Icaros: A Modern Open Source Amiga OS

You might have seen our article on Haiku, an open source implementation of BeOS. It’s not the only open source re-implementation of a classic computer OS. Icaros is a reimplementation of the classic Amiga OS for PCs. It’s based on AROS (the Amiga Research Operating System), but is available in a ready-to-run live version.

The original Commodore Amiga was mind-blowing when it first hit the computing scene way back in 1985. It was the first affordable computer capable of multi-tasking, and it also had some custom chips that gave it advanced graphics and sound compared to the other machines available.

Although it wasn’t quite a commercial success compared to the PC, it did manage to attract a dedicated cult following, especially in Europe. If you thought Mac fans were fanatical, hang out with some Amiga users sometime. They’ve kept the platform going almost 20 years after Commodore folded in 1994.

Getting started

So if you’re intrigued, how do you get started? It’s easy. the Icaros project has created a live image that can be downloaded to a DVD or a USB stick and then used like a live Linux distro. It also comes with a pre-configured QEMU image so you can run right away. There’s also a “light” version that can fit on a single CD.


If you’re using a virtualization program such as VirtualBox, you can simply set up a new machine and boot the disk image from that, or you can use a DVD or USB key if you want.

When you boot, you’ll have a fully-working replica of the traditional Amiga OS. Of course, it’ll be a lot smoother than it was in the ’80s.

One feature of Icaros worth noting is the RAM disk. It works exactly as it sounds: it uses part of the RAM as storage space. It’ll be gone when you reboot the machine, however. It’s good for temporary stuff like downloads that you’re only going to use once. If your download folder on other machines is like mine, you can see why this can be a useful feature. This will help reduce clutter on your hard drive.

If you’re a serious Linux user, you know how useful the shell is. Fortunately, Icaros has one as well, but it uses AmigaDOS rather than Linux commands; however, you can pick it up if you’re a Linux user.

If you have some old Amiga games, you’ll be pleased to know that the system can emulate the old 68000-based Amigas for some retro gaming fun. And speaking of games, Icaros comes with the classic Turrican. If that’s not enough, you can find various Amgia games on the Web if you know where to look. You can also buy a collection of Amiga games on Amiga Forever. The benefit of doing it this way is that it’s legal and you’ll get an emulator for Windows if you want, plus ROMs you can use on Amiga emulators on other platforms, including Linux.

If you’re looking for something different from the standard Windows, Mac and Linux desktops, or you’re an Amiga fan, Icaros is well worth a look.


David Delony

David Delony is a writer for Make Tech Easier

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