In Response, and Furthermore..

Looking at recent events

By Michael Webb, Editor-in-Chief, See staff list for e-mail address

First, I'd like to thank those who wrote in to voice their opinions on my latest opening editorial (see the April 1998 issue, Volume 2 Issue 9, presumably available at Your input is welcome, and helps to give me a feel for the general state of mind in the Amiga community, especially when there's a wide assortment of feedback. Keep it coming!

It's been quite a month. I'd like to break down the sequence of events pertinent to this editorial before I go any further:

  1. Mid April, 1998: I write the April 1998 "Editor's Notes" column, something I usually do just before publication.
  2. Late April, 1998: Amiga Inc. reps make noise in an IRC conference about an upcoming major announcement.
  3. End of April, 1998: The April 1998 issue of The Amiga Monitor is released, with a short piece added to mention and incorporate this news.
  4. Early May, 1998: As expected, the feedback to Editor's Notes starts coming in.
  5. Mid May, 1998: Amiga makes their big announcement at WOA.

Before I start picking at the details of these circumstances, I want to establish one thing about my point of view: I am not considering abandoning the Amiga. I have been with this platform since 1988; in 1994, I brought a PC into the fold, but it did nothing to shake my confidence in my Amiga. In the summer of 1997, I displayed and reinforced this confidence by buying a new A4000T. I used to use both my PC and Amiga to put together The Amiga Monitor, but I have deliberately moved more of it to the Amiga side lately, and will continue to do so. Somewhat ironically, my A4000T currently sits quietly on a dresser top waiting for me to take the time to install a replacement hard disk for the one which died several weeks ago, while I have returned to the A500 system to put this entire issue of AM together.

In short, I am as committed to this platform as ever. What has changed, however, is that for a time, I was an "Amiga fanatic"; These days, I have replaced my fanaticism with the simple belief that for my purposes, the Amiga is by far the best choice.

My disgust and irritation has been directed not at the platform itself, then, but at the people running it. Last month, I expressed the view that Amiga Inc. (and/or Gateway 2000) was making a half-hearted attempt at reviving our almost-dead platform, the most blatant sign of which was the decision not to produce new Amigas. To address specific points from the feedback I received, yes, the Amiga could in principle survive without the central company producing the machines, and indeed, in the PC world, many people buy clones rather than "the genuine article," the IBM itself. However, for a company with the resources of Gateway 2000 behind it, and a platform in such dire straits (and recall that really, the clock has been ticking since the original A4000 came off the production line), the lack of central manufacturing and distribution, when it could provide just that much more direction, strength, and unity, is inexcusable (to say nothing of what it suggests about the company's level of commitment). Note that the PC is by far the most entrenched of the major platforms; they can survive without the world revolving around IBM (although Microsoft and Intel together have somewhat taken that role, but that's a different story entirely).

Much of this may now be a moot point, however. As we all know by this time, Amiga Inc. has declared a radically ambitious plan for the platform, one which is entirely feasible (with Gateway 2000 in the picture, anyway), and could prove to reestablish the Amiga as a prime contender in the computer market. Unfortunately, this has not come without confusion and uncertainty. Much of this traces back to the Joe Torre self-interview from several months ago, which I used as the basis of my previous editorial. This new announcement seems to contradict most of what he said. I gather, for instance, that Amiga Inc. may indeed be producing new machines, and that the 680x0 and PPC are not in the picture at all. I must ask what the purpose was, then, of even doing that interview in the first place, seen as how it very explicitly detailed the general picture of the Amiga's immediate future. Or did they really change their minds in such a short time? Somehow, I doubt that.

It is time to look eagerly to the future. If Amiga does us right, the new generation engineering will see unparalleled capability and computing power that accentuates the Amiga's long-time strengths, and reveals irreversibly the gunk at the core of Windows (and the sluggish, pedantic face of MacOS). I have repeatedly emphasized the strength of the Amiga's existing architecture throughout AM's run, citing as examples the AAA chipset and hypothetical Zorro IV bus, and arguing that such technology, if coupled with the CPU's we already know and trust (i.e. 50-MHz 68030 through ??-MHz 68060), could result in powerful, capable new Amigas in a short time that would ably fill the void left by Commodore, especially when run under AmigaOS more or less as it is now. Personally, I would still like to see such Amiga systems. But, AM was begun in mid 1996, and the clock has been continuing to tick irreversibly since that time; and if the resources to make such a change are there, it may be time to accept a new, perhaps more standardized, architecture. My only concerns in this matter are whether this can be accomplished in the time frame given (i.e. whether they've bitten off more than they can chew) without further market dissolution and loss of user and developer base, and that some of the Amiga's uniqueness and capability might be lost in the process. These are very real concerns; Oregon Research just lost the thread by which it was hanging, citing as a reason the extraordinarly long delay (which may have ended many months ago if Amiga Inc. had quickly completed and implemented such technology as AAA). And I could always go to the local store and buy a very inexpensive, and very useful, Wintel box to replace my aging Amigas; if future Amigas are changed too much, what incentive will I, or anybody, have to move to them, when the alternative (PC's) would provide such a massive software, accessory, and support base? For the Amiga to survive, it is imperative that it remains an Amiga, and all the good things that entails.

Further, I hate to spoil the party, but some questionable decisions came out of the WOA. Primarily, I'm troubled by the idea that Amiga Inc. is going to look to a third party for the basis of the kernel of the next AmigaOS. I'm sorry, but I find that completely absurd. I thought we all agreed that AmigaOS was the best thing this platform had going for it, and that it simply needed some added features and user-friendliness, and an overall modernization, to return to the fore. Why on Earth would anyone abandon something like that, especially since doing so is certain to demand tremendous amounts of time and resources that could be better spent in getting the machines finished and out the door? There is no need to leave behind AmigaOS "as we know it." Combine with this the fact that Amiga Inc. is apparently changing hardware platforms as well, and one is left with the question, how much of what remains will truly be Amiga? It appears as though the platform as we know it is being destroyed, and a new one is being created, but with the benefit of the Amiga name to bolster it until it gets on its feet. Such an approach might change the notion of "upgrading" to a new machine to "jumping ship." Essentially, Amiga Inc. is arbitrarily putting a dead end on this road which has gone unmaintained since 1993, and starting a new one elsewhere, and in a completely different direction. I hope they know what they're doing.

There's one other "little" problem: for years, almost everybody has agreed that PowerPC was the best direction for the Amiga, seen as how Motorola decided to cease development of the 680x0 line. Amiga Technologies committed to developing PowerPC architecture under ESCOM, and Amiga Inc. reinforced this by declaring around the start of this year that 680x0 and PPC multiprocessing would be at the heart of the Amiga specification for the time being. In the meantime, one of the companies which have really kept the Amiga alive in a hardware sense since Commodore died, phase 5, boldly and successfully carried out the PowerPC initiative, and has been selling units for over half a year now. Many developers have committed to and begun development of PowerPC Amiga software, and a number of third party manufacturers have announced or begun development of PowerPC-based Amiga clones. Then, out of the blue, Amiga Inc. comes along waving their big Gateway 2000 banner, and gloriously announces that some unspecified "SuperChip" will be at the heart of future Amigas.

I'd say they have a lot of nerve. Let's look at it this way: Amiga Incorporated has done nothing for the Amiga. Gateway 2000 has done nothing for the Amiga. Amiga International has at least sold licenses, and revived production of new machines when it was still Amiga Technologies. But none of the other central companies have done a thing since Commodore, other than go around touting an aging specification and appeasing the users and developers with nebulous, and frequently changing, plans of future glory. Companies such as phase 5, however, have done a whole lot for us; they have allowed most Amiga users to make their machines go faster with leading-edge 68060 (and affordable 68030 and 68040) acceleration over the last few years, and most recently, they have taken the big step of bringing us the PowerPC (which, from all indications, they did extremely well). With this latest announcement, Amiga Inc. may have crippled phase 5's Amiga effort, and orphaned a whole lot of hardware. The users and developers who had embraced the PowerPC direction are not going to be pleased, and this will most certainly lead to fragmentation. In any case, unless there is some as-yet-unspecified grand technological "tie-in" between Amiga Inc.'s plans and phase 5's established direction, the platform is in serious trouble. The "SuperChip" and accompanying specification sounds grand; it may be grandiose. In short, Amiga Inc. is a relative newcomer, and they have no track record to back themselves up; they have no place making such an arbitrary declaration, counter to what the "tried and true" companies have already begun.

What do I think? I think Amiga has just made a single leap in hopes of traversing a 50-foot canyon. I sure hope they have some higher power on their side, because once they've jumped, there's no going back.

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