MorphOS: Amiga Operating System Meets PowerPC Macs

2012 – Much has been written about Linux on PowerPC Macs. To some, it is a reliable alternative; to others, just a crippled port of the x86 original. What if there was another competitor in the game? There is one – MorphOS.


What Is MorphOS ?

The reason most of you have never heard of MorphOS is because it was not originally intended for Macs.

MorphOS screen

MorphOS screen shot, reduced from 1680 x 1050 pixels.

MorphOS is an AmigaOS split-off. Back in the late 90s, when things looked dire for the remaining Amiga community, a committed team attempted to create a modern yet “Amiga-ish” operating system for PowerPC computers. (Amiga computers, first launched in 1985, used the same Motorola 680×0 CPUs found in pre-PowerPC Macs. However, the Amiga platform never migrated to PowerPC or any other architecture. The last Amiga, the 68040-based A4000T, was introduced in 1994 and discontinued in 1997.)

MorphOS was initially designed to run on Amiga clone hardware, such as the PowerPC G3 and G4-based Pegasos I and II or the Efika. But after the Pegasos II sales stopped in late 2006, no new hardware was in sight. What to do?

It’s Their Party, Not Ours, but We’re Invited

The MorphOS team looked around and came up with a clever idea – why produce their own expensive hardware when there was plenty of hardware to be had for very little money?

Apple had moved on to Intel architecture by this time, and prices for PowerPC Macs started to drop. The only flaw was the Apple logo on the cases, but really, nothing that would stop them. Sail ho, capture that hardware!

Why am I writing all this history stuff? Because it’s important to know if you want to understand MorphOS. It is not an all new alternative operating system for our aging PowerPC beauties. It’s an established operating system with a history and a small, yet loyal, fanbase deeply rooted in the Amiga community.

Please Start Telling About the OS

MorphOS is a lightweight operating system. If you have ever used an Amiga, you’ll notice a lot of similarities, whether it is the integrated RAM disk or simply the fact that the overall reaction time is phenomenal. There is always an immediate reaction to user input, making it a very pleasant alternative for someone who had a stuttering Ubuntu PowerPC installation on his 1.25 GHz eMac.

User reports indicate that MorphOS is even speedy on old Power Mac models, such as the 566 MHz Digital Audio. In fact, it could be the fastest still-supported operating system for older PowerPC Macs.

However, it does not support every Mac – far from it – so it is wise to check the compatibility sheet on the MorphOS website (at present, 1.25-1.42 GHz eMacs, G4 Mac minis, 1.67 GHz G4 PowerBooks, and G4 Power Macs not using GeForce MX video cards are supported). It also includes a list of printers that are currently supported. According to Frank Mariak of the MorphOS team, they’re currently working hard on completing driver support for the available machines (and plan on adding some iBook G4 support in the near future as well). There are even some “proof of concept” versions of MorphOS on iMac G5 and Power Mac G5, but those are not likely to surface anytime soon.

An operating system is only as good as the software available for it. Being a niche system, MorphOS lacks the large range of Mac OS X, even though there is software for almost all the essential tasks. MorphOS users have MPlayer for video playback, the audio player Jukebox, SimpleMail for email, the media center A-MC (release soon), Jalapeno for burning CDs/DVDs, the text-editor Scribble, and Transfer for FTP/SFTP – just to name a few. And, of course, there is a capable web browser, the WebKit-based Odyssey Web Browser (OWB), which performs very well with me.

Also keep in mind that MorphOS has 680×0 binary compatibility with the original AmigaOS (just as PowerPC Macs had 680×0 emulation for older software), which means that old 1980s and 1990s legacy Amiga applications might run. (Don’t expect the games to run though, as most of them were using custom chips found only in older Amiga models.)

Summer 2012 saw the release of the long-awaited version 3 of MorphOS with support for PowerBook Models 5,6 to 5,9 (15″ and 17″ Aluminum G4 PowerBooks). Trackpad and keyboard are fully supported; power management is also implemented. WiFi isn’t supported yet, which is kind of a bummer for a PowerBook user. Rumors indicate it is in beta testing already coming with update 3.2 or 3.3 around the year’s end – hopefully along with support for using external displays.

I Don’t Care: Where Can I Get It?

Not so fast, young Padawan! MorphOS is a commercial product. (Programmers have to eat too!) A license is 79 Euros – and 111.11 Euros for you PowerBook elitists.

However, there is a 30 minute demo version free to download. Just burn the image onto a CD using Toast or Burn and boot from the disc to install a full version of MorphOS. It is an unrestricted full version, but after 30 minutes, performance will degrade to the point where it forces a reboot. You can upgrade the demo to the full version at any time, so this is a good way to check for compatibility with your hardware and take a few first steps.

Who Is MorphOS For?

MorphOS is for Amiga users. Period.

And it’s for those Macintosh users who like to experiment and experience a new operating system on their PowerPC Macs. That’s where I see myself, and I had a lot of fun playing around with MorphOS on my eMac.

It is not a full OS X replacement, but it can come close to it, depending on your computer needs. My advice: Download the 30 minute demo and try it out. Try to do your daily and usual tasks for some days and see if MorphOS suits you.

Update: On October 27, 2016, the price to license MorphOS for a 1.25 or 1.42 GHz eMac, iBook G4, Mac mini G4, iBook G4, PowerBook G4 with Radeon graphics, Power Mac Cube (USB audio hardware not supported), Power Mac G4 (Nvidia GeForce2 and GeForce4 video not supported), or Power Mac G5 (PowerMac7,2 and 7,3 only) was reduced to €79. See the MorphOS hardware compatibility page for more details.

Keywords: #morphos

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