Darren Eveland is one of the few people involved in both AmigaOS 4 and NatAmi. So we could not resist to ask him questions about these two projects...
Hello Darren. Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
Hi, my name is Darren Eveland, I'm 39 years old and I'm an IT Manager at my local University in London, Ontario, Canada. My hobbies (of course) are the Amiga, and learning about Astronomy and Space, specifically Exo-planets, Rockets, and Propulsion Systems. I am married since late 2009 to a beautiful Ukrainian women who hates the Amiga because I spent so much time on them! :)
When and how did you discover the Amiga?
Well I got my first computer - a Commodore 64, just like many in my age, when I was 16. I played with that for awhile, run a BBS named Dark Castle, played games, did school work and had a lot of fun. I had a C= 64C with 1541 disk drive, and later the 1581 if my memory serves.
One day I went over to a friend's house. He had bought an Amiga 500 and I had come to see it. Well, I was amazed! The graphics and sound just blew away my Commodore 64 - made it look like a toy! So from that day forward I had to have an Amiga! But I didn't want the 500. I saved up all summer and got an Amiga 2000 with two floppy disk drives! I couldn't afford a hard disk, yet. Back in those days it was very rare and expensive to have a hard drive still. So that's where it started. And ever since I've been very much into the Amiga, and increasingly so in the last several years.
I visited many computer shows in the 90's until the early 2000's. Once I drove Wolf Dietrich - Managing Director of Phase 5 - to the airport in Toronto - after he visited the World of Commodore show. He talked a lot about his company and it was fun to meet him. I also traveled in 1997 to the Computer'97 show and met many Amiga personalities and had a personal tour of Village Tronic where I got my Picasso IV upgraded by the late Klaus Berkurt. I've met many other Amiga celebrities at shows in the past - it was always fun to do so.
What are your Amiga configurations (now and in the past)? And what do you do with them?
I started with the Amiga 2000 with two disk drives (that was 1989 or early 1990), and later got a GVP 030 combo card for it, added a hard drive and some extra memory, including an 8MB Zorro II ram card. That was really amazing to have 9MB of ram at that time (like 1990). I was in first year University and I had an Amiga 2000 with 9MB of RAM! Everyone else was lucky to have 640KB in their PC's with CGA graphics. People were amazed I had 9MB!
Later on I got an Amiga 3000 and various graphic cards such as the GVP Spectrum, Picasso IV. I sold the 3000, moved up to an A4000T, got an 060 card, PCI bus-board, and over the years I acquired several A4000 Desktops and another A4000 Tower - which is still sitting brand new in the box! It's the jewel of my collection. I've sort of been a collector of 060 cards and graphic cards. I have a GVP Spectrum from the new production run, a Picasso IV, a Merlin 4MB Zorro III card, a CyberVisionPPC, several Voodoo 3's and one Voodoo 4, several Radeon 9250's. For CPU cards, I have three CyberStormPPC's - one running at 366MHz on the 604e PPC CPU, and two at 233MHz. And I have a rare QuikPak XP 060 "desktop" CPU card.
Today, on the Classic Amigas I am beta testing AmigaOS 4.x Classic. In addition to doing that, I also play music, surf the web, try out new software, and tinker around. It's kind of my break from using Windows and Mac computers all day at work. :)
Since how long are you a beta tester of the AmigaOS 4? And why did you choose to become a beta tester?
I've been a beta tester since August 2003. I was so anxious and curious to get new OS updates - I really wanted to run the latest stuff. So I applied and Hyperion accepted me. Back at that time AmigaOS 4 was still running on the 68k, but by late 2003 and into 2004 it started to go all PPC piece by piece.
How to become a beta tester?
I'm trying to remember how I applied... I believe I wrote to Hyperion and asked, told them what hardware I had, and I guess I fit the description for what they were looking for.
How many beta testers there was? And can you name them?
For this latest project, AmigaOS 4.1 Classic, all the testing was open to the entire beta testing team, and we recruited some additional testers for the Classic release. You may recall Hyperion recently had a call for more Classic beta testers. About 25 additional people were chosen. I can't name them all, but myself and Carl Moppett were considered the primary testers. And you probably know Karl "Karlos" Churchill who is actually a developer, is writing the Permedia2 Warp3D driver.
Probably the hardest part was to get the Radeon working, and that is still not complete because it is not yet working on the Prometheus PCI bridge (we hope to add that in a later update). Right now the Radeon only works on the Elbox Mediator boards. There were a lot of timing issues with the Amiga and the PCI bus board and the PPC, and of course the problem to execute the Radeon's x86 BIOS so we could init the card. I can't say the release was delayed at all, it just took a bit longer than we had hoped. But I guess that is normal for software development.
We had originally wanted to ship AmigaOS 4.1 Classic by the end of 2010, but we didn't actually finish it until mid-April, 2011. The ISO went "Gold" on April 13, 2011 and it shipped just over a month later on May 17th, 2011. It took some time to press the CD's, print the boxes, make the floppy disks, etc. Not a bad "turn around" time if you ask me from Gold to shipping! :)
The development of the AmigaOS for Classic seemed almost dead one year ago. Which is/are the person(s) who wanted to restart its development? How did you convince the manager of Hyperion that it was possible?
Well, it's sort of a long story. Carl Moppett had been, on his own, building upon the AmigaOS 4.0 Classic ISO. So as new updates and kernels became available for the other platforms (AmigaOne and Sam) in the beta testing cycle, Carl kept updating the Classic ISO. He got it to a point where it would actually install and run. I started to help him out testing this ISO back in early 2010 or late 2009. In mid 2010, we approached the Hyperion management and asked them about releasing AmigaOS 4.1 for Classics. Since we were able to already prove we had a working ISO, it did not take much to convince Hyperion them. After all they are Classic fans too. :)
All we needed was a distribution partner - and that is where AmigaKit came in. Once AmigaKit agreed to help out, the project was given a green light and we started to talk with the developers about what new features we wanted to implement. Of course there was no shortage of features Carl and I wanted to have implemented. :)
Who are the developers behind AmigaOS 4.1 for Classic? Is this version delayed the development of the AmigaOS for the others machines?
Well, virtually the entire AmigaOS 4.x development team, but notably Thomas Frieden and Joerg Strohmayer did most of the heavy lifting. We had assistance and support from Elbox, Michael Boehmer (E3B), Tobias Seiler, AmigaKit, Simon Archer, Steven Solie (the AmigaOS 4.1 development team lead), Martin "Mason" Merz, David Braconnier, and of course the support and patience of Hyperion Management. ACube also helped us with printing the install guide and providing graphical layout. There are many more I'm sure I am forgetting here. But it was a true team effort. Everyone had their role to play and everyone helped out. There is some kind of rumor or speculation that the Classic release delayed releases or updates for other platforms. That is not true. Development happens in parallel. For example we found many bugs and issues in Classic development that will actually benefit the other platforms, so it may actually speed up the release of future updates. :)
The AmigaOS 4.1 for Classic Amigas is now available. What are the strengths (or the features you like) in this version of the system?
For me it's the out-of-the-box experience. There are no additional drivers to install, the Radeon just works, your Mediator just works. The Installation procedure is really great - Carl and I spent a lot of time on that. It looks great and functions well right out of the box. The Extras contributions give added functionality. Web browsing, FTP, Remote Desktop, File Management, and more, just work. We have all new high resolution graphic backdrops and some new icons made specifically for AmigaOS 4.1 Classic.
Not to mention that now the Classic platform can run all of the latest AmigaOS 4.1 software. Ok, games that require huge CPU resources or ram won't run or will be too slow, but most of the stuff will, including Quake 3. We have new hardware support for Zorro III memory, SATA support, Radeon as I mentioned and much more. For a complete hardware compatibility list check out my website : www.hd-zone.com.
Here some screenshots : 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5.
Are there still things that you dislike in the AmigaOS 4.1 for Classic?
Well, I wish we could include more features and support more hardware. But we had a limited time and budget. I wish the CyberStormPPC didn't have a 128MB ram limit (but that is more of an Amiga architecture limit and not an AmigaOS 4.1 limit).
I wish it was named something different. Really. The hardest thing is convincing AmigaOS 4.0 Classic users that 4.1 is something really "new". The 0.1 release to many is just an "upgrade". But AmigaOS 4.1 Classic is an entirely new product with many, many new features. You can't even compare it to 4.0. Just for the record, I wasn't really involved in AmigaOS 4.0 Classic - at the time I had no hardware capable to run it. I only got a few used CyberStormPPC's afterwards...
I heard that the AmigaOS for Classic is the best selling version of all variants. Can you confirm this?
That is true to my knowledge. I can't tell you the exact sales figures, but I was surprised how high it was when I heard the number. Remember that Phase 5 and DCE made about 10 000 PowerUP BlizzardPPC and CyberStormPPC boards. We realize that as time goes on (AmigaOS 4.1 Classic is nearly 4 years after 4.0 classic), that there may be less machines available to run AmigaOS 4.1 Classic, due to the age of the hardware. We also realize that some were not happy with 4.0. That's one reason why AmigaOS 4.1 Classic exists - to really give a huge update and improve upon just about everything in 4.0. We hope that 4.0 Classic users understand this and support our development and future updates by buying the product. Yes, this update costs money, but it is not free to produce - you have to pay the developers, pay to distribute the product, pay to press the CD's and print the full-colour Install guide.
Do you know if all next updates of the AmigaOS will also be available for Classic Amiga?
Yes, updates are planned for Classic along with updates for all the other platforms (Sam, AmigaOne, X1000). The next update has not been officially announced, although people are calling this "Update 3". The updates are already running on the Classic in beta test, so anyone that buys AmigaOS 4.1 Classic now will get these updates for free.
Do you think A-Eon/Varisys could build an accelerator card for Classic Amiga?
They are certainly technically capable. But I think they have their hands full right now with finishing the X1000. To my knowledge no one has approached them about such a project. If they chose to do so I would help out in any way I could on that project.
When the AmigaOS 4.1 Update 3 (or AmigaOS 4.2) will be available? Perhaps before the end of this year?
You are best to ask Steven Solie the AmigaOS Development Team Lead. It is ultimately his call.
You're also part of the NatAmi Team. What is exactly your position on this team?
As I am interested in Classic Amigas, I volunteered to the NatAmi team to learn more about the project. I also volunteered to write the User Guide. Since I wrote the Installation Guide and 16 page FAQ for AmigaOS 4.1 Classic, I have some experience in doing this and wanted to lend a hand.
Which features of the NatAmi seem to you extraordinary?
For me it's the graphics, the fact that the native SAGA (Super AGA) will be so much faster and better than Commodore's AGA. That and the fact the memory access will be very fast - it will be like running a super Amiga 4000. Something I have always wanted to see produced.
The NatAmi is made for which kind of users? Players? Programmers? Old Amigans? New comers?
It's probably made for anyone who really wanted a very fast and efficient Classic Amiga. Retro game players who want to play some updated "retro" style games... people that want to re-live the memories they had growing up but wish to run on real hardware and not an emulator. People that just want to have a great time using a really interesting and different computer.
Apart a clone of the 1942 shoot'em up, we have not seen much programs that will use the new capacities of the NatAmi. Can you tell us more about the "new programs" that can be used on NatAmi?
There are several other games and applications that have been shown. Recently some benchmarks and screenshots have been shown of the latest NatAmi board - the MX. Check out the NatAmi forums at www.natami.net and you can see all the latest information. The team is quite open about the progress.
The NatAmi was originally planned for summer 2008. Currently, what are the estimated release date and price?
As far as I am aware there is no set release date or price yet, but work is getting done every week so they are getting closer. As you can imagine, this is a huge project that is being handled primarily by a few people, with secondary people helping out, so it does take time. But it is a real project and it will be released. And it will be fun!
You were the first to write on the Hyperion's blog. Could you tell us the story behind its creation?
Well, many have wished for Hyperion to have more frequent communications. The blog is one step in an overall strategy to improve this. Technically it was setup by Hans-Joerg Frieden. Anyone in the Developer or Beta team for AmigaOS 4 can post in the blog. Expect to see more articles in the future.
For AmigaOS 4.1 Classic, more pre-release information was given out than any other AmigaOS 4 release in the past. You will see more steps by Hyperion in the future to open up communications and reach out to the user base. I think most users would agree things are improving.
You use AmigaOS, MorphOS, NatAmi, etc. How is it possible to use and support all Amiga variant?
Well, some days it was difficult :). But I think for most of us now, those red vs. blue "wars" are over. Really, none of us won. All of the existing Amiga-ish user communities are tiny, compared to the overall computing market. We all branched out from a common start in the Amiga to our various interests today. I talk with MorphOS developers, including core team members, I talk with AROS people, I talk with some Commodore USA people, I talk with the Classic crowd - and guess what. I get along with all of them and even work on some projects across some of those groups.
Sure, you have people shouting in some of the forums, or making critical remarks, or outlandish demands. The forums make it easy for people to hide behind a nickname and do that. But for me, I'm focused on delivering results. When I set out to do something you can be sure that it will get done. It may not be perfect in the first iteration, but I will do what I say and ship what I am working on. I won't listen too loud to those yelling in the forums and otherwise not making any contribution.
Soon there will be another Amiga variant : the Amiga from Commodore USA. What is your opinion about it?
You know what, I think it's kind of cool. At first I thought it was really a bad idea, selling the Commodore name but not a real Commodore or Amiga machine. But have changed my mind and I wish them well. As long as they respect existing license agreements and are a good corporate citizen, I hope they succeed. Who knows, if they are successful maybe they will help the real AmigaOS advance, or the NatAmi. Perhaps make some large investments in AROS or other parts of the community. In the end I think for all of us it can only be a good thing if they are successful. I'm thinking about buying a "new" Commodore 64 myself. :)
You have funded the port of rDesktop on AmigaOS 4. Is money still important in the tiny Amiga market to bring new software?
Yes, that is true. Actually it was a cross platform effort for 68k, AmigaOS 4, MorphOS, and recently AROS. Of course it is only fair to pay developers for their work. Yes, some will do work for "free", but I prefer to pay people for their time. Many users donated for Remote Desktop in the past and continue to do so. I want to personally thank everyone who donates.
I've since released the full version of Remote Desktop for the Sam460ex users and the AmigaOS 4.1 Classic users. I would like also to include the full version for X1000 users and AmigaOne users. Of course if the MorphOS team wants to include it with their OS that would be great, too. AROS already has its own port and Remote Desktop is already part of the Icaros Desktop distribution.
A last word for the Amiga community?
My last words would be to have fun! The Amiga is our hobby, we are supposed to enjoy using it. We are a very small community with our parent long since died (Commodore), yet we are still getting new software AND hardware releases from many companies. Support those companies and try to give positive feedback. Stay engaged and contribute in any way that you can. We are all in this together. I would encourage some of the veteran developers to come back and help us. There are many skilled developers who were former Amiga users (and developers) that are still "around" but not really contributing. It would be nice if they could help out on various projects.
As for AmigaOS 4.1 Classic - Carl and I, the developers and beta testers, and others at Hyperion put nearly a year's work into it and we really have made it the best we could. Yes, it's not perfect, but it's a huge upgrade from AmigaOS 4.0 and there are future upgrades planned for it. I would encourage all Classic users with PPC cards to give it a serious look - it is a really great out-of-the-box experience and myself and Carl are available to help you out. Oh, one more thing... There is a "secret projects" directory on my AmigaOS 4.1 Classic desktop, too... :)