May 28, 2012

Miss Amiga? Try DragonFly!

Amiga users are the longest-suffering technology loyalists that the computing industry has ever seen. Though once the best solution for 3D and special effects work, the operating system has long since been superseded as mainstream options, such as x86 hardware and new Mac and Windows operating systems, have become more powerful.

For instance, AmigaOS only gained support for memory paging in 2008, with AmigaOS 4.1, and USB 2.0 in 2011, with AmigaOS 4.1u3. That's over a decade after the USB standard was released, and three years after its successor, USB 3.0, was finalized. Amiga support for modern operating design and peripheral hardware is, to say the least, beyond hope.

On top of that, AmigaOS only supports dead, 32-bit processor architectures. AmigaOS 3.9 supports the Motorola 68k series up to the 68060 (released in 1994). AmigaOS 4, while slightly more modern, only runs on older P.A. Semi PA6T, Freescale e600, and IBM 750 parts. At best, AmigaOS is a decade behind.

So what is an Amiga user to do? If you're at all familiar with Unix or FreeBSD, there is one option out there that Amigans can look to—as long as they're okay with rock-hard stability, modern operating system design, and pervasive 64-bit support.

Enter DragonFly BSD, a free unix-like operating system created as a fork of FreeBSD 4 by Matt Dillon, a former AmigaOS developer. Dillon started DragonFly BSD as a means of implementing design goals that deviated from the core FreeBSD team's plans for symmetric multiprocessing, threading, and virtual memory.

Dillon had been a FreeBSD developer since the operating system's inception, coinciding with his time as an AmigaOS developer. As FreeBSD 5 approached, however, Dillon felt that too many new changes would compromise support for modern hardware. Dillon's long, frustrating time with AmigaOS development supported his fears, and he began in earnest to lobby the FreeBSD core team to be careful with how they proceeded.

In vain, Dillon argued as Apple and BSD/OS pieces were sewn roughshod into the fabric of FreeBSD and, after FreeBSD 5, arguments between Dillon and the FreeBSD core team hit breaking point. In a situation not unlike the NetBSD/OpenBSD split, the FreeBSD core team revoked Dillon's commit access and Dillon in turn announced the DragonFly BSD project which forked FreeBSD 4.8.

Dillon updated DragonFly 1.2 with code appropriated from FreeBSD 4.11, and the rest of the 1.x series (culminating in DragonFly 1.12 in February 2008) was devoted to tweaking and tightening the FreeBSD 4 platform to his liking. Notably, Dillon dropped i386 support from the 32-bit x86 compile of DragonFly and began to optimize for i686. x64 support was incomplete but working.

Since then, DragonFly BSD releases have been about implementing AmigaOS-like internal architecture. DragonFly 2 included vkernel, or virtual kernel, support, enhanced multicore and multiprocessor support, and implemented a new filesystem called HAMMER (short for Half-Assed Multi-Mirrored Extended Redundant filesystem) which is a 64-bit implementation of the Amiga Fast File System which was first introduced in AmigaOS 1.3 in 1988.

DragonFly 3, released in early 2012, enhanced multicore support and introduced preliminary AmigaOS binary application support using virtual kernels and a low-level 68k-to-x64 translation service called 68k2x64. The rest of the DragonFly 3.x series is expected to update the AmigaOS API and migrate it from a virtual kernel/emulation solution to a natively-supported API, thus giving AmigaOS developers still on 32-bit 68k and PowerPC platforms a 64-bit migration path.

In other words, Amiga users can say goodbye to anemic, barely-shipping systems like the AmigaOne X1000 with its piddly dual-core, 32-bit P.A. Semi PA6T-1682M or aging, browning Commodore boxes. Instead they can finally step up to a quad-core, 64-bit Intel Core i7-3770S while bringing their time-tested apps with them.

DragonFly BSD is the successor to AmigaOS that long-suffering, die-hard Amiga users have been waiting for and, for this crowd, is the only 64-bit game in town. With DragonFly BSD, AmigaOS users finally have an upgrade path to the future. Check it out at

If you're interested in getting more deeply involved, email DragonFly BSD owner Matt Dillon at He would love to answer your questions on anything from FreeBSD core team politics to Amiga API support in DragonFly.


  1. BeOS (and by extension, Haiku) is the spiritual successor to Amiga.

  2. AmigaOS4, MorphOS and AROS are direct descendant of the classic OS.

  3. But this is stable, fast and made by someone with character. BeOS is BeOS; it was not a successor to amigaOS3.
    AmigaOS4, MorphOS and AROS are direct descendant of the classic OS than spent some time as a zombie under commodore governance, to be awoken by corporation built on nostalgia. This BSD is more amigalike that the corporate goo I cited before

  4. Dragonfly can not run Amiga binaries. It's no comparison! Plus DFBSD is essentially FBSD but with far less support.