I'm republishing an article with the Kind permission of John Chandler who if you were into the Amiga or still are may be a name known to you sometimes by the name "metaljoe" . I thought it would be useful to look back considering here we are with looking knowingly at the failings of the Company that owns the Atari Brand making the same mistakes again. Those of us that were into Atari's or Commodore's of various types were part of why those systems were successful, both Company's missed that the real enemy wasn't each other but the growing "wintel" dominance.
It can even be seen with brands such as Ubuntu moving away from the very thing that made them successful the "community" to be more corporate and profit orientated. For the reader what is "community" it means different things to different people, what does it mean to you? Anyway on with the show:
This Is Reality Control
Author: John Chandler
Published on: February 7, 2001
As some of you probably noticed, there wasn't a January article. However, I'm pleased to present an exclusive this month on an interesting piece of hardware under development.
If you want to buy a standalone PowerPC based system, you're going to have a real job to find one that isn't Apple-branded. After Apple demolished the CHRP PowerPC market, the only affordable way to get hold of a PowerPC-based machine these days is through Apple. IBM's PowerPC Open Platform (POP) development is on the horizon, but it seems to have been staying there for some time - the demand is around, particularly with a surge in interest in PowerPC on Linux, but the hardware supply isn't. More significantly, there's nothing quite like an A500 or A1200 around - the consoles are slowly getting there, the STBs could be getting there, but it's just not quite the same as yet, there's a niche looking to be filled.
So it's likely to be of great interest to find that a start-up company has taken the initiative in developing an affordable, entry-level PowerPC platform. Better yet, they appreciate the value of open-ness and there's some fringe benefits the Amiga community might want to take serious notice of. The company is Ideas2Reality, and the PowerPC platform under development is the RealityStation.
The RealityStation provides a platform which encapsulates an almost A500-like approach. Compact, affordable, reasonably expandible and with enough processing power to handle everyday tasks and probably a bit more besides. The platform is aimed at being equally at home serving in simple application environments, such as a STB, or as a more general-purpose computer - plus the modular nature allows third-party developers to customise for a broad range of markets. The initial system has a separate keyboard, though I2R are looking into a "docking" system which means the keyboard could be either separate or attached to the case.
The specs are listed below, but remember we're talking an A500-style system:
- PowerPC @ 200 MHz
- graphics system (OpenGL compatible)
- 5x USB ports
- 2x Firewire ports
- 16 MB FlashROM
- DVD drive
- optional hard disk
This is actually a very neat, useful system - and at the expected price of around £300 it provides a valuable and affordable entry-level system. It may also be bundled as part of some broadband ISP or STB packages, lowering or likely negating the cost. It should also be noted this is just an initial version - if all goes well, more powerful and expandible systems will follow.
Operating system support will initially be QNX RTP or a custom multimedia version of Linux, backed-up by SDL API extensions. The SDL API will mean more to programmers than general users, the API will provide developers with a portable environment - combined with some additional tools this "middleware" layer is aimed at making porting software between different operating systems as smooth as possible. There's a link on SDL at the bottom of the article.
However, and here's the interesting part for the Amiga community, there is no reason why it can't run anything else - Ideas2Reality will even provide open documentation on the platform for third-party developers. In fact, when I asked them if something like MorphOS might be seen on the platform, "We're looking into it!" came the excitable reply. Good news indeed if it goes ahead. The AmigaDE would seem to be another likely candidate, given public support, and even the open-source AROS could well benefit from running on the system: developers, take heed! I2R have said that their intention is for some OEMs to adopt the system and brand it with their own choice of OS.
Of course, having interesting hardware is one thing, buying said interesting hardware is another thing - getting hold of non-PC/Mac hardware can often be a chore and I2R in combination with the Phoenix Platform Consortium are attempting to ensure this is not going to be the case with the RealityStation. I2R's distribution process will involve a combination of routes, and they will be selling them direct to OEMS and ISPs, as well as through retail outlets and places such as video shops. Smaller companies can also licence the systems, perhaps customised, and sell them too.
The mention of Phoenix is a deliberate one, as you'll be aware from previous articles I'm a keen supporter of this developer consortium - particularly in their endeavours supporting developments with both the AmigaDE and QNX RTP. Ideas2Reality has been one of many developers to tap into the organisation for resource contacts, advice from the developer community, and a direct channel to QNX. It's allowed them to extend their resources and survive the perils of being a small company in a large world.
So, is all this vapourware then? After all, haven't we heard talk about low-cost PowerPC hardware or new motherboards that could support things of interest to the Amiga community? Well, I can't convince everyone so I'll pass along the facts and allow you all to make your own judgement. The prototype system is being developed in conjunction with Coventry University in the UK (I2R are neighbours) and should be ready by the end of March. Shipping dates have not been confirmed, and I2R are (quite wisely) reluctant to disclose more information at this time - other than to say progress is good. The main issue is that of available developer time (I2R are a small start-up remember) which may be solved through the support of organisations such as Phoenix. Funding appears to be less of an issue, though money definitely speeds up the time to market - I'm sure any investors would be more than welcome.
I for one wish the project well - it encapsulates a decent platform, and I2R have the right idea in ensuring the hardware will be publicly documented, meaning developers can support the platform with the minimum of fuss. Far too often great hardware is available, but the manufacturer has opted to make it almost a sealed box. Anything which allows a greater degree of user and developer choice has taken the right road.
(The above two sites are under development, so don't expect a great deal of information on the RealityStation at present - I'm sure I2R would appreciate feedback though)
(My thanks to Bernard Giltrap of Ideas2Reality for his assistance with the article)