Friday, 23 August 2013

Resurrecting the OS-9/68K (OSK) kernel using the FAME 68K Emulator

The Motorola 68000, sadly, is mostly a relic nowadays. It had a beautiful instruction set and a clean architecture, from software all the way down to the bus protocols. Alas, all good things must pass...

However, there was a damn good operating system written for this CPU which I just can't stand to see die slowly, rotting on lost floppy discs and SCSI drives. The OS of which I speak is the OS-9 RTOS by Microware: a microkernel which was originally written for the Motorola 6809 CPU as a contract from Motorola to showcase their new CPU (most famously used on the Tandy Color Computer, various GIMIX systems, the Sharp X68000 series in Japan, and the Fairlight/CMI synthesizers of the early 80s), then ported to the Motorola 68k series of processors, the x86, ARM and Hitachi SH series, amongst others.

This operating system has been really short-changed by history. Ask most programmers which consumer (non-mainframe/UNIX/'big-iron') system was able to do multitasking and/or timesharing; you'll usually get answers of the Commodore Amiga, or the PC, or the Mac. They're all wrong. OS-9 was doing this in 1979, before the Commodore 64 even existed, with a full-fledged UNIX-style shell environment and all of the flexibility that philosophy brought with it, in less than 64 kilobytes!

The folks at Microware really should be legends in the industry for their forward-thinking software. Applications, device drivers, the kernel, and even instances of devices were all modules using an object-based structure that could be configured at boot time, then subsequently reconfigured at run-time, as modules were added or removed, with no reboots. Hmm, it only took, what, twenty-plus years, for other mainstream desktop operating systems to achieve this (and imperfectly)?

With that in mind, I now place here a small lifeline for this amazing operating system in the hopes it will be preserved (and perhaps improved...)

OS-9/68k 'RUSSBOX' Emulator Proof of Concept

This uses the FAME/68K emulation library under Cygwin to boot an OS-9 68000 'idealized' abstract system of my own design (by 'abstract', I mean a system which doesn't correspond to any 'real' historical system and is as simple as possible for the purpose of booting OS-9).


Windows XP or Win7_x86 (32-bit)
cygwin (32-bit)

From the cygwin prompt in your home directory:

$ git clone git:// MWOS
$ cd MWOS
[This gives the pristine MWOS OS-9/68k port dev tree, sans Hawk UI cruft, etc.]
$ git checkout origin/rlm-sys-1
[This switches to a branch which adds the virtual 'RUSSBOX' support files:
  MWOS/OS9/68000/PORTS/RUSSBOX - plus some .d/.a files to support the virtual
  hardware in higher directories within MWOS/...]

$ git submodule add git:// \
[This is the emulator itself, using FAME 68k library]

$ cd OS9/68000/PORTS/RUSSBOX

$ . ./

[open a second cygwin terminal]
$ cd MWOS/OS9/68000/PORTS/RUSSBOX/rlm-sys-1/
$ stty -echo -icanon -icrnl -inlcr min 1 && nc -u 8800

[return to first cygwin terminal]

[switch to second cygwin terminal]
[press ENTER]
[You should see a RomBug: prompt.]
[Type [.],[ENTER] to see 68k registers]
[Type [g],[ENTER] to start boot]
[After a few seconds you should see the OS-9 '$' prompt.]
[Type some common OS-9 commands, eg 'devs', 'free', 'mdir', 'dir']


The backspace/del key doesn't work.. the terminal via UDP is primitive and the exact setup for 'stty' above can probably be improved to at least let through delete properly.

Typing CTRL-C on the OS-9 terminal also terminates the stty connection, rather than transmitting CTRL-C through to the OS-9 target.

** NOTE after typing CTRL-C to interrupt the UDP terminal, one must type blindly:

stty echo

.. to turn on echo for the cygwin shell again.

Eventually I would like to write a dedicated UDP terminal + emulator 'front panel' that can pass all ascii codes through properly, and integrate in other ways with the virtual target (such as some way to show the virtual framebuffer, I/O, etc.)

While rudimentary this serves as a demonstration that the FAME/68k emulation library is sufficiently accurate to fully bootstrap and run the OS-9 68000 kernel and as such we can preserve the OS-9/68k operating system in an environment which will never be subject to the ravages of time, dying hardware etc. :)