on the right side of the blog - the Get in Touch with Simone Bernacchia link, that I will repeat here, just remember to replace the sentences between square brackets.
28 maggio 2009
Diary:Technologies:AROS: the long and painful road to 1.0

I needed to take a leave a bit from the blog scene because my main laptop has been infected badly by a virus so that had to reformat and reinstall my OS: plus as bonus the backup DVDs i made looks like have errors and so i might be unable to recover my old AROS virtual disk: thank god i used to work my lua scripts on Windows and have copies on my SD card.

Anyway, despite Przemyslaw "Qus" Szczygielsky fixed its TCPPrefs control panel for AROS,this does not mean that I should abandon my lua Network config project: the problems withmy computer stopped me for a while but am ready to go on: at least i hope the related aros-exec thread should be a good didactic reference point for whoever want to start an Amilua project. Anyway, is my intention to post a tutorial when will have some free time.

I already set up the user interface: both mazze answers in the thread and some lua regular expression tutorials helped me in parsing the configuration files and do backup copies of it (in a bit rudimental way, parsing them and writing in a new renamed file via script), so what else is missing?
First of all I need to set the graphical frontend gadgets according to the preferences set in the files, including pre-set the cycle gadget on the actual network card; second i need to write the new configuration with the user set parameters. And last, if i would indulge in a little ego trip, a menu with a voice to show the about window ;) .

My Network Config Amilua app and part of the debug output window

Once done with this control panel, I would like to write sometihng to manage the Amistart calendar: one of the few widgets for Amistart, that also should be taken as example for those that want to write some more - is not happening yet, dont know why ;  another idea tingling my mind is to write a simple bookmark manager for OWB but so far there is no way to make OWB open a new address using the DOS getURL command and it is only possible to use the command OWB [url to launch] in order to open the program: it is not possible to use it with an open session: the old one needs to be closed first; i tested it personally.

At the begin of may I helped on write the AROS website status update: in this one I asserted that the latest months progresses brought AROS on the verge to be available for a daily usage; but in order to reach this goal still several obstacles need to be overcome, both on software availability, and on the system stability and affordability.

Neil Cafferkey still continues in its work on the ata.device; being this a critical piece of AROS, every time he or somebody else put its hand on it there is the risk something that used to work might break and, once it was fixed, might make it wonder how the hell was able to work before, but first let's get the facts: An updated ata.device patch has been provided with the Icaros desktop 1.1.1 upgrade; the upgrade has been temporarily removed by Paolo Besser itself due to the fact that on computers with southbridge board AMD SB600 or with similar architectures severe data corruption occured writing data in the disc partition; beside this, several users were greeted with a black screen and the red pointer with no further boot progress. For those the solution, was less drastic, citing from the Icaros website:

If you can't boot Icaros and the process stops after the red pointerappeared on the screen, please do as follow to fix the issue:

- turn on PC
- choose a resolution from Grub's menu but DON'T press Enter
- press 'E' instead
- move cursor after "ATA=32bit" and change it either to "ATA=nodma" or "ATA=nopci" (depending on what it works for you)
- press Ctrl+X to continue booting

Ifbooting has success open /boot/grub/grub2.cfg with the AROS editor,search for the "ATA=32bit" string and replace it with "ATA=nodma" or"ATA=nopci". You can do this easily, using the 'replace' option in the'search' menu of the editor.

At the same time, in answer to the problem exposed by Paolo Besser, Neil Cafferkey unveils what happened in the developer's mailing list:

I think I've found the cause of these problems: we don't set the
controller's timing registers.

My guess is that when DMA *did* work with older driver versions, it was
just a coincidence: ata.device re-set the drive mode that the BIOS had
already set, so there was no need to change the timing registers.

If we want to use a drive in a mode that the BIOS hasn't set, we need to
set the controller's timing registers to match that mode. Unfortunately,
there is no single standard for these timing registers. This is why Linux
for example has numerous PATA drivers: one for Intel, one for ATI, one for
Silicon Image etc.

This problem probably became more apparent because the new driver version
checks the cable report register bits to determine if the 80-wire cables
necessary for high-speed UDMA are present. My mistake was to assume that
all PCI controllers followed the T13 spec for these registers, but I
should have realised that that was unlikely given that the spec was only
published as recently as 2003. The T13 spec is implemented by Intel (and I
only have machines and emulators with Intel chipsets to test on), but I
suspect that T13 were actually following Intel's established design. Other
manufacturers have incompatible controller registers.

So on non-Intel controllers, the driver will incorrectly determine that
only 40-wire cables are installed, and downgrade the DMA mode from say
UDMA5 to UDMA2. Since the timing will then be wrong, data corruption is
likely to occur.

As a solution, I propose that, at least in the short term, ata.device does
not attempt to set a mode for any drive, but simply detects and uses the
mode already set by the BIOS. I hope that this will not lead to a
degradation in performace in most cases: in my small sample, BIOSes in
modern machines seem to set the best available mode for each drive by
default. I have this fix working locally. We already rely on the BIOS to
set addresses for PCI devices and enable bus-mastering, so this is just
one more thing.

In the longer term we could look at setting timings ourselves, but this
looks like a complicated procedure, and probably wouldn't give any
performance gain in most cases.

To help confirm my theory, I set a disk in one of my PCs to MDMA mode in
the BIOS instead of UDMA, and ata.device failed to access it after it put
the drive into UDMA2 mode. It had worked perfectly when the BIOS had set
it to UDMA (UDMA1 as it happens, but probably close enough not to cause

once the ata.device was fixed, the icaros update has been restored and is now available again for download.
In the Icaros Website Paolo expressed the fact that, despite he is doing the best to offer maximum stability and performance with the most recent system libraries and programs, sometimes it might happen that some components were not fully tested, also because is hard to test all hardware configurations, and especially for a small volunteered project as AROS; Paolo also assures how, despite the actual problem, the actual situation is even improved, considered that  now AROS boots even in machines where was unable to boot before, and that, thanks to the fact that the actual users and testers are aware of the beta nature of the syatem, damage was pretty limited; those kind of accidents might happen in open source projects- without mention Linux and its well known breakages - i might not say it happens often, but it happens.

Recently Neil also worked on fix other ata.device problems, including the fact that the device thought there were two DVD drive in case a SATA DVD drive was used. The change of the device enumeration system is also planned.

Neil is actually checking DHCP system, due to the fact that, once the shell command arostcp stop is given (or  a CTRL-C break command, as is called in unix environments), the DHCP stack become unresponsive and bring the CPU usage to 100%.

At the same time Michal Schulz worked on improve graphic performance on ATI Radeon - same graphic card that he as on Efika; bot Michal and Nik  "Kalamatee" Andrews  seen how the themes design (bad) implementation is among of the culprit in slowing down Wanderer performance - this in a fairly slow system such as Efika is much more perceived ; therefore Michal worked hard in accelerate several display redraw functions and the performance on ATI radeon both on x86 and PPC are improved quite dramatically.
Kalamatee, beside its actual task in improving and modernizing Wanderer, is considering whether to take the Graphic Subsystem Bounty, but so far nothing more is known about this topic.

And, at last, a rare happening in the actual Amiga oses landscape: with a joint effort, users from both Amiga OS, MorphOS and AROS partecipated to reach the $4000 goal set for the Poseidon USB Bounty: Thanks also to the initiative of a community member, that offered to double further received offers, the actual bounty quota is at $4170. Chris Hodges, the author of the Poseidon stack, started to work at the port - which source code will be open - and the stack will be released on the APL license; this will also allow other Amiga-like oses to port and to update extend and improve the stack code.

Outside the Amiga communities (with maybe the exception of the Haiku os) the bounty system concept might sound unknown - considered that in example a bigger open source player system such as Linux usually projects are founded from those government and commercial entities interested in their further development and maintenance; for smaller projects and communities, instead - such amiga-like oses -  the bounty system is the major (almost unique for AROS) source of funding. Therefore projects like this really are funded from the community and literally belong to the community, in a sort of similar fashion to the gothic cathedrals in the middle age.

And now a last word on the Aros-exec portal: last May 22nd the portal, after another virus exploit, was once again closed: now, after a week, the portal is finally back online using an updated and exploit -free xoops version and also a nice blue-metal new skin. I by the way remember that aros-exec is mainly a development-oriented portal; is my advice to point final users to the more user-oriented portal Arosworld.org. test



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