Icaros, the Amiga-like desktop OS for x86, hits 2.0

The team behind Icaros Desktop, a distribution of the open source Amiga-inspired AROS operating system, have reached a new milestone, releasing version 2.0 at the end of October.

Icaros is a desktop OS that runs on x86 computers. The project, started by Paolo Besser, has been running since 2007.

Development on AROS (the 'AROS Research Operating System'), which is an open source reimplementation of the Amiga OS 3.x APIs, structure and interfaces available for ARM, Motorola 68K, PPC and x86 platforms, began in the late '90s.

Icaros 2.0 includes significant changes to the interface, internals and third-party applications.

Related article: How Icaros Desktop brings the Amiga experience to x86 PCs

In the first three days of the release, the Icaros Desktop website received more than 6000 visitors — small fry compared to some of the larger open source projects but "considering the niche nature of Amiga community, and the hobbyist goals of Icaros Desktop, it's a big success," Besser said.

Image credit: http://vmwaros.blogspot.com.au/

One of the biggest changes in 2.0 has been basing it on backported features from an actively developed branch of AROS, Besser said

"Under the hood, the greatest change has been basing Icaros 2.0 on the recent backport of AROS from ABIv1 to ABIv0," Besser said. Several years ago AROS was forked into two branches with incompatible application binary interfaces: The stable ABIv0 branch and an experimental ABIv1 branch, which was actively developed.

"Unfortunately, in the latest 24 months nothing changed in ABIv0, resulting in AROS distributions being stuck with the last compatible builds (very few issues were fixed and added in the meanwhile)," Besser said.

Image credit: http://vmwaros.blogspot.com.au/

However, developer Krzisztof Smiechovicz began a two-year backport of the new features in the ABIv1 branch to ABIv0, starting with the kernel files.

"This resulted in Icaros 1.5 being released at beginning of 2013 or so. Now that the backport has been completed, including all AROS system files, we were able to release Icaros Desktop 2.0."

As a result, 2.0 retains compatibility with older software, but is based on a new codebase. "This includes a new TLSF memory manager, which dramatically speeds up access to files and memory operations, avoiding fragmentation," Besser said.

"It also fixes a very annoying bug with AROS, which became slower and slower with use. In addition, the new codebase allows porting and executing on AROS sources that gave errors in the past, and simply didn't work, such as the Scalos and Magellan file managers."

Image credit: http://vmwaros.blogspot.com.au/

From a user-facing perspective the biggest change is the switch to DirectoryOpus 5 "Magellan" as the default file manager. DirectoryOpus 5 is a replacement for AmigaOS's Workbench.

"I've spent the last year learning how to use, configure and extend Magellan features in order to create a perfect replacement for Wanderer (AROS' Workbench), filling it up with options and tools, but trying also not to frighten users with a too-different interface," Besser said.

"This meant, for me, rewriting the whole default Magellan configuration in order to make it look and feel more modern; there's very little your current mainstream OS GUI can do that Magellan can't, but it retains an Amiga-like look and feel."

The file manager supports operations such mounting ISO (and ADF) files on the fly as virtual devices, packing/unpacking compressed archives, copying files over the same or remote locations, changing files attributes, and creating thumbnails for image files, Besser said.

Image credit: http://vmwaros.blogspot.com.au/

Applications shipped with Icaros Desktop 2.0 include an updated version of the WebKit-based OWB browser; ZuneView; which provides basic image manipulation tools; a new version of the open source Pascal IDE fpc; and a BitTorrent client: ArTorr.

"As always, we've added new games, new applications, new command lines, and updated documentation," Besser added.

"We also included AROS shell and GNU Tools manuals, other than the updated Icaros quick-start guide.

"There's also a more polished and better working AROS M68K integration, which allows running classic Workbench applications without the need for AmigaOS and original KickStart from Commodore. This is not really a new feature, but now it works definitely better than before!"

In addition to Besser's work, and Smiechowicz's efforts backporting ABIv1 and working on OWB, other contributors to the release include Neil Cafferkey, Oliver Brunner, Szil?rd Bir?, and Magorium

There were some features that were slated for 2.0 that didn't make it, such as video support in the browser, which will probably make it into future 2.x releases, Besser said.

"I've also tried getting in touch with software houses and coders of classic Amiga applications to grant permission to add them to the distribution (as we did for Real3D, TVPaint and others), but it's very hard to do and sometimes finding the right people and getting a proper answer requires months," Besser said.

"There are also some other features as well I prefer not to mention, because I don't know if they will ever come and when, so it's really hard to say. But other 2.x releases will come, that's for sure!"

Image credit: http://vmwaros.blogspot.com.au/

A future 3.0 release would likely be based on AROS ABIv1, Besser said. "We needed more than five years to move from 1.x to 2.0," he said.

"According to the Icaros roadmap, a major release means a complete overhaul of AROS system files which may break compatibility with past applications — so basically also a complete recompile of applications. Stepping from 1.5 to 2.0 has been relatively easy, since keeping compatibility was goal #1 for us. This won't be assured for 3.0."

Follow Rohan on Twitter: @rohan_p


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