What is the appeal of MorphOS?

MorphOS Ambient

If you come from an Amiga background and want to know about the similarities and differences between AmigaOS 3.1 and MorphOS, I recommend you to read the guide: MorphOS in 5 minutes – a brief introduction for users familiar with the Commodore Amiga by Ulrich Beckers. It explains it better than I ever could.

It’s a much more difficult task to explain to someone who has never used an Amiga at all of what makes MorphOS appealing to some. I myself comes from an Amiga background so for me it’s “obvious”. But after thinking about it a little, one have to realise that there was something appealing in the original AmigaOS that made people switch to it from other existing OS’s. So I made a little list of what I think, in a nutshell, makes MorphOS my choice of OS (though I use Windows for all the tasks MorphOS can’t do). But it’s also the same things that made me choose Amiga in the first place too:

  • The Amiga philosophy is all about simplicity, economy and a perfect integration between soft- and hardware. This last part is not true for MorphOS since closed hardware has been out of fashion for 20 years, but the two first parts are true, and more important anyway.
  • Amiga is an open, single-user system. You as the user has full control and can do whatever you want with it, even break it. AmigaOS and MorphOS trusts the user to know what she/he is doing. If you are not an complete idiot, you will not (voluntarily) break anything, but you will be able to change the entire look and feel of the OS so it suits you and your needs. The same can be said about GNU/Linux as well but ….
  • It’s not complicated. Unlike any Linux distro out there it doesn’t take much study to understand how the OS is built and works. That is also true with Windows and MacOS, but these two make sure that the user can’t break anything by blocking access to the system. Amiga/MorphOS has openness without the hassle.
  • Amiga is responsive. If you have ever tried out a newer GNU/Linux, Windows or MacOS on a slower computer you know what the opposite feels like. Starting the computer takes forever, and then starting a single program too. Not to mention what happens when you try to use several programs at the same time. An Amiga/MorphOS system starts in seconds (my fastest machine starts in about 8 seconds, my slowest in about 20 due to slow firmware) and most software is up and running the second after starting it. The slowest program, the web browser OWB in MorphOS, starts in 3. And this is on 10 year old hardware.
  • The RAM disk. This is a fetish of all Amiga users. By using the RAM disk as a temporary hard drive you can use it to test new programs or unpack new files. And if you don’t want to keep it, you simply reboot and it’s gone (Amiga/MorphOS reboots fast remember). This is extremely useful and something you get use to having fast.
  • The Shell. If you come from Linux you know what I mean. If you have used MSDOS before Windows you know what I mean (sort of). It’s the text based command prompt, and the Amiga had an excellent one. MorphOS’s one however is even better. While I do prefer to use the GUI, there are times when Shell is pretty darn useful (see above picture).
  • Amiga has a culture and a rich history. This is probably not as interesting to outsiders as to those who has owned an Amiga before. But it really counts for a lot when using Amiga/MorphOS. Basically, because Commodore and the owners after it misused the Amiga and it’s users as they did (see my historical overview), the Amiga got a deep rooted DIY spirit. Commodore was not Apple, and didn’t really do much to help users nor respond to feedback. Since no one is going to help you with you troubles or listen to your ideas you simply have to do it yourself. By hanging around in Amiga/MorphOS forums you get a nice dose of socializing on the side.
  • Amiga is nerd rebellion! Some people like really really unusual things, things that other people just don’t appreciate. We can’t really explain it nor help it. We always find ourself among the outsiders, playing with toys no one else cares about. And we love to fight an uphill battle, even when it’s borderline masochistic. I’m such a person, and I’m having a blast here!

There are downsides as well.

  • There are no new hardware. The last new hardware that you could buy for MorphOS was the underpowered, super cheap server Genesi Efika 5200b. It hasn’t been produced in 10 or so years. After that, your only option is used computers. This is somewhat annoying, but thankfully there are still plenty of cheap, well working PPC macs out there that will ensure a good supply of hardware and spare parts. It is a stop gap measure and eventually MorphOS will be ported to a new computer architecture. But when that happens, only the developers know and they ain’t telling. However, there is one new computer being ported to as I write this and that is the Acube SAM460ex motherboard. But it’s not nearly as cheap as a similar x86 or ARM motherboard.
  • There is a huge lack of software. The number of active users is pretty low (between 500 and 1500 or so) and even though a lot of these users are also developers and programmers there is only so much they can do making software. There are a lot of useful Amiga programs out there that works with MorphOS but most of it is old by now. But there are software out there worth a look, and thanks to the reasonably well made web browser OWB you can use MorphOS for most simpler tasks. Plus some more advanced stuff thanks to some excellent applications.
  • MorphOS is PPC based. That processor went out of fashion as a desktop computer processor a decade ago. This means that even when new hardware appears, it will cost a lot more than Intel’s x86/x64 or ARM based computers.
  • MorphOS runs only on a single processor. This significantly lower the processing power available. A G4 processor will not run full HD movies for example. A G5 will do that, but it gets very hot and demands a lot of electricity. Luckily, if you ignore power demanding applications MorphOS will run just fine even on a low end G3/G4 processor.
  • MorphOS is 32 bit. Going 64 bit is difficult so it hasn’t been done yet. This means there is a limitation in what the hardware can do. Most notably when it comes to available RAM. No MorphOS machine can handle more than 2 GIG of RAM, and some can only use one. This is because the rest of the RAM is being use to handle certain hardware. This is rarely a problem though since MorphOS only needs 50 MB or so to run.
  • No modern memory protection. In order to keep the original Amiga programs working MorphOS must use the same memory handling like the original Amiga did (with some improvements though). This means that when a program crashes, it can take the whole system with it. The only option then is to save all the stuff you are working on (if you can) and reboot. Thankfully MorphOS is a pretty stable system so this is not an occurring issue. Just very damn annoying when it happens.
  • MorphOS is not free. A single computer licence costs up to 111 Euro. This is because the developers need the money to buy new hardware to test and port to, and also to keep the various web pages running. The developers have stated that they don’t get any salary (would it matter if they did?) but use the money so they don’t have to pay for stuff with their own pockets.
  • MorphOS is not without bugs and issues. Because the developers have ported MorphOS to a lot of machines and hardware, bugs tend to appear, big and small. There is a bug report built in the system (right click on your mouse –> go to the menu –> choose “Ambient” –> “About MorphOS” –> “Support” –> click on the “Report bug” button) and the developers work hard to fix them. They also hang at MorphZone and on IRC if you want to contact them directly.

Lastly, I want to answer the question: Why don’t I use AmigaOS 4 or AROS?

Well, I do use AROS actually, and I have tried out AmigaOS 4.1. My first new Amiga was one running the latter OS but sadly that hardware had some serious issues and was pretty much unusable. Some people tried to help me out, but in the end it just stood there on the table collecting dust. I sold it to another guy who got it working and is apparently happy with it. And now I simply can not afford a new AmigaOS 4 machine since they cost a lot.

After that I started to use AROS and was very happy with it for 6 months or so. The problem with it was that it’s still way buggy and has a pretty poor web browser. I simply stopped using that one as well. I still got my AROS laptop here, but it hasn’t seen action for months. I’m waiting for the next update of Icaros Desktop (or AspireOS if the guy is still working on it) and hopefully then I will use AROS more.

I also want to tell you about the excellent AmigaOne X1000 blog that inspired me to start blogging about MorphOS. This blog is about how you make the most out of your X1000 computer system and is directed to beginners and intermediate users. Please go take a look.

Next time we will take a look at my different machines and my current MorphOS settings.

[Edit] 140713: Some minor corrections.

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