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"One of those days in England" - The World of Amiga Show,
Saturday the 13th of April, 1996, Novotel, Hammersmith, London, England.
Luke Osbaldeston email@example.com
'Osbaldeston's 1st Law of Computer Shows' states that there will always be
at least one loser at a show in a Pink Floyd T-shirt with long hair (often
receding) and a geek-like voice, usually wearing spectacles, and, if they
can manage to grow it, a bit of bum-fluff they hope will pass off as a
beard and / or moustache. Certainly, this show had more than its fair
share of those who confirmed this law as absolute. In fact, this law could
have been written solely to describe Nick Veitch, sometime editor of Amiga
Format, who certainly had the Pink Floyd, voice and hair aspects off to a
tee. More on him later. For the record I like Pink Floyd, and have
longish hair myself, so I'm not impervious to the law either. No flames
about these subjects then please.
Oh well, I guess a lot of us will know the sort of person (usually male)
who hangs out at these shows, and I doubt if they're much different the
whole world over. The event was taking place on two days, Saturday, the
13th of April and Sunday the 14th of April. It opened at 10.00 am on both
days, and closed at 5.00 pm on the Saturday and 4.00 pm on the Sunday. I
went to the Saturday show in search of some hot news about the Amiga, and
actually found some I guess, along with everyone else there who bothered to
go to the press conference which took place after the show had finished on
Saturday, at approx. 5.30 pm in the Champagne Suite of the Novotel.
Before I try and recall what took place at the press conference though I'll
try and remember what I can of the show itself. I arrived at 11.00 pm to
find a large queue outside of the building. I remember the advert for the
tickets saying "avoid the queues, buy a ticket" or something like that, so
it didn't look too promising at first. I then discovered that the big
queue was for people who were paying on the door, and there was a smaller
queue for people like myself with tickets. I still had to wait to get in
though, approx. twenty minutes or so, as the organisers were only letting
people in as other people left, it was that full in the hall itself.
After browsing the free show guide whilst queuing, the word came along the
queue that Gasteiner ( one of the exhibitors ) had ram at low low prices.
They had the first stand in the hall, right near the entrance. They
certainly did have ram going cheap - I bought an 8 MB simm from them for 75
pounds ( times that roughly by 1.5 for USA dollars I think ) - a bargain.
If I had had the money I would have bought a 16 MB simm, as these were only
199 pounds, and the guys serving were open to bartering too, so it probably
could have been got for even less if you were prepared to haggle. They
didn't have anything ground breaking on show or any machines set up either,
just lots of bargains to be had - by the end of the day 50 Mhz PGA FPU's
were going for 50 pounds. It was worth visiting their stand just to see
what was on offer.
Once you were in the hall itself, standing near Gasteiner's stand, you
could appreciate how small the room was that the show was in. The last
Computer Show I had been too was at Olympia some years ago, a cavernous
venue also in London. It made this show look like a car-boot sale ( read:
garage sale for the USA. ) It brought it home just how far the Amiga has
slipped down in terms of relative popularity. I felt a little sad upon
thinking this, perhaps I had the notion that this might be the last ever
Amiga show in this country, or perhaps even anywhere else.
Going clockwise and keeping to the perimeter of the hall, next to
Gasteiner's stand was the bar. Just thought I'd mention it. I'll tell
you, you needed to save some money on bargains at some of the stands,
because the bar prices were outrageously expensive. The thieving bastards.
It didn't stop people from drinking though. Next to the bar was Tangent
Music Design Ltd. This, as some of you might know, is a business involving
naughty David Pleasance, ex head- honcho of Commodore UK, and, as if by
magic, there was the man himself, on the stand, with another guy, flogging
a load of crappy old Amiga software amongst other things. He also had the
company's Amiga produced CD, called Everybody's Girlfriend, for sale, which
he was playing through a CD32. Price - 9.99 pounds. He seemed to be
selling a few too. The main thing was seeing him though, strange, after
only ever seeing pictures of him in various Amiga mags to see him in the
flesh. There isn't as much of him as you might think, he is quite a short
guy, around 5.8 I'd say.
I felt a bit sorry for him in a way - a year ago he was gonna save the
Amiga with a brave new Company, now here he is as a barker, trying to sell
dodgy old gear. Oh well. Perhaps he's a millionaire for all I know. Some
guy asked him some questions about the Amiga, so I decided to eavesdrop on
what he said in reply, though it was nothing earth-shattering. Just some
stuff about how when he had seen triple A it had been done but was only
about 80% finished and still unstable, about how it was being run through
hardware and yet was still awesome, about how they had some risc- based
machine on the go which of course has never happened because of CBM's
demise etc. etc. I was gonna ask him about why he wasn't employed by
Escom after their swoop, but it didn't seem right, so I didn't bother.
There weren't any computers set up on the stand.
Next to the Tangent stand was Snap Computer Supplies. They sell
consumables and what have you, probably had some bargains but inkjet
cartridges et al. didn't really figure in my plans, so I passed to the
next stand which was Wizard Developments. They're well known in the UK,
mainly for selling Directory Opus. They certainly had a good crowd at
their stand nearly all day. They had a couple or three machines set up,
and were demoing Opus 5.5 ( not that all you soft sods who use pirate
copies will be interested - please avert your eyes ) which now has some FTP
support. From what I saw of it it looks pretty good. You could buy the
latest version of Opus ( not 5.5, I don't know the version number ) for 30
pounds at the show, a good saving and no mistake, but sadly I couldn't
afford it, and I'm still happy with 4.12 for the time being, though I
realise that you can't keep on using old stuff forever, otherwise you end
up like all those A500 owners who complain about lack of software for their
Wizard had some other bits and pieces, but nothing special, I think Opus
was the main draw. Next to Wizard was Digita International, makers of such
splendid software as Wordworth, which is what I'm using right now to type
this text into, albeit version 2 AGA. Oh dear, seems I'm guilty again of
using old software again ;-) I was planning on buying Wordworth 5 at the
show, but just couldn't afford it after buying the ram ( and an FPU. ) A
real shame, because they were selling it for 39.99 pounds, which is a very
very good deal indeed. I will upgrade as soon as I can afford it though.
Not that I really need the new features mind you, but it seems right to
support the company. They had all their other software for sale too, you
know the stuff, Personal Paint, Datastore, Money Matters etc. They didn't
have any computers set up though on which to demo the software, which I
thought was a bit poor. Their stand was long and narrow compared to the
other stands. They seemed to be doing good business, and it was good to
see a software company still supporting the Amiga. I think Wordworth 5 was
the latest and greatest thing that they had there though.
Next to Digita was Micronik. Now, Micronik have been running ads recently
in the UK paper magazines for their Infinitiv ( their spelling ) tower
systems and other hardware gizmos, so I was looking forward to seeing what
they had to show. I was a bit disappointed though. Although they had a
tower system there, I don't know, it just kind of left me cold. They had a
kind of PC & Amiga combined machine around on the other corner of their
stand ( which was a sort of capital L shape ) but the main problem was that
all the software that they were running was in German, and my German being
rusty to say the least, it kind of spoiled it as regarding having a go at
using any of it. They had some other bits and pieces such as rom sharers
and that kind of thing, and looking at their flyers now, they seem to
concentrate on that kind of thing, small hardware items. However, the
tower thing seems like it might be okay, does similar things to the HiQ
affair of the same name, i.e. Zorro II & III ports ( depending on which
version of the tower you go for ) on an A1200 fitted internally into their
tower box. These things will have to be a bit cheaper I think though if
they are to catch on. I'm sure that they are well made though, they seemed
it, and German goods as a whole seem to be of a superior build quality to
most other stuff, apart from possibly the late, lamented GVP's early stuff,
such as the HD8+ ( it remains the favourite add-on I've ever bought. ) It
strikes me that with Phase 5 working on a new Kickstart / Workbench for
risc ( assuming that this is true ) as well as risc board(s) too ( and who
knows what else ?), and Infinitiv working on cases and tower stuff, that
they could get together and pretty much build a new Amiga between
themselves. I can vouch for the quality of Phase 5's stuff, it is
excellent - their A1200 accelerators are simply the best. It's a thought
There was a bit of a gap, and then the next stand was Scala UK. I've
never used Scala and doubt I will, so although I looked at their stand,
there didn't seem to much of interest going on there, although they were
selling a few copies of their products, at cheaper show prices, for
example, MM 400 was 199 pounds, a saving of 100 pounds from what I gather.
They also had a 'theatre' ( since when has a large Sony TV with a few
chairs around it been a theatre ? ) on the Amiga Tech. stand opposite,
but more of that later.
After Scala was the Emap and Team 17 stand, though I think officially, this
was just an Emap stand. Emap for those who don't know publish CU Amiga ( I
hope ! ) or at least one of those Amiga mags anyway. I don't buy the
magazine being a dyed in the wool Format buyer ( but for how much longer ?
see later on. ) Now, this stand was busy, just about all day. The reason
? Some major hardware ? A bargain perhaps ? Nope. Just a couple of
A1200's running a demo of Alien Breed 3D II. And Matt Bettinson's 3000 as
well. At least I think it was him, I wouldn't know him from Adam
personally. I found his 3000 more interesting that AB3DII, as he seemed to
have some interesting software running on it, which on later examination
turned out to be the Surfer Software, i.e. AMIrc, MindWalker, all the rest
( so it seemed. ) Certainly it was an impressive display, I assume he has
a decent graphics card in the machine because the overall display it gave
out, with all the various programs running on it, was pretty impressive,
and colourful too.
I've a feeling the version of AB3DII was networked between the 2 A1200's,
and that people were playing against each other on the game. It was
crowded anyway as I've said. They were also selling their mags too, with
some subscription offer for the show. They had their editor as well as
other staff, and some Team 17 people were their, including Steve McGill,
ex-Amiga Format games editor / staff writer, who now works for Team 17,
though in what capacity it was hard to discern.
Next to the Emap stand was E. M. Computergraphic & Magazine stand. They
do all clip-art and that kind of stuff, and seemed to be doing a reasonable
business, but there wasn't anything too exciting on their stand for me.
They didn't have any machines set up. Next to them was Golden Image who
make some quality products for the Amiga, such as mice and track-balls,
that kind of thing. They do scanners too. It goes without saying that I
had a look, but there wasn't anything on their stand I hadn't seen before
so I passed on to the next stand. Again, no machines set up. I'm sure
they had some bargains though if you were looking.
IDG Media were adjacent to Golden Image. No machines again, as I remember.
They do storage devices mainly ( I think ) so they had Zip drives there,
cartridges and what have you. Again, this wasn't that exciting for me, so,
as I had done with every stand, making sure that I wasn't missing something
special, I moved on to the next stand, which was Analogic. They specialise
in Amiga repairs, and were also selling some computers pretty cheaply.
Seeing as I wasn't after either, I wandered past. Yet again no machines
set up. Next up were Siren Software, a company who sell various things for
the Amiga, from Apollo accelerators ( which seem a bit dodgy to me ) to
modems, consumables, various bits and pieces. They had one of the better
stands in terms of stuff for sale, and I did have a good look, but there
wasn't anything there that really stood out, perhaps apart from their new
Apollo 1240, an A1200 68040 based accelerator, that ran at 33 Mhz (
allegedly, they, along with most other stands, didn't have any computers
set up ) to give performance of 30 mips ( assuming you have got some fast
fast-ram ), which if it is true, is very good. The price ? 440 pounds to
you guv'nor. A bit steep, but a better buy I think than Power's Falcon
68040 board, which is 400 pounds for a card that runs at 25 Mhz and 19
mips. Still, ya pays ya money and takes ya chance I guess. I'd have
either if they were being given away.
Then came Eyetech, the people behind the new SX expansion for the CD32.
They had this and some other pretty impressive hardware on show, including
some sort of fancy genlocking type thing, which was linked up to an Amiga.
They had a good demo disc in their souped-up CD 32, which had the original
UK TV advert for the same on it amongst other things. Certainly their
stand was one of the better in the whole show I think, looking back.
Next to Eyetech were Zeus Developments, the only people I hadn't heard of.
Their ambit, according to their flyers, is to produce "high quality Amiga
Bulletin Board Software." They had a couple of machines set-up which were
running ZAPP ( I think ), Zeus Asynchronous Packet Protocol, which allows
you do various things comms wise. They seemed well-tooled up tech. &
software wise, and looked like they knew what was what ( if you can
understand that. )
I don't think that they actually had anything for sale, but judging from
the demos they had of their software, it looks good. Well, that was the
entire perimeter of the hall. You might be wondering where the likes of
Amiga Tech. and Future Publishing were ? Well, they and some others had
stands that were in the middle of the hall, so now I'll describe them,
again clockwise, from the stand closest to the entrance, which was Hi Soft.
The Hi Soft stand was doing great business when I first arrived. They had
a large tv showing the film Star Trek 6 on it. Always a good bet at
computer shows is anything to do with Star Trek, as you just know that
there will be some Trekkies there. In fact, 'Osbaldeston's 2nd Law of
Computer Shows' states that wherever computers are on public display, at
least one of the people in the crowd watching will be a "Star Trek fan", or
"person most in need of a life" for short ;-) Actually I like Star Trek as
well, but I'm not one of those people who lives for it, unlike other people
I'd normally pretend not to know.
You might wonder why Hi Soft were showing Star Trek, or indeed even had a
tv on their stand at all ? Well, it was to demonstrate their new Squirrel
MPeg player thang, and the quality ( apart from the acting that is ) was
excellent on the tv, much better than just about any other MPeg I have ever
seen, even better than Sony's MDec system in the PlayStation. The itself
was pretty neat too, compared to most of the other stands, Hi Soft had gone
in for a specific theme on their stand which was to call it all Net&Web,
the name of their new Web software ( Ibrowse, MUI, some other gubbins. )
Their stand was also predominantly black, with a neon sign on it ( unlit
for some reason ) saying Net&Web. They also used the very clever ploy of
just having a Fender Strat ( I think ) just lying around on their stand,
which always excites the anoraks at these shows, I think it stirs their
dormant virility. Yes, this years academy award for most useless item on a
stand goes to Hi Soft for their sepia Stratocaster, just pipping all the
Amiga Technologies staff into second place ;-)
I got chance to have a play with the Web software and it seems okay, though
I think Mindwalker looks slightly better. You need MUI ( they had v 3.4
there ) to use IBrowse ( v 0.98 ), and I would rather live without MUI than
with it, even though I have plenty of ram and a fast Amiga. Of course, Hi
Soft could be banking that most of us Amiga owners already use MUI for
AMosaic, so it shouldn't bother us to use it for IBrowse. Well, maybe.
Still, what do I know, right ? The software package, called Net&Web just
in case that wasn't clear, was selling for 35 pounds, which was pretty
reasonable I guess. You got various things with it, and it does seem a
good deal. Hi Soft seem to have struck a deal with Demon Internet ( a
service provider here in the UK ) that you get when you buy the software, I
guess to make it all as easy as possible to get started on the Internet
etc. and good luck to them. I hope they sell truck loads. They might
have to strike now, though, before the Amiga Tech. bundle comes out.
Still, although I have said it before about Digita, it is good to see a
company like Hi Soft still supporting the Amiga with some decent new
products, and praise indeed is due to both these stalwart companies, mind,
I'm sure they don't just do it for the love of the task alone.
Hi Soft had some other cheap stuff for sale too, including Aura, Cinema 4D,
Hi Soft Basic & Pascal, Surf Squirrel ( though I heard that they weren't
actually selling those ) oh you know, the usual stuff. Pity I couldn't
afford to buy any of it. Which reminds me, they sold out in a few hours of
their Net&Web package. I heard an employee telling a punter that they were
hoping to get more stock in before the end of the day, whether they did or
not I don't know. They will have slipped up if they didn't.
Next to Hi Soft was HiQ. The make and sell various things for the Amiga,
including their naughty Tower system. They have also come up with a new
thing, their Siamese system, which is something like an Amiga and PC in the
same box. Their stand was popular, and looked quite good too. Looking at
their flyer again they also sell other small items for the Amiga, I'm sure
you can guess the sort of thing, internal hd's for the A1200, accelerators,
nothing really out of the ordinary, apart from the tower stuff. They had
several machines set up, running various things, one of which was probably
the eponymous Siamese thing. Not being that interested really in having a
PC & Amiga in the same box, I can't tell much more.
On the other side of the HiQ Stand was the ICPUG (Independent Commodore
Products User Group). I was surprised and pleased to see these people
still going. They must have had the highest ratio of staff on their stand
to the public than just about any other exhibitor. I picked up some info
about Demon Internet off their stand. They had some bundles of other stuff
for sale, and a few machines set up, but not really doing anything special,
so that was that.
There was a small gap for walking through, then the next stand, which was
PD Soft. They are a pd mail-order company. They seemed to be doing a
roaring trade for quite a while, I don't know why because their prices
didn't seem that much different to their normal advert prices. Takes all
sorts I guess. No machines or anything set up, just lots of pd software.
Next to them though was Future Publishing, home of Amiga Format, reputed to
be worlds biggest selling Amiga magazine, though for how much longer I
don't know, and I think I might have an idea why. Their stand was poor,
especially compared to Emap's. They only had a single machine set up,
running a copy of Capital Punishment, which some might know is a beat 'em
up. It looked okay, but I think the A1200 the had it running on was a bit
ropey, as, to use that nice Americanism, it kept crapping out. Mind you
some kids moved it once and I think the monitor lead was jolted out of the
back of the machine slightly. The game looks okay though, better than I
thought it would be, smoother. It seemed popular enough, but then everyone
loves a beat 'em up don't they ? Witness Rise of Robots, possibly the
worst beat 'em up ever, but it still sells today, so someone must like beat
Future had some staff from some of their Amiga Magazines at the show,
namely the aforementioned Nick Veitch, and David Taylor, who writes mainly
for Amiga Shopper. They spent time wandering about though, often to the
bar, or that way in general. As I've said, compared to the roaring
turnover the Emap stand had, Future wasn't doing nearly so well, which
seems an indictment of sorts of Amiga Format itself, which has gone from a
circulation of approx. 140,000 copies a month some time ago to just 60,000
a month now, with each issue getting more feeble. This seemed to me to be
reflected later on at the press conference. Of course, only some of the
blame for this probably lies at Future's door.
On the other side and to the right of Future was Epic Marketing, another PD
mail-order company. Again, their prices didn't seem that cheap to me
compared to their usual adverts in the magazines. Still, they too seemed
to be doing a good trade. No machines set up or anything, just pd stuff,
cd roms, the usual gear. However, special, very special, mention must be
made of the Epic stand. It featured the guy who must win this years
academy award for "destined to run through a mall with an automatic weapon
in 10 years time." Epic have sold cd roms for some time featuring 'glamour'
pictures of women. I don't know the nature of these pictures, as I've been
fortunate enough to never come across ( no pun intended ) one of their cd's
myself. However, now they have bettered themselves. They are now selling
a cd rom full 'glamour' pictures of women in, yes, believe it, 3D ! Not
just that, but, you also got a pair of 3D glasses with the cd to view them
with. The slightly faster of you will have got their ahead of me with this
one - yep, that's right, this guy actually went up and bought one of their
cd's. I can still picture the fat guy on the stand selling it to him. Oh
dear. I was non-plussed. Bloody 3d soft-porn pictures ? The mind
boggles. If your that guy who bought that cd then shame on you ! At least
he had the sense to wait until late in the afternoon to buy it, when the
stand was quieter.
Behind Epic was Power Computing. They are well known in this country, and
sell some quite good gear, though often a little pricey. Their main
products are stuff like the Viper 1200 accelerators, not as good as Phase
5's stuff, but not bad, the old GVP line of things, Breathless ( a 3d Doom
clone for those who don't know it ), cd rom drives, graphics tablets, oh,
I'm sure you can guess. There didn't seem to be too many bargains going
there though, unless you consider a few quid off Breathless a bargain.
They did have a few machines set up, one running Breathless which was
popular, and one with a graphics tablet connected to it and some art
package running. Some of their prices were exactly the same as their
magazine adverts, such as their Falcon A1200 accelerator.
And that was it. "Eh, what about Amiga Technologies ?" some of the more
perspicacious of you might be asking. I've saved them till last. They had
the biggest stand at the show, one half being 'devoted' if that is the best
word to the new Amiga products, the other half consisting of the Scala
'theatre'. I'll describe the theatre first. This was a large Sony ...
oh, you read that bit did you ? Okay. An A4000 was linked to it running
MM400 ( I think ), and they were using this to display what Scala could do.
Quite impressive. That was it really. If you've seen Scala running
before, then I'm sure you can imagine what it looked like.
The Amiga Tech. side of things consisted of various machines. Yes yes,
for those of you who haven't yet lost the will to live ploughing through
all this and may have been reading it all just to for this part, they had
two of the 'new' Walker Amigas there, one set up, the other in a glass
case. Yes, I have touched the new Amiga - I am the chosen one ! For those
of you who haven't yet seen the pictures of them, well, if you imagine a
dark grey mini-tower case, squashed slightly, and heavily rounded with a
scoop out of the top curving down to the rear of the machine getting
steeper as it goes, then your getting there. In the front is a cd rom
drive and a single 3.5 " floppy. At the back were the usual ports but
minus a few, which they were I'm not entirely sure, as non of them were
marked at all. Of course, you could guess certain ports, like psu supply,
monitor, sound etc. but some of the others ... who knows. They were all
standard sizes and shapes though. The case is metal in case people aren't
sure, and has four little pointy feet on it. It reminded me of something
out the original Flash Gordon adventures featuring Harry 'Buster' Crabbe as
Flash - anyone remember those brilliant space ships that they had in them ?
The ones that used to fire great gobs of flames at each other. It looked a
bit like one of them anyway.
The shape did grow on me after a while - I like it. Perhaps not the colour
so much, but it's okay too I guess. The machine had Kickstart 43.1 in it,
which was copyright 1996 Escom, and a newer version of Workbench too, but I
think it could have been 3.1 at a push. The cpu was a 68030 @ 40 mhz. We
never saw it really doing that much though because the Amiga Tech. guy who
was on the stand near it wouldn't really let anyone have a go on it. So we
never saw the cd rom doing anything, just the machine running a slide-show
of sorts I think. Not really that impressive.
The Amiga Tech. guy who was by the machine was talking to people,
answering questions that they were asking him etc. You know, I don't
really think that guy knew a lot about Amigas somehow. Wonder why I think
that ? Well, when asked whether or not a new A4000 T they had on display
was a 68040 or 68060, not only did he not know, he didn't know how to find
out. Fortunately you could kind of have a go on that machine, and the guy
playing with it went straight to Tools on the sys: partition and ran
ShowConfig ( as myself and probably a few others were thinking of
suggesting ) and lo and behold, we discovered that it was a 68040. Wow !
As I say, this guy, who wore glasses for any John Hegley fans interested,
from Amiga Tech., who was 'demoing' the Walker, didn't seem to know but two
things about the Amiga, Jack and Shit, and Jack left town ;-) He did speak
about David Pleasance to one guy though, and he said something along the
lines of "he wanted the Amiga all for himself" in reply to whatever the
question was. I also heard Pleasance speak about Amiga Tech. now I think
of it, he said something like, on several occasions to a guy who was asking
him things, "I can't understand why they haven't done X, I can't understand
why they haven't done Y ... " etc. etc. There was a little info about
the Walker stuck on the display case the other machine was in, which gave
out some technical specs, along the lines of what I have already said.
Going to be released around September / October if you believed what you
read. Price - around 700 to 750 pounds. It will also come with a quad
speed cd rom drive, half gig hd, 5 mb of ram ( 1 chip, 4 fast - go figure
that one out ) and will be highly, nay, infinitely, expandible, according
to Amiga Tech. I guess these things may be subject to change though before
the release, if it ever is released.
Amiga Tech. did have some other machines at the show as I've mentioned,
mainly German A1200 hd's, the 4000 T, and that was about it. Fortunately
there was a guy there, who worked for Escom, called Ash, also manning the
stand. He was a student at Brunel University amongst other things, and
seemed to know a fair amount about the Amiga, and was very familiar with
using it. He was using AMIrc at one point, on channel #amiga ( where else
? ) as AshWOA if any of you spoke to him. I believe Matt Bettinson was on
too on his 3000. The Surfer Software does look pretty good to me, even on
a vanilla A1200 it works pretty well. There were at least 3 Amigas at the
show that were connected to the Internet, the Emap 3000, the Amiga Tech.
A1200, and the Hi Soft A1200, which was good to see.
That was it really for Amiga Tech. Their flyers were just the usual stuff,
Q Drive, 4000 T, Surfer Bundle etc., you know the score. Their stand had a
bit of a cheap look about it ( and with hindsight we know why now ... ),
and was also predominantly black too, like Hi Soft's. If it has seemed
like I've been down on the stand I suppose that isn't really fair, but I'm
sure some people will agree that it could have been better.
There were a few well known faces at the show round and about, apart from
those mentioned previously were Andy Davidson ( author of Worms amongst
other things, and who had a splendid run-in with the boss of Viscorp - see
later ), Jeff Walker ( looking pretty scruffy ), Gilles Bourdin, Petro
Whatishisname from Amiga Tech., the editor of CU Amiga whose name I don't
know, the editor of Amiga Computing, whose name I also don't know ( do
these two count as well known faces then ? ), Anthony Jacobson, publisher
of Amiga User International, and I think that was about it.
With the show being as small as it was, and with the crowds thinning later
on, I completed many 'laps' as it were of all the exhibitors at the show,
and saw every stand many times over. I was satisfied with the show once I
had seen it all a few times, and just looking at it from a pecuniary
perspective, there were killings to be made in some areas. I wasn't sure
as to what time I was going to leave the show at, as at around 3.00 pm, I
had seen everything plenty of times, and thought that there wasn't much
point hanging on. For some reason though I couldn't tear myself away, and
stuck around till 4 pm. At around this time, I saw the Amiga Tech. guy
called Ash on AMIrc, and he told someone that there was going to be a press
conference after the show was over at 5.30 pm.
After finding this out I decided I would stick around until the show
finished, and try and gate-crash this press conference, to see what was
'going down'. So I wandered around some more until it started to approach
5.00 pm, when the show closed. A few announcements came over the P.A.
system asking people to leave etc. now that the show was drawing to a
close. At just after 5.00 pm I left the hall where the show was and went
upstairs into the Novotel to the Champagne Suite. There was a bar just
outside the suite where some people were gathering waiting to get into the
conference. I sat down at a table near a group of people from Team 17, and
eavesdropped on what Andy Davidson had planned for the next version of
Worms, amongst other things. Earlier on I had heard him telling a guy
something which I found very interesting indeed. This may be well known in
certain quarters, but I had never heard it before. According to what he
said, Commodore, around November 1991, a full year practically before the
A1200 & A4000 were released, had a new machine ready to release called the
A3000+. Apparently it was AGA, and had various other new features in it
which would have really been dynamite for the time, and would have kept the
Amiga still to the forefront of the cutting edge, technology wise.
However, Commodore, in their infinite wisdom, sat on the machine. The
reason ? They had made the cases for the A4000 and wanted a machine to
fill them. Well, this is what I heard anyway. It seems that the A3000 is
still regarded as the best machine Commodore ever made. Oh well, who knows
how things might have turned out if such a machine had been released ?
Back to the press conference - I waited around until just after 5.30 pm.
From what I had heard and could gather, the press conference was just for
press ( never ;-) ), exhibitors, and business, and seeing as all these
people at the show had been wearing badges saying this sort of thing on
them, I didn't think I'd get in. But I thought I'd give it a try anyway,
just front it out and hope no-one tried to stop me from getting in. I
needn't have worried, there seemed to be quite a few members of the public
who had thought along similar lines to myself who were already inside.
[The actual story of the 3000+'s cancellation does not directly hinge on
the "A4000 case" crisis. The 3000+ was ready well before the 4000 was
built, but it was cancelled due to the management's call for a mid-range
ECS machine which never made it to market. -Jason]
I took a seat near the back ( the suite was almost full, at least 200
people I'd say, nearly all seated, with a table and mic at the front from
where the speeches were going to be given. ) It struck me as odd that the
ticket, nor any other official info I had seen, mentioned the fact that
there was going to be a press conference after the show. It was just luck
really that I had found out about it. A moment after I had sat down, the
First up to speak was a guy called Peter Brameld, who was the Director,
World of Amiga '96 Ltd. He had organised the show pretty much ( so he said
) and just said a few things about what was going to happen in the next
minutes etc. He named all the people sitting at the front table, which
seemed to contain a few Viscorp staff for some reason - I suppose the
writing was on the wall from that moment on. He introduced Petro
Whatishisname, who came to the mic. Being at the back it was difficult to
see any facial expression as he spoke. However, what he said was clear
enough. At this point I wish I had taken a tape recorder, but I'm sure his
speech will have been transcribed already by various people. The gist of
it was this :- Amiga Tech. has sold the Amiga to Viscorp of Chicago, USA.
Pretty simple really.
Of course, he said more than that. He explained why this had taken place,
and why it had had to take place it you get my drift. The only thing that
shocked me ( for I was shocked ) more than hearing this was the fact that
he had intimated in his speech that some people already knew what was going
on. Well, I'm sure the Viscorp guys already knew what was going on ;-) It
may be that all sorts of rumours have been going around the internet
suggesting the same - if so, I must have missed them all, not having time
to read the newsgroups etc. Some people didn't seem that surprised by it,
but then again, some of us did. The guy sitting next to me seemed as taken
aback as I was.
Petro went on to mention Escom's losses, other things that had contributed
to the decision, I'm sure some of will have read 'em. He also said that
they had sold 40,000 units of the A1200 since restarting production of it,
which he thought was quite respectable, and I think I would agree, along
with 2000 units of the A4000. Then he called up Bill Buck, the president
of Viscorp. Bill wouldn't let Petro sit down for a moment, he kept him
standing whilst he thanked him for all he had done for the Amiga, however,
he only got a lukewarm round of applause for 'all he had done' from the
crowd. David Pleasance was sitting 3 chairs away from me, and I noted that
he didn't applaud Petro at all. I wonder why ? ;-)
Once Bill had let Petro sit down, he cracked on with what he had to say.
The gist of it was this :- Viscorp had paid Amiga Tech. 40 million dollars
for the Amiga Tech. Were they mad to have done this he wondered when Escom
had paid only 10 million or so for Commodore ? No, of course not, because
Escom had spent a lot more than 40 million dollars getting the Amiga into (
a funny ) shape again ( the Walker shape ! ) ( see later on for more info
about this figure of money though. )
After naming a few people who worked for Viscorp who were with him at that
moment, he said that they had a number of ex-Commodore employees, one of
whom did the marketing and PR for the CD-TV which made me giggle - like
this was impressive or something ? Another guy had also done something
else which was pretty poor, it may have been the A500 cd rom drive fiasco.
Either way, naming these as credentials about the staff in question hardly
filled me with confidence anyway, these people sounded exactly like the
type of people who really buggered things up for Commodore in the first
place. Oh well, I guess like what Viscorp does in general we'll have to
see what happens, and give them the benefit of the doubt.
He ( Bill ) then went on to outline, as best he could, as details were
still pretty sketchy as the ink was still wet on the deal, what Viscorp's
plans were for the Amiga. This is where the fun really started ... their
main plans are to stick the Amiga hardware into a television so people can
use it to access the internet. Yep, that pretty much says it all. He did
say that Viscorp were going to carry on with what Amiga Tech. had been
doing with the Amiga itself, but also go down this set-top box route, with
the emphasis firmly on the set-top box. Well, of course people already
knew that Viscorp had a licence to do this anyway. Why might they buy the
Amiga then to do a set-top box when they already had a licence to do one ?
It seems that Bill was more than a little worried that the 'Chinese' ( he
never mentioned any company in particular ) were about to come and get a
licence also for making a set-top box along similar lines to Viscorp's, and
he didn't want that to happen at any cost, so by buying the Amiga itself,
they don't have to sell any licences to people who might want to make a
set-top box. Other licenses would be sold though for people to do things.
He didn't actually say the thing about the Chinese in his speech, it was
afterwards in conversation with a group of us that he mentioned that.
["The Chinese" would seem to refer to the company Escom initially pegged
for Amiga manufacture last year. They seem to indeed hold an Amiga
After saying a bit more about what he was about, he then started to take
some questions from the floor. I can't remember every question, and didn't
hear them all anyway, as some people didn't speak in a very loud voice.
The were a few pretty good questions though. A notable one was asked by
Anthony Jacobson, big cheese at AUI. He asked for some information about
Viscorp, like where they were based, how long they had been going, their
capitation ( is that the correct word ? ), turnover, number of employees
etc. Bill didn't answer every part of this ( in fact he seemed to
intentionally dodge certain parts of it ) but he did say that Viscorp was
worth around 200 million dollars ( I think ) and had about 40 employees,
that from 1990 onwards they had centred around a particular goal, this
being visual information or something like that. He said something
unintentionally funny, along the lines of the internet was like
electricity, and he wanted to make a set-top box that could be plugged into
it. It made a guy laugh out loud behind me, one of the Team 17 crew I
think. It did sound very corporate and American.
Nick Veitch timidly asked a poor question, which I didn't catch all of, but
it wasn't very good, and this Bill, who has very likely done a psychol.
course in power talking snapped him up easily. However, one guy who
really got under Bill's skin was Andy Davidson, yes, author of Worms etc.
who I have mentioned before. He asked the 64 million dollar question, the
question I'm sure had been in a lot of people's minds ( mine anyway ) since
Bill had described what he wanted to do with the Amiga. The question was
along the lines of "are you going to continue with research of a new Amiga
computer, as well as your set-top box ?"
It was a worthy question, and although Bill tried to argue that he had
already answered it ( he hadn't really, other than alluding to continuing
what Amiga Tech. had started ) Davidson kept hounding him for a straight
answer over it, and rightly so, as the more Bill tried to explain what he
wanted to do, the more it became apparent that he couldn't ( or wouldn't )
really answer the question to Davidsons' ( and the rest of our )
satisfaction. Davidson really had him on the backfoot for a while,
eventually Bill said he thought he was being rude, and took a question from
elsewhere. This didn't go down well with Davidson and his surrounding
group. He had certainly made a point.
Someone else asked about the development of a PowerPC based Amiga - Bill
said that they were meeting with Motorola on Wednesday of this week ( the
17th I think ) and it would depend on what might happen with the meeting.
He also said ( to a lot of disgruntlement amongst the audience ) that the
"Amiga uses the 68000 right ? Well, we're gonna keep on with that." Oh
dear, that didn't make him Mr. Popular either. He didn't seem to know
too much about the Amiga, or so it appeared to me, or even that much about
Amiga Tech. / Escom for that matter, but he is a guy who can think on his
feet that is for sure, and managed to keep a flow going pretty much all the
time. He also mentioned that there would be another press conference on
the 24th of this month ( in Chicago I think ) where more details would be
made available to people about what was happening.
Also, in answer to another question, about whether or not research and
design would be moved back to the USA, he said that Viscorp had research
facilities already in West Chester (where have I heard that name before?)
with a few guys there. He said that Viscorp would continue to use Escom as
a retail outlet along with other stores ( I wouldn't have thought Escom
were a good choice personally ) and also that he wanted to thank everyone
for coming and supporting the Amiga, and that he wanted our input as much
as anything. If any of us have any good ideas, we should get in touch with
him, or someone at Viscorp, no matter what, let them know what we think.
He seemed in earnest over this, and if you have got a good idea, and tell
Viscorp about it, you might just find yourself a job there, who knows ?
Also mentioned was that the whole deal had apparently made the front page
of the European Wall Street Journal - perhaps if anyone saw this they might
comment? Bill said he had been in touch with Manfred Schmitt recently
twice as well about the affair.
After answering quite a few questions, he sat down again ( to applause,
whether it was for sitting down or for what he said I don't know ;-) ) and
Peter Brameld stood up again. He now said a few words of thanks to
everyone who had come along to the show for making it a success. He had a
go at the exhibitors and other people who had decided not to go to the show
( and there were indeed a few notable missing companies, namely Silica,
Almathera ( busy working on a new cd rom based Photogenics so they claim ),
Gordon Harwood ( I'm sure they would have sold a good few accelerators at
the show if nothing else ) and one or two more ) for whatever reason. He
told a little anecdote about having organised quite a few of these shows,
and then said that there was a drinks party immediately after the press
conference finished, that there were free drinks and food ( though mainly
drink ) and to have a good time.
Well, that was a bit of a bonus really. Before he had stopped speaking,
people were off towards the bar, which was at the back of the suite. Some
tables had been set out, with baskets of crisps and salted nuts in them. I
made my way to the bar, grabbed a glass of white wine, and went and sat
down. Hey, it wasn't bad wine either. After sitting for a few minutes,
eating the crisps and drinking more glasses of wine, I decided to circulate
to see what was going on.
I saw, surprisingly, Andy Davidson and Bill shaking hands within a group of
people, so I guess they must have patched up their differences. Pity I
didn't hear what they had been saying to each other. I was a little
concerned how all the Viscorp guys ( I think it was all but one anyway )
were wearing grandad shirts, that is shirts without a tie-collar, just a
button. I stood in a group around Bill and listened to what he had to say
to the people who were quizzing him over things.
Bill stood around and spoke some more, whilst the editor from CU Amiga ( I
think - a Scottish guy anyway) did a bit of creeping to him (Bill)
though he did make some good points whilst crawling. Stuff was mentioned
such as local telephone rates, not trying to re-educate the market like
Trip Hawkins has tried to do with the 3DO, about how the tv was a good idea
for using the internet as people use the tv all the time, that sort of
thing. I'm not sure just how much the European market might mean to
Viscorp, that was an impression I kind of got from the way how Bill spoke
of things here. I don't think he knew too much of how things work in
Europe. After a while his sidekick, a guy he had introduced earlier at
the conference, David Rosen, came and joined the group, whilst Bill excused
himself and went off somewhere. Anyone remember the guy out of Die Hard
who tries to strike a deal with the terrorists ? Well, he wasn't exactly
the same, but I could see some similarities.
Anyway, this guy Rosen, apart from looking and even sounding a bit like
Dawber (spelling?) out of US sitcom Coach, seemed okay. He was being
asked various questions by people. I spied a chance to speak and grasped
it. Remembering my Amiga Report lore about Alex Amor and CEI, and bearing
in mind what he had just been talking about, namely, selling licences for
the Amiga, I asked thus :- "If someone like Alex Amor of CEI of Miami
wanted to carry out research into a new Amiga whilst you did your set-top
box, would you sell him a license ?" I thought I'd try and ask something
that firstly, made him sit up and think, as he may be surprised about me,
an English person having heard of, or perhaps even knowing, Alex Amor,
someone from the USA and prominent Amiga person to boot, and secondly,
would be the sort of thing Amiga Report readers would want to know. The
gist of his answer was thus :- "Oh yes of course, we'll sell licences to
anyone." I asked him further did he know Alex, just to try and pin him down
a bit. "Oh yes, we know of Alex, of course." Well, that was my 2 cents
worth. Thinking about it, on the one hand, Viscorp bought the Amiga to
stop other people doing a set-top box with it (so they say) and yet on the
other they say that they will sell licenses for the technology to anyone
more or less. Seems a bit of a contradiction there (if anyone really wants
to buy a licence for the technology.) I suppose that they might stipulate a
contract saying what they are going to use the technology for, to stop
people from using it to make a set-top box. I don't know. It makes me
wonder, as Robert Plant sang. He also mentioned that Viscorp hadn't really
paid 40 million dollars for the Amiga, nor would they be doing so, it was
just a good figure to use, it sounded feasible. Charming.
Some other people were kind of brown-nosing to this guy Rosen, and I stood
and listened for a little while longer, then went off elsewhere. One of
the editors of an Amiga mag ( not sure which one ) recorded his answer to
an important question he asked him, though Rosen said that he didn't want
to be held to anything he might say, jokingly. I got a card off Rosen -
however, it was starting to approach 7.00 pm at this point, and I had to go
somewhere else that evening as well, so after a few more glasses of wine, I
made a final tour of all the little groups in the room whose conversations
I could listen to surreptitiously ! There was an interesting table with
David Pleasance, the boss of Digita and a few other exhibitors on it who
all seemed to be deep in conversation, doubtless putting the Amiga
bang-to-rights. Oh yes, whilst I remember, David Pleasance had the
1,000,000 Amiga A500 with him at the show, gold coloured, with a
certificate of authenticity.
There was another tall American guy from Viscorp, I think he might have
been ex-CBM, had a few people around him, but he didn't seem to be saying
much of interest. There was a guy wearing a suit from Viscorp, short and
stocky, obviously the Joe Pesci of the company (joke) telling people to
cheer up. He should realise that us British are always lugubrious looking
;-) I think he went off to get a 50 lb. bag of lime. I started to reflect
about what American Amiga people might think of what had occurred at the
show. It struck me that many of them will be delighted that the Amiga is
'coming home' as it were. Well, I'm not so sure myself, but all we can do
is wait and see what happens. What I heard straight from the horses mouth
of Viscorp didn't exactly instill a great deal of confidence in me
concerning the future of the Amiga - in fact you might be forgiven for
thinking that the Amiga as a computer doesn't really have a future. The
truth is neither I nor anybody else knows what is going to happen, probably
not even Viscorp themselves at the moment.
To sum the show up then overall I guess I'd say it was probably a success,
and I certainly enjoyed it, and found it most worthwhile. Even if I
hadn't been fortunate enough to make the press conference it would have
been a good show (at least bargains wise), but being able to attend the
announcements as they were made (and drink the free booze !) was a real
bonus. It did make me sad, when I remembered shows of a few years back,
many times the size of this one, all based on the Amiga. The phrase "how
the mighty have fallen" seems appropriate there. A good question I was
going to ask Bill was why did he think Viscorp could make a go of the
Amiga, when it had been at least partially responsible for the troubles in
2 big companies already, and also what did he think of the claim that Escom
had just washed its hands of the Amiga, but I never really got the chance.
At this point, it is hard to know what will become of the Amiga. They
seem to be something of an enigma - I've just spent over 400 minutes typing
over 10,000 words into my trusty A1200 ( using Wordworth 2 as I mentioned )
and all simply to share a few recollections and opinions about some show in
a place many have never been to. It's not a life or death thing with them,
but I can't help but feel that if they should disappear that the world
would be a slightly worse place for that. I should take this chance to say
a few things about this piece too. I have very likely made some mistakes
whilst writing this. Shows can be noisy distracting places ( hence the
name 'show' after all. ) If I have said something which is slightly
erroneous, misquoted a price or what someone said, then I am sorry, I never
intended too. Just about every speech I have quoted is only a paraphrase,
I hope I have made that clear by using the word 'gist' judiciously. As I
have typed this entire thing from memory, it is indeed possible I have made
some mistake or other, and probably forgotten a few things I wanted to say
that I thought were important. I was going to provide a list of all the
email address and web pages that the I got from the various company flyers
I picked up but it doesn't really seem worth it, the information is
probably available elsewhere. What I will provide is David Rosen's email
address and Viscorp's URL. Both David and Bill were very keen as I have
said about people submitting their ideas to Viscorp, so get to it, if you
think you can help what have you got to lose ? Mind you, it might be an
idea to make sure your idea is copyrighted first, just in case. If anyone
should want to mail me about this, then my address is at the top of the
David Rosen - email: DROSEN@VISTV.COM
Viscorp - URL : www.vistv.com
Postal address - David Rosen
VP Business Development
111 N. Canal Street
Chicago, Illinois 60606 USA
As I went to leave the Champagne Suite at 7.13 pm, Bill was about to come
through the door I was using in the opposite direction. Of course, I
stopped and held the door for him. He said "thank you" as he went through.
I'd had enough time to reflect at this point upon what I had seen and heard
at both the show and the conference, and said to him, in a voice he
probably couldn't tell was either being sincere or cynical, "It's the least
I could do." He turned and gave me a very strange look, half grinning, half
frowning, mumbled something, and walked away.