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compt.sys.editor.desk By: Jason Compton
It's the end of 1996--a year that held a great deal of promise for Amiga
users. The Walker wasn't everyone's cup of tea, but it was a real sign
that some work was being done on the Amiga and that we would see some
improvements over time. Amiga Technologies seemed to have its act
together, more or less, and Amigas were available worldwide. Escom was in
financial trouble, though, and we all started getting a bit nervous.
Then I woke up one April morning and got probably the biggest shock I could
have received. A press release from Gilles Bourdin (a rare enough
occurence in and of itself) announcing VIScorp's intention to buy Amiga
Technologies from Escom. I had spoken with VIScorp's CEO, Bill Buck, in
the summer of '95, when it was well known that VIScorp was licensing the
Amiga technology. Bill summed up VIScorp's set-top technology and I filed
the information away under "Not particularly interesting to me." Why
bother with a cable box that did internet stuff when you can get much
better capabilities from a computer?
But the AT/VIScorp press release suddenly made VIScorp important to
everyone. I contacted VIScorp and established a relationship with their
Director of Communications, met with Bill Buck, and walked away confused.
But a couple of weeks after that meeting, he offered me a job. It was a
dream job description, and the sort of thing I'd made a few preliminary
inquiries about to AT when they first got started. Be VIScorp's liason to
the Amiga community? Sure, where do I sign up? Actually, to be totally
honest, I turned down Bill's initial offer, but after thinking about it for
an hour, I decided that I'd never be able to live with myself unless I
actually gave it a shot. So I did.
Anyway, time went by. Most people had shifted into a VIScorp gear,
watching them for news and information. VIScorp held a meeting in
Toulouse, which didn't go off much better than Bill's appearance at the
WOA UK. People were getting nervous about VIScorp.
Things weren't helped when July rolled around and Escom went bankrupt.
This derailed VIScorp's "in-place" acquisition of AT's assets, and instead
made it a dreaded bankruptcy proceeding. But VIScorp opened a dialogue
with the trustee, and life went on.
Rumors began to circulate about VIScorp, and about other companies that
might be interested in the Amiga. But nobody was willing to step forward
and announce it outright, so VIScorp remained the most talked about name.
August, then September came and went, and by now VIScorp had not acquired
the Amiga despite giving some explicit dates. The Amiga public grew
rancorous. The public flaming of VIScorp by PIOS, a sort of AT successor
company founded by former AT president Stefan Domeyer didn't help matters
much, either. My job was losing its dream status and quickly becoming a
nightmare, as I was powerless to push the deal along and not very well
equipped or supported by the company to make some serious reassurances.
Meanwhile, it seemed clear the Walker was to be scrapped. What PowerPC
work there was for AT was being directed by PIOS. And Phase5 was soon to
announce its own "Amiga successor" computer, with a high-spec custom chip
and PowerPC engine.
November rolls around. Right before I leave to attend the Cologne Computer
'96, at the invitation of Schatztruhe, Carl Sassenrath, who had been
VIScorp's legitimizing name, flamed the company. VIScorp loses its rock
star, and the public gets downright ornery. Soon after, I submit my own
resignation, and on December 16, my 7-month stint as Communications Manager
for VIScorp comes to a close.
So, where are we now? A second company, QuikPak, has stepped to the plate
and formally announced that it, too, is seeking to have a bid for the Amiga
technology accepted. QuikPak has been manufacturing 4000Ts for some time
now, and has been doing work on a 4000-level portable and a "5050"
Amiga/Pentium hybrid monster. Meanwhile, Phase5 seems to be moving ahead
with their "A/Box" computer, looking to lure Amiga users to a new,
"Amiga-like" if not explicitly Amiga-compatible platform. PIOS seeks the
same result, but their solution is a more or less generic PowerPC box
running the BeOS as well as the offering-in-development from ProDAD known
as p-OS, which claims to offer a very Amiga-ish environment. Rumors of
high levels of Amiga compatibility on the Phase5 and PIOS boxes abound, but
to date nobody has seen these things in the flesh. p-OS was on display at
Cologne, but is not a finished product yet.
At the end of 1996, the Amiga is the property of Escom AG, a company in
bankruptcy. Its trustee, Bernard Hembach, has told potential purchasers
that he will not entertain discussion unless they bring at least US$20
million to the table. VIScorp claims that its research indicates the
assets are not worth that much, and as a result nobody will back the
purchase for such an amount.
I was fortunate enough to have a discussion recently with Dave Ziambicki,
CEO of QuikPak, about their decision to publicly enter the fray. When I
expressed concern about their ability to raise the sort of money Hembach
was asking, he agreed that Hembach would likely need to come down in price
to make any purchase reasonable.
1997 will open with the Amiga in bankruptcy and its ownership future up in
the air, marking the 4th straight calendar year a bankruptcy has touched
the Amiga. We all hope that the situation will be sorted out expediently,
but I've learned that it's a lot more complicated that just walking down to
a Citibank branch and telling a banker that you'd like US$20 million to buy
a computer you can make profitable. Don't be fooled by Usenet denizens who
would have you believe otherwise.
But when the acquisition takes place, what then? Is the future of the
Amiga in the AmigaOS and a more modern approach to the hardware, with a
RISC AmigaOS 4 supporting industry-standard hardware to achieve its goals?
Does it lie in a replacement OS as p-OS presents itself to be, which could
run on both existing machines as well as PowerPC boxes, offering AmigaOS
capabilities in a more modern structure? Does it lie in a jump to a
platform embodying the original Amiga design spirit, as the A/Box seems to
be? These questions are not easy to answer, and the answer will not be the
same for every Amiga user. When the acquisition is completed, we will be
facing some very difficult choices. The Amiga genie is out of the bottle,
and it has become clear that no single company is likely to have the power
to control the fate of the technology. Companies have been waiting far too
long to allow that to happen.
Amiga Report will rededicate itself in 1997 to covering all of the possible
avenues for the continuation of the Amiga legacy. I'm looking forward to
seeing where the path leads, and am excited by all of the possibilities.
We are at the front and center of a growing movement towards the
establishment of a legitimate "alternative computing" market, unashamed to
stand outside the Wintel spotlight and strong enough to make our own
destinies without the endorsement of Bill Gates. Good luck to us all.