Jun 29, 2005

How QNX Failed Amiga

The Amiga platform has exhibited amazing longevity for something so plagued by problems. And for a platform with such problems, it's been an excruciatingly slow march to resolve matters. Amiga is still running a twenty-year old operating system on chips that haven't been updated in over eleven years, and is only able to use anything modern through emulation or as an add-on card. What other platform offers accelerator cards faster than the main CPU by a factor of ten?

Accordingly, the sorry state of Amiga lays mostly to blame in its many sponsors over the years, from Commodore to Escom to Gateway and finally to Amiga, Inc. Each and every one of these companies have fumbled the ball in directing Amiga, burying it further and further every year. Third parties have stepped in to alleviate this, but can not push the platform ahead, only offer it short-term boosts that allow applications — and not the operating system — speed-ups and modern features.

Enter QNX Software Systems, contracted by Gateway in 1997 to create a desktop operating system based on its embedded QNX Neutrino micro-kernel environment. QNX was a significant player in the embedded industry and had a reputation for efficient, real-time systems that oversaw everything from medicine drips to auto-assembly robots. It looked like such finely-honed technology would be the proper bridge to the second coming of the Amiga. Appearances, however, can be deceiving.

Work began in earnest in 1998 as QNX put the finishing touches on its new micro-kernel and brought forward Photon, its graphical windowing system. All of this was done in tight communication with Gateway's Amiga team and new hardware was readied that used Motorola-supplied PowerPC chips, the same architecture that Amiga third parties for years had used in accelerator boards. Gateway wanted out of the Microsoft/Intel duopoly. QNX continued plugging away at fever-rate.

Just as Gateways' PowerPC systems were coming along, however, something at QNX hit a snag. Gateway had readied single, dual, and quad processor machines using Motorola's PowerPC G3 and G4 chips, processors QNX had supported for years already. Just as QNX's Neutrino-based Amiga was entering alpha testing, problems crept up with the Gateway PowerPC boards and QNX was pointing the finger back at its partner. Gateway responded in kind, insisting performance problems were software-based.

At this point, in mid-1999, Gateway had been talking up its future Amiga systems and invested millions in the project as well as in Motorola, all while Intel and Microsoft were breathing down its neck, unhappy with potentially losing such an important customer. Any problems with QNX and its software were potentially crippling and Gateway insisted on a solid date for a finished QNX product. QNX balked at this, insisting its primary focus must be QNX Neutrino first, and Amiga's desktop second.

In late 1999, Gateway was in a panic as QNX remained stoic on its undelivered Amiga system, defaulted QNX on its contract, and made preparations to spin off its Amiga division into its own sovereign company, divesting itself of any further financial bleeding. Two Gateway employees took over the newly-formed Amiga, Inc. and went back to square one on producing a modern operating system. The industry once again shrugged and yawned at yet another Amiga disappointment.

In 2001, Amiga, Inc. farmed development of its next-generation operating system — now referred to as Amiga OS 4 — to AmigaOne Partners, the name for a group of third-party Amiga players. In the meantime they updated their geriatric operating system with OS 3.1, 3.5, and 3.9. Today, four years after contracting AmigaOne, the industry is still waiting for a finished product, the only tangible evidence of it being screenshots circulating news sites every few months.

QNX, meanwhile, released QNX RTOS 6.0 in late 2000 as a self-hosted development platform for Intel PC systems. They followed up every year with a new release and their system now rests at QNX Momentics 6.3, with QNX 6.4 rumored to be forthcoming. Such punctuality begs the question of why QNX couldn't have done the same for Gateway. Not a word has been said as QNX hastily removed any mention of Amiga from its products and remained tight-lipped forever after.

Other questions remain as well, such as why Gateway hadn't contracted or bought beleaguered Be, Inc. who already had a multimedia-optimized desktop operating system, dubbed by many as the Amiga's ideological successor, and had instead pursued a less-suited route. Or why Gateway hadn't sued QNX for breach of contract after QNX failed on numerous occasions to meet its contractual obligations. Or why sickly Amiga, Inc. today still waits after four years for a PowerPC operating system.

Most of these questions are left for the reader to ponder, as no answers have surfaced even after several years. Amiga users angry at the Ice Age their platform has been in can squarely blame QNX's failure to deliver a desktop as the latest hurdle in moving forward, however. For many that's more than enough reason to lay blame on QNX Software Systems as they quietly release yearly upgrades while Amiga languishes in developmental Hell.


  1. Can you imagine if someone had the foresight to place Amiga/QNX on a tablet as an ipod beater?

    With the Amiga software base to draw on and its loyal developers, it might have stood a change... Linux++

    Instead we have Android as a hardware standard with various competing versions none of which are any match for apple's best.

  2. buy the new amiga one netbook
    or you r a gay!