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David Brunet



Interview with Mark Olsen
(Interview conducted by David Brunet - October 2009)

Few days after the public release of MorphOS 2.4 on Mac mini G4, we met Mark Olsen, one of the main actor of this port.

- Hello Mark. Could you introduce yourself ?

Hello :)

I'm Mark Olsen, I'm 25 years old and currently located near Copenhagen in Denmark. I'm currently doing freelance development work for a large newspaper in Denmark.

MorphOS unfortunately doesn't leave much time for other hobbies, but I do have a passion for the relatively old game QuakeWorld. I'm also working on a QuakeWorld client known as FodQuake together with Juergen Legler.

- You're also known as "Bigfoot". Where does your pseudonym come from?

The nickname is to be taken quite literally. It was given to me when I was around 12 or 13 years old, where my shoe size was, if I remember correctly, 43. These days I fit into size 50 shoes, but only those which are a bit wider than normal.

- When and how did you discover the Amiga ?

The 29th of March 1991 we got an Amiga 500 in my childhood home. I guess I've been hooked ever since. :)

- What did you do on the Amiga before working on MorphOS ?

Well, normal computer things ;). Games, web browsing, IRC and some programming.

- You are now a core MorphOS developer. But first, when and how did you discover this operating system ?

I had been following MorphOS since the original announcement. Being able to fully unleash the power of the PowerUP accelerators at the time was something that really interested me. Once the first public release was out, despite it at the time not working very well on BlizzardPPC, one of which I had, I already found myself spending more time there than in the 68k system. By the third public release, 0.4, MorphOS was the only thing I used on my Amiga.

- What is exactly your role in the MorphOS Team? You are the author of which MorphOS components?

Of non-development tasks, I'm taking care of servers (together with Harry Sintonen), automated MorphOS builds and release management.

Of MorphOS components, 3D (with Michal Wozniak) and 2D drivers and the graphics subsystem (together with Frank Mariak) are my main work areas. I also did the initial DDC support, which was later extended a lot by Harry Sintonen and I've worked on Goa3D, the Warp3D wrapper, with Nicolas Sallin doing the main work on that. The initial work for getting MorphOS running on Macs was also done by me. Besides that, there are probably not many parts of MorphOS I've not in one way or another had contact with.

- In the contact page of MorphOS (morphos.de/imprint.html) you are mentionned in the "imprint" section. Are you also the spokesman?

No, I'm not the spokesman. The closest we have to that would be Ralph Schmidt.

I'm handling server hosting (with Harry Sintonen being the copilot), with the server located in Germany. German laws require that contact information is available on a website.

- How the MorphOS Team is organized? Is it a company, an association, a cooperative or a simple group of people without legal status?

We're just a group of people. The closest thing there is to a company is "Ralph Schmidt Software Entwicklung", but that's just Ralph Schmidt and has nothing to do with other MorphOS developers.

- In the past, there were a collaboration between MorphOS and AROS. Is the team still collaborates with AROS? If yes, in which way?

There's no active collaboration going on with AROS.

- How to contact members of MorphOS Team?

Many MorphOS developers are on the MorphOS IRC channel (#morphos, Freenode), and I believe all of them are on the MorphOS mailing list and can be contacted there.

- For a user, what is the best way to help the MorphOS Team? (make suggestion, finance bounties, make a website, send pizza...)

Pizzas are certainly always appreciated. ;)

Other than that, the best way to help is probably to get the word out. There are still many former, and even current, Amiga users who either don't know what MorphOS is or still have the impressions left behind by the discrediting campaigns that were prevalent in the early years of MorphOS. Going to local Amiga meetings and showing off MorphOS is probably the best thing a user can do.

But really, any and all help is appreciated. Be it promotional work, making suggestions or reporting bugs.

- You published in january 2008 a video of MorphOS running on a Mac mini PowerPC. Could you tell us the "story" behind this port?

Time flies!

It actually started quite a bit earlier. In September 2006, a friend of mine bought an iMac to replace his Mac mini, and I bought that Mac mini off him. I received the machine on a Friday, immediately started hacking to get MorphOS booting on the machine, which reached a MorphOS shell the day after. On Sunday, 2 days after receiving it, I managed to brick it while playing with some minimal boot disk embedded in the boot image and that sort of killed my motivation. :)

During 2007, I got a new Mac and resumed development, this time just going for getting the basic USB and IDE drivers working, and then booting the system normally. This worked out OK, without bricking a second Mac, and allowed me to do the public video a few months later.

At the same time, 2.0 started to move forward, and the Mac things were put on hold since 2.0 had plenty of things that needed to be finished at that point.

After 2.3 was released, Mac mini support was set as a goal for the 2.4 release and things really started to speed up there. In what seemed like no time at all, Frank Mariak conjured drivers for the Ethernet and audio devices of the Mac Mini, fixed EHCI USB problems, which the Mini uses, and later also added DMA support to the IDE driver. Marek Szyprowski worked hard on filesystem support, required for making the system bootable. Harry Sintonen added support for CPU power saving, RTC, reset, shutdown and other low level things. Jacek Piszczek worked on the installer. Christian Rosentreter and Guido Mersmann made utilities to make life with a Mac easier. Ralph Schmidt had earlier added system and partitioner support for Mac partition tables. All in all I'm quite pleased with the team effort that went into the Mac mini release.

- MorphOS for Mac mini was released in October 2009. What were the hardest work(s) in this port?

There wasn't really anything that was particularly difficult. The hardest part was probably finding time to actually do the required work.

- For the moment, Mac mini is the fastest MorphOS box but it's not fully supported yet. Do you plan do add support for Wi-Fi or Airport for exemple, and also make a fix for not functionnal keyboards?

Well, Airport is the name Apple give to their wireless network cards. Wireless networking is a complex topic and requires a lot of work to support, and currently noone has the time to set aside for working on this, so no, no support for wireless networking is planned for now.

About the Apple keyboards that don't work, specifically the A1242 and A1243 models, they actually don't work because of the hub integrated in these keyboards. Resolving this issue is planned for MorphOS 2.5.

- We have also seen a beta version of MorphOS on PowerBook and recently on eMac. Could you explain what is the most difficult task on those ports?

The eMac port was done by Frank Mariak, and as far as I understand, with the Mac mini code in place, that port wasn't too much work. I believe only sound recording isn't working. eMac support will likely be added to MorphOS 2.5.

When it comes to laptops, a lot of work is still to be done to make these usable. This includes support for the graphics chips commonly found in these devices (R300), Apple Desktop Bus for keyboards and touchpads, the Ethernet devices in these machines, the sound chips, USB touchpads, battery support, display backlight support and power management support. And probably a few other details that escape me at this point. :)

- Some people would like to run MorphOS on the most powerful PowerPC Macintosh : the Power Mac G5. Are they dreaming or this kind of machine could run MorphOS on the future?

These machines are a bit more troublesome: They use 64-bit CPUs, which would require quite some modifications to Quark to support. Other than that, they don't have much in common with earlier Macs when it comes to hardware, so the driver circus starts from new again.

- 3D in MorphOS seems to be really faster on Mac mini with the modest Radeon 9200 than Pegasos II with the stronger Radeon 8500. Do you have modified the 3D drivers? Or it's simply the better memory controller and the bus that make the difference?

This would mainly be a bus issue. Without getting too technical, a scene doesn't have to be very complex geometry wise to make the bus the bottleneck. As was demoed at the Amiga meeting in Bad Bramstedt, work has been put into optimising this aspect of the Radeon driver, and the results are quite optimistic already.

Here a picture showing Quake 3 reaching 76.2 FPS in a timedemo test on a Pegasos 2 : bigfoot.morphos-team.net/test/quake3_76_2_fps.png.

I expect that reaching 100 FPS on a Pegasos 2 is doable.

- In 2007, AMD have open sourced some ATI Radeon drivers. Is this kind of things can help you for the development of drivers for MorphOS?

Actually, they didn't. ;)

What they did do, however, was releasing partial documentation for the R500 family of GPUs. Last I looked, the documentation wasn't complete, but certainly a lot better than nothing, and no doubt it will aid a potential R500 driver in the future.

- If I remember well, shaders are not yet implemented in the 3D drivers of MorphOS. Can we expect this feature in a near future? Is there any difficulty to implement shaders in the 3D drivers?

Fragment and vertex programs are definitely things we want to implement in the near future, but at least for the fragment programs, this will depend on an R300 3D driver being done first. Michal Wozniak has also expressed discontent at the prospect of having to write the GLSL compiler. :)

- Efika 5200B is another platform supported by MorphOS. Do you plan to add 3D support for the Volari V3XE of the Efika Open Client?

I don't have any XGI hardware, so a 3D driver for that hardware won't come from me at least.

- As most of new processors are now multicore, later or sooner MorphOS must support them. Is it planned? Is the support of multicore could result in incompatibilities or loss of speed for the system?

There's no way SMP could be supported in any sensible way while retaining ABox compatibility. Using additional cores/CPUs with some special interface would be possible, but from a developer point of view, this isn't very desireable.

- Porting MorphOS on PowerPC based Macintosh is the easiest way to gain new MorphOS users. But if a manufacturer offers to the MorphOS Team a new PowerPC machine (reliable and powerful), will you support it? What is your criterias to choose a machine for MorphOS?

Well, there are two scenarios:

1) A MorphOS developer has got the hardware in question and does the port out of own interest or curiosity.

2) The platform has a potential for generating a substantial amount of income, enough to cover the time spent on supporting the platform (initial porting and aftersale support).

Of course it helps if the hardware has already been proven to work :) I don't think anyone in the MorphOS team have got patience for debugging any more hardware as it stands now.

- QEMU is another way to increase the number of potential clients for MorphOS. In April 2008, you published a screenshot showing QEMU emulating a Pegasos II with MorphOS 1.5/pre-2.0. Is there any news about it?

No, none at all. The thing has been dead since that screenshot. Qemu has changed quite a lot internally since then, and most of the work would have to be redone. Furthermore it never worked that well at all: the emulated IDE controller caused problems, networking didn't work, sound didn't work, display required a modified Radeon driver inside MorphOS and it really wasn't very fast at all.

- You are the author of a VNC client called MorphVNC. Is a fonction like this (or like Remote Desktop on Windows) could be added in MorphOS in the future?

That's certainly possible, and also something I've been thinking about. But it would make more sense if VNC server support would also be added at the same time.

- Some years ago, a native MorphOS port of Payback was planned. Is it abandoned?

Pretty much. Neither Nicolas Sallin nor I have got the required time to work on this.

- What is your opinion about AmigaOS 4.x?

No comments. :)

- What is your opinion about AROS? Do you think this OS can be, a day, as polished as MorphOS?

Everything is certainly possible, but currently it seems like AROS is lacking both developer resources and direction.

- A last word for the MorphOS community?

I'd like to give a big thank you to all the users who have stuck around through good and bad times. Without the users, there is no MorphOS.

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