My Amiga Year

Looking back over a year's time in the Amiga community, and looking to the future

By Steve Duff, Contributing Editor, sduff@wolfenet.com

Ah, another year passes. As has been said many times, this has been a year of good news, bad news and, most recently, no news. I will not dwell on these issues. Instead, for what it's worth, I'll offer my perspective on Amiga computing and list some of the apps which have made it really enjoyable.

First and foremost, I have to list the duo of Miami and IBrowse. Together, they made the Internet battering ram from hell. They are fast, for one thing. Netscape on the PowerMac ate IBrowse dust from Day One. MSIE was at least closer, but still not as quick. Then there was the stability issue. I went at least four months before IBrowse even crashed! With Netscape Navigator (now Communicator) on the PowerMac, I'm lucky to go four days without a crash. Actually, I hardly ever use my PowerMac for web-surfing these days. The convenience of Fastlink buttons, along with great speed and incredible stability, mean more to me than RealAudio/Video and Javascript. This does not mean I wouldn't like to see these features on the miggy -- I would -- but I already know what they are like and, frankly, I'm not that impressed. What matters to me is rapid cruising for information, and with all my machines stuck at a 28.8 dial-up connection, the miggy has distinguished itself through a little extra speed and a massive increase in stability.

One tip for Miami -- if you ever have trouble verifying DNS servers, go to Miami's TCP/IP menu and un-check the 'Verify DNS Servers' box. If you do, Miami will connect like a normal TCP/IP stack. I got that tip from Udo K. Schuermann. Thanks, Udo! Also, I have TermiteTCP for back-up. :>

Games have been more of a rough spot. Amiga gaming is kinda like PC gaming -- install the game and pray that it works! I'd like to see Amiga gaming become, instead, more like Mac gaming -- install the game, and if it doesn't work, it means the CD-ROM is defective! Still, games like Zentek's NemacIV show the way our user interfaces should be. Which is to say, a fairly Mac-like game interface. Indeed, the NemacIV interface is similar to the MacQuake interface. But older-style games can also be friendly, such as Breathless AGA. Breathless holds a spot as one of my all-time favorite computer games. Its excellent interface, strong gameplay, and good atmosphere have actually caused me to play it twice. This is a very rare thing. The beauty of Breathless is that it got all the important things right. It was a little scary, a little difficult, and it was really really stable. Boy, do I like stuff that doesn't crash! Another excellent game I've discovered (at the advice of Ye Editor) is MegaBall. OK, sure, it's Breakout (Brickout?). I played this in an arcade when I was a teenager. That was a =really= long time ago. But sometimes the simple things are best, and this is one fine example.

On a sad note, game-wise, at the end of Breathless AGA, once you've killed all the MegaBeings and flipped the final switch, you see an impressive illustration and the words, 'To Be Continued....' Alas, this was not to be. Has the Italian team behind Breathless moved on to the PC? If anyone knows, please write me!

I have a passion for fractals which only the Amiga seems capable of satisfying. My main fractal app has been the incredible ChaosPro by Martin PFingstl. A truly remarkable piece of freeware, ChaosPro can provide hours and hours of 'useless' enjoyment. It can also wow the neighbors (not to mention PC and Mac people!) by simply filling a 20-inch screen with 'Surrounding' and letting loose with some badass color-cycling! If I run it on a CGX screen, I can drag the ChaosPro screen down and watch my Workbench color-cycling -- an instant psychedelic painting! Another hot fractal-generator is Dino Papararo's FlashMandel. If you render fractals on a 16-bit screen, the image is revealed as panes break off and fall away. What a cool effect! FlashMandel also seems to have more vivid colors and smoother pixels than ChaosPro. With color-cycling set to slow, it does some sweet fades.

Now, it may be true that fractal-generating does little besides making pretty pictures, at least in the hands of someone like me. However, I've had the experience of drilling down into fractals and gaining a sense of infinity. This is much easier to feel with a fast zoomer like FlashMandel or, even faster, FracPPC on the Mac. The incredible speed of the latter app (and trust me, Mac fractal-generators are usually dog-slow, if you can even find them), makes me yearn for a PowerUp card!



Some Perspective (For What It's Worth!)

This has been a fairly turbulent year in computing. Apple is going farther down. In the past, they lost marketshare even though they still sold roughly 4 million units a year. They were in stasis in a growing market. But this year, clones included, only a bit over 3 million Macs were sold. Which means they are now actually foundering in a growing market. Maybe 1998 will be different, with the help of Rhapsody and the new super-fast Macs. I sure hope so.

This year is also ending with Microsoft under real pressure from several quarters. Microsoft won't go down, but they will be wounded, and that wound may leave an opening for some fringe elements to gain a better toehold.

A fairly quiet story is that life got rougher for American Atarians this year. The real center of Atari computing has shifted to Germany. There are some impressive Atari products out, such as the Hades, which can run a 68060, has PCI slots, 250K serial ports and can accept up to 1 GB of RAM. There is also the StarTrack DSP sound card which comes with studio-level editing software. The Hades can run a variety of operating systems and a fully-decked unit is considered equal to a 200-MHz PC. Of course, it is about 3 times as expensive as a P-200 PC! It's difficult to obtain in the US, and it would seem that several important Internet apps are also difficult to acquire for American Atarians.

I mention this, for one, because I wish all Atarians well. They have it even worse than we do, but they stick it out because they love their machines as well as the look and feel of TOS, MagiC, NeoDesk, or whatever they happen to run. Also, one can see parallels to the Amiga, which is stronger in Germany and Europe than in the USA.

Naturally, we want to see our Amiga grow stronger worldwide. This will remain difficult so long as Amigas command such high prices. As one blessing, an A4000T is considerably less expensive than a Hades, but we haven't seen that massive price cut we were told to expect by Petro. I would like to see an A4000T for about $800 US. And that's with an '060.

A potentially bright light for the future may be Nova Sector Engineering. Their A4000T-based machines, complete with PowerUp cards, graphics cards, and optional monitors, is an example of the 'total-package' concept so notably lacking in previous Amiga vendors. They also responded quickly with price slashes when their initial offerings failed to sell. At the moment, I have no idea how well their machines are selling. Nor have I seen any reviews of their equipment. But I hope they are a good company and, if so, will succeed.

We are seeing signs of hope from other quarters. New 3D packages such as Aladdin 4D and Tornado 3D are out. New games such as the ports of Myst and Doom, and soon Quake (legally this time!) are either out or on the way. The new Amiga-produced OnEscapee is garnering impressive notices. There are too many more to list here, not to mention what seems unusually high levels (during my time as an Amigan :>) of Aminet uploads. Things are happening. Software is coming out. Life is good!

Here at the end, I reckon I should add my two cents in the debate of what I'd like to see in future Amigas. It's simple, really -- I want what the PC world has. I want PCI 2 at 66 MHz, and every flavor of AGP. I want Voodoo 2 3D accelerators. I want some kind of fast CPU. I really don't care what it is as long as it's fast. My '060 Amiga can already perform on a par with my P-233 PC and my PowerMac. Just imagine how it would rage on faster hardware! The other machines would seem to stand still!!!

I would like to see AGA become a thing of the past, kept only for legacy compatibility.

I would like to see the basic grey shades of the OS changed into something a bit more cheery.

On the software side, I'd like to see versions of Final Writer and Wordworth with better font display, notably on graphics-board screens (Final Writer looks especially bad on CGX screens).

I'd like to see all apps feature a 'Close' option for the active project.

I'd like to see nice, intuitive and global 'copy and paste.'

But finally, I'd like the AmigaOS to remain much the way it is. A bit of polish on the GUI, some new features, but no real change in the arrangement or the shared-library system. I was drawn to the Amiga by tales of its small, efficient, multitasking OS. It sounded like something great. It is. It has taken over as my main platform. For example, I've had it a few months less than my PC, but used it at least ten times as much. The PC is only used for games, and even that is more hassle than it's worth. The Amiga has even pushed aside my beloved PowerMac. I use the Amiga more because I like it. It 'feels' right, just like that Jaguar XJS I jumped into at an auto show.

The Amiga is a cool thing. I hope no one reading this switches platforms this year. Buy a PC if you must -- I have one so I can't implore anyone not to -- but keep your miggy. Use a Siamese card to join them, and delight when, as advertised, FusionPPC arrives, allowing you to emulate a PowerMac at full speed!

In any case, I'm confident that the Amiga will continue and will in fact gain ground this year, and even more in 1999. I think our biggest advantage is that most of the world doesn't know we exist, and those who do believe we can't possibly make a comeback, so they are not afraid of us. Which is to say, they think we're already dead, so they'll take no direct action to kill us. Still others actually seem to feel good about the Amiga and Amigans. Thus we should present a happy and confident face to them -- not an arrogant and paranoid one. We are Amigans. Ours will soon be a major platform (again). It will happen. So smile, damnit! :>