Jay Glenn Miner Interview Pasadena, September 1992.
Mike Nelson of Amiga User International interviews Jay Miner.
Father of the Amiga
The name badge says it all, Jay
Miner, VIP, Father of the Amiga. During my recent jaunt to the A4000 launch in
Los Angeles, I was lucky enough to meet and talk to Jay as he cast his fatherly
eye over the next generation of the architecture he created all those years ago.
We talked and ate as he reiterated the fascinating history of the secret project
that resulted in the birth of a remarkable machine, which has survived mainly
because of his foresight and supreme effort. It was all far from plain sailing,
however, and plenty of skullduggery was afoot from a number of parties, not
least the design team themselves!
The story about the Amiga's genesis has been told before, but it is only
relatively recently that Jay and Commodore have been seeing eye to eye about the
machine and its evolution. Also, there are many little anecdotes untold
"The story starts in the early 1980`s with a company not originally
called Amiga, but Hi Toro, which was started by Dave Morris, our president, but
before all that I used to work with Atari and I wanted to do a 68000 machine
with them. We had just finished the Atari 800 box and they were not about
to spend another umpteen dollars on research for a 16-bit machine and the
processor chip itself cost $100 apiece. RAM was also real expensive and
you need twice as much. They couldn't see the writing on the wall and they
just said "No", so I quit!".
Jay Miner is not a man to say "No" to, and it's quite clear that
Atari must still be regretting their myopic decision. Anyway, Jay still
held the concept of an all-powerful 16-bit machine but the bills had to be paid.
"I went to a chip company called Xymos as I knew the guy who started it.
He gave me some stock and it looked like an interesting startup company (I've
worked for a lot of new companies). Going back to Atari, Larry Caplan was
one of the top programmers on the Atari 2600 video game. Him and the other
programmers wanted a pay rise, or at least a small royalty, a nickel per
cartridge in fact, on the software that was selling like crazy. Atari was
making a fortune and they said "No" so they all said "Goodbye"
and they went off and started a little company called Activision. Larry
rang me up about two years later in early '82 and said he wasn't happy at
Activision and suggested we start up a company. I had a lot of stock in
Xymos and suggested we get some outside finance from back East. We hired a
little office on Scott Boulevard, Santa Clara and they got a Texas millionaire
to put up some money. He liked the idea of a new video game company which
is what Larry Caplan wanted to do. He was going to do the software.
I had an idea about designing a games machine that was expandable to a real
computer and he though that was a great idea but didn't tell any of his
investors. I moved to Santa Clara from Xymos. They were still called
Hi Toro but the investors wern't too keen so they chose "Amiga" and I
didn't like it much - I thought using a Spanish name wasn't such a good move.
I was wrong!"
The design team at Hi Toro/Amiga was assembled from a bunch of people over
the next few months. Jay says that they were looking for people not just
interested in a job, but with a passion for the Amiga (codenamed Lorraine after
the president's wife) and the immense potential it offered.
"We worked out a deal whereby I got a salary and some stock and I also
got to bring my dog Mitchy into work every day. Dave did reserve the right
to go back on that one if anyone else objected but Mitchy was very
I asked Jay to sum up what it was like to work on the Amiga:
"The great things about working on the Amiga? Number one I was
allowed to take my dog to work and that set the tone for the whole atmosphere of
the place. It was more than just companionship with Mitchy - the fact that
she was there meant that the other people wouldn't be too critical of some of
those we hired, who were quite frankly weird. There were guys coming to
work in purple tights and pink bunny slippers. Dale Luck looked like your
average off-the-street homeless hippy with long hair and was pretty laid back.
In fact the whole group was pretty laid back. I wasn't about to say
anything - I knew talent when I saw it and even Parasseau [the "Evangelist]
who spread the word was a bit weird in a lot of ways. The job gets done
and that's all that matters. I didn't care how solutions came about even
if people were working at home.
"There were a lot of various arguments and the way most were sorted out
was by hitting each other with the foam baseball bats. The stung a bit if
you got hit hard. There was a conflict in the fundamental design
philosophy with some like RJ Mical wanting the low cost video game (the
investors side, you might say). Others like Dale Luck and Carl Sassenrath
wanted the best computer expansion capability for the future. This battle
of cost was never ending, being internal; among us as well as with the investors
"You go through stages in any large project like the Amiga of thinking
"This looks great and it's going to sell really well", and then things
go wrong and you just want to quit!"
The unique spirit at Amiga was such that people worked tirelessly on their
various projects, remembering that the software was well on the way to
completion before any silicon had been pounded into the graphics chips.
Carl Sassenrath was brought in to do the operating system and was asked at the
interview "What would you like to design?". He just replied that
to do a multi-tasking operating system, and thus was born the Exec which lies at
the very heart of the Amiga. Carl has maintained his close links with
Commodore and was instrumental in designing CDTV. Incredible really that
they opted for such a sophisticated backdrop for a games machine. Already,
strange things were afoot....
"I started thinking about what we wanted to design. Right from the
beginning I wanted to do a computer like the A2000 with lots of expansion slots
for drives, a keyboard etc. I'd also read a bit about blitters and so I
talked with a friend called Ron Nicholson who was also interested in them and he
came to join us. We came up with all sorts of functions for the blitter.
Line drawing was added much later at the request of Dale Luck, one of our
software guys. This was about two weeks before the CES show where the
Amiga was unveiled. I told him we can't put that in there as the chips
were nearly done and there wasn't enough room. He fiddled about and showed
me what registers were needed, so in it went".
The chips took three designers including Jay (who did the Agnus) almost two
years to design (1982-84) and throughout this time the ever-expanding software
team were working on what became the Amiga's operating system libraries and such
like. They had a pretty tough job writing for the most advanced, radical
hardware ever conceived for a home machine, and which didn't really exist,
except for a zillion and one ideas and a white board of obscure diagrams.
"Once you've got the design concept for the chips, all you need to do
then is pick names for the registers and tell the software people something like
"I'm going to have a register here that's going to hold the colours for
this part and it's called whatever." They can then simulate it in their
software. We then built hardware simulators called bread boards and that
was a chore. We originally did the chips using the NMOS process which has much
higher current consumption than the state of the art CMOS. I'm surprised
that Commodore haven't re-designed the chips in CMOS which is the big stumbling
block to bringing out a portable. We did that because at the time, CMOS
was much slower than NMOS and not as reliable. It's now much faster, so
why are Commodore still using NMOS for some of their chips?"
"Hold and Modify came from a trip to see flight simulators in action and
I had a kind of idea about a primitive type of virtual reality. NTSC on
the chip meant you could hold the Hue and change the luminance by only altering
four bits. When we changed to RGB I said that wasn't needed any more as it
wasn't useful and I asked the chip layout guy to take it off. He came back
and said that this would either leave a big hole in the middle of the chip or
take a three-month redesign and we couldn't do that. I didn't think anyone
would use it. I was wrong again as that has really given the Amiga its
edge in terms of the colour palette."
It was Commodore who wanted to leave things as NTSC/PAL output. We
wanted to make them RGB but monitors were so expensive in those days - IBM's and
Mac's were monochrome. I'd put the converter on the chip and this was a
very low cost way of doing things as it saved a lot of parts, but by the time
Commodore bought us, the bottom had fallen out of the video game market and we
were moving more towards a computer so Commodore agreed to finance RGB as well.
Seeing pictures of the early Amiga, it's almost impossible to imagine that
the piles of wires and boards could eventually be reduced to something the size
of an A500. The first Agnus was three lots of eight bread boards, each
with 250 chips, and this was repeated for the other two custom chips which were
nicknamed Daphne and Portia in those days and metamorphosed into Denise and
"Those were a nightmare to keep running with all the connections keeping
breaking down. They're still around somewhere. We hired lots of
other people to design peripherals which kept the notorious silicon valley spies
away from the office. All they could see were joysticks and they weren't
too much of a threat."
"In 1983 we made a motherboard for the breads to be plugged in, took
this to the CES show and we showed some little demos to selected people away
from the main floor. At the show itself, they wrote the bouncing ball demo and
this blew people away. They couldn't believe that all this wiring was
going to be three chips. The booming noise of the ball was Bob Parasseau
hitting a foam baseball bat against our garage door. It was sampled on an
Apple ][ and the data massaged into Amiga samples.CES was really important to us
as we were getting short of money and the response from that show really lifted
the team. We were still short of money and several re-mortgages later we
managed to keep up with the payroll. It's amazing how much it costs to pay
15 or 20 people!"
With things running desperately close, Amiga were forced to look for more
finance to keep the ball bouncing. They turned eventually to Jay's old
"Atari gave us $500,000 with the stipulation that we had one month to
come to a deal with them about the future of the Amiga chipset or pay them back,
or they got the rights. This was a dumb thing to agree to but there was no
They offered $1 per share but Amiga were hoping for much more than that.
The offer was refused and as Atari knew about the troubles of Amiga, they then
cut the offer to 85 cents a share. Commodore stepped in at the last minute
to scoop the prize from under the noses of their arch rivals and take the Amiga
for themselves, shelling out a mere $4.25 per share and installing the team in
the Los Gatos office. Jay continued the story:
"Tramiel [the president of Atari] was livid when he found out he couldn't
get his hands on the chips, as the whole idea of financing us was just to get
the chips, not the people designing them, unlike Commodore who needed to keep
the team intact. The Atari 400 and 800 [which Jay designed also] series
were great computers in their day, but you know things move on. When he
didn't get the chipset his only alternative was to design a new computer without
the custom chips so he came up with the ST. This wasn't a bad little
computer but lacked the power of the Amiga's chipset."
Tell us something we don't know, Jay!! What about MIDI, why wasn't that
"Actually MIDI isn't so far away from the standard serial port on the
Amiga, and soon after the machine was released, someone came up with a tiny
plug-in box that gave you all the MIDI inputs and outputs, but Commodore refused
to manufacture and push it which was one of my big disagreements with them.
If you've got a little company doing great third party products which makes your
machine so much more competitive, you've got to support them. Commodore in
the past have been too greedy, wanting everything for themselves without paying
for it, but I think they're changing. I hope they're changing, anyway."
The Amiga 1000 really didn't take shape until long after Commodore bought it.
The president had the idea of sliding the keyboard underneath the machine and it
took nearly a year to redesign the motherboard to fit in. Everything was
set and then Commodore decided that 512K of RAM was too much:
"They wanted a 256K machine as the 512 was too expensive. Back in
those days RAM was very pricey, but I could see it had to come down. I
told them it couldn't be done as we were too close to being finished, it would
spoil the architecture, etc, etc. Dave Needle came up with the idea of
putting the cartridge on the front which worked. I was in favour of
putting sockets on the motherboard so the user could just drop in the
As events turned out, Jay's opinion was vindicated when, on release, it
became patently obvious that the machine needed the 512K to do anything
meaningful and this was the shipping form in the UK. Commodore's short
sightednes cost the world another 6 months without the Amiga, during which time
RAM prices fell anyway!
"I spent this time polishing up the software/hardware documentation,
renaming registers to be more meaningful. This was actually time well
spent in the end."
Regular readers will know that I'm always going on about how wonderful
Intuition is to work with so I asked Jay to tell me a bit about its development.
"RJ Mical pretty much did it all himself. He was holed up for
three weeks (!) and came out once to ask Carl Sassenrath about message ports.
That's it, really! He wrote Intuition and went on to do the graphics
package, Graphicraft, as no one else could do it right. Remember the
Jarvik 7 heart animation - they actually talked to the guy and got permission to
draw it, and the animation was cycling the colour registers. A lot of
quite beautiful pseudo-animations were done that way. That's how we did
the rotating pattern of the bouncing ball. Other machines couldn't use
Once all the software was done, it was time for the big release of the A1000.
"There were a lot of compromises which I didn't like, but it was better
than it might have been if we hadn't gotten our way on a lot of things. We
didn't get our way on everything, though. The 256K RAM was a real problem.
The software people knew it was inadequate but nobody could stand up to
Commodore about it. We had to really argue to put the expansion connector
on the side and this was before the deal was finalised so we were close to
sinking everything. The lowest cost way of doing it was the edge connector
and I'm glad it got through".
"Once the A1000 was out we were kind of at a loss. There was so
much dealer and developer support necessary that a large proportion of our
company went into that. We had 11 or 12 people in that and we wanted to
expand, but Commodore wouldn't let us, and in fact they made us lay off some
people. We tried to talk Commodore into building a machine with vertical slots
and they eventually came out with the A2000, but they weren't keen at first".
Once the Amiga was released, work at Los Gatos continued, but the days for
this fine, but maverick, design team were numbered.
"I was really pleased to see Commodore moving in the direction of the
A2000 - it was the first Amiga you could really tailor to your own needs and
this was one of the reasons for the success of the early Apples. We then
wanted to go onto horizontal slots, like the A3000 as that would be easier to
cool and shield - there was a design to do it but at that time the A2000 came
from Germany so that's the way we went. We wanted to do the
Autoconfiguration for the slots but Commodore weren't keen because it added 50c
to the cost, so we had a big battle with them and did it anyway. Our
divisional manager from Commodore was a guy called Rick Geiger. He was
pretty good at keeping Commodore off our backs. However, there were others
who were good at figuring out what we were up to and saying "No" all
the time. Sometimes Rick would protect us and he was trying hard to give
Commodore something they wanted badly, MS-DOS compatability. Some company
promised they could deliver a software solution but it never really worked knew
he was Jewish because he wore one of those funny little hats to work. That's
no problem for me - I didn't mind if people wore pink bunny slippers as long as
the job got done. Anyway, he promised MS-DOS on a small card to make an IBM
interface. He worked alone, and weeks went by with nothing appearing
despite all the promises which worried me a lot, and this really led to Rick's
downfall. He promised he could do it and nobody kept close enough tags on
him, always a few more weeks. Commodore started advertising and the board didn't
work so both men were canned. This was the start of the downfall for the
Los Gatos division. I've never really told this before as it was too
personal but I can't remember the designer now so it doesn't matter so much.
It shows that you need your peers looking over your work to get things right".
How important did you think PC compatability was going to be?
"Eventually Sidecar came out from Germany but there were a lot of bugs
in the software and the Los Gatos team helped with solving those. They did
that before the 2000. It's funny but I never really saw MS-DOS
compatability as being that important for the Amiga. I said at the time to
Commodore "Hey, we're different. Try to take advantage of that, not
imitate or simulate other people". We could make our commands more
similar to theirs. There's a tendancy when you're writing new software to
try and be different with names and functions, but it isn't really necessary.
We could do a better job than MS-DOS, which would have been enough with the
Amiga's superior operating system and colour resolution capabilities to take a
really big bite out of IBM. Instead they kept promising compatability and
not delivering which is worse."
After that, Commodore wanted the design team to move back East, and not
surprisingly they declined, so gradually the Los Gatos facility was closed down
and Jay left. We carried on talking about the interim period and also
about the staff recently at Commodore:
"The VP of engineering [Bill Sydnes] got canned. He designed the
PC Junior which really crashed, one of IBM's big mistakes, and gave the Amiga a
window of opportunity which Commodore failed to exploit - a little competitive
advertising would have gone a long way."
What about the overall handling of the Amiga over the years? Does it
annoy you that there are 10 times as many PCs as Amigas?
"Yeah, that really does annoy me. I don't have any financial
connections with Commodore any more so I don't get anything out of Amiga sales.
Things should have been a lot different. I still feel fatherly towards the
Amiga, more so than any of the Ataris. What frustrates me the most is that
people are missing out on something very special in the Amiga. They tell
me about their IBMs and wonderful Macs but they're still missing out".
The Toaster is a killer product over here, what do you think?
"It's a fantastic product. Commodore made a really big mistake in
not embracing the Toaster in its early days, and getting a real piece of it.
I never even envisaged it back in the design stages. TV image manipulation
just wasn't around then - I put genlock circuitry and sync signalling into the
first designs so that side of things we appreciated. I had no idea that
things like the Toaster were coming."
What would you like to see in the future?
"I'd like to see Commodore grab hold of one of these 24-bit cards like
the GVP or DMI boards and put it in as standard. The Amiga badly needs a
standardisation of high resolution 24-bit colour modes. The JPEG board
from DMI is another wonderful product which needs to be standard in high end
Amigas. They'll wait like they always do until someone else has made the
standard and try and add something in while others are going to make a bundle of
money - look at GVP. Gerard Bucas was VP of Engineering and he wasn't
doing things the way Commodore liked, so he left. He saw a chance to make
some money and look at the size of GVP - they're competing with Commodore. The
next generation Amiga needs a real time JPEG converter and 24-bit graphics to
"I did get together with Lou Eggibrecht [the new VP Engineering] for
about 10 minutes and I was very pleased. He promised he'd fly out to have
dinner with me and talk about the Amiga. I asked him some questions about
the future direction of the chips and got the kind of answers I was looking for
- the kind of things we've been talking about. High resolution, new
architecture, more competitive. His understanding of the present
architecture was very encouraging. I'd love to work as a consultant for
them, but I don't know how much I could contribute."
What's your opinion of the A4000?
"You know, Commodore actually gave me one today at the show - the first
time I ever got anything out of them!
Putting the IDE drive onto the A4000 motherboard was a terrible mistake -
every previous Amiga has benefitted from SCSI. I'm really tickled with the
A4000 though. I was looking at it over the last few days and thinking how
could I get to buy one of these without the wife getting to know. I have
two A2000s which are fine for the BBS stuff I do at the moment.
They've improved the chipset in the 4000, taking the colours to 256 from 8
bitplanes. The higher resolution and more colours are really fast.
The MS-DOS interface [CrossDOS] is quite nice but I'm unhappy about the SCSI and
they didn't go to full 16-bit audio, but according to Eggibrecht that's coming
soon. I'm also a little disappointed they didn't use the 040's memory
management facilities. The 3.0 operating system looks very good with
datatypes and a number of other great features. Who needs MS-DOS and
What about CDTV?
"CDTV is quite a nice idea, but the software has to be right. Can
you think of anything more horrible than trying to read an encyclopaedia or the
Bible on a TV, rather than a nice crisp RGB monitor? As a low cost
entertainment system it's a good viable long term project. I hope
Commodore won't drop the ball if things aren't as good initially; they can take
What's your favourite products?
"I love the bulletin board software as that's what I'm into at the
moment. ADPro is also a fantastic program. I picked up a program called
Scala and I'd like to get into that - it's user interface is very impressive.
I have a GVP '030 accelerator and that's incredible. The hard drive on the
32-bit card is very fast indeed - it's like a new machine".
Talking with Jay Miner is one of the best experiences an Amiga owner can have.
He really is the Father of the Amiga and his passion for the machine is so
apparent. It's easy to understand the frustrations he must have at not
seeing things go exactly as he wanted, with the full potential of the machine
yet to be realised, some eight years after its release. One has to marvel
that it is still around and selling well given its superior competition and the
natural tendancy for serious users to turn to the IBM/Mac platforms. It's also
clear that the Amiga Corporation contained one of the most innovative design
teams ever assembled, and it is so tempting to speculate where the Amiga would
be today if they had stuck together, and the efforts of
Commodore had been more constructive. Their marketing people have yet to
understand what the Amiga is truly about, and why it is so special. Trying
to sell it as a PC is wrong as it is far more than a spreadsheet, word
processing machine. Unlocking doors is what the Amiga is remarkable
hardware justice. Only time will tell if the Amiga can make the impact it
is capable of and maybe Commodore should take on board the views of the Padre.
Obituário: Jay Glenn Miner
|JAY GLENN MINER
from the San Jose Mercury News 22nd July, 1994
||May 31st, 1932,
||June 20th, 1994,
Mountain View, California
||Wife, Caroline Miner
of Mountain View
nieces, Linda Heisig of Holt, Calif.
Robin Beers of San Diego, Calif.
||Memorial at 1 p.m.
Saturday at the Palo
Alto Unitarian Universalist Church,
505 E. Charleston Road.
||Donations may be made
to a charity of choice.
When the admirers of Jay Miner's contributions to invention and design
in computer technology gather Saturday to say goodbye to him, some
will remember Mitchy (Jay Miner's dog), too.
The little cockapoo had her own nameplate right below 'J.G. Miner' on
the door to his office in the Atari headquarters in Los Gatos. It was
back when Atari founder Nolan Bushnell's game of Pong was growing from
coin operation to home computer. Mitchy's photo-ID badge was clipped
to her collar as she trotted alongside her master into the building.
From the couch in his office, she viewed the designer at work.
Mitchy saw plenty in the years Jay Glenn Miner helped companies put
metal-oxide semiconductors to good use before he died of complications
related to kidney failure at the age 62 on June 20 in a Mountain View
'He was always designing', said his longtime colleague and friend,
Harold M. Lee, who hired Mr. Miner at Atari in the middle 1970s. 'He
never stopped designing'.
He designed some of the first digital voltmeters and calculators. For
Atari he developed the Video Computer system (VCS), which put its
games in millions of homes, and then he went to work on the design for
the Atari 400 and 800 computers. He put his touch on the chip that is
central to the Ventritex implantable cardiac defibrillator that can be
But Mitchy was an observer, too, at Amiga Corp., the computer company
that Mr. Miner and David Morse co-founded and other observers view as
Mr. Miner's most notable achievement.
The Amiga computer, which in the early '80s produced color graphics
that only today are becoming commonplace in PCs, created a community
of avid adherents. It was Mr. Miner's dream to design a low-cost
machine that could run several programs simultaneously, handle video
and do it all in color. An Amiga did that for less than $1,300 (a
basic model sold for $750).
When Commodore acquired Amiga in 1984, the legion of Amiga loyalists
thought the world would beat a path to the better-mousetrap door. It
didn't happen. The Amiga languished.
Mr. Miner moved on to Ventritex, a Sunnyvale biotechnology company.
The defibrillator was his last project.
A native of Prescott, Ariz., he grew up in Southern California and
entered San Diego State University. It was Korean War time, and he
opted for the Coast Guard, which sent him to Groton, Conn., to
electronics school. At Groton, he also met Caroline Poplawski, whom he
married in 1952. After a three-year tour of duty, Mr. Miner brought
his bride to California and earned his electrical engineering degree
from the University of California, Berkeley in 1958.
For more than a decade he moved from company to company, many of them
Much of that time Jay Miner had lived with faulty kidneys and dialysis,
said his wife, Caroline. After Mr. Miner's sister, Joyce Beers, gave
him one of her kidneys in 1990, it gave him four more years.
Her husband was a man of many, and varied, interests, said his wife of
more than 42 years: bonsai, model airplanes, square dancing, camping
Fans of the Amiga have attained cult status—that is, many behave as if they
were in a cult. As fantatical as Mac and Linux users may be, no computer has
attracted such loyal fans as the Amiga; even today, when the Amiga is
practically dead, there are still numerous proponents of this marvelous machine.
To understand the Amiga better, let's start with a little background.
Jay Miner, Dave Morse and RJ Mical got together in the early 80s and after
securing some funding, set themselves up in Silicon Valley. Naming themselves
Hi-Torro, they were interested mostly in producing video games hardware (e.g.
joysticks). Interested in maintaining secrecy, they assigned code-names to their
"products," often using women's names (their computer was named "Lorraine"), and
they named their company "Amiga"—Spanish for "girlfriend."
By the mid-80s, the market for game machines was deteriorating (as evidence:
note the fall of Atari and Intellivision)—the "PC" was on the rise. The
developers were out of funding and in their search for investors, attempted a
deal with Atari. While negotiations with Atari were underway, Commodore entered
the picture and provided the money Amiga needed. In return, Amiga became a
division of Commodore, and the first Amigas were produced.
The first Amiga was the 1000, followed by the 500 (confusing, eh?), and later
the 1500 and 2000, and even a 3000. The Amiga computers were built around
Motorola's 68K line of CPUs, just as were the Apple Macintosh computers and the
Atari ST (which Atari threw together after the Amiga deal fell through). However,
the Amiga went beyond—hardware-wise—its distant relatives (the Mac and ST) in
that it incorporated a number of custom chips for sound and video, which
lightened the CPU load, and allowed the Amiga rather amzing performance. In
time, SCSI was added. Indeed, while the Macs of the time were only black and
white (and had tiny screens), and PCs needed expensive add-on cards to do any
sort of color and graphics, the Amiga did 4096 colors with ease. It did sound
quite wonderfully—it was a multi-media PC years before the term was coined.
However, Commodore made several errors with the Amiga, the first of which was
the attempt to introduce a set-top box—about a decade too early. The 4000 was
over-priced, and the CPU and bus became a bottleneck for the newer Amiga systems.
Commodore eventually went bankrupt and its assets were sold off for about $10
million US to a German firm, which also failed to succeed with the Amiga. After
many twists and turns, Gateway bought the Amiga and started
Amiga, Inc.. Their goal seemed to be to 1)
develop a new Amiga Operating System and to 2) develop new Amiga hardware, and
in pursuit of these goals, it appeared that Gateway was willing to licence Amiga
technology rather liberally.
Commodore was rarely the driving force behind the Amiga's devlopment. Poor
documentation led to users tinkering under the hood and knowing more about their
computers than Commodore's engineers did. In fact, it is rather easy to argue
that some of the most creative and resourceful hackers in the past two decades
have come from the ranks of Amiga users. After Commodore's demise and Apple's
switch from the 68K line to the PowerPC, various expansion board options
appeared for the Amiga. Throughout its history, the Amiga has had extensive 3rd
party hardware support.
As of now, you cannot go to a store and pick up a new Amiga. Most people on
the lookout for a used Amiga system to pick up are already Amiga users, and the
chance that the Amiga's marketshare will grow any time soon is zilch.
Furthermore, any new "Amiga" to come out will hardly be be a "true" Amiga,
despite the name. The best they can do is attempt to stay true to the Amiga's
design concepts, which themselves may or may not be relevant in today's computer
However, for someone lucky enough to have or to find an Amiga, there are many
reasons to hold on to it and cherish it—and use it.
As impressive as the hardware feats the Amiga pulled off were, an equal share
of the glory must go to the OS. (An historical look at the OS's development and
features will not be attempted here. Such information, however, is welcome) The
Amiga operating system offered a pre-emptive multi-tastking kernel and windowing
system—and it was small, fitting in a tiny amount of RAM. Even
the last releases of the Amiga's OS make Apple's and MS's offerings look like
bloated piles of bug-ridden and inefficient code (that they are is
another matter...). The GUI employed (the Work Bench) was simple and clean, and
rather easy for new users to get used to. Numerous 3rd party enhancements helped
to add a level of customization that other OSes could only dream of at that time
(and even today in many regards). The one major "flaw" of the Amiga's OS was its
lack of memory protection (but seeing as other "PC" OSes lacked/lack this
feature as well, it doesn't seem like a great stumbling block).
The Amiga was tailored for multi-media work, partially due to its emphasis on
games (which have often driven graphics and sound standards forward) and
partially due to its customized hardware, and Amigas still play important roles
in television (Babylon 5, for example). There are many older games for the
Amiga, and even more recent ones have been ported (Myst, Quake, etc.).
However, that is not to say the Amiga only does games and graphics. There are
productivity applications and network/internet programs available, many of them
of very high quality. In short, almost anything a normal user would want to do
with a computer can be done on an Amiga&$8212;and as many Amiga users would
argue, can be done with greater joy on an Amiga.
Yet, one has to remember, the Amiga is out of production and has been
neglected. Its user-base has shrunk, and the latest and greatest new
applications simply are not going to be released for the Amiga. The technical
superiority the Amiga could rightfully claim over the Mac, Atari, and IBM PC no
longer really exists: PCs have the marketshare and hence tons of software and
hardware, and are quite cheap; Apple has gotten back on track; and the Ataris ST
is dead and buried. Times have changed, and the arguments for the Amiga
seem a great deal like nostalgia. Furthermore, the Amiga is not for all users or
uses. The Amiga OS is not the best server OS around, and the OS in general is
showing its age. (However, one would then have to add, there are forms of Linux
and *BSD for Amiga computers, and these can very well make good server OSes.)
Finding an Amiga can be difficult, and even if one is found it may be useful (or
necessary) to perform memory, disk, and processor upgrades that the
average user is not willing to make.
Some argue the Amiga is dead, and we should all let it rest in peace.
Not so, I would argue. The more the merrier in the world of computers and
operating systems. Amiga, Inc. announced their partnership with QNX with regards
to the "new" Amiga OS, and it is still quite possible to upgrade those older
For some, using a real Amiga is out of the question. Luckily, there is an
Amiga emulator&$8212;UAE&$8212;which runs on most platforms. In the Linux/Unix/X
world, it is even possible to make your Window Manager under X look like&$8212;and
behave to some extent like&$8212;the Amiga's Work Bench, so for those mourning
the loss of their Amiga, there is still hope...
A lot of the intellectual mass that once collected around the Amiga
now pushes Linux forward, and old Amiga users were clearly the target of the
BeOS. Still, the Amiga is a beautiful thing, and while it may be on life support,
it is clearly not dead, for as recent years have shown, you don't necessarily
have to have commercial backing to survive as a computing platform.