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Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators

Posted on 6 September 1998

The following text was written by Matthew Stits:

When one looks at the evaluation of the TI series of calculators, one sees more and more people trying to push the envelope of what one can do with them. At first, just a few basic games, then assemblers, all the way up to memory expansion kits. With this in mind, TI did make it a bit harder to make an assembler on the TI series with the 92. I remember many people discussing the problems (of which I do not recall the exact reasons) which gave way to making fargo a very stable shell built on an Operating Sytem never intended for it. With time and the presence of fargo, TI has seen that someone will always find a way to get around what ever obstacles presented and has now put an assembler on their TI-89 and TI-92 Plus models.

At first this would seem great for the TI's. In one single step they have erased the need of so many people who enjoyed their work. Now after explaining some of the history to this saga, I feel TI has given themselves a bit of an Achilles heel. With the ever growing cost of the college student's calculator, TI said, "Hey! Let's put Flash ROM in so they will only have to buy one calculator for a little more." With this in mind a hole was opened that none had previously thought about. Why doesn't someone now make a complete OS for the calculator? It could be anything from a small unix box, to a full fledged GUI OS. Here I'd like to present some examples of it why it should be done. All the registers are out and I am sure that a 10 MHz chip is more than enough for a GUI interface or at least a basic lunix shell to start from.

I think that the biggest problem would be in making a joint inter face for both the TI-89 and TI-92 Plus. It would most likely have to be recompiled for each version with different specs for the first few builds until a set amount of memory is dedicated to output for the LCD screen. There are at least 3 OS's made from this chip and its children already! Mac OS, Norton "that pseudo Palm Pilot" and Sega's very basic ROM reading OS for its genesis and probably a few more. This is by no means to say the that Fargo has no purpose, but what if they made it into a full fledged OS and not a shell on top of an OS never intended to work in the back ground?

When looking at this from the a different angle, one sees a few possible problems. Some (actually most) of us don't have a TI-92 Plus, so Fargo is all that many can use. Fargo is probably a lot better planned than whatever TI had made. Fargo can use libraries, make TSR's, and many other things that I for one doubt TI put that much work. There are already many good programs for Fargo "that could be ported at a later date". As for making your own OS for the calculator, all you could do is turn it into what most (at least at first) would consider a novelty or GameBoy, not to be taken seriously. Why reinvent a calculator that TI paid lots of people to make? I believe a person or small group of people not getting paid would make anything as good or better.

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Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"
(Web Page)

David Boozer, the guy who started the TI-85 programming frenzy in 1994 with his paper "Hacking the TI-85" has had his own multitasking OS along with several other goodies for his calculator for years now, and has not released it because other technical documents and people who used the data he discovered disclosed in the paper failed to cite him.

Reply to this comment    30 September 1998, 00:58 GMT

Re: Building OSes for Flash ROM Calculators
Vejita  Account Info
(Web Page)

testing posting

Reply to this comment    30 March 2000, 16:25 GMT

Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"
bob sackamano

I've been hearing alot about putting the Mac OS or a Unix onto a 68k TI calculator. There is a project to get linux ported to 68k processors without a MMU. The link is somewhere on www.linux.org. They have gotten it to boot on a palmpilot with some kind or memory expansion card or something, but I don't belive it's useable.

Reply to this comment    10 October 1998, 22:19 GMT

MacOS on TI-89
Robert Thompson
(Web Page)

Well... personally, I think this would be really, really cool due to the "Mt. Everest Factor." BUT: There's a major problem (well, maybe not so major if you know more about hardware than me... I'm a CS guy, that's software ya know) with it: It won't work without the actual Apple ROMs. Most of the important bits of the MacOS are actually stored in ROM, not on disk. Well, not anymore, but that was certainly true of System 1.1, which is probably all you could run on the calc, anyway. What kind of solutions to this problem can anyone come up with?

Reply to this comment    27 October 1998, 19:17 GMT

Re: MacOS on TI-89

You are correct, the Mac OS does not function without the ROM Toolbox (or is it Toolkit?). The major cool stuff from the OS is in the ROM's (except in the iMac which stores the "ROM" on the hard disk). The ability to make windows, buttons, and menus requires the ROM sub-routines. The Apple ROM's take up more memory than is available on the TI-89, so without an external storage system the Mac OS couldn't be mimicked. It would be very difficult to write any sort of GUI (in the sense that we think of it in desktop computers' OS's like Windows, or Mac OS). The disk space required for having all those (moveable) objects on a screen is just too much. And then you come to the mouse/trackball/touchpad problem. The directional keypad on the TI calcs are not made in a way that would let them act like a conventional mouse. The directional keypad was designed to make incremental (as opposed to fluid like in mice/trackballs) motion. It would take forever to navigate in a GUI. I am convinced that the GUI is impractical and useless for the TI calcs (unless you make one for show). I'm all for a Micro-Controller Linux-type OS, but networking a TI-calc in a normal manner would be very difficult in a mobile environment. The TI calcs could however be networked by docking with a host computer (like the graphlink). I probably wrote too much, sorry.

Reply to this comment    4 November 1998, 05:35 GMT

Re: Re: MacOS on TI-89

The 128k mac had a 64k rom. Not all of this capacity was used. The 68k TIs have graphics routines in rom (not flashrom) so the absence of the toolbox is not even an issue.

Reply to this comment    27 April 1999, 01:30 GMT

Sam Joyce

I think there would be a major problem with putting dos or linux on the 89: it doesn't have a keyboard. Sure it's got the alpha key, but who do you know that can actually type with any amount of respectable speed on their calculator? It might work on a 92, but even the qwerty kb on that is a little small.

Reply to this comment    2 November 1998, 06:44 GMT

Re: TIOS89
euprunner  Account Info

I just bought the ti-keyboard... it cost me $23 on ebay (+$4 for shipping).... ripped off or not I like it... not many ways to use it, but already programing and in-class note-taking is a lot easier.. any OS development should keep this device in mind. I know GUIs suck... but could a mouse be made to work with the 89?... are there any other ports on the 92/voyage 200 that might make expanded memory or other devices easier?

Reply to this comment    16 March 2004, 22:47 GMT

Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"
MogKupo0 / ZeromusMog

It seems that we have here, on two opposite sides, a proposal for two equally ludicrous OSes. On one hand, you have an incredibly slow, impossible to navigate GUI that is modeled after (Heaven Forbid!) the MacOS, an on the other hand you have the quick, speedy, but incredibly hard to figure out Linux "Box". From my experience with Linux, it is a great operating system (the best, actually), however the amount of typing needed to operate a BASH prompt is almost unthinkable using only the ALPHA key. A new OS should be made to take advantage of the portable, many-keyed, small-storaged device that the 89/92 is. I could see something like OS-85 on steroids.
There's also the issue of buying a $200 calclator with symbolic manipulation only to replace that with a buggy mega-zshell. I would be willing to play with some experimental OSes, but I would see it as more feasable if TI's OS was hacked to death to allow better game support. Which is what this all boils down to: we want our calcs to become more like Game Boys. Which is all fine and dandy if you want to take Mr. TI on a road trip and need something to do (perhaps include zTetris and other favorites IN the OS so it doesn't take user memory?!), but I don't see anyone making something that I would be comfortable using during a math test.


Reply to this comment    29 November 1998, 09:32 GMT

Re: Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"
Mark Leverentz

I think that's a very good point. Why re-invent the wheel. TI did a good job on the OS that comes with the 89. What's so great about it (besides symbolic manipulatioin)? It is a healthy mix of the two extremes which have been posted on this message board (GUI vs CMD LINE). Since the 89 doesn't have a mouse, a full-fledged GUI is out of the question -- it would just make the calc harder to navigate, not easier. A command prompt interface is also out of the question for the 89 since the alpha-key style of typing doesn't lend itself to speed. I think that all we need is to develop a high-quality shell. That way, you can add onto the features of the 89 without removing some of the great stuff that came originally with the calc.

Reply to this comment    2 January 1999, 18:19 GMT

Re: Building OSes for Flash ROM Calculators
RCTParRoThEaD  Account Info
(Web Page)


Reply to this comment    13 May 2002, 05:23 GMT

Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"
Dave Kuder

Using Linux on a TI calc would only be useful on a TI92 because of the fact that the amount of typing involved in using a CLI is unreasonable without a QWERTY keyboard, The only way that one could use a CLI based OS on one of the traditional form calculators would be very much like the "DOS" available for the PalmPilot hand helds, through the usage of an _external_ keyboard (cheap 16" AT keyboards could even be used,) the external keyboard could be attached with little special circutry to the link port and a simple driver written (there are several programs to directly interface with a AT keyboards, some of which can be found at Tomi Endigal's website.) This may seem ludicrus to some, but a CLI would be possible on the traditional form graphing calculators with an external keyboard.

Footnote: there is a Linux port for the 92 in progress, if the guy ever figures out how to use Tiger (the TI92/89 emulator for linux and MacOS) and downloads the M68k w/o MMU project's existing patches to the linux kernel, right now he is just taunting all us calc users with his ideas.

Reply to this comment    6 February 1999, 02:37 GMT

Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"
Chris Osborn

I think that it is high time someone created a TI-89 emulator. Does anyone know of one that exists? Also, if anyone knows of a list of Motorola 68000 opcodes; I would like to know. The opcodes would prove useful in creating an emulator. It is much easier and quicker to write ASM code when it can be tested without sending it to the calc via the Graph Link first.

Reply to this comment    6 February 1999, 17:54 GMT

Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"
(Web Page)

anyone ever think of making some hardware for the ti's a little motha' board looking thing that can have ports (one connecting to the calc of course) for a keyboard/mouse, speakers, ram extensions or the like... with the extra hardware and software to use it. this would of course be practically useless but hey, if mt. everest is there why not clime it twice?

Reply to this comment    2 March 1999, 23:51 GMT

Re: Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"

YES i was very insterested in building a serial interface box. I didn't know if the serial port was fast enough, but i wanted to creat one box unit which would hook up parralel to a keyboard, speakers, infraread, mabey a mouse, and also maby a printer. I think with the proper programing and hardwear THIS COULD BE DONE!
email me if any ones got some ideals@!

Reply to this comment    15 April 1999, 00:38 GMT

Re: Re: Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"
abraham mullen  Account Info

with the current pc 104(lizzy) a small computer with periferals could certanly be hooked up, but i don't know if the netwoking software exists. not to mention the issue of actually connecting it. i think that the flash rom unit would be a better choice for speed and function. the cost may be a drawback as well. Very interesting though.

btw has any one ported linux to the TI89 and or 92? i know that the software exists for macs and amigas but i havent found anything for the ti. if any one has the know-how to do this please reply.

Reply to this comment    30 September 1999, 04:00 GMT

Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"

i want a flash rom for the ti89

Reply to this comment    20 March 1999, 14:09 GMT

Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"

Where can I find flashable functions for my TI 89 and for my TI 92+ ?

Reply to this comment    31 March 1999, 15:51 GMT

Re: Re: Article: "Building OSs for Flash ROM Calculators"

Well, On Ti.com/calc, there the update of the "Advanced Math Software" (1.01 now)... And that's all actually !!
But, You can use Asm progs anyway, even if they aren't in flashRom !

Reply to this comment    11 April 1999, 01:36 GMT
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