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Advent Calendar: Door 19 - Oliver Roberts
We start the Christmas week with the 19th door and Oliver Roberts.

Without Oliver Roberts we would not have the best and fastest browser for AmigaOS 3 and no current AmiSSL. But in the 90s Oliver was still in Formula One fever (and maybe still is?): In 1994 he started programming and publishing a first beta version 0.2 of F1GP-Ed, an editor for the Amiga version of the games Formula One Grand Prix or World Circuit by MicroProse Software. The homepage is still online and the editor was developed up to version V3.44 in 1999 (History).

1999 was the start for the development of his Warp Datatypes with WarpJPEG: he is still developing the datatypes distributed as shareware. The image formats JFIF/JPEG, PNG, TIFF, Windows BMP, PCX, PSD (Adobe Photoshop®) and WebP are supported; further formats are planned. The main feature of the datatypes, especially on PowerPC systems, is their decoding speed (hence the name Warp) and the AltiVec acceleration. The very efficient memory usage in turn benefits 68K systems.

The main project, however, is undoubtedly the browser IBrowse, which is available for both AmigaOS 3 and MorphOS, as well as AmigaOS 4, and can be tested in each case as a demo version. Just a few days ago Roberts and his team released the current version 2.5.8. The browser has a long history: Originally developed by Stefan Burström for Omnipresence Intl. from 1995 and distributed by HiSoft, from 2003 IOSPIRIT (until 2007) took over the distribution and the IBrowse developer team around Burström and Roberts took over the development. During this time, at the end of 2006, IBrowse 2.4 was released.
In 2008, development was temporarily at a standstill due to Burström's retirement. Due to various reasons, the release of version 2.5 could only happen in 2019.

From now on, not only were updates released regularly again, Roberts also took over the development of the encryption software AmiSSL, a port of OpenSSL for AmigaOS, from Jens Maus in 2020. This gives applications SSL/TLS/HTTPS support.

For your perseverance and long-lasting support of Amiga systems, a heartfelt thank you, Oliver. Your story:

It's never too late to upgrade

If you're anything like me, I tend to upgrade electronics only when absolutely required, especially if your needs are being fulfilled by what you already have. This is somewhat true for my Amiga systems too, but it is great to know that there are still a variety of options out there, allowing us to upgrade and fix our Amigas. What follows is a summary of my Amiga upgrades over the past 15 years or so.

My A1200, purchased in 1995, has gone through many upgrades over the years, but not really much since I made a custom tower case for it and added a BlizzardPPC 68060 603e/240MHz/SCSI card + BVisionPPC. This was quite some years ago considering I bought the BlizzardPPC as soon as stock was available! This all worked great and I had maxed out the upgrade options at the time.
Then, in 2015, the A1200 motherboard went faulty - I had managed to deduce that an area of the 2Mb chip ram had gone bad. To cut a long story short, I managed to find brand new replacement chips and eventually my motherboard was repaired in 2019. Unfortunately, a few days later, the main SCSI hard drive died and would not power up. Luckily, I managed to find the exact same drive model on eBay, so ordered a reconditioned one on the off-chance that swapping the logic boards over would revive my drive - it did and all data was intact! (I did actually have an slightly out of date backup anyway).

This is where my latest A1200 upgrade journey began. Not knowing why the logic board on the hard drive had died, as a precaution I replaced the tower's aging AT PSU with a new ATX one (same model as I put in my AmigaOne XE - more on that later). This involved buying various power adapters, including Ian Steadman's excellent ATX to Amiga power adapter board. Next up, I didn't want to rely on the hard drive anymore and new SCSI hard drives were by then impossible to buy, so I switched to using a SCSI2SD v6 along with a 64Gb SD card. At the same time I retired my IDE HDD, replacing it with an IDE to CompactFlash adapter. This has hopefully future proofed my A1200 for quite a few more years.
Why bother maintaining a 25 year old system? It holds a lot of history for me, where I created most of my Amiga software, including WarpJPEG, later leading to all the Warp Datatypes, plus IBrowse 2.4 development. It also happens to be the very first A1200 in the world to successfully boot AmigaOS 4.0, after I managed to fix the 603e specific TLB exception handlers in the kernel for Hyperion. I still find my A1200 invaluable for testing and development, despite not being my main development system any longer...

Since 2005, my main development machine has been an early AmigaOne XE G4. Again, until recently I have not needed to upgrade this much, except when I first obtained it in 2005. I kitted the case out with two 120mm cooling fans running at low speed via a bay based controller, replaced the stock wobbly CPU cooler with something much better (Zalman VF900), added two temperature sensors, bought a larger new IDE HDD and replaced the stock 256Mb dram with 1Gb. Later, in 2013, I swapped the PSU out with a brand new one, which fixed instability and freezes that had started happening. It has been running perfectly fine since then and I had not considered upgrading anything, especially not a new Amiga motherboard since I would miss the G4's Altivec.

However, only a few weeks ago, something strange happened - I chose to upgrade it when I didn't really need to! It all started when I needed to access a faulty laptop HDD - I didn't have a spare SATA connection in anything and the drive would not respond when used with SATA to USB adapters. I decided to buy a cheap SATA card for an old PC that I had in storage. This is pretty old and took PCI cards - yes, the same cards that the A1XE takes. The plan was to buy a A1XE compatible SATA card, which would also work in the PC and I managed to find a sii3114 card on Amazon for under 4 Euro. My IDE HDD was still running fine with no apparent issues or SMART errors, but it is over 15 years old and I'm sure it sounds louder than it used to. To preempt a potential failure, I bought a Kingston SSD for the sii3114 card and transferred everything from my HDD across. I was surprised at how cheap the lower capacity SSDs are these days - it was much cheaper than buying a SATA HDD, especially as I do not really need much space. As an added bonus, the SSD uses only 3W of power, 10W or so less than my old HDD. Finally, having noticed the CPU reaching higher temperatures than usual this year, my next task was to remove the G4 cooler to renew the thermal paste that I had last applied over 15 years ago - a delicate and somewhat dangerous task, akin to open heart surgery.
The operation went smoothly and now the G4 runs even cooler than I remember at 28 degrees idle / 31 degrees full load - hoping this will help extend the life of my A1XE further still. In case you're wondering what happened with the laptop HDD, Linux diagnostic tools confirmed it as non-recoverable and dead, but as it was 2 weeks before the expiration of the 5 year warranty, I quickly sent it back to Seagate for a free replacement.

After these efforts to keep my Amigas up and running, this allows me to continue with Amiga software development and I'm hoping to not need to open them up at all for many years to come! My first Amiga was actually an A600, which desperately needs attention too - a few years ago, I bought a CF card adapter to replace its dead HDD, but have yet to get around to installing it. There is still much we can do to fix and improve our aging hardware and maybe this article will help provide some inspiration. There are a variety of solutions available, allowing us to use the latest hardware and it is not necessarily expensive either - we can utilize cheap PC components from many retailers online and we fortunately have a few Amiga hardware retailers left too. Who would have thought that when we bought our floppy based Amigas many years ago, before HDDs were affordable or widespread, that it would be possible to use today's latest flash-based memory technology instead. It's never too late to upgrade... (dr)

[News message: 19. Dec. 2022, 09:28] [Comments: 1 - 20. Dec. 2022, 08:22]
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