saturday, 20 january 2007

posted at 13:55

Someone in #aros was saying that AROS has no goals and no directions, and that he couldn't support it based on that. I didn't comment at the time, but I've been thinking about it a bit and I've decided I agree with him, except that I think its a good thing.

Leaving games aside for a moment, how often do you actually have fun just using your computer? Windows and Unix systems are about work, not play (this includes Linux). Every new application is aiming big, trying to be "professional" and "enterprise-grade". And often they do a good job of it, but at the cost of having no soul.

The Amiga, on the other hand, is for play. Thats not to say its not possible to do serious work with it, but look at its history. It arrived at a time when computers were for home, not for work. They were for hobbyists, not professionals. You'd sit down and experiment, see what you could make the computer do, and with a bit of ingenuity, you could do quite a bit. You used it to create, rather than process.

The best example of this? Paint programs. Windows ships with MSPaint, a cute little freehand drawing tool. It doesn't do much, but pretty much everyone has used it at least once just to play - drawing a house, a boat, or just random graffiti.

As far as I know, neither Windows nor Unix has a "serious" freehand drawing program. If they do, they're not well known. That type of program is derided as a toy, while tools like Photoshop (GIMP) and Illustrator (Inkscape) control the field - both designed for serious processing work.

The Amiga, on the other hand, is well known for programs like Deluxe Paint and TVPaint, and more lately, Lunapaint. In terms of features and complexity, these applications are "serious" - they're not toys. But, they're aimed at artists - people producing digital art just for the sake of it.

The point I'm trying to make is the thing that distinguishes the Amiga (and thus AROS) from other systems (save perhaps the Mac, though I'm not familiar enough with that system to comment) is that Amiga is for the artists, the musicians, the inventors, the creative folk, where others are for the white-collar workers, the processors, the business types.

Now don't get me wrong, these are important jobs, and someone has to do them. I think that the creative types have lost out as computers have hit the mainstream and become merely tools to be used to get a job done rather than an end in themselves. I think I've felt this for a while, though I couldn't have articulated it until now.

And thats were AROS comes in. AROS can provide a way for computers to be fun and interesting and sexy again. So in a way no goals are required, because the very act of building the system is the point - if AROS was ever considered finished, then we've either lost our way or it isn't needed anymore.

None of this means AROS has to be a toy. If I had to set a goal, it would be to build an operating system that can take advantage of every piece of hardware in my computer and every last cycle of computing power to make me want to just play with my computer. I'd say its already well on its way.

In the last week I've enjoyed working on the AROS code more than any other code I've worked on in the last four years, since about just before I did the first jabberd stable release. It lets me stretch, try things out without worry about doing it "wrong". It rewards me when I get it right but leads and teaches me when I get it wrong. The codebase, like the system it implements, is optimised for fun.

To anyone looking to make AROS into a "serious" operating system, while I wouldn't discourage you, I would say tread carefully. Don't remove the soul from the system in your efforts to make it like the "big boys". We need a fun and creative system like AROS. What we don't need is another Windows or Unix clone - they're quite good at doing that on their own.