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==                        Zendrix's First Article                        ==
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Alas poor Amiga?
----------------

The Amiga is dead...Long live the Amiga.  What are we supposed to make of
it all.  One article proclaims that there's no hope for our wonderful
machine - might as well throw it out the window and buy a (uuurggh) PC.
Then the next one you read sings the praises of RISC technology, DSP chips,
Retarg graphics support, all coming your way in the guise of the best value
machine for the price, everyone will buy it, etc...  Personally, I agree
with rbeekman@xs4all.nl - get real.  However, let's not put too pessimistic
a bias on the argument.  Let's *try* to look at it in a semi-detached
fashion - a hard one, I'm afraid, but...  :(

The Amiga as business machine?
------------------------------

     The Amiga, as we all know is a great machine.  Yes, I'm sure you're
all sick of people saying this - so am I, but let's face it, it IS the best
value package I can think of for the low cost you pay.  Yes, obviously if
you're a big professional organisation, and you're looking for the latest
hi-spec all-singin'-all-dancin' system then maybe the Amiga isn't your best
bet.  But prepare in that case to get out a big fat wad of cash.  The big
companies can afford this, of course, and (often rightly) argue that the
expensive systems they're investing in offer greater opportunities for
customer support and future upgrading.  Fair enough.  The picture is also
gloomy as far as the Amiga is concerned on the small business front.  If
you don't have a clue about computers, chances are that you'll wanna get
some advice on the system that's right for your company - but who has
really been informed of the merits of the Amiga?  Mention the word to a
salesperson and you generally get a strange look as if to say "we are
talking about *computers* here, right?"

Even for that enlightened minority of dealers who are Amiga-friendly, the
struggle is an uphill one.  The PC - the bile riseth as I type this :( -
dominates the business market, along with the Mac in some areas.  Both
platforms have admittedly good software: personally, I have access to 386s
and 486s and use Word6 in preference to FinalWriter2, simply because it's
better - sorry Amigans.  But the point is here that if I couldn't get
access to PCs, I certainly wouldn't buy one.  The technology to my mind is
beaten hands-down by equivalent Amiga systems, and the software on the
Amiga is better value.  Compare the relatively inexpensive FinalWriter to
the monstrous price-tag of Word6, PageStream3 to PageMaker6.  The PC/Mac
stuff may be slightly better, but not hugely so - the price differential is
far from justified, particularly since PC/Mac developers are producing for
a much wider mass-market than that constituted by the Amiga community.  If
you're not aiming at the highest-end machines and packages available - and
you're probably not if you're in a small business - then the Amiga seems to
make more sense.  But now back to our enlightened dealer.  How does he/she
persuade the end user to make the right decision?   Herein lies the
problem.  It doesn't take a computer whizz to figure out that PCs/Macs are
saturating the computer market with their expensive advertising campaigns
and the sheer number of these machines that are already being used in
business.  If you want compatibility, and upgradeability, you can only
assume that the best computer for you is the one everybody else uses.  And
that, sadly, is the way things are going. 

Now CEI/C= UK - whoever wins the bid - can't hope to compete with the big
boys on their own terms (as Alex Amor of CEI acknowledged on the recent IRC
conference).  They can't push the same funds into ads, and they won't be
taken as seriously as will the other platforms, simply because the latter
have established names in bigger markets.  This is only to be expected.  
Most developers, particularly if they believe the Amiga is on the road to
hell, will switch to a more lucrative source of income, where their
prospects are more sure.  If they put loads of development money into a
good package, they'll also want a fat return.  The Amiga isn't gonna sell
itself as the ultimate business machine just at this time, I'm afraid.  So
what is its likely fate? 

The Amiga as Jumped-Up Console?
-------------------------------

     The Amiga has a well-established reputation as a great games machine -
which of course is part of its problem in getting itself established in
business circles.  But is this a handicap?  Much of the Amiga's established
market lies, to my knowledge, in the home; and much home use - though far
from all - is dedicated to gaming.  Some will argue that the Amiga should
stick to - and improve upon - what's it's good at.

This argument does an injustice to the machine - it can be very good at a
very wide range of things.  But let's put that aside for a moment.  So
should the Amiga concentrate on its established market?  Well, the fact is
that here too - as Alex Amor again succinctly put it - the Amiga can't
compete with "the big boys" - the Sega/Nintendo Corporations.  SegTendo
consoles are designed with one thing in mind - games (and of course making
huge profits from the sale thereof).  Make no mistake, these guys have
MONEY, and they're not afraid to use it.  They blast our TV screens with
trendy commercials and sell games based on cute cartoon characters, fancy
scrolling shoot-'em-ups or big bad beat-'em-ups with loadsa gore etc.  Now
these guys are releasing new consoles with mucho custom hardware designed
just to produce the kinds of games that kiddies will knife their parents
for ["gimme $100 pleasepleaseplease" - "die you little......" ;-) ] Now of
course these games aren't generally the in-depth stuff that have mostly
remained the preserve of `real' computers, so there are possibilities for
the Amiga in this area - only if, however, it's able to compete with the
PC/Mac platform in this area.  Already we hear of great products like Sim
City 2000 which will require an A1200 with 5 MEGS (!!!) of RAM to install
on HD, and 4 to run from floppy.  And even then the game will run slower
than on a 486.  This could easily be rectified by a well-placed accelerator
and a couple of megs of RAM, and still for under the price of the PC/Mac. 
But the question is: are there enough people out there to make the
continuation of such quality releases likely?  The Mac/PC market can rely
on businesspeople who take their machines home for a bit of relaxation, but
the Amiga is dependent on a much smaller and much more diverse user-base.

So what is to be done [as Lenin once wrote in a different context :-?  ]
Well, this all depends on what the Amiga's new owners have in store.  
They've already got some great technology to build on, and even if the user
base is comparatively small, it is a loyal one.  Amigans love `their'
computer precisely because it's not some alien piece of plastic stuffed
with Intel silicon or fronted by a very friendly Mac interface which finds
it difficult to let the user burrow into the actual workings of the system
with ease to see why this or that isn't working quite right.  The Amiga has
personality and its community will stick with it as long as they can.  It
can still be a credible games platform for those who are not turned on by
the thought of over-priced carts and games that are often so slick that the
alien concept of gameplay has been lost sight of somewhere along the line.

The Amiga still has dedicated programmers, and if some software houses are
moving their primary development platform to the PC, other coders are
moving in from the PD/demo world and presenting us with great new titles
(Team 17 are the most famous example, but there are other, more recent
arrivals).  The Amiga can have a future in entertainment software, because
it is a *real* computer.  People might not buy it primarily for games, but
they will probably buy games in any case.  The other computer platforms of
course have the same advantage, but they don't have the custom chips - if
we all spent the equivalent amount of money on an Amiga as on a 486 DX-2,
we too could be enjoying Doom2 or whatever in all its accelerated glory -
and maybe better.  But the Amiga is not, and is not likely to develop into,
a jumped-up console.  Its real strength lies in the diversity of its uses,
of which leisure software is simply one of the more widely- recognised
aspects.

A terminal disease? [excuse the pun]
-------------------

     It is surely quite clear to us all that the bidding process has
dragged on for too long.  Of course, we realise the legal technicalities
that have to be sorted out, the negotiations and offers that have to be
made, so it isn't necessarily the bidders' fault.  I believe that both C=
UK and CEI have the best interests of the Amiga at heart.  Both seem
willing to commit real resources to its future development, though it's a
real shame that David Pleasance and Colin Proudfoot haven't been able to
match Alex Amor in terms of PR - why, one asks exasperatedly, do they
constantly ignore AR's pleas to become involved in an IRC conference, or at
least to answer questions?  Obviously they have their secrets to keep - for
tactical reasons - but there's good business sense and then there's bad
publicity.  I've always been a big fan of C= UK, so come on guys, get your
act together (if you're even reading this :( ).  I'm being swiftly
converted to CEI, who seem to have a better eye for the Amiga public as of
late.  However, gripes aside, if both companies are committed to winning
the bid, then they must see a future for the Amiga.  Even the worst
businessperson does not put capital into a venture that doesn't look like
it'll succeed - unless he/she has more money than sense.  BUT, the more
time that's lost in wrangling over the final deal, the further behind Amiga
technology necessarily falls. 

As the Amiga is made to lag increasingly behind; as no new machines are
produced; as no new R&D is undertaken; in short, as the Amiga's future
continues to look uncertain, developers will, rationally enough, turn their
attention elsewhere.  Gone, or going, are the days when Amigans could say
"You wanna do 3D rendering - get an Amiga" or "You're using a PC for that
multimedia presentation??!  - hahahaha..." And those days will continue to
slip through our fingers unless we pull those fingers out (what an analogy
- ow!  sorry).  Every day is precious from here on in.  New stocks need to
be produced, and rolled out to the fanfare of a fairly major ad campaign
directed at the Amiga heartlands such as the UK and Germany to build on
established bases of loyalty, as well as in existing markets where the
machine is already extensively used in a particular sphere - eg Toasting in
the US.  The Amiga's very real advantages should be pushed for all they're
worth - more genuine multitasking than PCs or Macs, better value hardware
and software, a friendly but powerful GUI, easy expandability and potential
cross-system compatibility - for all those people who have PCs or Macs in
work but detest the thought of stooping to buy one for home use.  R&D
should restart immediately, but should not necessarily seek to emulate the
competition, because this simply would mean that the Amiga will be one step
behind.  New machines should offer something genuinely different - a good
reason for the sceptic to buy the machine instead of the competition.  Of
course, all us poor student-type low-to-mid-end users can't expect to be
able to afford this WOW!  technology just as soon as it comes on the
market, but as rbeekman@xs4all.nl said, those who can afford it, if they're
really convinced that it offers them something they need, will buy it in
sufficient numbers for prices eventually to be lowered, particularly as the
cost of the new technology drops as time goes on. 

Cut the Crap, What's the Verdict?
---------------------------------

It's all too easy to romanticise the prospects for the machine that we all
prefer; I should know, because I've already owned two computers of various
kinds as each went through its death-throes.  Of course, none of them died
overnight - no sir, their end was a long-drawn out affair, with excellent
titles still being released years after the official tombstones had been
carved and the coffins lowered into the ground.  So even in a worst-case
armageddon-type scenario, where no-one ends up with the bid, the Amiga will
live on - partially at least.  Good titles will be released for years to
come, particularly since the PD/Shareware scene is so vital.  You need only
login to one of the bigger Aminet sites to witness this fact.  Yet it does
seem likely that someone *will* end up holding the Amiga's fate in their
hands, be it CEI or C= UK.  Both have plans for the development of the
range and the technology, but their task will, I suspect, be a difficult
one.  The old cliche that money talks is truer than ever in the computer
world - witness Microsoft, Intel or Compaq in their domination of the
market.  PCs and Macs are not likely to allow the Amiga elbow-room, because
they know that the computer could pose a real threat to them, if only the
truth about its capabilities were more widely known.  Because of this, the
Amiga will have to rely, in the short term certainly, upon the loyalty both
of its users and software developers.  Only if it's given the breathing
space it needs can further development take place and a real chance for the
machine be generated.

The task will be difficult - maybe impossible: the market dictates - the
quality product does not always emerge the winner, as Betamax found to
their cost in competition with VHS all those years ago.  The Amiga is the
last true home computer - it excels in so many areas that it can't be
neatly pigeon-holed as a `business machine' or `games console'.  It has a
unique `community' of users who have a real affection for their computer. 
It has the technology on which to build, and it's not yet too late to
salvage something good out of this whole mess.  Our Amiga deserves a
chance, but a chance, alas, is all that it appears to have.  Time alone
will tell its fate.

Zendrix - the Writer of Wrongs - 11 December, 1994

Any comments, feedback, sarcastic remarks, anything at all in fact, can be
mailed to me c/o Darkseid at his padded cell (yes him - there had to be
some drawback ;-> ) He can be reached at ckb426@ujvax.ulster.ac.uk.  Maybe
someday I can get my own e-mail address to work - that's PCs for you...