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Amiga: The Respected Alternative
Sergei Nester firstname.lastname@example.org
How to get the AMIGA back as a respected alternative choice to the high
volume ubiquitous INTEL/MAC boxes.
There are many different reasons for buying a Macintosh or IBM system,
which may be summed up by the following broad categories Software, Numbers,
Cost, Market Perception and proliferation of 3rd party add ons.
Software is fairly well self explanatory with industry standards existing
in such titles as Word, Photoshop, 3D Studio, Lotus/Excel, Netscape, etc.
But did you know that some of the IBM's most innovative software started
life on the AMIGA ? Lightwave, SCALA, Truescape (used to be Caligari),
BARS and PIPES (bought by Microsoft), Art Department Professional (Now
forms the backbone of Elastic Reality's software suite) and Real 3D, to
name but a few.
Large Numbers of these systems and numbers that are expected to sell, help
to keep a continued developmental critical mass occurring, allowing hype of
technology around the corner to continue driving the industry, meaning
people are likely to buy the technology today, knowing their system will be
upgradeable in the future (it doesn't always happen, but it happens more
often then not). With a small base of users and potential users (a lá
AMIGA), the public are more likely to wait and see the next model before
making a decision, quite often that decision is to wait and see what the
model after the next model will be like, when they get tired of waiting
then they will go out and choose the best value for money.
Cost is an all important criterion these days, now that the price resiliant
computer hobbyist is but a small percentage of total computer users. Now
that computers are standard fixtures for the home or office they have
become just computers with very little definition between brands and very
little understanding of the actual features of each system. Very rarely,
these days, do people say "I'm saving up to buy an IBM PC 386 DX (Buyers
always stressed the DX) with 8 MEGABYTES (Huge amounts of RAM at the time)
a 100 Megabyte Hard disk, etc, etc. These days the common statement is
"We've decided to get a computer...We'll just look around to find the best
deal". A lot of the gee whiz excitement has disappeared (except amongst
technophilic dinosaurs such as myself).
When it comes to the actual buying stage, why spend money on either a brand
you have never heard of or on a brand you thought had ceased to exist? And
even when it was around it was "...just a games machine". When in an
argument with a MAC/INTEL owner, and they pull out this throwaway line,
rebut this statement by telling your heckling adversary that the games
industry happens to be driving the IBM juggernaut. Advertising is one way
MACS/INTELS stay in the public's consciousness, the other way, and this is
the most effective reason, is the incorporation of these systems into our
everyday life and vocabulary. "Who hasn't heard of MICROSOFT? put up your
hands...Now please all those who have had lobotomies within the last ten
years please put up your hands, ah...I see".
3RD party add ons and the sheer number of 3RD party peripheral producers
means there is a card to this and a card to do that. There is now a card
that can let you tune into the radio...the only problem is it costs about a
hundred times more than the old faithful tranny you can buy from
Tandy...But, the point is such a card exists ! It also means that the more
useful addons (aimed at the majority of users) are produced in large
numbers by several competing companies, allowing the price vs performance
ratio to be both reduced (price) and increased (performance). It also
means that cutting edge technology is more likely to be incorporated into
So where does that leave the AMIGA and any other technological fringe
dweller (Be, NEXT, etc.)? well quite frankly it leaves them on the
fringe. Sure each of these systems is having success in some niche areas,
but an entire computer platform cannot exist in a niche forever, for
example the AMIGA created the MULTIMEDIA, TV GRAPHICS and GAMES niches but
has seen domination in these areas reduced dramatically, and in some cases
has seen its membership revoked from the very clubs it created.
There are still some great aspects about AMIGA. Most notably is the fierce
dedication to the platform. This is perhaps because of the fascinating
sense of history associated with the inception and conception of t is
system. I wont explain the history as it is a great story in itself.
Having a sense of history binds people together and forms a reason to fight
for what you believe in. Another great feature is the feeling that your
computer is an individual with character all of it's own. How many other
computers have silicon chips with names such as LISA, FAT AGNUS, DENISE and
GARY?. How many computers get GURU MEDITATION errors when they inevitably
crash? So perhaps being a fringe dweller does have its advantages. So how
can we remain a fringe dweller but also enter the mainstream? (this sounds
like a contradiction in terms but it is achievable).
By looking at the past to understand why the AMIGA was successful in the
first place. By looking forward at where the computer industry is heading.
By looking at how the industry is moving forward and finally by looking at
what people want today.
Why was the AMIGA successful from 1985 up until 1992?
Innovation is the key word here, but also innovation that was affordable.
In a period when INTEL machines were strutting their CGA/EGA feathers and
MACINTOSHES suddenly realised apples were red, and not black and blue after
all. Along came a computer system that contained a realistic (at the time)
graphics system (With a true colour system of 4096 colours on screen at
once). Four voice STEREO sound. TRUE MULTITASKING, Plug'n'Play and a
decent processor, all of this combined into a package that would remain
unbeaten until the 386/VGA era and at a price that was ridiculously low
compared to other systems at the time. In 1992 the AGA AMIGAs arrived to
counter the INTEL attack, unfortunately the only area where the AMIGA was
still ahead of the game was the Multitasking operating system and
Plug'n'Play. Strangely these features are still unmatched today.
Where is the Computer industry heading?
Who knows??..No one can say for sure, and it is this uncertainty that can
make or break a hardware manufacturer. There are however some fairly
obvious trends. Remote connections, such as internet and leased line
operations. Windows NT (Microsoft have stated that after 1997 Windows '95
will be dead and they will be pushing NT). POWER PC/INTEL. Standard
equipment included with a computer will be higher performance. Higher
quality software given away with each system. Standardising of high
performance expansion, graphics and sound subsystems. Subtle
Incorporation of computer systems into the lounge room (designer cases).
Software will increasingly become bloatware (The same program except with
more useless features than the previous version). Realtime 3D will become
There are some very interesting technologies coming through the super
pipeline. Recent developments in 3D/Holographic RAM, Super fast
graphic/sound Subsystems (TriMedia, S3, etc.) and new monitor technology
that moves past the limitation of RGB displays.
How it is getting there?
Because of the critical mass factor, storage, memory and processing power
has become increasingly cheap, therefore the trend is to either keep
systems at the same price but add substantially more computing power or by
drastically reducing the price of base models. As newer applications and
more bloatware is released, the hardware requirements are increased. The
time difference between updates to the entry level system is getting
shorter and shorter. But this could cause a consumer backlash but it would
only be a small minority.
What do people want today?
They want the best priced entry level system (Or quite often one or two
models up from the entry level). Very rarely will you find someone buying
a sub-entry level system (unless they have a specific requirement, no
money, or they are able to upgrade the systems cheaply).
So from all this a successful system could be unleashed. The ideal would
machine maintain a fine line between performance, innovation and price,
allow mainstream software to run and would have the potential to be
upgraded for many generations of computing.
It is easy to place a wish list of technical requirements into a box and
proclaim fervently that every man and his dog will want to buy one. Harder
is producing a sustainable long term development strategy. A well
documented mistake that the old Commodore made was to suspend development
of cutting edge technology in favour of saturation of the existing systems.
Other platforms manufacturers quite quickly overtook and understood that
the computer market is not stagnant.
The 8 Point Plan
1. The first step to producing a successful new generation AMIGA and keep
it successful is to listen to the devoted hordes of AMIGAphiles, for every
one hundred ridiculous or unviable requests there is guaranteed to be some
that will keep appearing up on everyone's wish list. This is not something
to be ignored, as it is these people who will be the greatest proponents of
the system. Do not alienate a very large and dedicated band of people.
Equally important to listen to are the software producers and vertical
application developers (Such as my company). We are the ones who will
produce applications that will encourage people to use and buy these
systems. Remember the greatest form of advertising is to have people
using your systems, people who are likely to be in the media, people who
are respected and perhaps just a little bit "cool" or popular. Think what
the AMIGA would be like if people such as Andy Warhol,William Gibson,
Arthur C. Clarke, NEWTEK, IL&M (Star Trek Next Generation) and Amblin
(Seaquest DSV) did not use and be seen to be using this platform. Finally
ensure you look at where the computer industry is heading as whole.
2. The second step is to theoretically put together all these suggestions
in the form of a finished product, using readily available parts and cost
3. Thirdly, examine cutting edge technologies and try to determine
development time, production costs, life of the technology and
expandability of the technology. Then determine how they may replace and
also enhance the off the shelf components out of step two. The key here is
to provide a system that is ahead of the competition when you release it
and to ensure you can maintain your lead, at least long enough to ensure
4. Fourth, put together a team of radical thinkers, conventional thinkers,
problem solvers, hardware designers, concept designers, artistic designers,
program designers and industry stalwarts. This will ensure the greatest
diversity of ideas, problems/solutions and eventually innovation. Aim your
sights past the next generation, to ensure when your hardware is released
it is not out of date.
5. Fifth release specifications well before the release of the actual
system, and ensure development systems are available well before the
release of the system.
6. Sixth, Standardise as much of the non performance architecture as
possible. All performance dependent architecture should be standardised,
but with the ability to be upgraded with ease.
7. Seven, Maintain the individuality of the system without compromising
8. Eight, Do not do any of this tentatively or half-heartedly, embrace a
pro-development philosophy. Encourage people to get involved. (The Escom
web is a great place to start to allow peole to offer feedback, ideas and
For value added resellers (such as ourselves) we require development
systems free of charge. And as much technical support as possible.
An important consideration that must be taken into account is how to get
the other fifity percent of the world's population into computing. Very
few companies attempt to aim hardware at females, there is still an
attitude of providing the most grunt and most gee whizz items into the
bigest box and aim it at males. A leaf should be taken out of the
automotive industry, who have suddenly realised that women will buy a car
if the car is aimed at their desires and needs.
What should be in the system?
It is not so much the specifics of each item, but more the role each
feature must play in the overall package.
CPU- Compatible with Windows NT, Infinitely upgradeable, Decent entry level
performance, reliance on subsystems for everything but system management
processing power. Ability for more processors to be added. Cacheable
BUS- Compatibility with current standards, but also easily changeable in
the future. Extra expansion slots should be easy to add.
MEMORY- Either used as memory available to the whole system, or available
to user definable sub-systems. Each sub-system can allow addition of RAM,
where no RAM is present in the sub-system, it falls back to the system RAM.
Allows for different price/performance levels. 3D/Holographic should be
developed (Imagine 10 gigabytes of system RAM)
STORAGE- Whatever is standard at the time of release should be used,
(3D/Holographic RAM could be substituted for a traditional Hard disk).
REMOVABLE MEDIA- Syquest, ZIP Drive, High Density CD.
SOUND- An open ended sound system should be used, one that allows multiple
processors (DSP, Tri Medias, etc.) and RAM to be added depending on each
users requirements. Perhaps development on a real time wave form mixing
processor would be advantageous.
VIDEO- Same as Sound sub system, but a definite look well beyond what is
standard in video today. Simultaneous video output necessary. As well
look at developments in monitor technology by Sony and Canon (12 primary
colour LED screens). Alleviate the need for actual expansion cards to
keep expansion cheap.
CONNECTORS- Allow easy addition of extra ports such as SERIAL, PARALLEL,
VIDEO OUTPUT etc. Have these addons made by AMIGA TECH and move away from
the card style and more into a plug in module. Direct support for
capturing sound and video, connection to telephone/cable lines and VR will
be required as standard.
CASE- This is going to be more relevant in the coming years. Accessibility
to add extras is going to be very important, especially as the systems
become more integrated in the lounge room. Exterior design is going to
become more aesthetically pleasing. Anyone for a walnut and burr case ?
The Operating System is the second concern.
The AMIGA is the only system that contains a three dimensional window
system. The AMIGA can open new screens, each with its own windows, that
are completely independent of the screens behind them, this allows for a
much larger more efficient workspace. This must be kept at all costs as it
is this one feature above all others that is truly unique.
Multitasking must be expanded upon, with an architecture as above an AMIGA
could become a multiuser computer.
Software drivers must be written for any card that can fit into the
Areas that have been identified and have been sorely missing, are
Networking, Memory Management, Printing, RTG, RTS (Retargetable Sound) and
Although AMIGA OS feels elegant in operation, it does not look elegant and
great pains must be taken to make the OS look simple yet advanced. Try to
interpret the desktop from a new angle, without losing confidence from
people used to the traditional Desktop/Workbench look and feel. Multi OS.
To run Windows NT or APPLE SYSTEM 7.5 is essential, but to run NT means the
loss of individuality, and the small details that make the AMIGA OS so
terrific to use. So perhaps NT could run alongside AMIGA OS (Very resource
hungry). They could be run separately one at a time (Impractical for file
transfers). A combination of these two. Or an extension to the NT OS
could be developed, that enhances NT. Whichever way is preferable, it must
allow the greatest flexibility for the future.
Intelligent but strict guidelines must be adhered to by developers, we do
not want problems of software developers, producing "system Illegal"
software. Encouragement to use retargetable code is a must. Self deleting
software is becoming a standard requirement..(if you have seen my LIBS:
Directory you will understand the logic of this). An interesting idea
pioneered by ACORN was that of antialiased text, which unfortunately never
succeeded, but could be reintroduced to work on outline font technology,
giving the crispest text display of any computer system. And allowing
cleaner representations of text on LCD screens and smaller screens. (it
would be really nice in a word processor or DTP).
Now that all the discussion is out of the way how to implement it?
Already completed- Reintroduction of AMIGAs back into the market place.
Already Completed- Alliance with strategic partners (SCALA, NEWTEK,
MOTOROLA). Licensing of OS and hardware. Sure up software developers,
especially ones that are PC/MAC only.
Begin the 8 point plan as set out above.
Implement stepping stone OS
Implement new Hardware. Phase out marketing of old hardware, but keep
production going as long as there is demand (i.e. Vertical markets,
Set-Top boxes etc.)
Stage six: Implement new OS.
Stage seven: Keep returning to Stage three.
An Example of base level system could be. This is only an example nothing
Single 603 Power PC Chip.
2 PCI Slots.
Single Graphics Processor 1 eg RAM (800x600 64k colours)
Single Sound Processor 1 Meg RAM (18 Voice Stereo at 16 bit)
1 Parallel + 1 Serial port
8 Meg System RAM
AMIGA OS only
1 SVGA, 1 COMPOSITE Video Output
1 DVD CD Rom Drive
1 ZIP Drive.
1 Gigabyte Hard Disk.
15 inch SVGA Monitor
Price $1795 US
Add ons example.
Extra 603 upgrade module from: $145ea
604 Upgrade Module from: $295ea
Extra DSP for sound: $95ea
Extra Glint/S3 graphics chip $145ea
Extra Serial/Parallel/SCSI module:$29 ea
Larger case:White 6 slot $150
Larger case:Designer 6 slot from $200
An example of a high end system:
Dual 604 power PC chips + 2 Meg Cache
4 PCI 2 Zorro IV slots
Dual Graphics processors 6 Meg VRAM (1600x1024 24 bit)
Dual Sound Processors 2 Meg VRAM (36 voice at 24 bit, 3D sound)
2 parallel, 3 serial connectors
64 Meg System RAM
AMIGA OS+NT extensions
Dual SVGA, 1 Composite, 1 SVHS connectors
Video, Sound input connectors.
1 High Density ZIP Drive
1 DVD CD ROM
4 Gigabyte Hard Disk
17 inch SVGA Monitor
Price $9950 US
Wish list stuff.
There are many areas not covered here such as how do you get a wish list
system down to a price that the general public can afford? Who do you
approach who would be a dedicated proponent of this system? Should it be
taken carefully and slowly and carefully or should all the resources be
utilised and get it done as fast as possible? Who will buy it? Can we
make any money out of it?
Stage one and two are completed, it is now time to start the 8 point plan,
and put together a dynamic, dedicated, innovative team. And when the
desire and enthusiasm start flowing, then it will become infectious.
Please reply to this however you feel about it, some discussion from ESCOM
would be appreciated.
C/O Autech Research
P.O. Box 764
Ph +61 018 123344
Fax +61 03 342481