Life Is...

Finding what's suitable for the purpose at hand

By Paul Somerfeldt, Contributing Editor, p.somerfeldt@genie.com

It's the new year, and over the last few weeks I've been thinking about the past. Quite a bit. You see, I recently moved across the country, from New York State to California. I have moved away from most of my family, and all of my friends, to a place where I have some family, but no friends. Yet. The immediate result is that it has given me time to think about things. Without the noise of family and friends, I have been able to ponder things about my life that I would never have allowed myself to ponder before. Of course, I will limit myself to those portions of said musings that apply to topics that fit in this magazine.

Not that I am excited about airing dirty laundry, but you should know that I am not always in total agreement with the staff of The Amiga Monitor. I am not suggesting that I feel I am always right, or that they (or s/he) are (is) wrong. Since life with computers is driven mostly by how we feel about things, rather than there being one strict golden rule about how things computerish work, there will be disagreements. We can see it with the Amigas themselves. In the beginning there was the desktop model, with its detachable keyboard, and it was good. However, in the second coming, this pureness of thought was diluted (deluded?) by the introduction of the new Amigas, the fixed and the detachable keyboard models. This separation continues yet today. The success (in a manner of speaking) of the two different (but the same) Amigas shows that we all have different needs and uses for our computers. Of course, so does the existence of the other types of computers, the clones, the Macs, the Suns, and all the other computers out there in the world.

Personally, I prefer my 'box' Amiga, with its expansion slots. I would never consider getting a 1200 or even an old 500. They just don't suit my perceived uses and needs. To me, those two computers are useless. But that does not make those computers useless. For the people who use them, they serve very real and necessary uses. I would never presume to tell you what computer would work best for you. Indeed, in many of the discussions/arguments I have had about computers I have had over the years, I have never told anyone what computer they should get. No, that's a lie. Back when I had few years under my computer belt, I would tell folks what computer they should get. That was when I had a few years of computer ownership under my belt, but before I really realized that there was a real computer universe out there. That was also when I used to drool over things computer in my computer magazines of choice. I knew what was best for everyone, as a 'one size fits all' solution was my only solution. I had experience with different systems, but chose to 'sell' mine, as it was mine. Now things are different.

Now, when I get into computer discussions, and folks ask me what kind of computer they should get, I ask them some questions. I ask them what they want the computer to do. Buying an Amiga, or a Mac, for that matter, doesn't do you a whole lot of good if the things you want your computer to do can't be done on the Amiga or Mac. What I mean by 'can't be done' is two-fold. First is hardware. If the computer you want to buy cannot do those things that you require of it, then there really is no reason to buy it in the first place. The second is trickier. If the software is not available for your computer to make it do the things you want to do, you have a couple of choices. You can write the software yourself, or buy a computer that already has the applications available. When I used my Atari 800, I used to write programs for it all the time. Pop in the BASIC cartridge, and start writing programs for it. Oops, I would 'code'. When I bought my Amiga from a friend in the summer of 1991, I knew I was going to write programs for the pesky beast. Maybe not the best programs, but I was undaunted by the machine. I even had plans to write an Atari 8-bit emulator so I could sit at the computer desk and play the best computer game ever: Star Raiders. In the intervening years I have upgraded to OS 2.1, and lost the use of AmigaBASIC, bought Devpac 3, and HiSoft PASCAL, but I haven't even done so much as write two lines of code with the old AmigaBASIC, or the other packages. Currently I am pondering getting a C++ package. $250 is a lot of money for something that will take up space on a harddrive, but never really see the light of day. But then, I do play with ARexx every now and again, so just maybe .... This has led me to the conclusion that unless there is the software you need available for your computer, you should opt first for the computer that has the software you want available for it.

Everyone has different computer and software needs. For me, the software that I would like to see made available for the Amiga is Quicken and TurboTax. I know that there are programs that can perform the primary functions of Quicken, but I have not seen any that work quite as well. Last year I was able to use my brother's Gateway computer to see how it takes user input and converts it into a properly calculated and formatted tax return. I have not seen anything like it on the Amiga. Of course, that doesn't mean it does not exist. On the other hand, I put a low priority on connecting to another online service provider. Especially one that is 'incompatible' with all but a select few of computers. I have used AOL a few times, from my sister's computer. I have also used Internet Explorer from that same computer. Even at the same connect speed, IE seems faster than AOL on her computer. Does that really mean anything? Probably not, but for me it reinforces my biases.

Except for the real-time chatting with folks on AOL, all the Amiga-related tasks can be done on an Internet Service Provider (ISP). Unlike AOL, you will need to acquire separately all of the components involved. But with the proliferation of inexpensive programs, some of which are very well done, you can end up with a setup that is superior in many ways to AOL. And you won't have to deal with AOL, and her problems. Some have said that AOL pries into your life, but since I don't actually have AOL, and I really don't know my sister's computer on an intimate level, I can't say what goes on there. I have been able to compare AOL with Internet Explorer using my ISP on my sister's computer, and AOL seems much slower while web surfing. I don't know if this is a real, or a perceived problem; for the most part, the same connection rates are involved, so they should theoretically be the same speed. Before I continue, I should say that I have a Picasso IV card using an SVGA monitor, and so web surf on my Amiga in 16 million + colors. I compare my Amiga on my ISP to either IE or AOL, and then AOL and IE seem second rate. Of course, that ends when trying to do something that the Amiga can't do right now, like Java or Real Audio, but in general, I prefer to surf with my Amiga than with my sister's Gateway 2000. In the last week or so I bought New York for reading the newsgroups. Since I have not read the newsgroups on AOL, I really can't compare them, but NY is great. Even better than the demo, strangely enough. It is an online reader, as I assume AOL is, but since I don't care about tying up telephone line, that is no problem. I highly recommend it. I have tried a few e-mail programs, and currently have settled on AEMail, but not enough to register it yet. It does everything I want, but not necessarily in a way I like. Its interface is not quite as configurable as I would like, and with certain commodities it seems to fight for control in some ways. But you can use it to attach files just as AOL can. In fact, I used it to send the demo of New York to a friend of mine on another ISP across the country, using a different e-mail program without difficulty. On the other hand, AOL acted in an unexpected, and inconvenient fashion when I sent an attached text file to my sister. When she gets her book on AOL back from a neighbor I will try to see if what I was doing was impossible or not. The nice thing about the separate mailers that the Amiga uses is that you can use the text editor of your choice, instead of using the one that is AOL's choice. As I said, AOL is not for me, but it can be for you.

Software development for the (new) Amiga need not be an either/or undertaking. There is room for all manner of software in the Amiga market. A real Acrobat reader. I would like to see Excel on the Amiga. There are several interesting-looking programs for CCD camera used in astrophotography that would be interesting. Most everything I have seen in the Rockware catalog, even though I don't yet have a use for any of those programs. And a myriad of other applications, some that haven't been invented yet.

The future of the Amiga is intertwined between both the hardware, and the software. We have not seen any Amiga-sponsored hardware development for years, but it does seem that there is a kernel of development for software at Amiga International. Although I am impatient to see the new 'Amiga' tomorrow, I know that unless it truly knocks my socks off I will not buy right away. As soon as the hardware starts looking like it is changing directions from where it is now, then I will decide on getting a new computer. Although I would like it to be an Amiga (and by extension, derivative of my old Atari 800) it depends on my requirements at the time of purchase. So to the powers at Amiga (and Gateway), make it a good one.