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Make-over: Win to Amiga

The Commodore Amiga was probably the most popular home computer of the late 80s-early 90s, being a precusor to the modern PC. A big step up from the 8-bit machines, it could be used for word-processing, music tracking, graphics design, and (best of all!) playing some of the best games ever written. The original machine, the Amiga 1000, was released in 1985, to mixed response. However, the smaller and more compact Amiga 500 was a huge hit, thanks to mass developer support and the excellent freeware/demo scene. More machines followed, including the ill-fated A500+ and A1200, and the disastrous CD32. "Commodore" couldn't meet the competition from the consoles and advancing PC technology, and went bankrupt in 1993. Since then, the Amiga brand has been passed from company to company, with little success, until reaching the hands of "Gateway", who seem more interested in making Amiga servers than home computers. It's very unlikely that the Amiga will ever reach the heights it scaled a decade ago; however, the community of Amiga fans remains strong, and the older generation of computer users remember it fondly.

"Workbench" is the main OS, with numerous incarnations. Recently renamed AmigaOS, it reached version 3.9 in December 2000. The first WB releases resembled the early MacOS more than anything else, and were very basic in colour and design. Nowadays, the look is a fusion of Windows and GNOME desktops, with some of the old Amiga mixed in :) Greg Donner's Workbench Nostalgia site provides a graphical history of the evolving GUI, with plenty of screenshots and easter egg information. A good place to start, especially as each version has a distinctive visual style.

But how can we recreate this look on our Windows PCs? It's harder than the *nix look, simply due to the age and relative unpopularity of the Amiga. However, it is possible, especially with the rise of skinnable apps.

Note: Once again, I have tested these utilities under Win95 OSR2 and Windows 2000, but I can't vouch for their performance under 98 or NT. Where possible, I have warned of any known issues.
The easiest way to get an Amiga desktop on your PC is definitely to use an emulator. Admittedly, that's not exactly what we're after, but it's worthy of investigation anyway, both to get an idea of the look and feel of the Workbench, and for extracting icons and graphics. Oh, and to play games too :).

The best all-round Amiga emulator for Windows is WinUAE, a very stable and well-featured program. Runs equally well under 95 and 2000, though a newer processor helps speed considerably. Difficult to get started, however, even for ex-Amiga users; so a good choice for newbies is AmigaInABox, a preconfigured, instantly runnable Workbench setup maintained by Jaybee. Now 100% legal in the software it contains too (though not as pretty as the old, less legal versions ;)) - but unless you own a Amiga already, you'll need to find a Workbench 3.0/3.1 ADF (Amiga disk file) and Kickstart 3.0/3.1 ROM on the net. Dubious legally, but not hard to find, just try any good search engine. See the AIAB page for more requirement details and installation help.

If you need some software for your shiny new Amiga desktop, AIAB also provides add-on packages with net and music tools, famous Amiga games, and even Shapeshifter, a Mac emulator (a PC, running an Amiga, running a Mac...ow, head hurts...). Also see Aminet, an enormous Amiga file archive (but not a good starting place for an Amiga beginner). Games and more links can be found at XT Power, and for general software and setup links, try Jambo.

There is another emulator, WinFellow (a port of the original DOS Fellow), but this is generally better for playing games than running the OS. Still worth a look though, especially because of the regular updates - the build I tried was quite stable (note: site has separate downloads for NT, 2000 & 9x).

T-Bone has reported a new version of WinUAE, with play-online capabilities - nothing to do with customisation, but fun to try :).
But, an emulator is only so useful. What if you want to run your Windows programs in Amiga style? It used to be rather difficult, but recently there seems to have been a surge of interest in the old machine, with several new projects in development.

First port of call is T-Bone's Amiga Stuff For Windows - covers mainly WB 1.* & 2.* styles, with some inventive desktop themes, startup screens, and some truly old-skool WB 1.3 icons and cursors. Plenty to keep you occupied, and a comprehensive selection of links. Well worth a visit - recently had a brand new redesign too (heh, VP is no stranger to those ;)), which will prove very nostalgic to those who remember Workbench 1.3!

If you like Workbench 2.0 best, an even better starting point would be the WorkbenchOnWin project by Meschiari Stefano, which is a little like a replacement Amiga desktop running on top of Explorer. Still at an early stage, with a few bugs to iron out, but it currently alters desktop windows, icons, and menus, with plans to emulate the Trashcan and some basic Workbench tools. Note: Link is currently down, but can't find a new site anywhere?
Recently, a programmer called P|-|antom has been writing some fantastic apps to recreate the WB look. "Amigabar" is just that - a clone of the white bar found at the top of the screen in Workbench. Shows the date and time, as well as the total memory and a nifty Amiga logo. "Amipad" is an Amiga-style notepad, which supports both PC and Amiga format documents. Latest screenshots also show work on a new app called Dockbar, which recreates the button panel seen on the WB 3.0 desktop - see his site for details. Also like the Kickstart screensaver, though retro me would prefer the 1.3 version ;).

Ex (or current) Amiga users may remember a program called Directory Opus - an fully customisable file manager for Workbench. A clone of DOpus 4 for Windows, PC Opus, has been in development for a while now, having reached version 2.61d. It's been my favourite file manager for a while, especially as it's very stable, and, though the basics are simple, there's near limitless room for add-ons and extra configuration.

But for diehard fans of the original, GPSoftware have now released a PC edition of Directory Opus 6. There's a 30-day evaluation version available for download - which is fairly small, and definitely worth trying! My thoughts:
On my system, DOpus was very stable, and ran quickly. On installation, it basically gives you the choice of two modes. Either it operates as a complete shell replacement, taking all functions over from Explorer (much like Litestep or other shells, for example), or it can work simply as a file manager. I prefer the file manager (heh, integraton can be a bad thing!) but either way it's extremely customisable. It has its own way of handling file types, independent of Explorer, which allows options to be set for Control-Click, Alt-Click, etc, as well as the standard 'double click to open'. File attributes can be easily changed; images can be displayed as customisable thumbnails; zip file support is fully integrated; all useful features. However, the true power of the program comes from its modular approach, and the ability to create your own file commands and scripts. It takes effort to learn how to do all this, and time to get used to it, but it's definitely worth it. Oh...and one more minor benefit - Amiga icon viewing is built in! The downside is that you still need a icon-creation program to paste the image into, and, though you can see the "clicked" version of the icon in the file manager, you can't see it in the picture viewer. So, still need a better solution...
Note that Directory Opus 6 is commercial software, retailling for AUD $ 149.95 - though there are apparently discounts available for those of you who owned DOpus 5 for the Amiga. Thanks go to Frank and Gunbuster for information on this interesting program :).

Also reported by Gunbuster: a port of Photogenics (a popular Amiga Photoshop-style app) to Windows... commercial software, but if you've used the app before and don't want to learn Photoshop, an interesting possibility.
Window Decoration
Since the demise of skinz, many of the old Windowblinds skins listed here are no longer readily available. Wincustomize of course has a few, due to the strong Stardock connection.

Amiga2 - classic WB look
Amiga-two - another WB look, but larger than the above
AmigaOS4WB - recreates Amiga OS 4 style
Have a look at M's Factory - a great site, and he has efx skins for both WB 3.5 and the new Amiga QNX style.
Other Shells
Again, this isn't really VP's department - but still, it's a topic worthy of further investigation.

For Litestep, we have Amiga Workbench by Pierre Arveteg - WB 2.0 style, very grey but a stylish look. Admittedly, getting Litestep themes to work is difficult, but if you want an all-in-one solution, it may be worth the time. Besides, with the new distributions (see Shellfront for details) and theming programs, it's becoming easier. Grab "Amiga Workbench" from T-Bone's site, along with a few other interesting themes. Note: Litestep does't co-exist terribly well with Win2k, so read the available docs before changing anything.

Also, for those of you running *nix as well as Windows, there's an interesting X-Windows manager called amiwm; basically a clone of Workbench 2.0, but tailored to the *nix environment. Hasn't been updated in quite some time, but is fairly advanced as it is.
The easiest way now to convert Amiga icons under Windows is using Directory Opus 6, as detailed above. But, this is commercial software, and not perfect. Converting Amiga icons to PC is still a laborious process - see the icons conversion page for suggestions. The newer versions of Workbench adopt the NewIcons standard, but the authors are reluctant to reveal much information on file formats and source code... I've been examining the files myself, but with little success as yet. Conversion is possible, with work... and here are a few links to try. Some also provide .iff images, allowing direct pasting into an icon editor.
  • Matt Chaput has 2 GlowIcons sets for download at his PixelStudio. Amiga icons generally have two images, one for clicked and one for unclicked, and GlowIcons have a glowing version of the original icon as the clicked image. Note: Currently disappeared - anyone know where the site has moved to?
  • Aminet's icon directory has a vast selection, but unfortunately no preview pictures... still, you may find some gems here.
  • At Mason.home, there are more GlowIcons system sets, mainly for different filetypes.
However, there are alternatives.
  • A huge set of converted newicons (42x42) is available by Don Martinello.
  • Over at Zapaticons, Lyle Zapato has converted most of his Amiga sets to ico format.
  • Starliner has converted the basic NewIcons set to Windows format, for the early WB3 look.
  • Meanwhile, at Desktop Gremlins, there's a retro Amiga Drawers set on the workshop page. Note: Also vanished - any links? Until then, you can download these icons from T-Bone's site.
  • For an even slicker feel, |copland| has made a fantastic Ah-Me-Cons set, inspired by more recent Workbench versions.
Finally, here's a few WB 2.0 Amiga panel icons; unfortunately, these have been sticking on my harddisk for quite some time, and I can't find the site I downloaded them from... anyone recognise them?
Al Tinsley has created a font, "Topaz" to recreate the look of the old Amiga CLI. If you try one of the command line replacements listed on this site, you could use this font and emulate an Amiga shell box :) Note: Al's site appears to be down, so the link now points to T-Bone's Amiga site, where both truetype and bitmap versions of this fonts can be found.

For WinAMP, there's a few Amiga style skins. One of the best is AmiAMP, a Workbench 2.0 style skin by Frederick Wangel - very nicely done, not to mention complete. Wulfert.com has another under their Computer Skins section, AmiOS35Amp, which is also a fairly good example - unfortunately, the author's homepage appears to be offline at the moment.

Also of interest is WinGuide, a small program for reading Amiga .guide files. These are the Amiga version of Windows .hlp files - except they aren't only available for programs. Band discographies and TV series episode guides are popular in this format, and there are many examples available on Aminet. Thanks to Gunbuster for the note...

Uhr32 is a analogue clock, built around the red and white "bouncing ball" logo. Comes with a calendar and alarm built in. The site and the app are both in German, but it's all fairly self-explanatory, and it makes a change from the standard digital clock :).

Finally, here's a Tclock skin by myself to Amiga-izse your start menu (admittedly, the Amiga doesn't have a menu as such...but it's still a nice touch!).
Hopefully, this article has provided a little food for thought....and here's a screenshot, to show the sort of look that can be achieved. A few more may be added soon, to illustrate different tweaks and ideas.

Recreating the Amiga look is a limited exercise at the moment, and there's far less to do than with the *nix style project. Of course, extra input and suggestions are welcome, so any tips. Consider this a work in progress - hopefully, as the customisation scene grows, more programs and skins will appear for this underrated machine.

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