Thursday, 3 November 2016

The OS4 Pre-release Preview Part 2

A New Kind of Install
It is time to actually set up and write something to disk. So here we are presented with the HDToolbox replacement, Media Toolbox. Just like when you had a fresh new disk on a conventional Amiga that needed the "Install" option in HDToolbox here we must do the same. At this point it gets a little complicated, as we must install some special AmigaOne boot code, namely the Second Level Bootloader. This wouldn't be too bad, except you must find and select the right file, and picking the right version can be a guessing game. As it depends if you have no need or do have a need to support booting from Linux or the Amiga SmartFileSystem. Now we can partition the harddisk how we like, but our boot partition must be set up in the new DOS7 format. The main new features of this filesystem is internal support for filenames up to 107 characters and device level 64-bit access for modern disk sizes. When setting this up for some reason it isn't set to default, so you must select the new system as well as modify a few other fields. After this you can add some more partitions to you're liking, and when you're done save to disk, after which because of all the disk initialisation we must perform a reboot.

Here I noticed something that can be a major annoyance when needing to boot off the OS4 CD again, that although you told it the first time what the input preferences were these are not saved anywhere and it goes through the whole process of asking you again. Even with a fully installed OS4 the CD still doesn't check what is selected on disk or give the option of reading it. After getting past this again we must now format the new partitions, if you have a few you have set up you know it can be a pain to select all the drives and format them. And unfortunately this must be done as well, including making sure it knows you want to use the new filesystem, despite already telling it in Media Toolbox. Although you only need to do a quick format, having the installer or Media Toolbox do this for you automatically would make things a bit easier, and a bit more in line with other OS' such as MacOSX where it formats as part of the partition process.  After telling the installer we don't need to install the harddisk into the system we can now get onto the big one, actually installing AmigaOS4.

We select what volume we want on, click "Proceed" and away it goes. The most simple part of the installation stage yet. After this is done we then specify the best screenmode our monitor can handle and then our soundcard driver is installed as well, mostly standard SoundBlaster types supported. At this point the installation of AmigaOS4 is complete and our AmigaOne is now ready to be used an as Amiga system. We can now remove the OS4 CD and reset the machine into a stand alone AmigaOS4 Workbench.

Running Solo
Well here we are, we have arrived at the main part of my preview, actually reviewing AmigaOS4 stand alone as it sits on the machine. Before I continue I must say since the first articles inception OS4 has been through two updates. The first was a major update, being a 30MB ISO image. The second not so huge a download, being just a 2MB LHA file, but both bringing more major features to the OS which are a welcome edition. This is also what you get if you buy one of the latest A1 models, the latest release on a nicely factory printed compact disc. Rather than outline what features each upgrade brought to the system, I decided to review everything as a whole, given that what I have is the latest release and the current snapshot of the latest version.

Running OS4 solo, from power on, first will come the usual U-Boot firmware messages. Including support for 48-bit access devices, being that AmigaOS already supports 64-bit access, and FFS on a 512 byte blocksize can support a maximum partition size of 2 Terrabytes (2048 Gigabytes!), we are already ahead of them. U-Boot will eventually find the right drive to boot off and run the FLB. One that starts  it will spin off the SLB and up comes a simple text menu asking if you want the standard or debug OS4 kernel running. You can configure this to ask or skip the selections including adding other OS' such as Linux which takes some setting up to configure. After the chosen OS4 kernel is selected, a text progression display bar makes its way across the screen as the OS4 Kickstart files are loaded. Even though Kickstart isn't kept in ROM in the usual sense, it is kept in special modules that are loaded with each cold reboot, of which the layout is also configurable. Once loaded, the "Amiga" is ready, and begins booting off harddisk. The screen is black, a few little moments pass by and click! The monitor syncs and up comes the OS4 Workbench screen.

First Contact
Being of the nature of this review, the first thing to compare this to is OS3.9, so I will try to do that here, although it's been a while since the last version of AmigaOS came out, 2000 I believe. Comparing differences, we could see the screen titlebar has changed a little, being of a grey background with a boing ball situated in the left corner, a depth gadget on the right and the usual graphics and other mem listed. However, now they show the same amount. On my review system, which has 256MB internal memory, the system shows about 8MB less that 64MB free in the system. This doesn't mean that suddenly the PowerPC AmigaOS is a memory hog! It reveals part of the new memory substructure within. In line with bringing more up to date features to AmigaOS, Exec now virtualises the memory, and makes use of the MMU built into the PowerPC. Currently, by having virtual memory, this doesn't mean that AmigaOS is a harddisk thrasher like all other modern OS'. It just means that all memory in AmigaOS is considered virtual in the respect that Exec maps it in a particular fashion, for instance the AmigaOne having no real custom chips means no actual chip ram, so this is "emulated" by just taking it out of the usual memory pool. Exec also separates the 68k emulated code from the native code, and these sit in different parts of memory. Rather than having to check each code address to see what code it contains (68K or PPC) it tags the memory and just jumps to the code there arbitrary, using the MMU to sort it out itself. In future the MMU will be used for support of standard page-based virtual memory disk access, as well as to be used for dynamically extending core task memory such as stacks and so forth. And for applications that support it, being able to access a whole file on disk as if it was completely stored in memory and processing it as such. So that potential memory shortage is just a scare at first, it doesn't show the real picture. Of which in the backdrop is a new AmigaOS4 picture, the usual array of drives on our left and the AmiDock sitting on the bottom of the bay, in its usual spot.

From the onset it doesn't look like AmiDock has changed, also having five icons sitting on the bottom right of the screen like in OS3.9. The differences lie beneath the surface, having to be a bit more configurable than its predecessor. Of course having more options means more complication, and AmiDock is no exception. I found this to be a problem as it can be tedious setting things up by clicking this and selecting that, and although you can set up AmiDock in the GUI provided with it, I really feel it should be done directly on the interface itself. Making use of the new features such as multiple docks is hard to work out at first, as this requires you use a special subdock which you must add yourself, and also find in the Workbench directories. AmiDock also includes an ability to communicate with other Workbench loaded programs through an application library, though I haven't yet found OS4 programs that make this noticeable or even demonstrate it. Like OS3.9, AmiDock is run from WBStartup. Others would disagree, but I find this to be an unprofessional approach to a program that is touted as being part of Workbench. For instance, if you switch the background off to bring up the Workbench window, suddenly AmiDock disappears showing you how it is a separate entity to  Workbench. It doesn't stop there, for all the other commodities from OS3.9 to improve the Workbench are there as well, such as ASyncWB, DefIcons, RABInfo and the newer ContextMenus. Most people wouldn't have a problem with this setup, however I find that if they are meant to be creating a new PPC AmigaOS, surely certain things would be there internally as standard. Or does a Workbench that supports multi-threading, a standard GUI look and modern type menus but only with add on hacks (or commodities) okay by your standards? As you can work out, doesn't sound good now, but Hyperion intend to replace Workbench eventually.

Going through the menus nothing much as changed, About of course being updated with mention of Hyperion Entertainment and Amiga, Inc. And showing that I have Kickstart 51.19, Workbench 51.1. The Find item still would be the newest subitem, the Find application still looking the same, and acting it. Selecting an icon and then Find as if to look there still will bring up a selection of all drives, with no file gadgets added to make drive navigation easier, you still have to use the menus. And still click the Start gadget to begin, unable to simply press return like in a web browser, just to make us feel at home.

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