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                       Optimism in the Age of Amiga
  Kermit Woodall                                    Kermit@cup.portal.com
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Too darned often these days I get asked variations of the following
question, 'Why are you still so positive on the Amiga?' My smart-aleck
answer, that I've never said until now, is another question, 'Why the HELL
shouldn't I be positive?!'

Ask yourself this question.  For a moment don't focus endlessly on the
negatives dreamed up by people who have nothing better to do or have left
the Amiga for the world of high priced software on Macs and PCs.  After
all, there are three kinds of people you should never listen to;
ex-smokers, dieters, and ex-Amigans.  They're all on a mission to prove
that what they do now is proven right by the evils of what they did before.

You there in the 'Boing' tee-shirt!  Stop scratching yourself and THINK for
a second.  When Commodore went under did your Amiga flip over and begin
emitting clouds of black smoke?  Did the latest demos from Europe suddenly
require features of unreleased chipsets?  When Escom announced the sale of
Amiga Technologies to VIScorp did your software disks magically reformat
themselves into the PC format?  Did your hard drive suddenly allocate an
85mb partition with the note; 'Put Windoze-95 Here'? 

Nope.  Didn't happen did it?  I don't have to make a cross-country census
to check.  I KNOW.  Your Amiga is still doing the job you asked it to do
before, during and after all the supposed crises.

What did happen is that some people let some other people turn their heads
and they lost their cool.  Specifically, they AREN'T cool anymore.  Cool
Amiga users still use Amigas.  The Amiga didn't lose it's Cool.  Just a few
more people jumped ship when they found they needed to use a word processor
and a spreadsheet more than they needed to make cool graphics and
animations.

'Waitaminute,' cries out a tortured Amigan!  'LightWiget ported to the PC -
people do animations with it alla time now.  PCs are cool now, right?' If
this were so then we should have seen the end of the PC people and their
platform wars, but we haven't.  PCs got 3D software, sure they do, but who
gets to USE it there?  People whose companies do the type of work that
requires budgets and expense accounts.  These companies gotta be a bit
bigger because on the PC, guess what, the software COSTS are quite a bit
bigger.  Do they sell more software there?  If you'd heard what I've heard
and read what I've read, you'll see the answer is too often...(drum
roll)...no.

'But they have so much software, so many choices, and we're so limited now
on the Amiga', cries out that tortured Amigan soul.  Sadly I see the
faithful are now fatally 're-educating' that soul.  A moment of silence
before we posthumously answer him.  Choices he said?  Sorry, no.  No ARexx
integration on the PC or Mac.  No real batch processing.  Pitifully few 2D
paint and effects programs.  Outside of 3D packages that pushed themselves
over there, the rest of the graphics software there can be primitive at
best.  Or even worse.  (cover the children's ears) Proprietary. 

You think cheap graphics and video solutions are appearing on the PC? 
Nope.  The Video Toaster and Flyer, Amiga products both, are still one of
the best bargains in the video industry!  After early promises by various
PC companies, the reality has shown up at shipping time for them.  Any
board similar to a Toaster, including yet-to-ship products that might offer
more features, cost upwards of FIVE TIMES the cost of a Toaster.  To start
with!  When Commodore fell, the PC industry stopped trying to compete with
Toaster and Amiga prices while still hoping to fool everyone into thinking
the revolution moved next door onto a PC.  It didn't!  Joe User in Anytown
USA can't afford a $2600 Pentium, plus $10,000 of video cards and assorted
hardware, plus another $5000 of new video software that can't integrate
(remember, no ARexx!) and can't batch process.  He can't afford the Mac
prices for this stuff either.  (Even if he does trust Apple to micro-manage
itself out of the mess it's gotten itself into.) Look gang, it's now many
years later and the Video Toaster STILL leads the desktop video revolution!

I talk with the big boys, the ones you read about in all the magazines,
who've 'left' the Amiga to animate on other machines.  Know what they use
to get everything done now?  Everything.  They use farms of expensive PCs
to render 3D animations.  Networks of SGIs running deca-thousand dollar
software packages to do 2D effects.  ...oh yeah, and they still keep their
Amigas around for all the basic batch processing tasks that they still
can't get done on all this new equipment that in some cases cost upwards of
a quarter-million to put in place.  What did they get out of all of this? 
Some increased speed in 3D animation rendering.  A lot of new bills to pay.
A lot of new specialized computer consultants to pay.  Oh yeah, and happy
people down at the local power company.  Magazines don't report on all
those facts.  Magazines are oriented towards 'What's New' not the 'What's
Here and Now'.

The Amiga's software is still top notch.  Honestly you can pick up a couple
of software packages for a few hundred bucks on the Amiga that will do
stuff that costs those tens of thousands to get on the SGI and just aren't
available on the PC.  Modesty prevents me from pointing out the company
that makes some of this software.  Really it does.  Anyways, the neat thing
about this is that good ole Joe User can do the same jobs as the big guys
and probably at half the cost.  If nothing else, he can do jobs for clients
who want the Spielberg look on an infomercial budget.  I've seen this sort
of work, and you know what?  You Amiga guys are pretty darned talented.

The Amiga also has it's users.  Some call it loyalty.  Some call it
fanaticism.  It's not that mild and it's not that wild either.  Mostly,
despite ourselves, it's our sense of community.  Example.  I walk into my
office the other day and in the building lobby there sits a guy waiting for
someone.  Turns out, it's me!  Now, when you're an Amiga software
developer, I've learned you expect to have local Amiga users drop by to see
how things work.  Turns out this 'local' Amiga user was Esa Haapaniemi.
From Finland.  He also brought doughnuts.  Very cool.  Very cool Amiga
user.  We had a great time.  (note: before you pack your bags and plan your
itinerary, I'll advise you of what Esa learned the hard, patient, way.  We
keep strange hours.  When you sell software around the world out of a set
of offices in Richmond, Virginia, you alter your hours to fit the rest of
the world.)

You think the Amiga's in a No-Win situation?  You're right, it is!  As in
'No Win-95'.  The Amiga has many strengths, and when it's not the software
sellers like my company, it's all in the OS.  That little mighty marvel of
marvelous microcoded ingenuity; AmigaDOS.  No bloated 16-bit prehistory.
No gratuitous river of driver software for this display or that display
included to make everyone happy.  Remember the laughable reports of
'Windoze for Microwaves'?  I'm serious.  Bill thought his coders could
shrink down Windoze to make a general purpose control paradigm for
household appliances.  I'll admit I sometimes can't puzzle out
'auto-defrost' but at least if I get it wrong my Microwave doesn't crash
with a Group Protection Fault and reboot my frozen dinner into my forehead.
VIScorp with their ED settop box have the right idea.  The Amiga - It's the
'No-Win' solution!

If you think the current situation with the Amiga is anything but great,
you're sanity-challenged.  VIScorp is shelling out 40 million samolians to
grab this technology.  Folks, they had licensed all the rights they needed
for their business-as-usual.  They're looking for the business that's
as-unusual now.  Escom rebuilt, in a wowzer of a fast time too, the Amiga
and Amiga Technologies into a viable company.  Now Amiga Tech.  and VIScorp
seem very pleased with all the Amiga 'clones'.  Want to know a secret.  I'm
very pleased too.  Clones made the PC the force it is today.  If IBM hadn't
screwed up and left the door open for the PC technology to slip out, they
would've killed the PC back in the 1980's.  Did you realize there are at
least, today, FIVE companies creating Amiga 'clones'?  Macrosystems/DraCo
(they hate to admit it, but it's a pretty decent Amiga clone), Eagle
Computers GmbH, PIOS, phase5, and Quikpak.  Clones mean competition. 
Competition means prices fall.  Falling prices mean sales.  Sales mean more
competition.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  Check what's happening already with
the pricing on the Eagle 4000TE computers if you don't think this will
happen!  PIOS, phase5 and others are going to be vying to bring you the
next generation of PowerPC based Amiga hardware.  This is closer than you
think and it has the possibility of being cheaper than you think as well. 
It's all silicon and the prices of sand aren't rising like they used to!

The Amiga's got cool users, great magazines (like Amiga Report), cutting
edge software, the best operating system and some aggressively interesting
hardware here - with more coming every time I turn around!

So why am I positive about the Amiga?  Why?  Because I'm still having FUN!


Kermit Woodall
Nova Design, Inc.
1910 Byrd Avenue, Suite 214
Richmond, VA 23230  USA
http://www.novadesign.com