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 advancement in 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-8 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.
- 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 Seehund’s 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 Amiga’s 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 Dicken’s ‘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 Inc’s 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 Amiga’s 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 Inc’s 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.