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All that comes in the mind of an italian guy moved to california
TECNOLOGIE
19 agosto 2009
Diary - Technologies - AROS: the king is naked and being hit by a bus...

For the first time I start to write the article in english instead of italian in order to give higher priority to the latest happenings. Will try to keep it short, considered lately I have been kinda late in delivering my usual articles.

So here we are with new ports: Fishy_fis recently ported Dosbox to AROS: despite some issues with the keyboard it mostly works and now allows to use old DOS applications and games, and even with some level of inaccuracy Windows 3.1. Paolo Besser shown in its blog how he was able to run the old Word 2 for Windows under Dosbox. Of course this does not mean that since we have dosbox and J-UAE we should not do new applications: AROS runs in much more powerful hardware than the old Amigas and DOS PCs and new programs using its capabilities are not only welcome but desired: furthermore (and this is not the first time i say it) writing new apps for AROS, will make it available, after a short work of adaptation, also for other Amiga OS systems, therefore three time (approximatively) the users.

Since some time ago i tried to write my own network application in amilua, seems that other people discovered the flexibility of zulu, and some small utilities start to appear.

Yannick "Yannickescu" Erb built WHD Menu, an alternate WHDload launcher in amilua that interfaces with E-UAE, and it looks pretty good: it includes screenshots (either coming from icons if in a supported format or from a screenshot directory) the list of titles and a custom interface GUI to configure it. Despite some minor tweaks (some tweaking is required by the user both on AROS side and UAE side according to the WHDload setting and path on the UAE machine) and the well-known limitations of actual Zulu (as the inability to dynamically update lists) the application has a professional look and shows the potential of the technology. I really hope that Mazze will be able to include callback hooks and hopefully an integration with the Cairo Library soon, in order to have our own base development language for newbies and rapid applications.

Last week the Poseidon stack had been put on validation and all users invited to contribute with their own bug report. I tested the custom AROS build with Poseidon provided by Paolo Besser in both my laptops, the old one, an ASUS a1300 p3/900 with 384 megabytes of RAM and 20 gig and the new one, a DELL vostro 1000 with AMD sempron 1,5 gig ram and 160 gig hard disk.

The test in the old laptop was kinda disappointing:poseidon did not recognized my USB OHCI hub and therefore none of the devices I plugged into it (platon defined my stack very old and bugged) while in the Dell vostro most of the sticks were recognized (beside an old staples 64 megabytes one pre-partitioned in two sections). I know a bug report has been filled for the SIS USB controller and also hear that Neil Cafferkey, haveing the same controller, was trying to see if there was a way to fix that.

You plug your device and a requester window pops up and, if you haven't made it before,it ask to name the device for DOS use and other parameters: this might souind normal to Amiga OS USB adopters that were used to this way of handle USB devices but for me, that i mostly used USB devices on windows, was a different approach: is not exactly a plug-and-play, can be more defined as a plug-configure-once-and-play, somewhat more expected in some occasions.

Some remarks on documentation: first of all, the Poseidon documentation is not available directly with the stack; it has to be retrieved downloading the Amiga stack from Platon's web site and is in AmigaGuide format, therefore the use of AutoDoc Reader is recommended; second of all, the way it was written assumes that the reader have a medium/advanced knowledge of the Amiga OS internals: in the AmigaOS world and time it was developed this made sense, since the only kind of Amiga user around was the die-hard one that used and abused its machine and can also do some little hardware repairs on it; obviously the AROS version of the documentation might need a rewrite, since AROS brings new users, sometimes completely unaware of the Amiga OS way of doing things and some other time not completely aware, as me and a friend of mine.

Will make a real world example: this friend of mine got an USB ethernet card with the dm9601 chipset,  that Platon declares supported on Poseidon documentation. Beside the fact that the card was not recognized properly because that version was not supported at the time (fixed), but we had no clue on how to use the card to get online.

Turns out that the device that has to be pointed to the TCP/IP interface is loaded in memory (and this does not mean RAM disk, just RAM) therefore there is no .device file to point; the device name should be simply declared either in the interfaces file in ENVARC:AROSTCP/db/ or, using the network control panel in prefs, first create a fake device file (like an empty text file), name it dm9601eth.device and save it in DEVS:networks/ to make it point from the TCP/IP interface.

That is a pretty singular Amiga way to handle some devices and is kinda unknown outside Amiga world; once again, considered that AROS aims, willing or not, to be the easiest gateway for newcomers to the Amiga World, it is my personal opinion that the Poseidon guide file should be provided with AROS and also re-written to ensure newcomers might be able to use it and configure it.

Beside this, there are also improvements on the part that requires Poseidon to boot from an USB stick; last August 4th, in the developer Mailing List, Chris hodges stated that:

Poseidon is now available at boot time by using the "enableusb" kernel parameter. However, as fat.handler or the cd filesystem are not available inside the kernel, booting from a fat formatted stick or CD rom are still not supported. Booting from SFS/AFS formatted stick or drive should be working, but I didn't test that.

Therefore we are in a situation where AROS COULD boot form an USB stick, problem is the stick is not seen from HDToolbox. Fortunately installAROS can be instructed to see the device in the same way that I explained before for the network NIC, writing the device name in the "device" text area if the "wipe disk" option is selected -  NOTE: I did not try that, since have no spare USB sticks to use, so please do not try to use this option, because i dont know if it might wipe your hard disk instead; this unless - as usual - you know what are doing and have back-ups handy.


Paolo Besser released the 1.1.3 version of the now well know main AROS distro, Icaros Desktop. As most of you probably already guessed, the most important feature is the inclusion of the Poseidon stack, but i would also like to point little contributions like the OWB quick handbook made by Nikos, as usual a new batch of system build files (from July 31st) and the inclusion of the LiveUpdater in the distribution.

[troubles with qemu, best fit and USB - and an annoying editor bug]
And so i decided to switch my old QEMU virtual machine with the old one. At first i found out that launching the new .bat file from a different position made QEMU exit with every selection I made form GRUB so i moved the new virtual disk and replaced the name in the batch file, and then it worked. Still, if i use QEMU and select a "Best Fit" option in GRUB, QEMU will close; since my screen is a 16:9 and the 1024x768 option is not feasible as window, i resorted to edit the file boot/grub/grub.cfg to add 800x600 modes, and found an annoying bug: deleting something in the middle of a string causes the first character in front of the cursor to overwrite all that is from him and the end of the line; had toe resort to press enter in front of all parts that i needed to modify to reduce the damage; hope this will be fixed on the coming builds because the fact that the main AROS editor is broken is kinda annoying.


The new annoying editor bug

Another thing that I wanted to check was whether Icaros in QEMU can handle USB devices thanks to Poseidon, so i looked in the net for a tutorial and found this wiki from the Slackware project where explains how to mount USB devices on it, well not exactly user-friendly but not even too complicated: first it is needed to switch in the monitor mode using CTRL+ALT+2, write the following command line:

usb_add host [vendor_ID]:[product_ID]

and switch again with CTRL+ALT+1.

In order to retrieve the vendor_id and product_id codes, since windows xp has no lsusb comand, I found this interesting freeware called USBDevView, that will show all usb devices installed in your system and all related data.


The USBDevView utility and, circled in red, the Vendor_ID and Product_ID codes required to mount USB devices in QEMU

Once i obtained the codes i tried to add my device in the way that was explained in the wiki, and had no feedback from inside QEMU. Now i dont know whether is poseidon fault, QEMU fault or maybe should have done something more than mounting the USB device, but my QEMU starts already with the -usb option and so i expected to be able to mount devices at will. Am accepting suggestions.

And, together with the very close completion of the Poseidon Stack, another interesting utility is about to be released for AROS: coded by Michal "rzokol" Zukowsky, SCANdal is a graphical fontend for Betascan (that is an Amiga OS port of the XSANE drivers from linux); is already gone out for MorphOS and will be out soon also for Amiga OS 4; thje actual development in the AROS side is actually stopped due to another Zune bug in displaying more than one radio button at once, hope Michal will be helped and find a workaround for it.

"Steril707" some time ago started to experiment using Rob's cairo port and see if it was able to take out something interesting from it: the result is what he called "Shotofop": a simple but effective graphic application that allow to do basic operantions such resize, crop, rotate paint and select parts of the paint. The first verison is quite primitive and it uses the Adobe Photoshop toolbar (but of course new and more original button will be used next); it also supoprts a limited number of layers. Steril plans ot implement partly the PSD file format too. I suggested him to get in touch with the author of SCANdal and find a way to make the two applications talk,it might be interesting.

Krzysztof "Deadwood" Smiechowicz ported latest MESA version 7.5 to AROS in shape of mesa.library; since AROS still have no hardware 3D support (delegated to the Gallium 3D bounty, and is still low - please donate!), all the rendering is actually done via software. So far GLU and GLUT are compiling but missing functionalities and incluided as dynamic libs, and SDL implementation is not done yet. In the past Deadwood ported the Eternal Lands Client embedding an old MESA version, now with the release of MESA as a library that will no more needed.

Not so good news from the Kickstart Replacement Bounty phase 1: i went to know through IRC that Greg "bheron" Casamento last month broke its leg and now is obviously focusing more on recovering its health; me and the AROS community wish him to get well soon.

Last month Amiga OS 4.1 has been reviewed from Thom Holverda of OSNews.com. An important preamble is that Thom started its informatic experience on BE-OS and Mac and is an active Haiku-OS supporter, therefore is mostly unaware of the "Amiga Way" of dong things, like our winndow system works, how libraries works, etc.

So the result is something that you can compare to a newbie introduction to the world of Amiga, and give what they call a fresh look on the actual platform state.

I might also say that he had some spot-on observations on things that I would like to see in example on AROS,IF one day will be decided to use draggable screens in Amiga OS style (Kalamatee and Rob actually dislike them btw):

What AmigaOS needs is a few default screens set-up, and the ability to drag and drop windows [and icons or files too when the screen contains a single app on my opinion - nda] from one screen to the other. Currently you have to manually configure windows to appear on certain screens, and while this is useful for running, say, old Amiga games, it's not very user friendly for new users like me. The feature has a lot of potential though, so I hope the AmigaOS developers can capitalise on it more in the future.

I am well aware that the commercial Amiga-like OSes are more advanced than AROS where i meddle almost daily (see iconification, interactive pointer and show as list),but some basic things remained the same, such as the way Amiga OS handle its windows, not clicked by front, or the need to update the workbench manually to show drives and files, and those are among the things Thom did not liked; while personally on the window handling topic I feel at home better on Amiga OS style (obviously), i sincerely miss the automatic update and snapshot in the windows icons and positions (AROS support automatic update, but not for FFS so far), and am not alone:

the file manager also doesn't auto-update its contents; you need to manually update a folder if you downloaded something new into it. There are 3rd party utilities that fix this problem, but I'd prefer it something as basic as this is part of the default installation.

...

Speaking of windows, the AmigaOS seems to have a more persistent problem with retaining window sizes - almost every application refused to remember window sizes, which really starts to get on your nerves after a few days.


The final conclusion Thom draws are good but not exactly the most positive around, and is not the first time those are reported on an Amiga board or blog:

The AmigaOS is cool. It's fun. For most of you, it will be a whole new world of technology to explore and play around with. It's also a well-implemented world, with a logical file system, flexible file layout (you can move everything to everywhere, seemingly), cool features like the draggable screens, and lots of other stuff. It's also remarkably configurable, and given more time, I would've loved to explore more of the innards of the system, to really be able to use the system to its fullest potential.

However, said fun and coolness comes at a massive price, and this time, I'm not talking about the price of the soft and hardware. Despite the lipstick the developers put on the system (in the form of transparency and other fanciness) it's still very clear that the AmigaOS is a relic, a thing from the past. The application portfolio is outdated, lacking, and incapable, there's no protected memory, and many configuration panels are overwhelmingly difficult to understand and use.

AmigaOS 4.1 just didn't let me in. It's like being invited by a friend to a party where you don't know any of the people there. Your friend promises to remain by your side and ease you into the group, but once you arrive, your friend wanders off into the crowd, leaving you by the sidelines. And the group of people have known each other for 30 years. And they're catching up to 30 years of shared history. And they really aren't interested in newcomers - this is a reunion, not a party.

Remember: those are the conclusion of somebody that used to get to know the world of computing starting form a different side of the fence; this means that many things and approaches that we Amiga/MOS/AROS users take usually for granted are approached with a different mind orientation, might take the example of somebody that started driving motor vehicles using automatic gear and instead somebody that started using directly stick-shift, with of course Amigans among the stick-shift users.

Being a returning Amiga User, and having myself not been actively involved in Amiga progresses after 3.1 (my 1200 system is a 3.0 and had no chance nor the money to update the software), i myself had to re-learn many of the glitches introduced with os 3.5 and 3.9, that made a nice fast and efficient system such as the original Amiga OS 3 in a much less efficient and patched kinda blob. But despite that i still have the Amiga mindset and that helped me a lot in the past; i went to realize that without my original Amiga Background a modern OS-4, MOS or even AROS might have looked, if not as dark as a linux, probably much more primitive.

That inspired my main answer in the board:

Well,is hard for me to be objective when a fellow OS is involved; Thom as an outsider of the Amiga world expressed its concerns about AOS 4.1; so far, i got to realise that the Amiga OSes, including my endorsed AROS are made "by amigans for amigans" in paraphrase to the usual saying for linux.
What I mean is that, when i got interested in AROS in 2006 and tried the live CD, the first thing that made me fell in love with it was the feeling similar to the one of using an Amiga OS, in good and in bad: there were undoubtely flaws, but were *our* flaws, stuff we Amiga users had to live with everyday.

Like the workbench: as file manager has always been not the best option: Directory opus or filemaster has been Amiga user best friends since 1989 to help overcome those flaws,and still Amiga and AROS users deal with it either with the commercial old Magellan or the open source dopus 4 revisited, in example.

And now some of the Amiga desktop paradigmas and usability might look outdated to people coming from other systems, while people like me , used that all the time, actually feel comfortable with the windows that does not stack on click, allowing to focus on the main task and handling stuff in the back; but again is all matter of perception and habits.

I am glad that after many years of inertia things started to move in the amiga world again, but the problem is there is a lot to catch up and so far good old Amiga OSes are now a niche market for aficionados and a hobby; and looks like it might stay like this for long time, and not aspire to be more until many of the flaws are catched up, though i have good feelings about the netbook market...

At the end my personal opinion is: if you never used an Amiga OS or like and want to have a taste of it but have no money to spend, the first answer is try AROS, considered it is free and runs in most x86 hardware (and in virtual machines too); then, once you got used to it, if you like it, you can go the next level and buy a SAM for AOS or EFIKA for MOS too, according to tastes.

So, as you can see i endorse in part Thom opinion: of course I would like to see addressed the main problems of Amiga OS/MOS/AROS, epsecially for the usability part; i also pointed on the factr that right now a real Amiga OS or MOS are hard to reach for any hobbyist with little money to spend and proposed once more AROS as main low-cost  and low commitment gateway to the Amiga world, despite its actual incompleteness, that thank god is slowly being addressed (but still no interactive mouse pointer, damn!); furthermore the upgrade of Wanderer is the topic of this discussion in Aros-exec, where somebody also proposed (once again) to port Ambient from MorphOS,considered that is open source (GPL licensed) and much more powerful than the actual Wanderer; against this there are two main problems: one is legal but minor - Ambient is licensed under GPL - and the other one is merely technical but bigger - Ambient uses extensively MUI 4 classes and Zune so far supports only barely MUI 3.8. Steve Jones gave the hint that he might have a way to obtain the Directory Opus Magellan source code (once some licensing problems are solved), but even that is a non trivial port, considered parts of it are written in assembler.

And, of course, porting applications and filling the gaps in AROS is pretty matter of lack of developers: despite new blood lately came in, still very few people have the knowledge required to handle the core system coding, and despite the actual progress, still AROS is not yet fully recognized as one of the Amiga-like extended family members, like is shown in a thread in Amigapage.it, here, translated through Google.


An interesting happening of the latest days in the Linux world, about the disappearance (now solved) of the main mantainer of CentOS (and also SVN admin, domain admin and holder of all the monetary donations of the distro) gives insight to what i heard slashdot users call the Bus Syndrome or,in short, how many chances of survival have a project if one of the key mantainers or key developers is gone suddenly missing (or, as a figure speech, hit by a bus).

Now, in AROS there is little organisation as known, but still the figure of Aaron Digulla, founder of the project, one of the admin of the aros.org domain and of the CVS server - therefore the one who can administer CVS accounts - has a primary importance; is well known to the Developer's mailing list subscribers that might take an undetermined amount of time between the request for a CVS account to Aaron and receiving the account datas. But What if for some reason Aaron will come to miss? I wonder: is its position and the fact to be the CVS admin essential for the prosecution of AROS? Michal Schulz [that finished recently phase 1 of EFIKA port and now is working on the ARM port BTW] is another key developer and i already expressed here my concerns for when he will decide to give up AROS development, wishing for all actual core developers to try to documentate as much as possible; now also considered, because of some server upgrade problem, the CVS certificate expired and it has been impossible to build nightly for a couple of weeks, it is my opinion and advice that since Aaron in the last couple of years dropped active development in AROS and is actively busy in other projects, might be a good thing if he decides to give Admin privileges to some of the core developers as a backup move, to prevent any incoming trouble that might happen to ther project in case he might be unable to attend it admin duties anymore.

To finish, another interesting bounty has been rekindled last yesterday: since last year Bill Panagouleas' DiscreetFX acquired the sources for the Video Toaster suite, they also started a bounty for hardware-abstrtact and porting the programs including the ToasterCG suite on the modern Amiga-like OSes, including AROS. Since many of the programs,despite being made in C include parts written in assembly code (with exception of digipaint, being entirely written in assembly) that might be not a trivial work, but if done can surely help the actual lack of good video processing software on modern Amiga systems and also be used as base for new video applications.
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