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                         World Wide Amiga In A Box
  Paul Kyle                                              PKyleCA @aol.com
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[Not since the buyout has a single issue captured the attention of so many
Amiga users, this elusive "$500 Internet Box" thing.  Now that Amiga Tech
has announced its "$720 Internet Box", the Amiga Surfer A1200 pack, the
complexion of the issue is a bit different...-Jason]

For about two months now, I have been reading about this $500 "Internet in
a box" idea.  From what I have read, it has been stated that it is the wish
of several large OEM's to get out from under the licensing and influence of
Microsoft for a variety of published and unpublished reasons, too numerous
to discuss here.  I have read numerious articles in Upside Magazine,
Electronic Design News, OEM, Inc/Technology, and a host of other industrial
technical journals.  Needless to say, there would be a tremendous perceived
competitive advantage in such a market segment, if this were to occur.

 The vision of the future unfolds in several different directions:

First- we have seen numerous utilities incorporated into operating systems,
thus obviating the need for some of these smaller companies to publish such
utilities.  The companies that did not 'reinvent themselves' to deal with
the newer eficiencies or inefficiencies of our pc operating systems have
disappeared.  This vision extends to the future where the operating system
will include such things as an 'office-suite' package as the operating
system (As our hard drives grind on endlessly exchanging information with
gigabyte sized swap-files).  Many companies fear that there will only be
one or two companies left in such a vision of the future, leading them to
alternate visions of the future.

Second.  With a $500 internet in a box, users are visioned to 'lease'
software while connected to the site.  If you want to use a spreadsheet,
draw or CAD package once or twice a month but can't justify a $600
professional program the $500 box owner would rent its use for the time
hooked up on the phone.  The visionaries proposing this idea are targetting
a group of users that can not afford a $1500-$2000 computer.  I think they
have failed to reason that the software has to be real darned intuitive if
they expect people to rent things other than games or a simple word
processor.  Secondly, if someone can't afford a $1200 computer, are they
willing to pay an extra $30 to $50 per month for internet usage?  The main
target audience will still be those already connected to the net, and most
of us won't want to have to buy another box to connect to the net.  This
means that the server communicating with the $500 client will either have
to communicate with both the PC and the server, or they will be left with
an uncertain market for these $500 servers.  Thirdly, privacy is a hotly
contested issue.  How would your data files be stored, accessed, protected
when it comes to intellectual property such as authored text,
illustrations, drawings and such- that can be patented or copyrighted? 

Having had an Amiga, with a lower installed user base, yet much more
affordable software for many years, this vision of the future does not help
me to understand how such software becomes so 'unaffordable', necessitating
the idea of 'renting it out' over the phone line on a per-use basis.  The
Amiga is the better mousetrap, but the world is not yet beating a path to
its door.  More on this later.

If the Amiga 1200 could interface to this language/system, there would be a
clear reason to buy the Amiga version- it would no longer be a dumb box
that had to be hooked into a phone line to get some use from it-
(especially when word gets out that these $500 boxes have a $30-$100/month
utility bill attached to it every month because of usage).  The A1200 could
be marketed as a stand alone, operational computer, game machine, and
browser for surfing the net.  This would be one way to increase market
share and increase the installed user base.  Somehow, I suspect this is
more difficult than it sounds.

In an alternate vision in a current technical journal/editorial, a large
computer company (currently on the comeback trail) with the #2 operating
system should purchase a popular spreadsheet company which is for sale,
purchase a popular word processor currently up for sale and also buyout a
struggling elite computer manufacturer, currently offering a power-ful
platform.  In this article that I read, the editor stated that with the
given popularity and established presence and staying power of the
individual pieces, it would be a refreshing, welcome alternative to the
current popular operating system.  In this version, there may be room for
the Amiga to survive as an add-in high performance graphics and math board.
I am certainly waiting for this day, as it is the only way many of us Amiga
users can hope that such a system will enter the professional workplace and
establish a larger installed user base that will attract more developers to
publish software for it.

Others visions have this as the $500 box where you can rent software,
interactive rendering of your own opinion (America's funniest home-video
voting in the privacy of your own home?), purchase
hyster/overpriced/infomercial/trinkets, rent pay-per view movies with an
unlimited selection from a tremendous library at your own schedule, etc.. 
This will be in direct competition with some very large telecommuincations
companies, so it does not appear feasible. 

Now we start to see why this starts to take on such significance, and why
maybe the Amiga has such a hard time gaining professional respect or
credibility particularly from those with a market turf to protect.  If a
new computer technology takes a foothold, there is a tremendous competitive
advantage, as we have seen other companies abuse that power in their
arrogance and negligence of the customer.  As an Amiga user, I have seen
true productivity increases, on a platform that does more for me with each
application that I purchase.  I still use my Amiga whenever I can, simply
for two reasons:

My Amiga helps me be more creative than does my PC because of its
flexibility,

and

I can multitask more effectively, so the job gets done quicker.  The amount
of "IDLE" time- waiting for task completion (or the hourglass to go away)
so I can continue, is far less with my Amiga than on the PC where frequent
trips to the coffee machine break up the monotony waiting for my PC to let
me finish the job (Is Juan Valdez behind this conspiracy too?).

In other words, If my PC is analogous to being my pickup truck then my
Amiga is my sports car, and I wish there were more places I could drive it!
I'm tired of driving in first gear in the slow lane!  My pickup truck may
have more prestigious under-the-hood specs, but when it comes to road
handling and travelling with style, and getting to the final destination,
my sports car handles better, gets better mileage and gets me there a lot
faster than does my pickup truck.  The people who do the benchmarking tests
forget about that part of the test-drive.  While they are still looking at
compression ratios, the size of the spark plugs and the size of the gas
tanks, they haven't gotten out of the starting gate!  Its the performance,
not the specs!  Those of us who use Amiga's haven't lost sight of this
fact.

While the wimp (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pulldowns) interface can make it
easier and more intuitive for the average user to get started, we have to
remember that those of us who depend on computers to be more productive,
the market has moved us into areas where we constantly have to learn new
interfaces, new methods, new macros each time a software publisher decides
to issue an upgrade, and this slows us down each time, while the machines
slow down with such overdeveloped applications. 

Those of us who bought Amiga's did so because it had both features- the
wimp interface (for those things we aren't quite up to speed on) and the
Shell/CLI (for those of us power users who can adapt our platform to meet
our specific POWER needs).  Yes, Virginia, there is a POWER USER, and its
not simply a matter of having a 200MHz, 64 meg RAM, 2.5 Gigabyte HD with a
6X CDROM connected to an ISDN phone line!  It's those of us who want to get
out of the office by 5PM each night, not having to re-print a WYSIWYG
document for the 12th time, because it isn't exactly WYSIWYG, but more like
WYSIWYAGBHTRSTTGITLLWYRWOP (What you see is what you almost get but have to
reprint several times to get it to look like what you really wanted on
paper) and you have to guess how the magical operating system is going to
interpret your desires, only to find the tachyon field array random number
generator is seeding the flux capacitor to outguess you in a stressful
chess strategy so that it can drain more power, memory and system resources
(so that you will believe its time to trade it in for a newer more powerful
model). 

It's those of us who graduated from a wimp interface to a tailorable
platform (that can be modified to meet our computing power needs) who
recognize the value of a fast machine, fast software that operates quickly.
This is not simply measured by some standardized performance test in
MFLOPS/lightyear, but by how many trips to the water cooler, or coffee
machine it takes while waiting for the machine to free up, or whether the
TASK/JOB can get done before the 5:15 traffic jam adds another 20 minutes
to the ride home, and spouse is mad because you're home late for dinner
again.  (My wife doesn't understand when I stagger in the door and mumble
WYSIWYAGBHTRSTTGITLLWYRWOP'd again! 

Many times, I will postpone a task to bring it home for my Amiga, because I
know the task will only take 3 to 5 minutes on my Amiga 4000, while the
contorted logistics of my PC (or the lack of imaginative software) turns
the same task into a 30 minute job, even with OLE, SHARE, ODBC, OB-GYN,
DNA, AHA and Clipboard.  Sometimes I think those design engineers put more
efforts into the acronyms than coming up with a user-friendly program or
operating system!

While we all had hopes that Escom could 'reinvent and revive' the Amiga,
the jury is still out.  Colleagues tell me stories about Amigans visiting
Escom retail outlets in Europe, seeing Amigas turned off and collecting
dust, and being steered to PC's when asking for a platform that performs to
the Amiga's specifications- concluding that the Escom folks had not
educated their retail sales people about their new acquisition.  I don't
know how true these stories are, or whether its an isolated case, but if
so, it sounds like we are not out of the woods yet. 

The Amiga, despite the rescue and attempted revival by Escom, remains the
U.S.'s best kept secret in terms of raw, creative computing power.  I can't
say that I have seen Escom overcome any of the problems of Commodore in
terms of that- which directly relates to a larger installed user base as
well as a software developer base- but then again, that's my opinion, and
what really counts is whether Escom or SMG are selling machines at a level
that meets or exceeds their business plan projections! 

I was pleased to hear that SMG was recently named as the U.S.  distributor,
so I would like to see how they take part in shaping the future destiny of
the Amiga.  I was very happy with SMG when they took over Commodore's
failed Gold Service policy.  They did a superior job supporting me with my
4000 through the period when no spare parts were available and Commodore
was in the final death throws.  Perhaps SMG can help the destiny of the
Amiga also.

HOW CAN WE HELP?

Those of us already using Amiga's, realize the boost in creativity,
productivity and to selfishly protect that vital interest, we would like to
see the Amiga platform survive as a healthy competitor.  This means we can
get our machines repaired, we can upgrade them in the future and we can get
more new software in the future.  We wished that upon Commodore, and helped
protect it, and for that, Commodore survived longer than it deserved to.
In fact, the Amiga was a survivor in spite of everything Commodore did to
kill it as a viable computing platform! 

In thinking about marketing, whether it be an appliance, politician,
software or computer, one needs household, brand-name recognition before
anything else.  The Amiga does not yet have this.  It does not share the
same elite status that Apple Macs do, in spite of it being superior to the
Mac in performance, though some Mac software support is clearly superior. 
Why the difference?

Politicians resort to grassroots campaigns.  Netscape has done well in the
last year with a grassroots effort and a free engine for everyone to use. 
People are posting Netscape logos on their pages, boasting that their site
is enhanced/supported by Netscape.  Almost every web page that I see has a
reference that it was enhanced by "Netscape", almost like a status symbol,
like driving a certain car, wearing a shirt or cap with a certain logo or
popular phrase! 

Can Escom provide some support- such as an official picture/logo (not just
the new Amiga logo, but something incorporating the logo?  Are there better
web links for all of us to use to spark the curious but not-yet-converted?
Thoes of us who have web pages would be glad to support such a grassroots
support movements to give credit to our creative machines and the software
behind it?  How many others would develop top-notch links that entice more
users and developers to support our platform?

How about Amiga platform developers- do they want such credit too? 

This is FREE ADVERTISING and I am sure many of us Amigans would give up the
few kilobytes to store the images and links to a page that essentially
promotes the Amiga hardware platform, dealers, etc.  Current tech pundits
claim there is 24 billion to be made off the internet each year either
directly or indirectly.  I would be more than happy to give credit in the
PC world net pages to those tasks which are more readily created by the
Amiga and simply ported over to the pc side.  If I had 'created by' logos
from Electronic Arts Deluxe Paint, Soft-Ligik's PageStream, etc....I would
certainly use them, and leave in a link to those sites so users could see
their offerings, advertising etc.

(NOTE: I've cruised the existing Amga web pages- this is not what we need-
unless they already exist but are just harder to find!) This page reference
would be for the curious user that needs to be quickly told about the
Amiga).

What we need is a page link that catches the existing pc user that is
contemplating an upgrade- persuading them to consider adding an Amiga to
their household instead of trading in their pc.  This web page would also
hook developers into writing for the Amiga.  Perhaps we need a page with
some credits to famous users, TV shows, special effects done with it, etc.,
system cost comparisons ie, Toaster, vs Sun, vs PC etc.  This sort of
grassroots marketing campaign would be neccessary, independent of any
direction the hardware takes on.  Brand name recognition (brand
familiarity) is first and foremost before any sale is made! 

Does Escom and software developers support this conceptually?  Can a world
wide user group pull it off- with or without a nod from Escom? 

Currently, I'd have to say most of the Escom web links remain as 'insider
information', links for existing Amiga users to stay informed and agonize
over whether Escom appears to be marketing the Amiga propertly,.  and what
the latest information is about how many units are being shipped to where,
and what distributors are being named, etc.  almost like Escom expects to
keep existing Amiga customers (BTW, I'm not exactly ready to upgrade my
4000 yet, unless it's to trade in my 486 PC for a PC/Amiga platform)

Most people that subscribe to commercial internet providers have free web
space to run a web page.  On America On-Line, I have 10 megs for my
account, which is 2 megs for each screen name.  As soon as I can, I'd like
to do something like that to give credit where credit is due!

Can Amiga Report be a forum for this effort- a clearing house to publish web
sites that promote the cause and provide such artwork for top-notch
professional web links????