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Thread: Sega and Microsoft Announce Partnership for Saturn OS

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    Mega Driver Hedgehog-in-TrainingMaster of Shinobi Gryson's Avatar
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    Saturn Sega and Microsoft Announce Partnership for Saturn OS

    Interesting bit of info here that seems to have been lost to history: It was heavily reported in the news in January 1994 that Sega and Microsoft had teamed up, with Microsoft to create an OS for the Saturn.

    https://mdshock.com/2020/06/22/sega-...for-saturn-os/

    It turned out to be different from what was originally reported, but I wonder what ever came of this.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gryson View Post
    Interesting bit of info here that seems to have been lost to history: It was heavily reported in the news in January 1994 that Sega and Microsoft had teamed up, with Microsoft to create an OS for the Saturn.

    https://mdshock.com/2020/06/22/sega-...for-saturn-os/

    It turned out to be different from what was originally reported, but I wonder what ever came of this.
    It did happen later with the Dreamcast and Windows CE.

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    We got it in DC but who did the OS for Saturn in the end? Is it just SEGA's?

    Cool find tho. Thank you.

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    It doesn't have an OS (as far as I know) - the hardware is running the games directly.

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    Raging in the Streets Sik's Avatar
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    It does have a boot firmware (the one with the CD player and that is in charge of determining if a game disc is inserted to let you play it), though mind that it didn't offer much to the games themselves. And yeah, I suppose it was made by Sega.

    I actually kinda lie, from what I can tell the SH-1 acting as CD controller has its own firmware too (which is embedded into the chip, which has made it undumpable so far). The main firmware doesn't have CD functions at all, games talk to the SH-1 instead, which has all the high level routines. This also is also what made it impossible to bruteforce your way with a non-DRM'd disc without replacing the chip altogether for a long while, because the SH-1 would actively get in the way no matter what you tried.

    Then Sega fucked it up with the Dreamcast with the whole MilCD fiasco.

    EDIT: note that the Dreamcast is in a similar situation than Saturn, i.e. games provide their own routines with the firmware doing little besides disc access. This also makes the marketing spectacularly annoying since people keep thinking that the Dreamcast has Windows CE when it doesn't (the games that use Windows CE include a copy of it in the disc instead).

    EDIT 2: I had also completely forgotten that the Dreamcast's CPU is a SH-4 while Saturn's are SH-2. Now wondering if the Windows CE port was originally for Saturn and later the kernel was ported to Dreamcast since the asm code would have been easy to reuse (same CPU family, after all).

    EDIT 3: OK reading this properly
    Several months later, it was reported that Microsoft were not working on a full-fledged OS, but rather a software interface to the CD-ROM drive.
    …they wrote the SH-1's firmware, didn't they?
    Last edited by Sik; 06-23-2020 at 06:54 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sik View Post
    It does have a boot firmware (the one with the CD player and that is in charge of determining if a game disc is inserted to let you play it), though mind that it didn't offer much to the games themselves. And yeah, I suppose it was made by Sega.

    I actually kinda lie, from what I can tell the SH-1 acting as CD controller has its own firmware too (which is embedded into the chip, which has made it undumpable so far). The main firmware doesn't have CD functions at all, games talk to the SH-1 instead, which has all the high level routines. This also is also what made it impossible to bruteforce your way with a non-DRM'd disc without replacing the chip altogether for a long while, because the SH-1 would actively get in the way no matter what you tried.

    Then Sega fucked it up with the Dreamcast with the whole MilCD fiasco.

    EDIT: note that the Dreamcast is in a similar situation than Saturn, i.e. games provide their own routines with the firmware doing little besides disc access. This also makes the marketing spectacularly annoying since people keep thinking that the Dreamcast has Windows CE when it doesn't (the games that use Windows CE include a copy of it in the disc instead).

    EDIT 2: I had also completely forgotten that the Dreamcast's CPU is a SH-4 while Saturn's are SH-2. Now wondering if the Windows CE port was originally for Saturn and later the kernel was ported to Dreamcast since the asm code would have been easy to reuse (same CPU family, after all).

    EDIT 3: OK reading this properly
    …they wrote the SH-1's firmware, didn't they?
    The SH-1 firmware has been dumped years ago by Doc Abrasive (he jumpered the SH1 into RAM mode, connected it to his Gameboy flashcart MCU and copied the contents to the sd card), and then by others following his work. Pretty sure it has been put into MESS a long time ago now. Not sure if the earlier versions got dumped too though, if someone writes a dumping tool for the Satiator I can grab the 1.04 version. Also, Nemesis has some prototype units with a firmware without security ring checks.

    I don't know who wrote the CD Block firmware, but the file internally says Copyright 1993 Hitachi.

    I thought the boot rom does hold the CD commands, that is it has commands that calls the SH1 to do stuff through the SH1 firmware. I could be wrong about the boot rom though, but as I recall it worked like that so nobody would have to poke the SH1 directly at any point.

    Windows CE came out in 1996, but apparently was also tested in 1995 - and it's early prerequisites included a SH3 (not SH2, but SH3) or MIPS 4000, according to Wikipedia. If they started working in 1994 then it is not impossible that at some point it was Saturn bound, but then they moved targets - but this is just speculation.

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    Raging in the Streets Sik's Avatar
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    OK I really need to look around more about Saturn (admittedly I'm not exactly the expert here, though I downloaded the docs).

    And yeah after I posted that I was wondering if 1994 wasn't too early. Though I wouldn't be surprised if there's indeed some relation, especially seeing how Microsoft did still stick with Sega for the Dreamcast.

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    If I recall correctly -- Hitachi built the SH-3 in response to companies like Microsoft who needed a high performance RISC processor with low power consumption. WinCE was designed to be somewhat compatible with Win95 (e.g. Pocket Office, long filename support etc) so I don't think it would have been in consideration during the time frame of Saturn development.

    I don't know why Sega needed Microsoft's help though? Sega had already made the Sega CD and Microsoft isn't exactly known for making optical drive firmware.
    Last edited by axel; 06-24-2020 at 01:36 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    If I recall correctly -- Hitachi built the SH-3 in response to companies like Microsoft who needed a high performance RISC processor with low power consumption. WinCE was designed to be somewhat compatible with Win95 (e.g. Pocket Office, long filename support etc) so I don't think it would have been in consideration during the time frame of Saturn development.
    Windows 95 or NT? Remember it was NT the one that ran on many architectures. In any case it's obvious that the idea was to be Windows-like (likely to help make porting easier, as many of the OS functions are identical).

    Also I was looking up and the big thing that SH-3 added was a MMU, so that's probably why Windows CE requires it.

    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    I don't know why Sega needed Microsoft's help though? Sega had already made the Sega CD and Microsoft isn't exactly known for making optical drive firmware.
    No idea but 1994 also sounds absurdly late (Saturn launched in Japan in late 1994) so they were probably trying to rush it out >_> Though it's also possible that they were working on it earlier and only announced it in 1994. Either that, or something was misunderstood and Microsoft was working on a framework instead (like was the case with the Dreamcast port of Windows CE).

    Indeed, this quote seems to make it look like something closer to a full blown framework rather than the minimal OS the Saturn has:
    Sega’s previous game consoles have not included OSs. With Microsoft supplying the OS for the Saturn, the capabilities of the machine will be enhanced, including support for character data and voice, high-definition images, and high-speed video processing. As a result, it will be able to function as a multimedia terminal capable of receiving cable television broadcasts and more, and game software development will become easier.
    …though this is also Sega, so for all we know it was a clusterfuck behind the scenes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by axel View Post
    I don't know why Sega needed Microsoft's help though? Sega had already made the Sega CD and Microsoft isn't exactly known for making optical drive firmware.
    My first thought. Why the heck would Sega be partnering with Microsoft to develop the firmware for the CD-ROM? I think that's highly unlikely.

    Quote Originally Posted by Sik View Post
    Indeed, this quote seems to make it look like something closer to a full blown framework rather than the minimal OS the Saturn has:
    But that news article is apparently inaccurate, based on what's said later (or their plans changed?).

    In giving these articles some more consideration, I think the last one is the most relevant. It features quotes from SOA marketing director Steven Payne and reveals a few important points:

    First, the original announcement of a Saturn OS came out of Sega Japan, but this article makes it clear that this is something that SOA was working on with Microsoft, so the Japanese side might have jumped the gun or misunderstood something.

    Second, why would SOA have been working on firmware (or similar) for the Saturn? I doubt SOA had much to do with any of the inner workings of the Saturn.

    Third, this quote from Payne makes it seem like even Sega isn't clear what they're working on together: "Our relationship with Microsoft is evolving and it would be premature to say exactly what it will involve." And Microsoft refuses to say anything on the matter.

    That article concludes with the vague "Microsoft’s involvement is understood to involve a software interface to the CD-ROM drive", but that could be inaccurate, or misinterpretation from the reporter. And I'm not even clear what "software interface" might refer to.

    I think the fact that Japan appears so eager to announce that Microsoft is developing an OS for the Saturn suggests that that's really what Sega wanted: A full OS that would help streamline the 'multimedia' aspect of the Saturn. Microsoft probably told them it wasn't possible given the time frame and budget, or something similar, and nothing ever came of it, but someone in Japan was eager to drum up some investor interest before the end of the fiscal year in March so they released the news prematurely.

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    That's why I was wondering if Microsoft was actually working on a framework rather than the OS itself. I know Sega themselves provided two frameworks (SBL and SGL, which are low-level and high-level respectively). They also did a disaster documenting those frameworks, but OK (SGL's documentation didn't seem to have any official translations to English after the first version which would have forced developers to pay a translator to get their way around the new features… can anybody confirm if it was otherwise?).

    The description given there seems more inline with being yet another of those frameworks, which is why I'm wondering if there was a misunderstanding there. Though the mention of multimedia terminals could also imply that Microsoft was working on an OS for those instead of Saturn as a game console. But honestly it's also possible that nobody knew what they were doing :​D

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sik View Post
    That's why I was wondering if Microsoft was actually working on a framework rather than the OS itself. I know Sega themselves provided two frameworks (SBL and SGL, which are low-level and high-level respectively). They also did a disaster documenting those frameworks, but OK (SGL's documentation didn't seem to have any official translations to English after the first version which would have forced developers to pay a translator to get their way around the new features… can anybody confirm if it was otherwise?).

    The description given there seems more inline with being yet another of those frameworks, which is why I'm wondering if there was a misunderstanding there. Though the mention of multimedia terminals could also imply that Microsoft was working on an OS for those instead of Saturn as a game console. But honestly it's also possible that nobody knew what they were doing :​D
    It's probably one of those things that just never got beyond the initial stage of "let's work together". Both companies had incentives for working together - Microsoft wanted to expand into consumer electronics and Sega wanted to expand into multimedia.

    As for development libraries and the sort, that seems really far removed from an OS. Microsoft VP Mike Maples did confirm that they were making an OS for Sega... I think that fact, and then the about-face a month later, really shows that there was never a clear plan for what was going to happen.

    And the apparent reality that Microsoft's name has never been associated with any Saturn firmware or libraries seems to indicate that the plan was quickly set aside (for the time being). But there could be something we don't know about, of course.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sik View Post
    Windows 95 or NT? Remember it was NT the one that ran on many architectures. In any case it's obvious that the idea was to be Windows-like (likely to help make porting easier, as many of the OS functions are identical).
    Pretty sure it was 95, NT had much higher RAM requirements so it would be harder to port over and would have run a lot slower. Look at Microsoft's previous mobile projects, WinPad started off on Win 3.1 and then moved to Win95, the interface is similar to WinCE.

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