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© 1997-2006
Gareth Knight
All Rights reserved

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AmiQNX

QNX Logo

Developer: Amiga Inc/QSSL
Year of Announcement: 1998

After talks with Be regarding licensing their operating system for use in a next generation Amiga, Amiga Inc. began to look at other solutions. After examining a list of possible OS partners and contacting the company in question, they chose a little known company called QNX (pronounced Q-Nix) and announced the decision a few months later on November 13th 1998 and released a FAQ on the subject. Confidence was high that QNX fit within Amiga Inc's plans for the operating system, as well as displaying certain Amiga-centric characteristics that fit in with the Amiga philosophy (highly efficient, yet small OS). It was further revealed by Alan Havesmose that QNX were one of the groups contacted for a next generation Amiga machine developed by Commodore. The choice seemed to be a dream come true.

Q: How about some technical details?
A: In order to support our vision of a highly scalable architecture, I reviewed virtually every commercial OS on the market (well, maybe there was one I didn't look at ). This process took a bit longer than anticipated, but after thorough review of Linux, BeOS, Java, QNX, VxWorks and several others, it was clear to me that QNX was the only commercially proven operating system that met the majority of our requirements.
Along with the announcement a tantilising feature list of the QNX Neutrino operating system, including:
  • Micro kernel architecture
  • Scalable and very modular design
  • Fully protected with processes and threads. This is important, since we need a protected process and thread model for the markets we're addressing. Virtual memory is also provided. The process/thread programming model is the natural extension to the Task model provided in the Amiga Classic.
  • Scales from disk-less system with little RAM to hundreds of transparently networked computers.
  • Multi processor support.
  • Transparent networking. As an example, QNX allows transparent sharing of resources over the network. At the press announcement we showed a demonstration where we move a "live running" application from one computer to another over the network. We also showed a QNX version of Doom running with half of the game on one computer and the other half on another computer. The displays were next to each other so that you could see Doom work on the two systems simultaneously.
  • Hard real-time. This is key, since it enables significantly better multimedia applications, where synchronised audio, video and computer generated graphics are critical. QNX is furthermore POSIX compliant.
  • Full networking support with TCP/IP, browser and Java.
The Neutrino microkernel was a good choice, delivering core realtime services for embedded applications, including message passing, POSIX thread services, mutexes, condition variables, semaphores, signals, and scheduling. The message-passing architecture allows OS modules to be enabled and disabled without rebooting. The kernel was scalable from embedded systems to powerful SMP boxes. The power of QNX was demonstrated at the Cologne 1998 show, a game of Doom was started and moved to the left of the window, whereupon the left half of the Doom window appeared running on another screen on another machine.

As part of the deal QNX would provide the operating system base, including kernel, device drivers, virtual memory, TCP/IP stack, etc. Amiga Inc would concentrate on multimedia, 3D graphics, MPEG, gaming interfaces, digital convergence APIs, preferences and user interface. They were also planning to add emulation of Classic Amiga 68k and PPC systems. The resultant mix would be unlike both QNX and Amiga systems. The OS may have been based upon QNX, but its outward appearance would be more like AmigaOS. As Dr. Allan Havemose stated,

"We will use elements of Photon - we will NOT use the look and feel of Photon."
News on development went quiet for a while. This was unsurprising, both companies had to keep some secrecy regarding their plans for the project, if they were replying to emails or news items about the deal, there would be little time for development. However, behind the scenes the events were being driven by political rather than technical choices. For the third time Amiga evaluated the Linux kernel. It is unclear why this was done again, if the OS had failed to meet their standards why review it again? On July 8th, 1999, QSSL announced they had finished their part of the deal. Under a heading "Delivering our promise to the Amiga community" Dan Dodge revealed over 40 engineers had been developing the operating system since the Computer 98 announcement in November of the previous year. For many the web page seemed wrong; there were no indications of Amiga's part in the development, the screenshots pointed to the QNX site rather than the Amiga one as may be expected, and the carefully worded headed focussed too much on the Amiga Community. The next day an announcement came from Amiga that QNX was no longer the OS kernel. The announcement shocked Amiga users around the world. Why had they not been told? The confusion quickly turned into anger. Many thought QSSL had not been told of plans to cancel their contract and had continued development, oblivious to the fact they were being 'taken for a ride'. Thousands of emails were sent to Amiga, ranging from pleas to reconsider to death threats aimed at Jim Collas and his family.
There were differences of opinion on strategy, implementation, and licensing terms that we spent months and months trying to negotiate. I stepped into the middle of this and was personally involved in the negotiations for over four months. Linux started as our back-up plan, just in case we couldn't reach an agreement, and it ended up as the preferred choice. I can't go into details but remember that things aren't as simple as they seem from the outside.
- Jim Collas
In hindsight the unfolding events were not as clear as they seemed. QSSL did know about Amiga canceling the agreement but had pushed ahead with development. Even if they did not become the official Amiga they were determined to get some of the mindshare. For months Amiga users had been boasting about the advantages of QNX in comparison to Windows or Linux. Why not take advantage of the good will that had been created and convert some Amiga devotees to the QNX cause. For weeks angry Amiga users rejected the choice. As Moo Bunny eloquently summarises, the users felt betrayed by the parent company.
Our frustration with the Linux announcement stems from this core problem: we don't trust Amiga Inc. This LOOKED like a betrayal - it STILL looks like a subtle violation of trust (how long did they know? there have been NO MENTIONS of QNX on amiga.com since Collas came aboard!). This LOOKED like a technological step backward - and the tech brief hasn't done much to alleviate it (X does not mark the spot). This LOOKED like a choice made for purely political reasons - a notion not disputed by Amiga Inc. This LOOKED like an "undo the previous administration's work" - remember Linux was rejected once. Most of all, this LOOKED like the latest iteration of "whoops, forget everything we said last time, this is our technology plan now" - the notion that these press releases have an unspoken "expiration date" after which anything not explicitly said to be still in the plan is instead to be considered OUT.
- Moo Bunny
Meanwhile QSSL were busily working on a hardware partner for their move into the Amiga market. A few days later they announced the partnership with Phase 5 and the development of the AMIRAGE workstation. They had been planning to release a "personal" version of the QNX OS since 1997. Once they had been introduced to the Amiga they could capitalize on the "Classic Amiga" market by releasing a PPC version of their OS. The move caused some bad feeling in the Amiga camp but Jim Collas, president of Amiga seemed anxious not to repeat the bickering that had plagued the WarpOS Vs. PowerUP PowerPC decision. However, he could not hide the disgust he felt regarding the move,
In my opinion their statements are misleading. It was my assessment that QNX would have launched personal QNX into the Amiga community even if we had reached an agreement with them. You can see where I would have an issue with this. It would have confused and split the community as they are attempting to do now.
- Jim Collas, in a Usenet posting, 11/7/99
Suggestions of QNX wishing to split the market fell on deaf ears. Many were just happy that such a respectable company were developing for the Amiga. Dan Dodge and a number of QNX representatives have made their presence known on the Team Amiga Mailing List, Amiga users can sign up for developer software. Amiga had failed to do many of these things. Why support those who had not given support in return?

QNX on Amiga

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The QNX Neutrino OS for PowerUP boards is set for release during the 4th quarter of 1999 (Winter, fall, or whatever you want to call it). It will be freely available for Internet download, as well being shipped with the phase 5 Blizzard and Cyberstorm G4 accelerators. Phase 5 have also promised a "Classic Amiga" emulator based upon the one developed for the A\Box and pre\box. How this affects the Amiga market remains unknown. If Amiga cancel their plans to release a version of the "Amiga OE" for Classic Amiga systems, equipped with PPC, many of the diehard supporters are likely to swap to a developer that actually considers their opinions and views. Dave Haynie, former Commodore engineer has already put his money where his mouth is, and has been developing a QNX-based set-top box called "Phoenix". Amiga may be looking to attract a whole new market with the Amiga OE but they are in danger of losing their supporters that kept the machine alive for so many years. 
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