Some years back, the word on the Amiga Usenet groups was that legendary Amiga programmer Matt Dillon was going to port 4.4BSD Unix to the Amiga. This was an incredible undertaking, but if anyone could do it, Matt Dillon could. For a variety of reasons, the port never happened, and the dream of a freely available Unix for the Amiga vanished.
But in early 1993, a community of users around the world on the Internet starting working together on a version of Unix called NetBSD. Now, almost two years later, comes NetBSD 1.0.
I'm not going to give yet another inaccurate history of Unix that you usually read in articles like this. Instead, I'll just refer you to an excellent book by Peter H. Salus: `A Quarter Century of Unix' (ISBN 0-201-54777-5). This book gives an account of the first twenty-five years of Unix from the early user group meetings right through to the lawsuits of recent years.
What I will tell you, though, is that there have been two predominant `flavours' of Unix available over the years: System V and BSD. The story goes that AT&T's System V Unix was the domain of industry and the commercial user, while BSD was the Unix of choice for academia, no doubt from its roots at the University of California, Berkeley.
Technically, NetBSD is a BSD Net/2 and 4.4BSD-Lite derived system. A fully functional Unix-like operating system which currently runs on nine different architectures. NetBSD/Amiga is the Amiga port of NetBSD.
NetBSD requires an Amiga with a 68020 or better with some form of FPU and MMU. The minimal configuration requires 4Mb of RAM and about 65Mb of disk space. To install and use a reasonable environment with the X window system, at least 8Mb of RAM and about 150Mb of disk space is required.
All the basic Amiga hardware is supported including the floppy drive, parallel port, serial port, mouse, ECS, and AGA. A4000 IDE is supported along with most SCSI host adaptors such those by Commodore, GVP, 12 Guage, IVS, Wordsync, Magnum, Warp Engine and Zeus. A2024, Retina Z2 and Retina Z3 are the only graphics cards supported. A2065 and Hydra ethernet cards are recognised.
The above describes what is `officially' available or indeed what is supported by release 1.0 of NetBSD/Amiga. But work on many other cards and devices is underway and in many cases is already complete, just not integrated into the NetBSD source tree. This includes support for A1200 IDE, Fastlane SCSI, Multiface-III Serial, and Cirrus Logic 5426 based video cards such as the Picasso-II, Spectrum and Piccolo. There is also work on supporting PC cards by using the Goldengate-II card. In fact, there are already a number of NetBSD/Amiga users using NE1000 and NE2000 ethernet cards designed for PCs.
The compressed NetBSD/Amiga distribution (excluding sources) isn't too far short of 20Mb. Getting this onto your system is obviously going to be a big problem unless you have a tape drive or CDROM. Of course, floppies will work if you have the patience - but finding someone willing to supply you with a version on floppies could be difficult!
The NetBSD distribution contains a `Generic' kernel with support for all supported Amiga hardware, a bootstrap program to boot that kernel, and a boot floppy with a minimal BSD root filesystem.
The filesystem on the boot floppy is configured to allow you to make a SLIP connection, configure an ethernet, mount an NFS disk, start an FTP session, read from a SCSI tape drive or simply mount and read an AmigaDOS partition. This enables you to gain access to the NetBSD distribution sets. These sets can then be unpacked one by one onto your hard disk.
The NetBSD binary distribution comes in the following sets:
base10 The NetBSD/Amiga 1.0 base binary distribution. This must be installed. Contains base utilities to bring the system up. Include shared library support. [ 7M gzipped, 19M uncompressed ] comp10 The NetBSD/amiga Compiler tools. C, C++ and Fortran compilers, linker, system include files, system libraries, and manual pages for these utilities in addition to system call and library manual pages. [ 4M gzipped, 12M uncompressed ] etc10 All the system configuration files which reside in /etc. [ 50K gzipped, 280K uncompressed ] games10 The usual bunch of simple games you find on Unix systems. [ 1M gzipped, 3M uncompressed ] man10 Manuals for the binaries and other software contained in the base set. All other man pages are included with their respective binaries. [ 730K gzipped, 3M uncompressed ] misc10 System dictionaries, typesettable document set, and man pages for some other NetBSD architectures. [ 2M gzipped, 6M uncompressed ] text10 Text processing tools including groff, and related programs. [ 784K gzipped, 3M uncompressed ]
A full complement of source distribution sets is also available.
Almost everything you'd expect to find in a BSD derived system like SunOS or Ultrix is included with NetBSD. Configuring and administering the system is similar, as is porting applications.
A major advantage of running NetBSD is its networking software. Why run AmiTCP when you can run the original software? An Amiga based NetBSD system can perform just about any Internet related task imaginable.
Another feature which some NetBSD/Amiga users may find useful is its binary compatibility with the sun3 architecture. NetBSD can run SunOS binaries which ran on early Motorola 680x0 based Sun workstations.
As can be seen from the binary distribution sets listed above, NetBSD is pretty complete. However, lots of popular applications from the Unix world either have been ported or will port without too much trouble to NetBSD. Some ready-to-run applications I've FTP'd include xv, Mosaic, fvwm, top and lha.
It is important to note that NetBSD is a complete operating system, and hence replaces AmigaOS. Both systems can coexist on one hard disk, and files can be shared, but only one system at a time can be running. I suppose you could argue that NetBSD wasn't very system friendly, as it completely takes over the system... :-)
MINIX was created by Professor Andrew S. Tannenbaum of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam as a teaching aid for students taking his course in operating systems. The version distributed by Prentice-Hall only supports 68000 and floppy based systems. Patches for CBM SCSI and 68020/030 support must be acquired elsewhere. There is no support for the 68040 or IDE drives. See my article on MINIX in the October 1992 CUGI Newsletter.
Commodore's Amiga Unix (AMIX) was the first commercially available full implementation of System V Release 4 Unix. While a fine product, it was never a commercial success and was dropped by Commodore some time ago. Major disadvantages include no 68040 support and the fact that it is obviously no longer supported.
Linux is probably the most successful of the freeware Unix implementations on Intel platforms. Originally designed to make exclusive use of 80x86 features, it has been a difficult task to get a Motorola 680x0 port up and running. However, some dedicated programmers have done just that, and Motorola versions (including one for the Amiga) are available. Linux on Motorola is progressing rapidly, but is still probably about one year behind the NetBSD Motorola effort. Linux on Intel is ahead of both.
AmiNIX and ANIX are both very new on the scene, with little known about either. Both are the work of individual programmers, and while promising great things, probably fall a good deal short of what's currently available.
The `Meeting Pearls Vol.1' CD had a copy of NetBSD 0.9, but this release is now long out of date. At the time of writing, NetBSD 1.0 has just been released, so by the time you read this, a number of CDs will probably be available containing the full 1.0 release. `Meeting Pearls Vol.2' promises to have a full copy of the NetBSD/Amiga 1.0 distribution.
Although 1.0 has been released, development is still under way with much work being carried out on support for as many third-party cards as possible. So, it is likely that in addition to the stock 1.0 distribution you will receive kernels or sources with support for a wider range of Amiga equipment.
If you're lucky enough to have Internet access, you can find the latest version of NetBSD/Amiga at:
You could also try reading the Usenet newsgroup comp.unix.amiga for general discussion on Unix implementations for the Amiga.
Running a prerelease of NetBSD on my Amiga 4000/040 with Picasso-II, I was impressed. An X display of 1152x900 in 256 colours was as usable as any X terminal or low-end Unix workstation. Of course, you're not going to get DEC Alpha performance on an Amiga, so applications will run slower, but for most day-to-day tasks, performance is more than acceptable.
There's not much more I can say. It's BSD Unix for the Amiga. And it's free.
Information on the Demon Pictures
The BSD Demon pictures were drawn by John Lasseter. The pictures are Copyright 1988 Marshall Kirk McKusick. All Rights Reserved.
Non-commercial and personal use of the following GIF is permitted. Mass production or commercial use requires explicit written permission. Permission may be obtained by writing to:Marshall Kirk McKusick 1614 Oxford St Berkeley, CA 94709-1608 USA