The Twists and Turns of the Amiga Saga
Since the Amiga was launched it has seen a great many changes many for the better, most for the worst. Amiga History Guide looks back to the golden age of the Amiga. Stand by with the tissues.
1980: The idea
The story begins in an Atari development lab where Jay Miner is developing 8-bit systems, such as the 2600, 400 and 800. The basic design of these machines rely upon a number of custom chips to drive the audio and graphics display. At the time Atari was one of the most successful companies of the time, occupying the position held by Nintendo or Sony today. However, Jay has become increasingly bored with the machine design. Instead of further refining existing technology, he proposes the development of a new computer based upon the Motorola 68000 processor. Atari refuse, content with the 8-bit cashcow that they have created – a fatal error on their part that eventually leads to the video game crash of the mid-1980s. In frustration Miner quits Atari and moves to Zimast where he designs chips for pacemakers.
1982: Below the radar
The story picks up again in 1982 when Jay Miner receives a telephone call from Larry Kaplan – a former colleague who left Atari to create Activision. Like Miner, Kaplan had become frustrated with the current market and was searching for investors to start a game company. By luck, Jay knew three dentists who wanted to invest $7 million into the growing games market. This led to the creation of Hi-Toro, based in Santa Clara (USA). During this time Dave Morse is recruited as Chief Executive Officer, who leaves his role as vice-president of marketing at Tonka Toys to take the job.
However, the continued delays associated with managing a business were beginning to show on Larry Kaplan, who becomes increasingly impatient with the company’s slow pace and leaves his position as vice president. To fill Kaplan’s former position Dave Morse offers the job to Miner, who is still working for Zimast at the time. With Miner onboard, Hi-Toro begins to distinguish itself from other developers. In a 1988 interview with Amiga User International, Miner indicates that the creation of the Lorraine prototype was his idea soon after joining Hi-Toro:
I had wanted for years to build a super personal computer based around the Motorola sixty-eight thousand micro processor. Atari had turned me down and here was my big chance, as long as it could be sold in a stripped down, low-cost version version for video games Dave Morse and the financial backers were happy. As long as it was unlimited in its expandability as a high level home computer, I was happy”
To enable the development, Hi-Toro was divided into two groups – the Atari Peripheral group consisted of marketers and manufacturers that developed Hi-Toro’s joysticks and games for the Atari 2600. These include the PowerStick and JoyBoard – game controllers that demonstrate the pioneering spirit of game development during the 1980s, as well as a small selection of simplistic games. The second group was the computer development team, who would work on a project codenamed ‘Lorraine’, named after Dave Morse’s wife. Although the group was small initially, they had lofty intentions. The aim of the Lorraine prototype was to create a monster game machine that had a 3.5″ floppy drive and a keyboard. It was predicted that third party developers, such as Activision and Imagic, would be the dominant game designers, so Hi-Toro made it as easy as possible to directly develop games. This was a radical move for the market; Atari, like the contemporary Nintendo and Sony were trying to create a closed system and fight 3rd party developers. Hi-Toro were creating a machine that would reject this concept, opening the flood gates to hundreds of potential developers. In the AUI interview Jay Miner describes his experience of viewing of a military flight simulator developed by Singer-Link. Impressed by what he saw, Miner begins to consider the use of blitters to improve the graphics capabilities. This is eventually developed into HAM (Hold and Modify) during 1985. This made it possible to display 4096 colours at the screen by changing the colour registers. However, early reports suggest that he was willing to remove these capabilities when he realized how slow it was. It was only when the motherboard designer informed him its removal would leave a hole in the middle of the motherboard that he accepts that it will be present in the final version – a wise decision that would distinguish the Commodore Amiga from its Atari rival many years later.
A final significant event that took place during 1982 is the company’s’ name change. In an attempt to distinguish itself from the Japanese lawnmower firm ‘Toro’, the company name is changed to ‘Amiga Incorporated’. The reason for the choice of Amiga has become legendary – Miner wanted a ‘friendly’ name that would dispel the air of confusion that surrounds most computers. As the Spanish word for female friend, Amiga fitted this profile. The fact that it came before Apple and Atari in listings also helped. Although Miner was unhappy with the name initially, he soon realized the impact that it could have.
1983: From design concept to breadboard
For many businesses in the early gaming industry, 1983 was a dark time. It was becoming increasingly evident that the market was on the brink of collapse, a crash so severe that the media were beginning to question if the computer entertainment industry itself was just a short-lived phenomenon. Even the Warner-owned Amiga Corp. were tightening their belts, ceasing software and hardware development in a haphazard fashion. Amiga Inc. were also feeling the effects. Although the Atari peripherals had generated a steady revenue stream during the previous year, they were loosing money fast. The Lorraine turned into their only chance of salvation and they chose to recruit new staff to work on the Lorraine prototype. This included Bob Burns, Glenn Keller, Dale Luck, RJ Mical (Software Engineer) , Dave Needle, Ron Nicolson, Bob Pariseau and Carl Sassenrath. The influx of fresh blood allowed the project team to be split into two groups – hardware and software. Jay Miner led the hardware development team, while Dale Luck and his group concentrated on getting the OS working through software simulation. In an interview RJ Mical described his role at Amiga Inc:
” I started as Software Engineer at Amiga where I contributed to the graphics library development. I created Intuition, the Amiga’s user interface and windowing/menu system — what a haul that was: seven months of 100-hour weeks to get it finished in time for the launch of the Amiga! I was Director of System Software for a while too. I didn’t help develop the Joyboard (a joystick controller in the form of a skiboard), but I was a user. We created a game for it called the Zen Meditation game. The object was to sit in lotus-position on the Joyboard and move as little as possible for as long as possible. The goal was to reach Nirvana by accumulating bonus kharma points. It’s a long story; I guess you had to be there… “
By September 1983 the custom chip prototypes were mostly finished- there were 3 in all: Agnus (Address Generator), Daphne, that would later be renamed Denise (Display Adapter) and Portia, eventually called Paula (Ports and Audio). The only problem was shrinking them, they looked more like something from a mainframe rather than the next generation of microcomputer. Amiga Inc. were also suffering from a severe cash flow crisis. Several employees were forced to take out second mortgages or find finances elsewhere to support the company. The dream was close to completion, but could easily have been destroyed.
1984: First sightings
After two years of development the world got its first look at Amiga Inc’s hardware. In an attempt to finance the project, the Lorraine was shown to several interested investors at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago on January 4th, 1984. However, the custom chips weren’t finished and the entire project was still held together by four breadboards. During the show RJ Mical and Dale Luck wrote a bouncing ball animation – a demo that showed a red & white sphere bouncing around the screen. The ‘Boing Ball’ soon became a symbol of the Amigas technical prowess and was later adopted as a symbol of rebellion against the Commodore management. Although there was considerable interest in the hardware, the show did not produce any conclusive results.
By this time debts were piling up and the Amiga team were forced to place all they owned on the line, Dave Morse took out a second mortgage on his house. In an attempt to gain outside funding Amiga Inc. made an appeal to Sony, Apple, Silicon Graphics, Atari, and many others. Although these companies expressed an interest in the Amiga, they did not provide a suitable offer. Steve Jobs of Apple made the excuse that there was too much hardware, even though the newly redesigned board consisted of just three chips. Only Atari Inc. (managed by Warner at the time) made a serious offer for the Amiga custom chips, loaning $500,000 to keep the company alive while a license agreement was constructed. In a 1992 interview, Miner indicated the deal was a last ditch attempt:
“Atari gave us $500,000 with the stipulation that we had one month to come to a deal with them about the future of the Amiga chipset or pay them back, or they got the rights. This was a dumb thing to agree to but there was no choice.”
The tentative plans between Amiga and Atari incorporated terms that Atari would purchase one million preferred shares of Amiga at $3 each by September 1st. However, Atari knew that Amiga, Inc. could not pay back the money and started to play dirty, reducing the amount offered to just 98 cents per share for the company. To make matters worse, Atari only wanted the Amiga technology in an attempt to get into the 16 bit market before Commodore (who were working on a Unix box) and had no interest in the team that created it. Amiga grudgingly accepted the offer. However, the Atari deal soon turned sour. On Tuesday July 3rd, Atari employees were informed all 8-bit projects have been canceled and the Amiga project was on hold. Facing cancellation the Amiga team began to look around for other options in an attempt to find a buyer.
While these events are being played out, Jack Tramiel leaves Commodore with half of the engineering staff and is sued by the company for breach of Commodore’s propietary secrets. Just a few days later Tramiel purchases Warner’s Atari Consumer company to take advantage of its existing manufacture and distribution channels and renames Tramiel Technologies to Atari Corp. He subsequently discovers the original Atari/Amiga agreement and files a $100 million suit in the Santa Clara County Superior Court on Monday, August 13th against Commodore & Jay Miner individually, charging a breach of contract. Atari suggest that Amiga fraudulently dealt with other potential buyers after agreeing to negotiate licensing specific microprocessors to Atari Inc. in return for the $500,000 advance payment. In an attempt to gain revenge on his old company for suing him, Tramiel sought damages and an injunction to prevent Amiga from delivering or selling chips to any other company.
Fortunately help is at hand and Commodore decide that the Amiga is worth the potential cost. Two days later, on August 15th, Commodore International Ltd. announced they would purchase the cash strapped Amiga Inc. In a moment of rebellion, the Amiga team persuaded Commodore to raise its bid to $4.25 a share and give them $1,000,00 to pay their Atari debts. A few weeks the Amiga hardware and its creators moved to the newly created subsidiary, ‘Commodore-Amiga Inc.’ and continued to develop the newly renamed Amiga computer with 27 million dollars of extra development money. The Amiga had been saved!!!
The newly formed Commodore-Amiga started to upgrade the Amigas design, turning the Lorraine game machine into a fully fledged computer, that would eventually become the Commodore-Amiga 1000. The computer shows many characteristics of a high-end workstation (for the time). The memory was doubled to 256K and a neat “garage” desktop unit was built that allowed the keyboard to actually fit under the machine. Jay Miner recalled the early days at Commodore with nostalgia:
“Commodore was very good for AMIGA in the beginning. They made many improvements in the things that we wanted but we did not have the resources to accomplish. The AMIGA originally only had three hundred and twenty colours across the screen, even in the six forty mode. They also improved the colour by moving the NTSC converter off the chip. They paid off our creditors including my loans to the company and they got us a beautiful facility is Los Gatos and most surprising in 1984, sent the entire company, including wives and sweethearts out to New York for a grand AMIGA launching party at the Rockerfeller Centre” (Jay Miner, AUI Interview, 1998)
For those familiar with Commodore’s later treatment of the Amiga, its early days were marked by uncharacteristic generosity. Perhaps Commodore genuinely believed that they had found the holy grail to the 16-bit market. As part of the arrangement Commodore insisted upon their own schedule. Originally intended as an entirely mouse driven system, ‘Intuition’ was taking some time to develop into a full computer operating system. In an attempt to meet their deadline, Commodore employed the British developers, MetaComCo to port a version of Tripos and incorporate it into the existing code (Note the similarities to the Linux decision during 1999). However, the results was far below the expectations of Jay Miner and his team, lacking many of the features that they had intended (resource-tracking, etc.).
1985: Before its Time
While Commodore were focussing their resources into the Amiga, the Tramiel-owned Atari had not abandoned their goal of 16-bit domination. Through the use of off-the-shelf hardware and software the company constructed their own 16-bit platform – the Atari ST – in record time. This used a 68k port of the CP/M operating system, which was integrated with the GEM user interface. The result was a single tasking OS that required a love of the colour green to be used over a long period. However, its quick design made it significantly cheaper and easier to manufacture, appearing several months before the Commodore AMIGA. In spite of their initial defeat, Jack Tramiel demonstrated a willingness to dominate his former company in the market place.
Just 11 months after Commodore had bought the ailing Amiga Inc, they unveiled the product of that union. The Commodore Amiga (the initial name of the Amiga 1000) was unveiled at the Lincoln Centre in New York on July 23rd in a media frenzy. For the launch Commodore had hired Andy Warhol & Debbie Harry (lead singer of Blondie) to demonstrate the Amiga’s graphics capabilities using Island Graphics Graphicraft. This was accompanied by a full score synthesized by Roger Powell and Mike Boom, author of Musicraft.
The Commodore Amiga was officially launched in September 1985 for £1,500. The world’s first Amiga magazine – Amiga World – was launched soon after. At the time this price was a major detractor that placed it in the high-end region occupied by the Apple Macintosh. In comparison, the Atari ST was selling for less than half the price. It was later recognized that this was Commodores’ first mistake. Rather than promoting the Amiga as a professional machine, they sought to replicate the success of the Atari ST. However, the Atari ST had built a steady market since its launch that made it a difficult adversary, with the Amiga playing second fiddle to the ST regarding game releases.
It is difficult to indicate just how advanced the Amiga was compared to other systems. Apple had a graphical interface but was largely restricted to the black and white monitor display, whilst PCs were still horrible text based systems. The Amiga also had an ace up its sleeve by the fact that it was TV compatible and could be used for editing footage. A task that even now the Mac and PC cannot do as standard. The Juggler demo, consisting of a character juggling reflective balls in a 3D environment, attracted customers to the graphical capabilities. This spurred Electronic Arts to rewrite their IBM PC package, Prism (which was an enhanced port of Doodle for Xerox machines) and release it for the Amiga during September. The rewrite was christened Deluxe Paint and the rest is history.
1986: Creating a Cult
At this early point in the Amiga’s history Commodore weren’t complacent, and started developing two new systems based upon the A1000. The first, titled the A2000, was designed by two teams- the original Amiga creators in Los Gatos, USA, and another in Germany. However, in a wave of cost cutting the Los Gatos facility was closed, the original crew were laid off, and the German design was chosen. . The original Amiga team became increasingly disgruntled with Commodore, both for their lack of innovation and the way they were selling the machine. Although it is considered to be technically inferior and was not considered to be a suitable follow-up to the newly renamed Amiga 1000, Jay Miner was pleased with the direction that the high-end models were being taken, with an emphasis upon expandability.
In the market place, the ST, receiving numerous conversions of past titles was still beating the Amiga. The most successful market at the time was in America, although Commodore appeared half-hearted about selling the Amiga as a serious machine. Allowing the likes of IBM and Apple to dominate the industry and move into the home.
1987: “We sell to the masses, not the classes”
This year saw the first major system upgrade with the release of the high-end Amiga 2000 and the low-end Amiga 500. The A2000 was promoted as a multimedia machine in the USA. In Europe, the A500 began to take over the ST’s market, finally getting games that used the machines advantages. Despite its increased cost in comparison to the ST, the Amiga 500 became the object of desire for many people, promoting the initial move from existing 8-bit machines (such as the Spectrum and Amstrad) into 16-bit technology. The machine represented a changing goal for Commodore. They had come upon the Amiga quite by accident but, through a combination of innovative hardware and operating system with Commodore’s ability to sell to the masses, the Amiga was a sure fire hit, redefining the home computer market and making so-called luxury features such as multitasking and colour a standard long before Microsoft or Apple sold these to the masses.
In the Commodore boardroom dramatic events were unfolding. On April 22, Chairman Irving Gould replaced Rattigan who was currently in control of Commodore. It is unclear as to why he was replaced after turning the company around. The company had posted $28 million in profits over the four quarters ending in March 1987. Rattigan claimed that Chairman Gould forced him out due to personality conflicts and that Gould was upset about Rattigan getting credit for the company’s turnaround. Gould argued that the profits in the U.S. were nothing compared to the drop on market share overseas where 70% of its market was. Under Gould’s control, the North American operation was changed from an independent operation to a sale and marketing division. The payroll was also cut from 4,700 to 3,100, including half the North American headquarters’ corporate staff, and five plants were closed.
1988: Taking over the world
The Amiga began to overtake the Atari ST in the marketplace with more games being released that simply could not be done on the ST. In an attempt to challenge Commodore’s purchase of Amiga Inc. in 1984, Atari took Commodore to court claiming that it had given money to research the Amiga. Commodore won the battle. The 8-bit market took a sky dive as full price games dropped considerably in sales, only to be revived by a growing budget market, headed by the likes of Codemasters and Alternative, persuading the big boys to stay with 8-bit for another 3 years. This was the year that the 16-bit market began to develop in the UK and several long-running Amiga magazines were launched.
1989: There may be trouble ahead
Cracks were beginning to be shown in Commodores armour as Microsoft and Apple began to really take over the workplace. Commodore allowed the entire market to stagnate, safe in the knowledge that their old enemy, Atari was dead in the water. However, there was evidence that many of Commodore’s old tactics were no longer working. Canadian records for January 31st indicate the company was charged $40,000 for ‘price discrimination’ (price fixing). In spite of these warnings only minor upgrades were made available during 1989, such as the Amiga chipset being upgraded to allow 1MB Chip Ram. Only the UK market was marketing the Amiga effectively. David Pleasance, future head of Commodore UK, creates the “A500 Batman bundle” This sold thousands of the machine and is largely responsible for the boom in Amiga ownership during the early 1990’s.
1990: Reinventing the system
The Amiga world expanded further with the release of the A3000 on April 24th. A long overdue advancement that boasted 32-bit technology, SCSI and a major upgrade to the operating system. Unlike the ugly appearance of Workbench 1.x, Workbench 2 finally looked something like a professional system with a “clean” blue and grey desktop. However, the Commodore management were having problems communicating product announcements – just 30 minutes prior to it’s announcement, Commodore denied the A3000 existed! This was followed by the launch of the CDTV for £699 in June. Promoted as the first mainstream CD entertainment system, the CDTV was basically an A500 with 1MB RAM and a CD drive that was marketed towards the mainstream market. In a particularly interesting move, Commodore International indicated the unit should not be placed with five meters of the computing section in high-street shops, confusing retailers and the public alike. Sun attempted to get an OEM license to produce A3000UX computers as a low end UNIX workstation. However, Commodore management lose the deal. In other news NewTek release their long awaited Video Toaster for the Amiga placing the Amiga as the definitive kit for the graphic video market.
1991: Standing still
The deep cracks in Commodore turn to huge tidal waves as many people loose faith in the market. Commodore launch a low-end upgrade to the A500 – the Amiga 500 plus – without informing anyone that they were shipping the product and the CDTV was canceled. In the high-end market, the A3000T is announced and launched. The Amiga 3000+ is also shown as a future product. However, it is later scrapped in favour of the A4000. The console market expands destroying the Amigas’ domination of the home computer market.
1992: The Next Generation
The year begins with the market finally coming to terms with the A500+, only to discover that the replacement machine, the A600 was about to be released in March. The A600 was a nightmare of design, using surface mounted technology to shrink the motherboard while retaining the A500’s price. In an attempt to compete with Nintendo and Sega’s growing domination of the consumer market, the A600 is promoted as a console with a keyboard. Many users commented that it looked like a white Spectrum 48K, whilst others hated the lack of a numeric keypad. Early buyers were also annoyed by several price reductions of the hardware, dropping from £399 to £199. It did, however introduce the world to PCMCIA technology…
It is widely agreed that the A600 should never have been launched, especially as a machine with a new chipset was just around the corner. Excitement grew as news of the A4000 reached the public- a new chipset titled AA (Advanced Amiga) – was finally confirmed at the World of Commodore in Pasadena, USA on September 11th. This was hailed as:
“the company’s most significant new technology advancementin its Amiga line since the product’s introduction in 1985.”
For many enthusiasts the news indicated that Commodore were finally taking the PC/Mac threat seriously. The AA chipset was quickly renamed AGA (Advanced Graphics Architecture) to avoid confusion with the Automobile Association in the European market. The new graphics hardware allowed 256 colours to be displayed at the same time, from a palette of 16.7M colours. The original HAM mode had also been upgrade to HAM-9 allowing 256,000 colours on screen colours. On the software side, the updated Amiga OS 3.0 provided a serious contender to competing operating systems, showing the first indications that Commodore would drop the custom chipset and move to a retargetable display. The release featured CrossDOS (allowing access to PC disks), datatypes (an attempt at adding system-wide plugins), localization (allowing multi language configuration), a standard installer utility, improvements to the file system (increased speed using directory caching as well as better support for international, non-English characters) , and much more…
Two AGA machines were launched during 1992. The chipset first appeared in the high-end Amiga 4000. This wet the appetite of the Amiga faithful and disproving the arguments that the new machine would be incompatible with existing software. By upgrading the product line to 32-bit whilst retaining compatibility with most OCS/ECS software,the Amiga had decimated the last challenge of the Atari ST and ensured that the Falcon was doomed to obscurity. However, developers were looking at it bitterly after seeing the pre-production models that had been produced, that in most cases were significantly better than the A4000.
This was soon followed by the launch of the low-end AGA system, the A1200. Although significantly delayed until December, the machine was able to replicate the popularity of the A500. The Amiga product line was finally being upgraded, but trouble lay around the corner.
1993: Trouble looming
The year was a turning point that would produce both good and bad news. The year began with news of a price cut for most of the product line in February, followed by the announcement that Commodore had broken previous records with over 100,000 sales since the A1200’s launch in April. However, the company continued to announce losses. This did not prevent them from diversifying the market further by announcing a third AGA system called the CD32. Similar to the earlier CDTV, it was a keyboardless Amiga (in this case, the A1200) that would be sold to non-computer users. There were indications that Commodore had finally learnt their lesson; much was made of the machine being the first 32-bit CD-based console on the market and a great deal of effort had been made to encourage developers to release products for the console. This ploy seemed to have worked; between its launch in September 1993 and most of the following year CD32 titles were outselling other CD formats by a dramatic margin, beating the established Mega/Sega CD and the upstart PC CD-ROM. However, the machine was labeled as a last ditch attempt at the console market, in a time when the 16-bit platforms had already gained dominance. There were also accusations that Commodore had not resolved the absence of multimedia or educational titles that plagued the CDTV release. During its early development, this would be the main area of expansion for the PC CD-ROM market.
The A1200 remained the most highly desired machine of 1993, but the PC was eyeing the machine with a vulture’s gaze, ready to attack the traditional Amiga market – the home.
1994: Good-bye old Friend
A defining year that marked the end of the Commodore years and the Amigas’ long stay in the wilderness. In March, the company announced a fourth AGA machine – the Amiga 4000T. However, they were unable to release it in sufficient numbers. After months of speculation Commodore International filed for liquidation to protect it from its creditors at 4:10PM on April 29th. This immediately stranded the remaining subsidiaries by limiting the number of available machines. Commodore UK issued warnings that their supply would be depleted by September, creating the first Amiga famine. In many countries this did not matter, several subsidiaries, notably Commodore Australia had closed in previous months and many were soon to follow. In an attempt to resurrect the company, David Pleasance of Commodore UK cited his aim to initiate a management buyout and operate the company under the name of ‘Amiga International’. In an interview Colin Proudfoot commented:
“There should be no impact in the UK marketplace… The brand is too strong to die: we’re confident that Commodore and the Amiga will come out of this a better, stronger company.”
As time passed and the final stock of Amigas ran out it became increasingly clear that they may be unable to afford too buy the company, At one point it was claimed that a large bank was supporting them but this appears too have come to nothing. Time slipped away and the PC took over the Amigas position in the home. This was soon followed by the news that Jay Miner passed away at the El Camino Hospital in Mountain View on June 20th. The cause of death was heart failure as a result of kidney complications. 1994 was a bleak year…
1995: Back for the Future…
1995 surprisingly began a second after 1994 ended and saw the Amiga in the same basic position – a computer without an owner. In January, Chelsea Football club considered taking legal action against Commodore for money they never received for sponsorship. Buyout dates came and went, until April 20th when the Amiga and Commodore as a whole went up for sale. Interested parties included Commodore UK, IBM, Dell, Escom, CEI and Samsung. In the end, Escom walked away with the rights to Commodore and the Amiga. Although at first they only appeared interested in the Commodore name, they were forced to bid for the whole thing. An action that for many people signaled Escom’s exact interest in the Amiga – nothing.
Under their governance, Escom quickly separated the Commodore and Amiga brand names, badging new PCs (as well as speakers, keyboards, and anything else they could think of) with the redesigned Commodore logo. Amiga sales and development would be handled by a new subsidiary called Amiga Technologies, headed by a number of Amiga people, including Jonathan Anderson. There was even discussions of Amiga set-top Internet boxes from a company called VISCorp, who had became the first company ever to license Amiga technology. However, Amiga owners became increasingly skeptical as promised machines failed to materialize in the shops. It was finally a rainy day at the end of October when the new Amiga Magic pack appeared. A4000 wannabes had to wait until February of 1996 just to buy their machines. There was also concerns that Escom were expanding too rapidly and making significant losses as a result. History looked set to repeat itself.
Another turbulent year as Amiga Technologies announced they were closing their offices in Maidenhead and moving into the Escom UK department. Jonathan Anderson left the company just months after attacking Amiga Power magazine for trying to kill the Amiga, and Amiga users in general felt that they had been abandoned. He is quickly replaced by long time Amiga enthusiast, Petro Tyschtschenko. Skeptic’s signaled this was the end of Escoms interest in the Amiga. They would be proven wrong with the surprise appearance of the Mind Walker ( named after the first computer game Commodore published) and the announcement of the Power Amiga. The Walker was quite a departure from the classic Amiga design, looking like a cross between a Hoover and K9 out of Doctor Who. It also allowed expansion through Zorro slots or the cheaper PCI. There were also a number of announcements from companies such as PIOS (now MetaBox) and Phase 5 that new Amiga-compatible systems such as the TransAM and the A/Box were in development. However these would not be available for another 2-3 years at the best estimate. Elsewhere, the long time competitor of Commodore over the home computing market, Atari was bought by JTS Corp, a hard disk drive manufacturer.
As Escom entered its final stages in July they attempted to raise capital by negotiating a deal with VISCorp too buy the Amiga. VISCorp announced they would abandon the Walker and continue with their Amiga Internet set-top box. Any other company who wished to develop the Amiga technology would be licensed the operating system. However, as the year progressed stories of Viscorp being unable to pay their own employees cast their Amiga acquisition into doubt. In October they quietly dropped out of the Amiga buyout. December saw a surprise announcement from Quikpak, communicating their intentions to buy the Amiga. These events, however, could not stop the Amiga falling behind even further.
1997: First Goal- Support the existing Amiga community
The Amiga seemed to be finally near the end. In the past year numerous magazines had closed, the software market was in tatters and the fight over the Amiga ownership hearkened back to the beginning of 1995. However, Quikpak remained confident they could purchase the Amiga, announcing their final bid for the Amiga assets. At the time Quikpak seemed to be the last hope for the Amiga. They had manufactured the machines for Escom, had new A4000 derivatives in development and plans to port the OS to Dec Alpha. The announcement of the final decision was promised before February 28th. As the events unfolded, Amiga developers were oblivious to the mega corporations circling over the Amiga. The former bidder, Dell had returned to purchase the product they had missed in 1995. This was soon followed by Gateway 2000. Both were PC manufacturers and visibly loyal to Microsoft. At the time they were only interested in the 47 patents associated with the Amiga. A rare prize!
Whatever the outcome of the legal battle, the numerous businesses fighting for the Amiga unleashed a new wave of confidence in the platform that resulted in a second generation of Amiga games. Since the death of Commodore it had been assumed that the Amiga’s role as a games platform was over. However, a new generation of games appeared in March, spurred by a stream of bedroom programmers. An unofficial Myst slideshow unexpectedly and an illegal (and very slow at just 4fps) Quake port appeared on Aminet. Although questionable, both slideshows demonstrated a demand for new games that used the updated hardware of current Amigas. As a result clickBOOM picked up both titles and ported them to the Amiga in an official capacity.
Meanwhile the aftermath of Viscorp’s brush with the Amiga were being felt. Almathera Systems Ltd. announced their closure, citing cash flow problems as a result of nonpayment by VIScorp for their work on the ED. Village Tronic were also involved in litigation with Amiga Technologies over their sale of Amiga OS3.1 Upgrades, leaving the upgrade in short supply. The only good news was that Carl Sassenrath, creator of EXEC, CDXL and former Viscorp employee, was busy developing a language called Lava. The name would soon change its name to Rebol, showing that the ideals behind parts of the Amiga were not dead. This language would play an important part in the counter-Amiga movement two years later.
Phase 5 were also continuing to work on the PowerUP boards they had developed in conjunction with Amiga Technologies. The death of Escom had turned the short term patches to the existing AmigaOS into a long term development plan. Cautious that there may not even be a future for the official Amiga, phase 5 set about channeling the Amiga market into their own A/Box machine. If the Amiga was to die the market would continue with a PowerPC computer that represented many of the ideals. The Retargetable Graphics market was also picking up with the release of CyberVision 64 and Picasso IV. At the time the competition between graphics cards was as fierce as the PPC kernel would be in future years.
After months of waiting the fate of the Amiga was settled and the winner was Gateway 2000. At the last minute Dell had decided against the purchase and had registered a no-bid. Although the company were originally bidding for the patents, the inclusion of several million Amiga users attracted Gateway’s attention. Gateway’s relationship with Microsoft was going through a rough patch at the time and in an attempt to tweak the nose of both Intel and Microsoft they set up a new subsidiary, renaming Amiga Technologies to Amiga International. For the moment, Petro Tyschtschenko remained in charge of the company.
At the World of Amiga 97 in Novotel, London, the new company outlined their plans for the rebirth of the Amiga. First on the agenda was the development of a new version of the operating system by spring of 1998. Petro indicated they would take the majority of the software from the existing Amiga market, incorporating PD enhancements such as MCP, as well as standardized support for Retargetable graphics and sound. It was also planned to include a TCP stack and Universal Serial Bus (USB) support. This would eventually cumulate in the release of AmigaOS 3.5 two years later (although Amiga owners were waiting for USB support until 2002). Beyond the 68k processor, Amiga International committed themselves to the PowerPC once again, promising to port the AmigaOS and release it during the second half of 1998. The company were not intending to develop the hardware themselves, but would license it to others, such as phase 5 and PIOS for use with the A/BOX and TransAM. However, Amiga International soon had their first turnaround, deciding against their software-only policy and announcing they would also be developing a ‘Power Amiga’. It was a decision the company would agonize over for some time.
The purchase of the Amiga by Gateway 2000 invigorated the market more than Escom had ever done. The first sign of Amiga International’s influence was felt, with the licensing of the Amiga technology to a range of companies. For the first time Amiga Clones were making their way onto the shelves under a new logo, “Powered by Amiga”. The clones were simply repackaged A1200’s in a tower case but it was a start. There was also news of Index Information developing a new Amiga called the Access, aimed at Point of Sale platform. The company had a hard time developing expansions for the Amiga (see CD32x) during the Commodore time so it was good to see them finally using the Amiga to their advantage.
Later, at the Computer ’97 show, Petro Tyschtschenko would expand on the reasoning behind this policy, revealing two tiers to their plans for the Amiga. The main functions of these were:
- Support the existing Amiga community and leverage the technology through licensing
- Assist in developing new products based on open standards to the home computer and video/graphics market.
The first two areas were covered by Amiga International during 1997 and the beginning of 1998. Alongside this Amiga Inc. were busy developing new products. The fruits of the labour would be first shown at the World of Amiga ’98 with the introduction of Digital Convergence to the Amiga market and develop into the Amiga OE.
Who owns the Amiga?
The sale of the Amiga to Gateway was followed on July 17th by a press release announcing the acquisition of the far east rights by Lotus Pacific. Surely Gateway had not sold the Amiga already? The confusion continued when the company announced the release of the WonderTV A6000 multimedia computer. The purchase was quickly refuted by Gateway. As the story unfolded it became clear that the acquisition was based upon a deal made with Escom two years previous. An examination of the original Escom press release indicates a license was only given for production and trading, not complete ownership of Amiga patents in that area of the world. At the time there appeared to be a huge court battle looming over the Amiga again, until the two companies reached an agreement.
As had been suspected, the promises of an upgrade to AmigaOS 3.1 by the end of the year were exaggerated. Amiga International simply acted as a representative of Amiga, they were unable to develop software themselves. The first signs of progress from Gateway came in September with the founding of a second subsidiary – Amiga Inc. Taking its name from the first Amiga company, their primary concern was the future development of the Amiga, leaving Amiga International to take care of sales and marketing. The general manager of the new subsidiary was Jeff Schindler. He had worked for Gateway for some time, developing the Destination for them and had a knowledge of Commodore products. Along with the announcement Petro Tyschtschenko made another release date for the newly named AmigaOS 3.5 during Spring 1998 at the latest, with new hardware following in the Winter. Yet another unrealistic release date was set, surprising few when it was broken.
The company got off too a good start, meeting members of the ICOA to brainstorm ideas for the new Amiga and show the world that there were people in charge that actually cared about the product. Andy Finkel, who many will remember from the Commodore days, was invited to give his view on the future of the Amiga, as well as introducing Joe Torre and Fleecy Moss. Names that would go down in Amiga history.
As the year drew to a close optimism was high in the Amiga market. The purchase of the Amiga by Gateway 2000 had given developers new hope and a range of new software and hardware was being developed. The revelation of new 68k Amigas appearing for the first time since 1994 (BoXeR, DCE A5000, Micronik A1500) was showing that the Amiga was not dead yet. The promised PPC boards from phase 5 were also finally arriving, allowing the Amiga to begin the transition from 68k to PowerPC. Problems relating to Amiga emulation and piracy were also confronted with the licensing of the Amiga OS and ROMs by Cloanto. Behind the scenes, talks between Amiga Inc. and Be were going on, regarding licensing part of the BeOS, but no one was saying anything yet.
Behind them was a successful year that had allowed the company to keep the Amiga market alive and provide fresh supplies of Amiga parts. In front of them lay the future – a future that would move the Amiga into higher circles and once again take on fresh challenges. But as current Amiga owners know, it took them a while to work everything out…
1998: Second Goal- Assist in developing new products based on open standards
At the end of 1997 everything seemed to be set out – supplies of existing Amigas were available and the future promised an Amiga revolution. Now that the future was finally here it did not look so bright. On January 1st, 1998 an announcement was made on the Amiga Inc. web site that the future of the existing Amiga lay in a combined 68k+PPC solution. This already existed in the form of the phase 5 PowerUP cards. It was suspected that this would premeditate the release of fast PPC-based Amiga clones. It seemed an official endorsement of the current state of the Amiga market. This lead to an announcement of cooperation between Index Information Ltd, Blittersoft and Phase 5 to develop PPC expansion for the planned Boxer system. The news was followed on March 10th by the announcement that phase 5 had licensed the AmigaOS and were developing the Pre/Box – an AmigaOS 3.1 compatible computer that would use a 68k and 4 PowerPC processors, allowing extremely fast rendering time. However, Amiga Inc. would later distance themselves from the announcement stating Joe Torre did not have authorization to make such a choice. HiQ (later known as Siamese Systems) also announced the development of Project Alpha, an effort to port the AmigaOS to the Alpha chip. A similar idea had been suggested by Quikpak the previous year. At the time the processor was one of the fastest on the market, making it ideal for the Amigas efficient multimedia. There were also plans to develop an Amiga on a card called the Inside Out (later known as Siamese PCI). The idea had been around since the Escom days but this was the first definite proof that one was being developed.
The software market was also particularly buoyant. The source code to Doom and Descent had been released, leading to a series of Amiga ports, Myst had already been announced, and now Quake was getting the official treatment. The game was worth the wait when it was finally released but the lack of PowerPC support resulted in many people downloading an illegal copy (FastQuake, etc.). The release of the Netscape Navigator source code also lead to suggestions it could be ported to the Amiga. After a few months of nothing, FreeAmiga picked it up and began the arduous task of rewriting the code to work on Amiga. Finally after being left in the cold for so long, the Amiga seemed to be attracting new software to fill the gap.
In a separate announcement, ‘Gateway 2000’ shortened their name to just ‘Gateway’ and announced a shift in how customers use PCs. In a press release, Ted Waitt stated,
“More than ever before, consumers and business users are looking for solutions that are tailored to their specific requirements – technology that adapts to them, rather than forces them to adapt.”
It soon became clear that this unrelated announcement would play a major part in Gateway’s role with the Amiga, promoting it as one many potential successors to the desktop market.
Change in direction
In retrospect the first signs of things happening came with the Joe Torre PPC announcement at the beginning of the year. Although Amiga Inc. were unwilling to perform the task themselves, they were open to the notion that it be ported to a non-68k processor. This was soon followed by comments made by Jeff Schindler at the St. Louis show that Amiga Inc. were more interested in developing software and leaving others to the hardware. A statement that would cause an uproar when it was reiterated by Tom Schmidt in September 1999. Rumours circulated that the company would make a big announcement at the World of Amiga show in London. However, the news came as a shock for everyone when Amiga Inc. contradicted previous statements that PowerPC was the future and instead indicated the next Amiga would be aimed at the Digital Convergence market – a new term that referred to a range of embedded devices aimed at the general consumer market. Examples of this include the microwave and stereo. Under the umbrella term all electronic hardware will be recognized as a computer capable of running a stripped down OS that is capable of performing tasks.
In a move that appeared to have been greatly influenced by their parent company, Gateway, they announced the next generation Amiga would run on a top-secret processor and use a third party kernel. The company were planning to make an announcement on who the kernel partner was, but at the last minute were forced to pull out due to an unspecified disagreement between the two. It was later revealed that the OS partner would have been Be, leading Amiga Inc. to use the BeOS kernel as the basis of their operating system. There was also talk of an unnamed chip, dubbed MMC (Monster Mystery Chip) by the Amiga community. Performance indicators suggested the chip was capable of 400 million pixels/second.
At the time it was indicated that the first stage would be the release of a x86-based developers system, running a beta version of the final OS. Confusingly this was to be called AmigaOS 4.0, although it had little to do with previous versions and would only act as a predecessor to the finished product that would be labeled AmigaOS 5.0. This developer system was planned for release in November, leading many to dub it the “November Box”. The choice of an x86 processor angered many Intel-phobics. At the time Usenet and mailing lists were awash with angry words of betrayal or comments that they would no longer support the Amiga. Amiga Inc. immediately issued a damage control explaining that AmigaOS 4.0 (later becoming OS5Developers, AmigaSoft, and then Amiga OE) was to be a transitional platform that would only be used as a development platform for the final product that would be launched in the year 2000. Responses to the news was mixed. Many perceived it as a betrayal while others saw it as the only way for the Amiga to survive. If Amiga Inc. were to develop new products based on open standards as they had planned, the Amiga must die and be born again rather than hanging onto the past.
The effect of this quickly became clear for many Amiga users at the WOA 1998 show. As far as Amiga Inc. were concerned AmigaOS 3.x legacy systems would go into “graceful” retirement once the new Amiga was released. To avoid confusion with the new Amigas existing 68k and PPC systems were dubbed “Classic Amiga“. Fortunately some good came out of the announcement. Recognizing it would mean an end to the existing Amiga market altogether phase 5 and Haage & Partner buried the hatchet over the PPC kernel debate and produced a unified alternative to the development system. Working until early in the morning, they proposed to develop a Classic Amiga PPC development system. Under the new deal, phase 5 would produce the hardware while H&P produce the software. Although history has indicated that these events never came to pass, Haage & Partner briefly resurrected the idea at the end of 1999.
Over the next few months information and speculation about the new Amiga began to come out. It soon became clear that the specifications were not set in stone and things were liable to change. Towards the end of 1998 the ‘MMC’ took the back burner, and the specifications were claimed to be the target rather than associated with a particular card. At the time Fleecy Moss stated that the hardware was no longer important as the OS would be the major driving force. However, he would comment just a year later that there was a ‘MMC’ graphics card in existence but the company that produced them had been bought. The producer behind the Mystery chip seemed to be clear, it was Chromatic. They had been bought by ATI soon before the announcement that the OS was the driving force.
Meanwhile the Amiga community were growing impatient over the lack of news regarding an OS partner. While it had become common knowledge that a deal with Be had fell through, the 30 day limit on a new announcement had long since past. An announcement was finally made at the Computer ’98 show on November 15th, revealing the new OS partner as QNX (pronounced Q-Nix). The QNX Neutrino kernel was welcomed by the Amiga community. Although few knew anything about it, the OS was seen as a true successor to the AmigaOS. The highly efficient design meant the kernel was just 50k in size. It could even run a web server as well as a number of utilities from a single disk. A task that even the AmigaOS cannot perform! However, the good news was soon followed by the bad when it was announced that Fleecy Moss had been sacked from Amiga Inc. Fleecy was in control of a number of projects, leading to fears that AmigaOS 3.5 had been canceled. After much discussion this was eventually contracted to Haage & Partner. However, Fleecy’s treatment led turned many developers away from Amiga Inc. damaging the OS3.5 project.
The year represented the Amigas move towards developing a new product. No longer would it be the damned offspring of Commodore. For the first time in 5 years plans were being made to turn the Amiga around. However, the development had come at a cost that would eventually lead to the market being split between QNX and Amiga. The company had been burnt a few times but had come out wiser and stronger. Once the Amiga market accepted the current situation, the merits of QNX became clear. The future looked promising but would soon become tarnished with poor choices as the Amiga was grasped as a marketing concept.
1999: The End
It was the year of announcements, clarification, cancellation and contradiction. The year when the Amiga company finally moved into high gear in developing the technology once again, but in the process sacrificed the users. Perhaps the overriding theme was the new found sense of community in the air. Programs that had been abandoned were taken up by other authors. The classic compression format, Lha was picked up by another author. Like Doom in previous years, the source code to Herectic/Hexen was released, and part of Newtek’s Video Toaster Flyer became open source allowing third parties to tie their product into the hardware. This sparked a debate on open sourcing the AmigaOS and influential figures in the Amiga world were grabbing the mind share of the Amiga users. After his departure from Amiga Inc. Fleecy Moss had joined forces with Dave Haynie to develop a new operating system called KOSH. Carl Sassenrath was also making his presence felt with the latest release of Rebol. A language that was getting glowing press attention.
In many ways Amiga users adopted an independence that had not been felt before. After listening to numerous announcements, people had stepped forward to lead the Amiga user base to the edges of their world and the mysteries that lay beyond. In the background the political situation of Amiga developers would play out, drastically affecting the unfolding events.
The mess that had been made of the Be announcement and the sacking of Fleecy Moss led Gateway to evaluate the subsidiary. For a time it seemed the company would have been closed altogether. It was only the introduction of proper leadership in the form of Jim Collas that the company was saved. Recognizing the philosophy behind the Amiga, he took a significant pay cut to drive it forward. This came in the form of a fast track plan to develop a new Amiga. As part of the move Gateway recognized their part in the lack of action, allowing it to become an entirely independent subsidiary rather than controlled by the slow movement of their parent company. This would allow Amiga Inc. to develop the technology needed for the expanding convergence market. This was soon followed by news that Amiga Inc. were planning to develop an Amiga computer themselves. The announcement was promising but it would soon become clear that Gateway did not want its child to stray too far.
Just a month later the first signs of the Amiga’s rebirth could be seen, with recruitment adverts appearing to attract developers to the new Amiga operating system. The first of those appointed was Richard Lipes who became software engineer for graphics and Audio/Video, and Dr. Rick Lefaivre as the new Chief Technology Officer. Both had an established background, working for the likes of Apple and Silicon Graphics.
The duplication of effort that came from having two separate Amiga companies was also improved, leading to the merging of the German Amiga International and the American Amiga Inc. into one company, simply called ‘Amiga’. On the 17th March, the Amiga.com and amiga.de sites merged. Previously both sites had been updated separately, leading to differing reports and news on each site. However, the merger was never entirely convincing for the user and it soon dissolved when Jim Collas left a few months later.
The Convergence market began to hot up with the announcement by IBM on 28th March that the PC era was over, Information Appliance type devices were be the next big thing. Suddenly the people that were laughing at Amigas plans for Internet Appliances stopped and began to take notice of the company. Over the next few months the eyes would widen with shock and amazement at every twist and turn.
March was also the month that the first unofficial support for the next generation Amiga was revealed. Com-Digit Journal published an article on the Amigas rebirth, indicating Corel would support the Amiga. This created a great deal of excitement at the time. The company were known for their WordPerfect suite, leading to speculation that it would soon be ported to the new OS. There was also speculation that Transmeta, the mysterious hardware company was also working with Amiga. At the time both of these rumours were rejected by Amiga as completely untrue, but just a few months later Corel officially announced support for the Amiga. However, many developers were afraid to support a non-Windows operating system. The only alternative they would support was Linux. This lead Amiga Inc. to evaluate Linux for the third time to see if it could be made to fit in with their plan, while keeping the front they were still committed to QNX.
Meanwhile, Amiga had not been standing still. The company had previously decided upon a monthly update on their web site, detailing the events of the month. The May edition of Amiga Format indicated the concept designs were almost complete, and showed the first of several. Dubbed “Kyoto” the design showed little that had not been seen before. Jeff Schindler’s influence was clear, the device looked more like a PCTV than an Amiga. In the first of the magazine-first policy, Amiga revealed all of the images in the August issue of Amiga Format. These demonstrated an assortment of designs, ranging from webpads to kitchen-top devices.
Despite Amiga’s demonstration that they were finally meeting their goals, shadowy figures at Gateway were beginning to question the actions they were taking. In an interview with the UK Guardian newspaper, Ted Waitt (Gateway CEO) indicated Amiga were not a computer company. The sentence released a stream of email to Jim Collas, president of Amiga. Accusations ranged from deliberately misleading the community to personal insults. Jim Collas attempted to repair the damage suggesting that this was Gateway’s interest in the company, but Amiga was working with a range of companies to provide a wide ranging solution. The assurance worked but it could not hide the cracks that were beginning to appear in the Amiga armour. Gateway were taking great interest in the direction of their subsidiary and were making efforts to reassert control over their direction. Events were leading to a breaking point but few would predict it would come so quickly.
Of course this did not affect the Classic market. Excitement was growing for the release of Fusion PPC. The emulator would finally allow Amiga users to run PowerMAC software. The latest specifications for the Boxer were also released. The project first began as an OEM Amiga clone based upon the AGA chipset, but after a fallout with Amiga International, led to the hardware being redeveloped, using technology from the AA+ and Boxer 2 designs. This turned out to be a wise move. After years of pushing the A1200 motherboard to its limit, a new “Classic” Amiga based upon a new design would blow the old bottlenecks away. The specifications promised AGA on a chip, no Chip RAM restrictions, a port for 64-bit PPC expansion, and 4x Active PCI slots. Many people committed themselves to buying one even if the Amiga market died. Sadly the Boxer never lived up to expectations.
The year was also a milestone for those seeking to expand their Amigas. The first commercial Amiga PowerPC game was announced during April. Unfortunately, Eat The Whistle from Hurricane Studios was delayed and the PPC-only WipeOut 2097 became the first of many. Power Computing released a version of the Power Flyer able to read DVD disks and announced a Zorro USB card. Although the hardware would require a PowerPC and an MPEG decoder to make the most of it, the expansion opened a range of possibilities. This was followed a few days later by the announcement of Shogo for the Amiga by Hyperion and Digital Images. The port of the LithTech 3D engine used in the game also opened the possibility of similar games making their way onto the Amiga. Digital Images also opened talks with Binary Asylum about the possible development of Zeewolf 3, the sequel to the 1996 classic helicopter game. However, the Zorro USB & Zeewolf 3 contracts were later shelved.
It is appropriate that July – the month of the American Independence Day – marked the beginning of a move away from the official Amiga owner and the beginning of what became a new age of independence and a stand for the community’s goals that would eventually lead to Amino buying the Amiga. The month began with news of a Java-like technology called AmigaObjects. Indications suggested it was an object-orientated language. The company’s expansion continued with the hiring of Dave Curtis as Director of Object Technology and Transaction Services, and Dr Jim Miller in charge of Amiga User Interface(s).
The press attention to the Microsoft case reveals their relationship with Gateway. Jim Von Holle, a former Gateway employee, describes how the company tried to punish Gateway for the type of software they shipped. Although largely in the background, it became increasingly clear why Gateway chose to develop an alternative to the Windows market. Unfortunately, just a few months later Gateway’s relationship with Microsoft regarding their set-top box would have a dramatic effect upon Amiga’s plans. Who could have guessed Microsoft would play a major role in the Amigas downfall?
“Delivering on our Promise to the Amiga community”
On July 8th, Dan Dodge posted an announcement to their web site stating they had silently been working over the last 7 months to bring the Amiga community a new and exciting system. The project was now ready for beta testing, leading QNX to open, what they described as the “Developers system for Amigans”. The news was greeted with enthusiasm as screenshots were finally released of the new environment. But for many users the announcement was curiously low-key. Only QNX made an announcement, Amiga were expected to make it first or at least on the same day. Also, the screenshots did not represent an Amiga look and feel. The Voyager web browser shown on one image would refer to the Amiga web site rather than QNX’s own if the product really was a joint effort. This hinted that there was something seriously wrong and partnership had been over for some time.
The next day (9/7/99) Amiga issued an announcement that QNX were no longer the OS partner for the AmigaNG. Instead they would use the Linux kernel. The day was quickly dubbed BLACK FRIDAY by Amiga users everywhere. Why had Amiga traded the scalable and highly acclaimed QNX for the monolithic Linux kernel? Fingers pointed at Amiga and accusations ranging from professional malpractice to personal insults, and even some death threats were made. The community split between those that supported Amiga and those supporting QNX. Jim Collas quickly issued an open letter hoping that the community would one day understand the choice made and pointing towards the release of the Technology Brief during the following week for answers. The words did nothing to stop the anger and over the next week web site editorials expressed a sense of betrayal at the decision.
The Brief turned out to be misnamed. As a Technology Brief it was lacking in any real information on the technology. The AmigaObjects section consisted of sales jargon, making it almost impossible to guess its working. There was nothing more added to support the use of Linux over QNX. Apart from statements upon increased performance under Linux the reason seemed to be a marketing, rather than technological move. Linux was chosen to link in to the momentum it has created. Mainstream developers would not support QNX. Of course the Technology Brief did confirm a number of things, including the existence of an Amiga computer, based upon an ATX board. Despite their desperate attempts, loyalty had split between QNX and Amiga, with QNX appearing to win for the moment.
Out of the ashes rose a new partnership consisting of QNX and phase5. Both had been jilted by Amiga in the past. The two companies promised to develop the Neutrino OS for phase5 PPC cards. This would allow owners to use legacy Amiga applications and develop for QNX. It was a cunning move to shift the Amiga userbase onto the QNX OS. This announcement was followed a few hours later by another, indicating the developing of a new QNX-based PPC system called AMIRAGE K2. Sympathy for QNX gave them the upper hand, potentially damaging Amiga’s image. Here was a company that really cared about Amiga users. Dan Dodge and a number of other QNX employees even took it upon themselves to join Amiga mailing lists and newsgroups. Although Amiga had promised to port the Amiga OE to PowerPC platforms, at the time it seemed an alternative would move the tide if released before them.
Weeks later arguments were still raging whether Amiga could regain their tattered image. Anxious to move the community onto their side again, Amiga made an announcement confirming their relationship with Corel. This came as no surprise but an official declaration of support bolstered morale. This was followed by the publics first look at the the Amiga MCC (Multimedia Convergence Computer) prototype case at the World of Amiga and AmiWest shows. Visually it confirmed the company’s move away from the computer into the convergence market, looking more like a video recorder than a computer. The appearance of the Transmeta name also caused surprise at the show, seemingly confirming the relationship between the two companies. Despite the name dropping Transmeta denied they had anything to do with Amiga. It was known at the time that Linus Torvalds was working for Amiga on the Linux kernel so a link between the two seemed fairly strong.
Amiga users thought they had seen it all. Unfortunately fate had chosen Amiga as the fools of 1999. On the 16th of August an unknown company called Iwin Corporation announced the release of two new Classic Amiga clones. The clones supposedly offered either an 68060 or 604 CPU, 8Mb of Chip RAM, 3D acceleration, 16bit sound, USB, and much more. Amiga users were mystified; how could a company produce a machine that seemed to have been impossible for so many? The Amiga is more than simply an 68k processor- the custom chips are the very foundation of the machine. As Dave Haynie commented upon the prospect, it would be impossible to create an emulation of the chips without breaching patents, which Iwin claim not to. Furthermore no one had heard of the company before. Contact with some of their past customers revealed nothing, only that the president of the company had worked as a programmer. It seemed a simple hoax, but in this time of desperation many people believed in it.
As August drew to a close, Amiga felt the repercussions of publishing the Technology Brief so early. Gateway ordered the company to withdraw major product announcements from their web site and take a vow of silence. Their web site announced,
“‘for the next several months, the Amiga staff will be focused on implementing our business and product plans. We will not be discussing or commenting on future company directions during this time.”
Speculation on what the company were doing indicated that this was quite normal. Jim Collas had referred to Gateway’s concern on Amiga giving away too much information away before the product was launched. This was quickly confirmed by Amiga vice-president, Petro Tyschtschenko stating they have decided to modify information politics to prevent too much detail of AmigaNG development spreading to competitors. No one thought anymore about it, but behind the scenes dramatic events were unfolding that would lead the company to change direction again.
On August 30th the first of Amiga’s post-Commodore patents came to light. This confirmed what many had thought. Amiga were moving towards multi-processor systems. The patent described multiple CPU clusters passing tasks between themselves. This was soon followed by 17 TV-related patents making it increasingly clear that Amiga were moving towards digital TV.
It is coincidental, whenever there is a high note with the Amiga it is soon followed by a loss. The liquidation of Commodore was followed by the death of Jay Miner, and the QNX announcement was tempered by Fleecy Moss being ‘let go’. Along with the news of the Amiga patents came the announcement that Bill McEwen had left Amiga. He has been described as one of the last people sympathetic to the old Amiga community, even describing himself as an Amiga evangelist. At the time he was working on Amiga’s PR, developing a number of links to the community, including a regular newsletter (Amiga Insight) and working closely with the newly formed Amiga Advisory Council (AAC). For a few weeks he had been expecting a promotion to a more permanent position (he was working under contract), but was given a days’ notice that he would no longer be working for Amiga. A Gateway employee, who cannot be named, indicated Bill was let go because of his hostility to some of Gateway’s orders. He would tell it as it is, when sometimes a businessman would have to lie. Sacked for being too honest? A strange occurrence, but as the history of the Amiga shows, it seems to attract bizarre behaviour. Bill’s departure was followed just a few hours later by that of Jim Collas, just nine months after taking on the job. The reason behind his leaving slowly began to slip out, with stories of internal disagreement over the company direction and role of the community were major points that led to his resignation. According to sources at Gateway on many occasions Jim Collas was overruled by others who would go over his head. The growing intervention of Gateway regarding the direction has also been cited as a reason for his departure. Suddenly it all became clear why the company had taken a vow of silence. As part of Jim’s fast track plan in February, it was intended to spin Amiga as a separate company, with some financial support from Gateway. When it became clear the convergence market would be a sure-fire success, Gateway realized they could not let this happen and took control. The news was soon eclipsed by the removal of the “Amiga Insight” bulletin board and the US staff bios. In the darkness that had surrounded Amiga, whispers of other departures and a change of direction to embrace the digital market.
The unfolding events have more in common with a Shakespeare play than a computer company. The removal of the bulletin board and email addresses cut the company off from the rest of the world. The only forthcoming information was that Amiga had a new president, Thomas J. Schmidt. His original intentions were to continue the previous efforts of developing the Amiga MCC, but with a very limited staff, even less in resources, and no monetary backing from the board of directors of Gateway, he was forced to prepare the Amiga IPO for buyouts or proposals. The first news of Amiga’s change in direction came on September 10th with a comment by BusinessWeek that the MCC had been scrapped. Just a few days before, a news story revealed that Gateway were to sell a Microsoft low-end system called the X-Box. Given the timing of the announcement it is no surprise that many Amigans considered the two to be linked. Is it possible that Gateway canceled the Amiga MCC because of their relationship with Microsoft? A few days later Amiga stepped out of the darkness to confirm they would no longer be developing an Amiga computer. Their new focus would be upon software, with hardware being left to 3rd parties. The new update also suggested that Amiga software would now run “on top” of many operating systems, indicating that the Amiga OE had morphed into a standard Linux distribution and that AmigaObjects were the only revolutionary technology to come from Amiga. Once again, the Amiga was dead…
Light in the darkness
In times of old when the ship was in danger of being dashed against the rocks in the storm, there were always people there to light the way and guide the ship to safety. Similarly, out of the confusion of the AmigaNG came two organizations intending to lend a hand. Formed from conversation on the Team Amiga Mailing List they were created to ensure the Classic Amiga had a future beyond the World of Amiga 98 announcement. The Phoenix Consortium and A.Q.U.A both appeared to provide a clear transition path from the Amiga to another Amiga-like operating system. The acronymic A.Q.U.A. (Amino Qnx United Architecture) was a partnership between three companies; Amino, QSSL, and Rebol.
All three seemed to be the living embodiment of the Amiga spirit- QSSL represented the past as the former OS partner; Rebol were the present, a multi-platform language that relied upon its simplicity; and finally, Amino were the future. The guiding force that would turn these disparate pieces into a solution worthy of the Amiga. The alliance was short-lived, when Amino unexpectedly dropped connection with the other two.
Under the guidance of Fleecy Moss and Bill McEwen, and with the financial assistance of Tao Group, Amino Developments were able to buy the remains of Amiga Inc. and take the Amiga forward once again. A leaked announcement on the 31st of December indicated that Gateway had sold all rights to the Amiga (with the exception of the patents). The Amiga Inc. team, headed by Tom Schmidt, was integrated into Gateway product development.
As panic over the ‘Millennium Bug’ reached fever pitch the Amiga community had taken an unexpected breath to consider what the next year would hold. The dead and the dying lay scattered around the scene, cynicism had overcome the remaining Amiga users’ and developers. It would take a miracle to save the Amiga market now.
Miracles sometimes happen…..
2000: Fallout and the Rebirth
This was the year of endings and new beginnings. For the past 5 years the Amiga market has remained buoyant, in spite of predictions to the contrary. In the year 2000, the Amiga 68k market had finally slowed to a crawl, yet even in its death throes the Amiga market was able to surprise everyone. For the third time in 5 years the Amiga had been bought, this time by an upstart company of ex-Amiga employees. On the 3rd of January, CEO Bill McEwen made his first announcement, changing the company name from ‘Amino Development’ to ‘Amiga Inc’. This was followed four days later at the CES show that Amiga Inc. had chosen the UK-based Tao Group as their OS partner. For many Amiga watchers the speed at which the new Amiga were making announcements was a surprising change, it had taken the Gateway-Amiga a year to make the same OS partner announcement.
Two weeks later Amiga Inc. clarified their intentions, indicating their plans to focus effort on two areas: the Convergence market was unsurprisingly a major area, dubbed the Domestic Digital Habitat (DDH). The AmigaNG would also be sold in the desktop market, soothing fears that Amiga Inc. would attempt to imitate Viscorp’s marketing strategy. This would be followed in later months by further announcements of developer boxes and consumer machines.
The news of the Amigas’ purchase came too late for many parts of the market. Longtime developer, Phase 5 finally filed for liquidation on January 26th, and the writers behind the Amiga Web Directory (1/1/2000) and Amiga Yellow Pages announced they would retire their services. This was soon followed by news that Amiga Format would finally close after 12 years.
If Amiga Inc. had been told that the Amiga market was dead, they probably would have laughed in your face. During February Amiga Inc. announced their move to the Snoqualmie Ridge Business Park and the hiring of several known Amiga developers and community figureheads. Andreas Klienert (AK Datatypes), Wouter Van Oortmerrsen (Amiga E), Gary Peake (Team Amiga), and Dean Brown (several Amiga accelerators) were hired to develop Tao Group’s Elate into a consumer operating environment. This was coupled with news that the company had initiated three market relation programs:
Amiga Advisory Council – the assorted group of Amiga developers, journalists, user groups, and dealers that were selected by Gateway-Amiga Inc. a year previous are back. Amiga Inc. will be using these people to assess their position in the market, providing a vocal point for Amiga users.
Amiga Dealer’s Network – a channel for Amiga distributors and dealers to communicate with Amiga Inc.
Amiga Developer Support Network – Amiga will be providing support (documentation, bug fixes, etc.) to Amiga developers.
During a keynote speech at the ‘Amiga 2000’ show in St. Louis (April 1st), Amiga Inc. dispelled rumours that they were April fools by announcing their future plans. Amiga CEO, Bill McEwen indicated that the company would move away from the Amiga’s hardware heritage, by producing an operating environment that would support a range of devices. The concept, similar to Sun Microsystem’s Java, would allow Amiga software to be written and executed without the need for recompilation on a different processor.
As part of their promise to support the existing market, the company announced partnerships with several Amiga developers and made reference to a number of hardware manufacturers. Haage & Partner, Epic, Titan, Met@box, and Hyperion would be working with Amiga Inc. to produce transitional products and familiar products that would enable the user to move to the new platform. Red Hat, Corel, and Sun Microsystems were also mentioned as supporting Amiga’s efforts to produce the digital environment, though the exact nature of this relationship was unclear. An Amiga DE ports of Warp3D was announced, as well as an expected (but not officially announced) OS update.
As the first part of their plans for the Amiga DE, Amiga Inc. announced their Software Development Kit (SDK) and unveiled the Amiga Developer box – a standard AMD x86 box – that would be sold by several Amiga dealers. It was originally indicated that Amiga Inc. would only provide the SDK with the Amiga-approved developer kits, but this rule was changed a few days later. As the developer box was basically a standard PC, the dealer or user was able to configure the exact specifications according to their need. This resulted in several interesting variations of the machine.
During the last few months the Classic Amiga market had continued to shrink, becoming a fraction of its former size. However, Amiga Inc’s example appeared to have created a sense of adventure. Several long-promised hardware and software announcements/launches made 2000 a fantastic year for the Amiga. In particular, the first of two OS releases during the year created a stir.
Announced in April, The MorphOS team (former Phase 5 employees) had performed a feat that Haage & Partner were legally unable to perform – develop a clean Amiga-compatible operating system for PowerUP boards. Any doubt that MorphOS was a fake were dispelled when beta versions were released on the MorphOS site. The MorphOS kernel owes many ideas to the existing AmigaOS, but implements them in a clean fashion. This will avoid many of the problems encountered when updating the 68k AmigaOS source, allowing the implementation of virtual memory, resource tracking, and many other capabilities. In the absence of an official AmigaOS PPC port, MorphOS will become an interesting method of continuing the Classic Amigas‘ development to a standalone PPC system.
The Amiga hardware market was also going through a long awaited revolution, moving away from outdated Commodore standards to cheap, available hardware. Antigravity bought the Boxer and hired Mick Tinker to continue its development. The extra injection of cash may hurry development for a 2001 release. A1200 & A4000 were also treated to a range of expansion opportunities. For Zorro fans, the Apollo Z4 bridgeboard was launched, providing a cheaper, faster method of using Zorro 2 and nubus-style ‘Z4’ cards. This was followed by the announcement of two PCI bridgeboards for the A1200 & A4000; the Elbox Mediator, announced in June, was launched just three months later. The potential for empowering existing Amigas is astronomical. Instead of the costly Zorro cards, Amiga users’ can now take advantage of cheap, standardized PCI cards. Several graphic (such as Voodoo 3) and network cards can be used with suitable drivers. The Mediator PCI announcement was followed by a similar one from Eyetech. The Predator promises PCI and, more surprisingly, AGP support for Classic Amigas. It soon became obvious that the existence of two competing products in a shrinking market would cause some problems. Both companies attempted to sabotage the others’ campaign to promote their product, resulting in a situation reminiscent of the PPC kernel war of 1997. The war is set to escalate further during 2001 when Eyetech and Elbox launch their respective G3 PowerPC cards.
Whatever, the outcome of this war, the influx of new PPC owners will benefit the remaining software developers. While the Amiga gaming market produced half the number of games in a year than was released in any given month during 1990, the games were of an incredible quality. For the first time, the vast majority of announcements and reviews focussed upon PPC boards. The sale of Wipeout 2097 (the first commercial PPC game) had encouraged developers to take the plunge and release other games that would use the hardware. Several ports of the newly-open sourced Quake appeared, followed by Heretic 2 (March), and the long-awaited Simon the Sorceror 2 (December). High-end 68k gamers could enjoy a new version of Foundation Gold, and Nightlong (November), Bubble Heroes, and several other original titles. The Amiga has not been a games machine for many years, so it was not unexpected that it would so few titles. However, several announcements indicated that 2001 would be an interesting time for PPC Amiga and AmigaOne gamers.
Over the year two ghost from the Amiga’s past reared their heads as a reminder of what the Amiga may have become. The first, QNX Real-Time Platform (the official name for QNX Neutrino) was made available for noncommercial use as a free download during May. Two years previous the OS kernel was announced to be the basis of the Gateway Amiga OE. Since the cancellation of the Amiga MCC, the Phoenix Consortium has been working with QSSL to prepare their OS for release. Amiga users’ were finally able to try the OS that could have been the next Amiga.
In the aftermath of the Amiga sale, many people wondered what had become of the technology developed by Amiga Inc. Over the course of 2000, it was revealed that it would form the basis of the AOL TV set-top box, and related products. The product bears much resemblance to the current plans of Amiga Inc, aimed at the convergence market. However, early reports are critical of the device. Perhaps it is fortunate that the Linux-based MCC was never launched.
Meanwhile Amiga Inc. had performed a minor miracle by releasing an actual software developer kit. The launch of the Amiga SDK 1.0 for Linux on the 3rd of June symbolizes the end of the failed announcements that have characterized the Amiga’s recent history, a turning point that will attract developers and users’ in the long-term. Though incomplete, buggy, and containing a confusing license agreement, the Amiga SDK provided developers’ with the opportunity to produce software for the new platform at a fraction of the cost demanded by other corporations e.g. Sony. This was soon followed by the announcement that they had a hardware partnership with Infomedia (8/2000) & Meternet (20/9/00) to produce set-top boxes, and news that Amiga Inc. had entered into a partnership with Matrox. The company has placed a great deal of emphasis upon this relationship for their future goals, providing indications that they have access to current and future plans for their technology.
By October Amiga Inc. were preparing for the consumer launch of the Amiga DE. As a guide to dealers, the company issued a minimum specification for the desktop market. Codenamed Zico, it provided a guideline to the type of machine the Amiga DE was intended for. As expected, there was no mention of a specific processor, only a mention of an unnamed ‘Next Generation Matrox graphics card’ and various USB, Firewire, and PCI slots. This was followed by announcements that Eyetech and bPlan would produce AmigaOne PPC motherboards, as upgrades to existing A1200/A4000s and as standalone units. The Windows version of the SDK and an update to the Linux version were also launched. The scope of Amiga Inc and Tao Group’s relationship with other corporations was growing dramatically, engulfing several large Japanese corporations and technologies.
In between the announcements of new relationships, partnerships, and products, Amiga Inc. were quietly scaling down their German business, Amiga International with the retirement of Petro Tyschtschenko and closure of the Langen Office. The subsidiary was the last remains of the Escom management that had been set up 5 years previous. Since 1998 it had become a European distribution network for existing Amiga dealers and played little part in the Amigas’ development. For many years it had been run almost single-handedly by Petro himself, who was its sole employee during Escom’s liquidation.
A second ending came in the form of AmigaOS3.9. The operating system was launched in December 2000 to much surprise. No one had expected an OS upgrade and given the amount of time they had been given, no one expected much from the product. While the OS upgrade offered enhanced PPC support, drivers, and media players, it did not provide any single ground breaking feature. Instead it appeared to be a tiny OS3.5 update and a few shareware utilities to fill the CD. At the time it was indicated this would be the final 68k AmigaOS release to provide support for the Classic Amiga market who do not upgrade to the Amiga DE.
By the end of 2000 Amiga Inc. had laid the groundwork for its parasitic move into the mainstream. Several developer machines had been launched, the operating environment was in development, and consumer units had been announced. The combined efforts of Bill McEwen, Fleecy Moss, and Randy Hughes had surpassed the efforts of the previous Amiga owners by bringing a product to market.
The next year would continue the company’s expansion plans by moving into the PDA. It would also be the year that the numerous announcements became reality. However, the Classic Amiga market was in its final death throes, the market had continued to shrink to minuscule proportions. During the next year it would take its final breath….
2001: The Amiga microcosm
The second year of Amiga Inc’s reign was an eventful period that would change the world order forever. The events of 2001 would force the world’s governments to forge new alliances and develop a diplomatic solution to many problems. In the Amiga’s microcosm many of these events would be played in miniature, creating new relationships between Amiga developers and new divisions between the user community.
The new year celebrations were overshadowed by the announcements that Amiga Inc. were struggling for funding. This would be a major theme for the technology sector as a whole so it was predictable that the Amiga market would suffer the effects to a certain extent. In spite of these problems, Amiga Inc. predicted a successful year for the company. On the Amiga Support Network web site, the company made a prediction for the coming year:
“There is tremendous potential for distribution of your applications, games and other content for one of the world’s largest manufacturers of PDA hardware. The projection is for more than 7 million units to be sold by the end of 2001 and there are already several million units on the market at this time.”
Although the announcement was intended to create confidence that Amiga Inc. were actually developing the Amiga DE, the announcement caused further confusion.
The figure quoted is significantly higher than any single manufacturer – over two million more than the current market leader Palm sold in 2000. The only way to achieve this degree of market penetration would be through several PDA developers using the Amiga DE.
The questionable statements made by Amiga Inc. were quickly becoming an annoyance for many developers, resulting in fierce competition between the official owner and several third parties who did not take kindly to the new kid on the block. Although Amiga Inc. have the right to control their property, the absence of a central organization for so long has resulted in several 3rd parties making a personal investment in shaping its direction. The accusation that Amiga Inc. sought to disrupt these efforts through the threat of legal action (as stated by Ralph Schmidt of MorphOS) did not create a positive image for the company. In addition to these claims, there was also serious criticism regarding the company’s desire to run Amiga DE as a desktop operating system: the implementation of a memory management system was proving to be more difficult than expected, leading to fears that the new Amiga would suffer from the same stability issues as the original. In an attempt to solve these problems, Amiga Inc. looked to the past…
Announcements at St. Louis: AmigaOS4 and beyond
The announcements at the Amiga 2001 show on April 1st took many by surprise. Although there had been an indication that Amiga Inc. were examining solutions to their problems, few suspected that it would result in the resurrection of the AmigaOS. As part of their plans to resurrect the 68k operating system, Amiga Inc. took control of the OS development and proposed a novel timeline that suggested it would be available for the PowerPC by the end of the year, and available for 64-bit processors by Winter 2002. In preparation for the announcement Fleecy Moss met with bPlan, Eyetech, Haage & Partner, Hyperion and several others in an attempt to unify the disparate entities and create a unified AmigaOS. Under the new arrangement, Eyetech would provide AmigaOne-branded hardware, while Haage & Partner and Hyperion would work to port sections of the AmigaOS to PPC. For many Amiga users’ the sense of deja-vu was overwhelming: both Escom and Gateway had announced plans to port the AmigaOS to PowerPC during 1996/7. While Gateway were developing the Amiga MCC, Petro Tyschtschenko had evangelized the idea, and Haage & Partner had been given the PPC contract by Gateway at the tail-end of 1999. The irony that, five years after the original announcement, the PowerPC platform was still a goal was almost unbearable.
In the midst of the AmigaOS4 news, Amiga Inc. announced that they had formed an agreement with Sharp and Psion to develop Amiga DE software for their respective devices. Both companies were market leaders, producing technically-interesting devices that distinguished them from competitors – Sharp were developing a Linux-based handheld for the US market, based upon the Japanese Zaurus M1-E1, while Psion were market leaders in the palmtop market. It was hoped these deals would propel the Amiga into a prominent position, acting as a limpet-like entity that would be carried by these products. However, the news was short-lived when it was indicated that Psion, driven by disappointing fiscal 2000 results, had chosen to cancel the agreement and exit the consumer market. Although clearly embarrassing for Amiga Inc. it was evident that the technology market was spiraling into recession, forcing several Commodore-sized businesses into receivership. Metabox, the Germany-based maker of digital TV set-top boxes was one such casualty declaring insolvency, putting an end to hopes that they would release a PowerPC card for the Amiga.
Bluffer’s Guide to the Future
The next few months were particularly interesting for Amiga fans. After years of waiting AmigaOS PPC would be a reality. On mailing lists and web forums, the individual elements of the St. Louis announcement were dissected. New terms, such as Ami2D, Ami3D, AmiFFS2, EXEC-SG, and Amiga Component Model, were entering the language, promising new solutions to long-standing problems. Excited discussion focused upon the AmigaOS timeline and the individual components that would be part of the final product. Several announcements were made by bPlan, Merlancia and Matay announcing new PPC hardware and support for the Zico specification. Although these companies would not reveal their products until 2002, it was a good omen that, for the AmigaOS, the future was almost here!
The Sharp deal was also producing results with the first sign of Amigas role in Sharp’s plan. At the Tokyo Business Show 2001 on May 23-25, the AmigaDE received its first public showing as part of the Sharp Zaurus. This event placed the company in a position to be noticed by an estimated 400,000 attendees and would produce some interesting subsequent partnerships during the next year. This news was tempered by the current economic climate. The technology recession was in full swing, leaving hundreds of companies in its wake. Although the Sharp deal had given Amiga Inc. a much needed boost and extra publicity it could not pay contractors. Their earlier decision to manage AmigaOS 4.0 development was also reversed with the news that Amiga Inc. were handing project control over to Hyperion. As a result, AmigaOS development was significantly delayed, pushing the initial release date back to November. Over the next few months the deadline would gradually extend until the first quarter of 2002. Relations between Amiga Inc. and bPlan had also failed, resulting in pie throwing matches on public forums. Although Amiga Inc. attempted to maintain the image that events were progressing as expected, Ralph Schmidt of bPlan publicly criticized the company’s attempt to unify and control Amiga development. In a repeat of the WarpOS Vs. PowerUP arguments of 1997, the Amiga ‘community’ divided into two camps – those who supported AmigaOS4 and those who supported MorphOS. Both groups would criticize the other, regularly provoking arguments that would quickly degrade into personal insults.
While these events were unfolding the usual software and hardware releases were appearing. Although the 68k market had almost completely collapsed, a few companies were still developing products. Hardware development was a major area, producing two new PCI solutions to accompany the previously launched Mediator – the G-Rex appeared in April, followed by the Prometheus a month later. Elbox had also released software drivers that allowed the use of Voodoo 4 4500 & 5 graphic cards, SoundBlaster AHI drivers, and TV cards. After years of waiting Amiga owners could finally take advantage of cheap PCI graphics and sound solutions. Several new USB solutions were announced, including the A1200-based Subway and Zorro2-based Highway, a third card was announced by AmiSoft, who promptly closed a few months later. Low-end Amigas were also supported by the hardware-based MP3 player ‘MAS Player’. At last CDTV owners could listen to MP3s!
Software products were thinner on the ground with only a few notable exceptions – iFusion, the iMac emulator for PPC-based Amigas was finally launched. Unfortunately a bug in the WarpUP software restricted its use to A4000 PPC owners, alienating Mac friendly A1200 users. This was followed by the long-awaited GTA clone, Payback in March, followed by Earth 2140, Shogo, and the award winning Photogenics 5 art package. The shareware scene was also producing impressive results with the news that AMP – the PPC movie player – supported DVD playback for the first time on the Amiga.
In a tradition established in 1995, 2001 was not without its share of canceled products. The closure of Metabox and Amisoft ended any hope that they would release their respective products for the Amiga. The continued delay of the AmigaDE, AmigaOS 4.0, and AmigaOne also forced the closure of Amiga Active – the only remaining UK newsstand magazine. This was followed by the news that the Boxer had been officially canceled after four years of development. To fill this gap (Amiga Active’s, not the Boxer), the subscription-based ‘Clubbed’ magazine announced it would moving to a bimonthly publication and changing its name to ‘Total Amiga’.
In contrast to the dimming Classic 68k/PPC market, the Amiga DE was finally getting some attention. On June 11th, Amiga Inc. launched a limited-edition release of the Amiga DE package, available in two variations for the Linux and Windows platform. The Party Pack provided an insight into Amiga development at the time, while providing a $100 discount on purchase of AmigaOS 4 or AmigaOne at a later date. This was soon followed by the launch of a standalone Amiga DE Player in October, allowing Windows/Linux users to play Amiga DE games using their existing operating system. Several games were included with these packages, with the ability to purchase more at the new AmigaDE shop. The majority of these were simplistic puzzle games, the type that you would expect on the C64. However, the release of Ami3D in 2002 will open the market to more complex games, such as the DE port of Payback.
Emulation: The post UAE future
For years Amiga owners had denied the existence of UAE. The thought of a Mac or PC emulating their beloved platform had become a sore point since it appeared in 1996. Over the years, as more people migrated to other platforms, disbelief had become acceptance that the Amiga could be emulated. However, there remained a die hard minority who rejected the idea that an x86 PC could multitask as efficiently as their Amiga. These people almost died when screenshots of a new unknown Amiga emulator appeared in the August 2001 issue of Amiga Active. The Quake speed test indicated that the emulator could operate at ten times the speed of a 68060 Amiga. The emulator would later become known as AmigaOSXL, developed for the QNX x86 operating system by Haage & Partner.
This was followed by a second emulator announcement by Amiga Inc. that a competing emulator, written by Bernd Meyer (the developer of the UAE JiT engine) and Harald Frank (VMC) existed. The emulator, called Amithlon, uses a modified version of the JiT engine running on a custom ISOLinux kernel. At the time it was indicated that Amiga Inc. would be selling the emulator in competition to the still unnamed, unannounced AmigaOSXL emulator. However, in a moment of divine inspiration previously unseen in the Amiga market, both developers decided to sell their respective emulators in the same package. Amiga users’ would not have to choose between AmigaOSXL or Amithlon. They could purchase both and choose between them according to their ability to run a specific application. However, the spirit of cooperation did not prevent the formation of a third group in the userbase – those who supported x86 and Amiga emulation. Work on the open source operating system, AROS also progressed during 2001, replacing over 75% of the original code. The authors of Amithlon and MorphOS are both working with the development team to use sections of AROS code and highlight potential bugs, providing a mutual benefit. It will be interesting to see how this relationship will benefit all parties.
In retrospect, 2001 had not been a successful year for anyone. The AmigaOne and AmigaOS 4.0 had not be released and there were still major issues with the Amiga DE to be resolved. However, it could have been much worse. The economic crisis and fears experienced in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Centre could have finished easily a small business like Amiga Inc. The hacking of the Amiga.com, Eyetech, and Amiga.org web sites in November/December have also done little damage to their image. One year after the final death of the 68k Amiga, the AmigaOSXL/Amithlon emulation package resurrected its silicon ghost, allowing Amiga users’ to experience an advanced version of their machine before PowerPC rendered it obsolete. After six years in the wilderness the next year would produce the next generation AmigaOS and take the AmigaDE into a new and completely unexpected direction.
2002: Will the real Amiga please stand up?
The third year of Amiga Incs reign dealt with the fallout of the previous year. The market had been badly shaken by the events of 9/11 creating an economic gloom that could not be shifted. Businesses everywhere were counting costs and making drastic changes in an attempt to weather the storm. The Amiga microcosm, already at an all-time low, was not immune to these events, resulting in an estimated 18 month delay in delivering products.
The previous year had ended on a sour note, leaving many people disappointed with the current Amiga market. Admittedly, new Amiga hardware had been announced, but that had happened many times before with no tangible results. Fortunately, 2002 did not repeat the process, becoming the year that next generation hardware were finally launched. The AmigaOne & Pegasos boards made an appearance in limited quantities, but were limited by buggy software and the absence of a consumer operating system to run on them.
It was also the year that the Amiga market turned nasty. As a result of the growing role of Internet forums in the Amiga market, an odd trend began to emerge the resignation statement. Many users would announce they were leaving the market, followed by a detailed description of how the market had failed. Inevitably, this would provoke reactions, usually berating the author or declaring that the Amiga market was doomed. The usual flame wars continued to rage on mailing lists with a shrinking number of subscribers, arguing the benefits of different vapour-based products. Even Amiga.org the central nexus for English Amiga news did not appear to be returning. Several power struggles took place that threatened to disrupt legitimate communication. The central argument in these struggles was control control over their own products without retribution or legal threats. This was the argument made independently by Bernie Meyer and Bill Buck, who were positioned as David in the David & Goliath scenario. There were also the usual hiccups and foot-in-mouth events that make great forum fodder for discussion.
AmigaOne point 5
Next generation became the theme of February 2002, with a series of status updates on the Amiga OS4 and AmigaOne projects. The AmigaOne announcement in 2001 provoked a wave of excitement in the Amiga market. In comparison the news that the AmigaOne project had been cancelled received little attention. Fortunately, the news was not as bad as first thought. In a show speech at the Alt-WoA show on February 23rd, Alan Redhouse explained the original AmigaOne custom southbridge had been rendered obsolete by a new generation of off-the-shelf chips. Similarly, Hyperions AmigaOS 4.0 port had made great strides, removing the custom chipset dependency of OS3.x. To avoid these issues, Eyetech had made the decision to rebadge and distribute the Teron CX board. Although this would delay its release by several months, the AmigaOne point 5 (later renamed to AmigaOne G3-SE) would result in a delivered product that was significantly faster, cheaper and of a higher quality than the one that was originally envisioned. As an example, he indicated an entry-level G3@600Mhz Teron CX motherboard would cost 350 expensive in comparison to an x86 motherboard, yet much cheaper than existing Amiga solutions.
Reports on the AmigaOS were also positive. On February 13th, Ben Hermans issued the first of several reports, describing their work on the next generation operating system. In the first update, he defined the 5 main goals for the project:
- Migrate OS 3.9 from 68K to PPC
- Untie the OS from the Amiga custom chipsets
- Introduce modern functionality
- Eliminate key performance bottle-necks
- Prepare the Amiga OS as a host-OS for Amiga DE
The report went onto describe a lengthy process that would enable the development team to replace 68k components with native 68k code in a modular fashion, thus enabling existing applications to continue functioning on the new hardware. The new code would offer familiar functionality, while extending support for modern hardware. To demonstrate their commitment towards retaining familiar Amiga experience, Ben Hermans confirmed they had purchased an OEM license on October 10th 2001for the P96 team (Alexander Kneer and Tobias Abt) to provide a PowerPC-native version of their graphics API. At this early stage in development, Permedia 2, Voodoo 3/4/5 and Matrox G450/G550 cards were indicated as being supported, with Permedia 3 and ATI Radeon drivers being provided by Chris Morris and Bill Toner respectively.
In an attempt to retain interest and keep Amiga users informed, regular OS4 updates were made over the coming months. These took the form of screenshots that demonstrated particular functionality of the operating system. The first set, released on 24th April, widespread attention attracting over 50,000 visitors. This resulted in a total of 17.67 GB of traffic within the first 48 hours of their appearance. However, the screenshots were a disappointment. Many people had expected a radical upgrade to the existing operating system. Instead, they saw development software running on a 68k OS3.9 machine. Although, the operating system offered a clean reimplementation of OS3.9, expectation were dangerously high. Fortunately the August 8th feature list offered more food for thought. The possibility of resource management & tracking and virtual memory provided a conservative, yet promising list of the possibilities available with a modern HAL, without sacrificing compatibility. It may be taking longer than expected, but Hyperion could not be accused of being short-sighted!
The turbo-charged classic
Though the AmigaOne offered next generation technology, there continues to be a market for users willing to upgrade their existing Amigas. Hardware development continued to be the mainstay of the market during 2002. Elbox were the most prolific in this market, continuing their range of PCI products and expanding to other areas. During the course of 2002, the company launched 5 new Mediator PCI boards (Mediator PCI 4000D, 3000D, 3/4000T, 1200SX and 4000Di), 2 Mirage tower systems (for A4000D and A3000D computers) and the Spider USB 2.0 High-Speed controller. These offered an increasing number of PCI slots for inexpensive hardware upgrades. The Thylacine ZorroII USB card also received attention, when it was demonstrated working alongside a USB Epson scanner and BetaScan software at the MAUG (Melbourne Amiga Users Group) meeting in March. This was soon followed by the launch of the Highway USB card on May 31st. After years of waiting, there were 3 different options for USB expansion!
The homebrew spirit was also alive and well, with two projects attracting particular attention. began to attract attention. Unlike earlier attempts to create a C64 follow-up (Web TV and Commodore Evolution) that combined cheap off-the-shelf hardware with C64 software emulation, Jeri Ellsworths C-One reimplemented Commodore hardware using modern manufacturing techniques. The machine utilized a 65c816 20MHz processor for 100% c64 compatibility, while extending its capabilities to offer 3.5 floppy disks, 16Mb Video RAM, PCI slots, and MonsterSID audio. The result is a strange hybrid of modern and classic architecture in an ATX form factor. A second, lesser known homebrew was PJ Matthews and Oliver Hannaford-Days Coldfire project. This project was less defined, promising Coldfire accelerator boards for existing Amigas, but allowing the possibility for a complete Coldfire board to provide software emulate for the AmigaOS.
The software-side was also producing interesting results, with two projects gaining increased mind share. The Unified Amiga USB Development Effort continued their efforts to create a standard usb.library that would be available to all USB devices, while the Open PCI effort offered to do the same for (wait for it) PCI devices! Of the two, Open PCI has produced the fastest results. Though the project was only announced on the 22nd February 2002, I suspect it will continue to play a major role in the development of 68k PCI solutions during 2003. It is highly recommended for Amithlon users who wish to utilize 100mbit network cards and those wary of Elbox drivers (more later).
Micros~1 want their ball back!
Amiga Inc. remained a busy, but ever elusive entity in the Amiga market. Bill McEwens Executive Updates promised new & exciting opportunities, but had so far failed to deliver. The company remained in a catch-22 situation if they announced a product and failed to deliver on time, (as seen by the Sharp deal during 2001) they were criticised; if they remained silent Amiga users thought the worse, spreading speculation on mailing lists & forums.
Though few understood Amiga Incs emphasis upon the portable & media terminal market it was evident that some progress was being made. In a February 22nd press release, Bill McEwen announced a deal with Nokia to produce software for their upcoming Media Terminal. He also announced the company would have a presence at booth #1602 at the Embedded Systems Show in San Francisco, CA on March 12 – 15th. In contrast to previous show announcements, the statement was notably coy, avoiding the question of whom had actually paid for booth #1602 Where were you when you heard the news?… I heard the news through ABC-TV, and was immediately frozen with shock. After the initial bewilderment, I must admit I felt some slight anger and betrayal. How can Apple, the heart of the Macintosh universe, make such a deal with Microsoft, the king of all things bloated? How can Apple betray this loyalty? I mean, Microsoft was the center of all our bad jokes… Shay Fulton, September 1997, Macintosh Babble
Since the Apple-Microsoft deal had been announced, Amiga owners have dreaded the day that Bill Gates would come knocking on their door. This was the company had written Amiga Basic and were blamed for the MCC cancellation – they must be evil! Many users were fearful that Amiga Inc. would be bought by the Seattle giant. The company has a reputation for crushing less profitable businesses and Amiga Inc. continues to remain in a particularly vulnerable position. It was therefore a shock when it was revealed that booth #1602 was Microsofts stand.
Initially, few believed the news. They interpreted as a mistake, a goof from the fertile imagination that announced Mario 64 for AmigaDE in 2000. However, a statement by Gary Peake a few days later confirmed the unexpected turn of events: “Yes, Microsoft has asked us to demo DE and some of the developer applications running on various devices in their booth.” Gary Peake, 25th February, 2002, Microsoft: Things are getting strange
Many tried to deny the validity of the news, clutching to the belief that it wasnt true unless it was stated on the Amiga web site. Unfortunately for these people, confirmation came quickly with the announcement that Amiga Inc. would market Amiga games & productivity titles for Windows CE .Net. This was followed by an appearance by Bill McEwen on TechTV a commercial US technology channel promoting the newly rebranded Amiga Anywhere cartridge. It could no longer be denied
The importance of the Microsoft deal cannot be understated, providing new opportunities that had been unobtainable in previous years. The company quickly became a member of the Mobility Partner Advisory Council and entered into a contract with Sendo to develop software for their next generation Z100 mobile phone. The MPA council, formed to promote and support Microsoft portable developers, offers significant advantages for its members. Their press release cites the following benefits:
- Technical resources. MPAC members will receive a significant amount of technical and development resources from Microsoft, including architectural support for beta products and early access to development tools.
- Marketing and sales support. MPAC members will participate in a number of joint “go-to-market” activities with Microsoft’s Mobility Group, including industry events and keynote engagements, and will have opportunities for cobranded marketing and communication support.
In return for development support, Microsoft is able to promote its expanding software base as a reason for consumers to purchase Microsoft. Though Microsoft is the largest software company in the world, there are many markets where it has little or no foothold. The loosely-formed council enables the company to utilize the experience of others for their own benefit.
Despite the benefits, the news sparked outrage in the Amiga market. In the days following the March 14th announcement, several web sites declared they were boycotting future Amiga news and products. Overshaker, the Amiga themes website, removed all web links to Amiga.com. This was soon followed by Grzegorz Juraszek of amiga.com.pl (Polish news service) who issued statements of disgust and Karoly Balogh of amiga.hu, who cited a a public opinion poll that showed users strongly disapproved of recent events at Amiga Inc: “The latest Amiga Inc. policy shifts… give us no other option than to say farewell to them for good…” Grzegorz Juraszek, Polish Amiga news service “We the editors of amiga.hu hereby join the Polish boycott.”
Karoly Balogh, Hungarian news service
These statements of disapproval were followed by several more on the English site, Amiga News Network. The first from the South Wales Amiga User Group (SWAUG) indicated they would only focus on Amiga Classic development, while Amitopia indicated they would support Elbox, Hyperion & bPlan only, and requested that similar users sign a petition to be sent to Amiga Inc.
Of course, such dramatic events became excellent material for comedy, resulting in numerous spoof boycotts. “Eyetech boycott text” announced the headline to a news item on the latest AmigaOne images, followed by “Seehund boycotts ANN” – a comic press release that describes Seehunds discovery that the Amiga News Network site is viewable with Microsoft products.
Although it would be simple to dismiss these statements as a knee-jerk reaction to the Microsoft name, the expressed concern was that Amiga Anywhere applications would loose its portability, being compiled to execute on Windows CE .Net only. There was a sense that Amiga Inc. were dismissing its most interesting feature to continue the Microsoft deal.
These concerns were dismissed by Fleecy Moss, Amiga Inc’s Chief Technical Officer, in an e-mail interview. He indicated the targeted at the Microsoft Windows CE .NET operating system” statement was Microsoft PR and did not represent a major direction shift for Amiga Inc. The Anywhere emphasis of Amiga Anywhere remains a major feature in Amigas current & future strategy.
The Microsoft deal demonstrated that Amiga Inc. were finally achieving results and was good news for the market. However, the reaction demonstrated a curious irrationality in the current Amiga community. Though many users state a desire for mainstream applications to be ported to the Amiga, they are highly critical if a major player begins to take notice. If Amiga and Genesi are successful in expanding the market during the next few years, Amiga users will need to abandon their superiority complex or limit themselves to open source applications.
Pass the Buck
The biggest news of the year was the emergence of Thendic-France as a major force in the Amiga market and the re-appearance of some familiar faces. The company had previously announced the Smart-Boy Amiga DE-compatible device but had parted company with Amiga Inc. as a result of significant delays. Bill Buck and Raquel Velasco former Viscorp employees were now managing Thendic and would become a major competitor to the existing Amiga/Eyetech/Hyperion power structure during 2002. In the first statement of their intent, Bill Buck described the close relationship between bPlan, Power Trading and Thendic-France:
- Thendic-France has retained bplan to do some development work. So far, it is working. They are doing something we have contracted them to do. We are paying them. We are happy. I think they are too. We have been very impressed by their engineering skills. They have been honest and straightforward with us.
- Power Trading GmbH, owned by Petro Tyschtschenko, is exclusively distributing the Thendic and ComCam products in India. This information is posted on his website and ours. We worked very closely with Petro in 1995 and 1996. I think he will vouch for us and what we tried to do. Bill Buck, 12th April, 2002, GFX-BASE: Interview with Coyote Flux : Comment 54 of 55
The surreal nature of this statement was not lost. The reappearance of long-departed names resembled something from Dickens A Christmas Carol. Though the independent activities of each business were well known, but the news they were working together on a coordinated plan came as a surprise.
The news was soon followed by the announcement of the Eclipsis a portable Pegasos for launch in 2003. For many users who were sceptical of Amiga Incs Amiga Anywhere strategy but desired an AmigaOS laptop, the Eclipsis gained positive karma from the assembled masses.
Though bPlan had made some attempt towards marketing their product, the emphasis was upon German customers, rather than their English-speaking counterparts. Thendic-France sought to change this, promoting the hardware/software combo whenever possible. During the next few months the company would continue to snap at the heels of Amigas development project, positioning MorphOS as an alternative to the official Amiga OS.
The involvement of Bill Buck in public events prompted the emergence of another new trend the use of public forums as a promotion method. Amiga Inc. had broken many of the barriers between developers and consumers in 2000, enabling Amiga staff to answer questions and post tidbits of information that were requested. Thendic-France took a more active role on popular Amiga boards, replying to comments and answering questions. Amiga developers were actively contacted by Bill Buck to provide MorphOS software support or promote the new hardware. This was followed in August by news that Thendic-France were sponsoring Amiga related keywords on Google, including Amiga One, Ben Hermans & Fleecy Moss.
The tactics won favour with many MorphOS critics who went on to order Pegasos machines, but was criticized for the use of attention grabbing propaganda on various mailing lists. Opponents accused him of using dirty tactics to attract attention (14th April).
Though many disliked their tactics, few people were unaware of the existence of MorphOS. The MorphOS beta tester program was more advanced than AmigaOS 4.0 by several months. Prototype boards were already being produced by DCE, who were shipping them to a small number of friendly developers. As a result, the MorphOS software base was expanding by the day. Although mainly consisting of open source ports, such as YAM, ScummVM 0.20: The Butterfly Edition, SDL games, VNC clients, and Mandelbrot generators, it demonstrated a significant foothold on the market. MorphOS was developing a small but decent software list that would keep MorphOS users interested while real products and essential applications were being written.
And essential features were definitely required. It should not be presumed that MorphOS was a complete operating system at this stage. Early developer machines frequently crashed, highlighting software and hardware faults that would require debugging before the product was ready for the ordinary user. However, it was enough for Thendic-France & bPlan to announce a beta testing program on August 4th 2002. The press release defined a clear list of requirements that would need to be met to qualify for Team Betatester:
- Purchase a BETATESTER for 1000 Euros (tax not included)
- Sign an NDA
- Sign an Agreement not to sell the machine (we will purchase back all machines that need to be sold for any reason).
- Provide a minimum of two bug reports per week (including negative reports) until the conclusion of the BETATESTER program (approximately 12 weeks).
- Agree to test applications as required/time permits
- Test new peripheral devices including the Thendic Smart Card Reader (for secure FTP access, online payment and loyalty programs), the DataPlay disc drive and the ComCam and associated viewing software.
This offered potential customers the opportunity to take an active role in the development of a next generation Amiga-like project. 15 BetaTester units were also offered as prizes at the European Slach Party for users who could not afford the 1000+ Euro price tag.
In exchange for their services, Team Betatester members were promised the following:
- A MorphOS for PPC v.90 T-shirt
- A free copy of the commercial release of MorphOS for PPC v1.0 when it is ready.
- A discount on the Betatester G4 upgrade
- Access to the Betatester FTP for updates, fixes, test applications and application releases.
The mention of a MorphOS T-shirt was particularly amusing, reminding of Amiga Incs failure to provide T-shirts in their own Party Pack scheme. It was a petty, yet satisfying victory for Amiga users who had become disenchanted with the official Amiga path.
Two days after making an offer to the Amiga consumer, Thendic-France appealed to Amiga dealers for support. The press release waxed nostalgically on the Commodore era, presenting MorphOS as a continuation of the Amiga spirit. It went onto deny claims made by Amiga Inc. and other parties, that MorphOS was an illegal product that required copyrighted AmigaOS files for its operation. You will find MorphOS for the PPC is something new. Before, MorphOS was a kernel, which ran on the PPC, but required AmigaOS files to be able to run Amiga applications. Now it is different. MorphOS is the complete core of the Pegasos and can function as a complete operating system. No additional files are required to achieve this. To be completely clear, what MorphOS is today is not what MorphOS was before Raquel Velasco and Bill Buck, Getting the Pegasos Market Going!, 6th August 2002
In contrast to the first MorphOS announcement in April 2000, the current announcement was clear it was not a descendant of the Amiga OS, yet shared common roots a completely legal alternative to the current Amiga.
The promotion produced limited success, attracting die-hard Amiga users who had been opposed to MorphOS on Amiga forums. Thendic-France soon announced phase 2 of the beta tester program and the commercial launch of the operating system. The launch presentation took place at the Hilton Hotel in Frankfurt, on October 12th (dubbed M-Day), followed by a series of high-profile appearances at various computing shows throughout Europe. The company was the largest exhibitor at the ARC 2002, demonstrating 30 Pegasos computers to interested consumers. For a market accustomed to the meager profits of the previous years, it was amazing to see Thendic-France spending such a large amount on promotion at generic computing events. It was evident they were aiming far beyond the limited Amiga market.
There can be no MAI without April
Though Thendic-France sought to attract a wider computer market, they were not immune to making Amiga-like mistakes. These arose from comments made in Amiga forums and publicized on news sites for several days.
On November 24th, Bill Buck made a comment on the ANN forum that Thendic held a worldwide license to Amiga DE, the Amiga patents, and all associated copyright and trademarks that dated back to the original Amiga-Thendic agreement from November 10th 2000. Although the statement could not be refuted, it is questionable how the company could utilize these assets in the current market. The contract referred solely to their use of Amiga DE, running on the Windows CE operating system and could not be transferred to other products (based upon Fleecy Mosss later clarification). The statement was criticised on Amiga forums for its apparent desire to spread FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) and win customers who were desperate to see Amiga DE on MorphOS.
A second mistake came in a flippant remark by Bill Buck in December. The company had announced the existence of an April chip that promised to adds new functionality to the Articia chipset used by the Pegasos and the AmigaOne. Although the initial press release was unusually vague about its purpose, it was later revealed that it would, among other things, correct a data transfer bug that may arise in traditional desktop systems. Though this news was welcome, a flippant remark by Bill Buck on the Amiga.org board angered developers by using word play to promote the chip, The is no Mai without April. The statement went on to describe the design process required: The first patch is not enough. We figured this out in November when Mai was scurrying back to Tiawan to make what they thought would be the final solution. It is not. There are more problems. We finally solved all this a week and a half ago. Raquel Velasco and Bill Buck, Genesi announces completion of April (TM) chip for Pegasos, comment 52, 4th December 2002
Although the description of the problem was correct, their emphasis upon the solo effort in developing a solution gained criticism. The use of the word scurrying suggested MAI were moving in a hasty and undignified fashion. The statement went on to publicly criticize those people waiting for the AmigaOne G4 and criticizing Amiga Inc. for having blew it.
This provoked immediate response from Kai Staats of Terrorsoft: “I want to point out that the overal (sic) feeling within these email exchanges was that Bill Buck’s tactics are highly unfortunate and not at all professional.” Kai Statts, Terra Soft and Mai’s public statement to the community, 10th December 2002
In an unusual change of character, Alan Redhouse also publicly condemned these actions, indicating that sensible business relationships could only be formed with trustworthy people who have integrity.
The re-emergence of Thendic France has converted MorphOS into a real threat to the Amiga/Eyetech/Hyperion power structure and made the market a much more interesting place. bPlans ability to deliver products before Eyetech/Hyperion has provided them with a window of opportunity that is likely to expand in the following year. The positioning of MorphOS as an alternative has placed greater pressure on Amiga developers to provide a product within an allotted time span. Although many people have cursed Thendic-France and bPlan during the past year, their approach has expanded their sphere of influence and will undoubtedly provide greater choice for the consumer.
Amiga T-shirts and legal action
After the fallout from the Microsoft deal had cleared, Amiga Inc. faced a dilemma on the home front. By June it was becoming increasingly obvious that the Amiga market required some method of promoting OS4 in light of the great strides that Thendic had made with MorphOS. There was also the issue of the upcoming AmigaOne launch. Though the product would sell, no one was certain of the number that would actually be sold. A simple survey would work, but could be sabotaged by malicious individuals. To solve both problems, Amiga Inc. announced the AmigaOne/AmigaOS 4.0 “Free Stuff” Early Promotion. The promotion was essentially a coupon scheme the individual would pay $50 to register their interest for AmigaOne/AmigaOS 4.0. This would entitle the purchaser to a $50 discount on the product when it was launched and a free T-shirt. Though the announcement was well intentioned, it fell foul to international laws that banned coupon schemes.
To rectify this minor legal hiccup the Early Promotion was developed into an Amiga owners club, tentatively titled I am Amiga”. In the first round, purchasers would be entitled to life-time membership and a $50 coupon as a reward for their faith in AmigaOne/OS4. The results were positive, gauging 1006 members by the close of 31st July (the cut-off point for lifetime membership). This was followed by a vote for the Amiga club logo and name on August 17th. Surprisingly, Team Amiga was the most popular name proposed, but the name transfer was rejected by members of the existing Team Amiga (9th September).
Once again the AmiWest became the stage for Amiga announcements on July 28th. As a sign of the investment that the Microsoft deal had provided, Amiga Inc. turned their attention to the IP theft in the Amiga market. In a public statement, Bill McEwen issued a warning that the company would deal with anyone who was illegally using Amiga IP without permission. He commented: we have people out there right now using our trademarks, using our boing ball, using the Amiga name without authority, and again, we’ve been the nice guys. We look at them, say “hey, please stop”, “please stop”, “hey, we asked you nicely, stop!” Well, notice is now given. Making it very clear, as of September 1st, 2002, that’s your decision day, you either get legal or we will shut you down. Nobody is gonna steal from us any further. We have out there people using our source code, illegally, and that steals from everything we’re trying to do. People have got our hardware, that’s gonna stop. The lawyers are lined up, they’re fully paid, and they’re waiting. (Bill McEwen, AmiWest 2002 speech, July 2002)
The potential targets for legal action were obvious. The majority of Amiga owners could identify at least one company that was shipping Amiga IP illegally and a date had been set And nothing happened. At the time of writing (Feb 2003), there has been no news of legal action against a single company. Though the legal process is a complicated affair, there has been no indication that court documents have been filed. Only time will tell
In the next paragraph we move onto the Amithlon situation in 2002, showing how the shining jewel in the Amiga crown became tarnished.
“Quo vadis, Amithlon?”
This was the question asked by Bernd Bernie Meyer on April 2nd. Quo Vadis Latin for where are you going? – is a reference to the Christian bible. The phrase comes from Peters question, Quo Vadis Domine? – Whither goest thou Lord – to Christ soon after the resurrection. Jesus replied that he was going to Rome because his people were being persecuted. This response prompted Peter to return to Rome to confront the persecution and his own eventual death by crucifixion.
The religious implications of this statement are a sad, yet accurate description of the Amithlon situation during 2002. As described in the 2001 analysis, Amithlon had resurrected the Amigas ghost from its silicon shell, yet it was being persecuted by those who wished to control it. In the statement, Bernie explained he had been contacted by Amiga Inc, who indicated the Amiga IP used by the Amithlon emulator was illegal. After a request to Haage & Partner, this was confirmed by Jrgen Haage, stating “no agreement [had] been reached” with Amiga Inc. Based upon this news, Bernie Meyer made efforts to minimize personal legal risks by invoking a contract clause that would prohibit further distribution of the Amithlon emulator. The implications of this action was far-reaching, immediately declaring that anyone who had purchased the AmigaOS XL package since March 8th were not licensed to use the product they had purchased and preventing the release of further bug fixes & updates. I consider any copies of Amithlon shipped by Haage & Partner after March 8th, 5:05pm German time, to have been distributed in direct violation of the Amithlon distribution contract. I explicitly refuse any responsibility or liability resulting from such distribution. I also need to point out that as far as I am concerned, the purchase of any such copies does not provide the purchaser with licenses for the use of any parts I contributed to Amithlon, which includes the main emulator executable.
Bernie Meyer, April 3rd, 2002, Quo vadis, Amithlon?
The aftermath was decidedly ugly. The news triggered a wave of anti-H&P sentiment, with the majority of Amithlon users siding with Bernie Meyers version of events. Dozens of people declared they would boycott Haage & Partner products and sending hundreds of emails to their mail server. Others wondered if they should return the product to their Amiga reseller. Over the next few months thousands of e-mails discussing the future implications traveled around the globe.
The confusion was exasperated by a public argument between Bernie Meyer & Harold Frank on Haage & Partner’s official support list, that flooded subscriber’s inboxes with daily flame wars. At first Mr. Frank refused to discuss the matter, insisting there was a full valid and legal license for 3.1 ROM included in every AmigaOS XL package. However, it soon degenerated into public insults without any likelihood of resolution.
In an attempt to resolve the Amithlon situation, Bernd Meyer contacted Bill McEwen and negotiated a license directly. This resulted in a joint statement on June 23rd indicating that an Amithlon 2.0 OEM distribution would contain a fully licensed Kickstart 3.1/Amiga OS 3.9. This distribution would be sold via Bernds web site, removing the CD duplication & distribution costs of the original. A July 1st release date was also announced, raising expectation among users.
Subject: [amithlon] A spanner in the works
Unfortunately the release date passed without incident. In an e-mail to the Amithlon mailing list on June 29th, Bernie explained that the past association with Haage & Partner had created a final legal stumbling block that would delay its release. Though the delay was disappointing, Amiga users have developed an ability to wait for products. They could wait a little longer.
Bill McEwens September 5th Executive Update announced The Product Formally Know as Amithlo* would be released shortly and indicated an opportunity had arose to sell 3 dual-boot Umilator/Linux laptops. Though the news was welcome, Umilator remained elusive. Fortunately, Amiga users had become accustomed to waiting. They could wait a little longer
Behind the scenes a fresh attempt at resurrecting discussions was being tried. Based upon Bernds Deathbed FAQ a third party stepped forward on September 26th to mediate between the two parties. Discussion focused primarily on the issue of legal responsibility for the Amiga Inc IP, with the goal of avoiding the complete cancellation of Umilator. However, Bernie indicated that the negotiation was blocked by one of several parties: a supplementary agreement clarifying the intent of the original contract (along the lines of “Amiga Inc IP is H&P’s problem”) was agreed upon. It was then translated into German by a professional translation firm, and sent out to all parties to sign. As of November 27th, I was informed that, quote, “The supplementary agreement is currently on hold and appears now to depend on reaching an overall agreement”. In other words, someone apparently doesn’t think that the intent of the contract should be clarified… Bernie Meyer, undated, Answers to some frequently asked questions
At this stage it was increasingly apparent that the stumbling block had turned into a major hurdle. After months of effort, it was announced on December 1st, 2002 that the author was no longer willing to fight his former employers and was abandoning development – Umilator (the official name of ‘Berniethlon’ would never be released. “It saddens me greatly to announce that, effective today, any of my Amiga-related software development has been mothballed indefinitely. This means that, pending any unexpected developments, there won’t be any “Amithlon v2” (aka “Berniethlon”), nor any further support or add ons for “Amithlon v1″ by me.” Bernie Meyer, December 1st 2002, Untitled
Once again, the mailing lists, forums & newsgroups flooded with anti-H&P sentiments. To rub salt in the wound, Bernie released an image of the Umilator boot screen a carrot that only angered the masses further. Although there is a small chance that Umilator will be released in the future, it is unlikely to be in the short term. In retaliation, Haage & Partner removed him from the support mailing list, along with several other individuals (myself included), and announced that they would be taking greater control over the mailing list. In response, the list suffered a mass migration to the Amithlonopen mailing list.
The premature death of Amithlon demonstrated the dark side of the Amiga market. The issue of control has been an important theme throughout the year. In this instance a company operates in questionable legality, with full knowledge that Amiga Inc. does not have the funding available to take them to court.
Among the flame wars and cancelled products it was good to see that major development were happening during the latter half of 2002. AROS continued to be developed, providing code to various Amiga-related projects (including MorphOS) and gaining the first stages of an MUI-based desktop (initially called Zune). The dreams of Amithlon users were also being answered, with the development of two PCI Amiga interface projects dfx: and Catweasel PCI. Both products offered the ability to read native Amiga disks, but it was the Catweasel feature list that attracted the most attention. The PCI/Zorro Flipper card (a new concept that incorporates bother interfaces onto the card) enables the use of Amiga keyboards, joysticks, and a real SID chip. If drivers become available, the card could be easily used with the AmigaOne or Pegasos to utilize real Amiga hardware. Hyperion Entertainment also announced the launch of an optimised Quake 2 port for PPC-based Amigas (128MB and WarpOS required). Based upon the original GPL release, the game was later made available in a 68k version for Amithlon users. However, it was the AmigaOne that gained the most attention.
On November 2nd, Eyetech and Amiga Inc. announced the launch of the AmigaOne motherboard in an initial EarlyBird offer. In this scene the boards would be sold in three varieties:
|AmigaOneG3-SE G3 750CXe @ 600MHz||360.00||580.00|
|AmigaOne-XL G4 7451@800MHz||450.00||725.00|
|AmigaOne-XL G4 7451@800MHz||500.00||800.00|
Similar to Thendic-Frances previous Pegasos launch, Eyetech and Amiga Inc. indicated the EarlyBird systems would not be for everyone. The initial release would ship with SuSE Linux, with consumers being given a free copy of AmigaOS 4 when it was launched. The global demand for G4 processors also meant that delays were inevitable a situation that affected both Pegasos and AmigaOne sales. The announcement of Genesis April fix had also shook consumer confidence, forcing Eyetech on the offensive. Although the AmigaOne had been launched, it was available only in small numbers, while Eyetech were impatiently awaiting the arrival of the next batch from China. As a result, many customers remain waiting for their AmigaOne board during the first months of 2003.
In one final event for 2002, Sendo announced they had cancelled their Z100 mobile and filed a US federal suit against Microsoft (23rd December). After the disappointing news that Nokia had cancelled their Media Terminal on May 28th, it seemed the company was cursed.
Roundup of 2002
The year has been a dramatic one for Amiga news that has depressed the most confident of Amiga users. However, the availability of the Pegasos & AmigaOne is a definite sign that events will improve during the coming year. As expected MorphOS gained an increasing mindshare, with Thendic-France providing the marketing muscle to push it forward. The launch of the Pegasos has given Genesi a definite advantage that will undoubtedly be used to its full potential. However, it remains to be seen if the AmigaOne will fight its way back to the limelight in 2003. However, the forced cancellation of of Umilator (aka Amithlon 2.0) has weakened confidence in the market. For better or worse, the Amiga is focussed solely upon the PowerPC market.
The year did provide one major lesson, demonstrating how ill-prepared the Amiga market is for mainstream businesses and consumers. For years we have been stuck with Zorro slots, ancient memory and processors. Though the last two years have introduced mainstream hardware such as PCI, it has been used in a method that restricts user choice. The in-fighting of 2002 demonstrates that Amiga developers and consumers can no longer remain arrogant or complacent about their position in the market, but must become competitive with mainstream manufacturers if they are to thrive. The market must regain the professional viewpoint that it held ten years ago.