Taking #AROS for a spin

AROS is a free open-sourced clone of the Amiga OS, primarily targeted at Intel chips. It is also available for the RPi (Raspberry Pi), but is hosted on Linux, and you need to pay for it. The RPi is an obvious target for AROS on account of its cheap and stable hardware. Other architectures are also supported.

I tried out AROS’ latest release from May 2017 for the x86: Icaros v2.2. It is a gorgeous-looking system with a much greater visual appeal than the original Amiga OS.

Sadly, development progress limps along due to the dearth of programmer interest. AROS was conceived around the same time as Linux. I would not be able to say whether AROS is more popular now than it was a decade ago. The project is still alive, though, and interest seems at least stable.

AROS is a great source of nostalgia to me. I bought an Amiga A600 in 1993 when I was doing my Masters. I created an application for it in 1995 called “etb”. It created an extended trial balance from a set of financial transactions. It is still available on Aminet. I updated the program in 2005, and I am thinking of updating it again for old time’s sake.

It is a C program of nearly 1000 lines. Considering the simplicity of what it does, 1000 lines is too much. I wrote a different financial application for Linux in 2700 lines of C++ code. Although larger, the program does considerably more. It handles share portfolios and downloads recent share prices from Yahoo Finance, for example. It can output files for John Weigley’s Ledger program and create portfolios that can be uploaded into Stockopedia, amoungst other things.

AROS has a version of Python from 2008, which could simplify the amount of code needed considerably. However, AROS also includes the GNU C++ compiler. Although it is severely lags behind the current version of GCC, a cursory test showed that it is likely to be a near-complete implementation of C++11. That’s great!

One problem that dogs AROS is the diffusiveness of the development tools. On the one hand, one could develop on Linux and cross-compile to AROS. Alternatively, one could work with AROS natively. I am inclined to go with the latter option, as it is easier to use, and tools are already in the distribution.

The big downside to this is that AROS doesn’t have a “bash” shell. So you cannot easily compile GNU programs. This also seems to be a generally similar problem with the programs on Aminet. Their binaries will not work on i386 architectures, and the build process is unlikely to work out-of-the-box. So a porting effort is still necessary.

AROS is definitely cool, and fast, but I don’t think that there are sufficient pieces in place for it to reach a critical mass. Not yet, anyway. AROS is prone to the occasional crash, but for me it is not a deal-breaker in terms of usability. I will probably do what most people will do with AROS though, which is to say play around with it, say “Wow, this is really cool,” but then go back to doing whatever it is I was doing before I started tinkering.

I have AROS set up in a VM on Windows. The internet works, but sound does not. I have also copied AROS onto a pen drive, so that it runs completely natively. Unfortunately, the internet does not work on my regular PC due to lack of drivers. This makes it unusable in that form, as I have no way of transferring files on or off the system. The instructions did suggest putting two partitions on the pen drive, with one of them being FAT. However, I could not get such a system to boot. It is possible that with more experimentation I could get such a system to work.

The pen drive works quite well on my ASUS VivoPC system. Internet works, but sound does not. The lack of sound is obviously going to limit AROS’ appeal as an OS. I think that sound can work, but it requires a specific sound card. For nearly everyone, then, there is no audio.

Virtualising AROS, or using a host OS is the most likely way to have AROS working at its best. However, I think that most people, like me, are going to think that whilst it is cool to see AROS working, it is difficult to see how it complements their native OS.

I do not want to disparage the AROS project, though. I think it is a great and cool project. I really want it to succeed. The developers of AROS deserve many kudos for their efforts. If they could crack the problem of creating a native version for the RPi that was easy and free to install, then I think that they will achieve a significant uptick in interest in the project. RPis’ can be bought for bobbins, and be used realistically as dedicated systems.

The main website for AROS is here: http://aros.sourceforge.net/ . I have written about configuring the system, and setting up an FTP client-server system here: http://www.markcarter.me.uk/aros.htm

Go check it out!

About mcturra2000

Computer programmer living in Scotland.
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