Business-like, isn't he?


 

 



Indy: A Day at the Races

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, September 21, 1993

When I heard that Silicon Graphics had rented Robson Square for an
introduction to their new 'personal workstation', INDY, I was excited.

After all, Silicon Graphics are the makers of the workstation that
the graphics and multimedia set drool over... INDIGO. Who wants a
high end Mac? You think your Amiga does video? Hey... these things are used by real Hollywood movies
for special effects. They even had their own scene in JURASSIC PARK.

("I know what this is," says the little girl. "It's a UNIX
workstation.")

The box is even (gasp) indigo... sort of a rich blue-purple shade.
Mega cool. But pricy.

And the advance rep of INDY sounded like it was worth a special trip
in on the ferry... would you believe a $6,000 computer that would
run Mac and Windows software? Sounds too good to be true.
 

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE

Well, don't believe everything you hear.

There is a base model listing at $6,995 CDN, but it's a diskless
workstation... you don't want it to replace your current desktop.
For $10,493 CDN you start getting a machine that you or I can use.

This gets you 16 meg of ram (expandable to 256 meg using 32 meg
SIMMs... I didn't even know there WERE 32 meg SIMMs). A 340 meg hard
drive (other models, up to dual gigabyte drives are available). A
15" monitor, with 8-bit colour. (No UNIX workstation today would be
caught dead with less than the 19", 24-bit colour version also
available).

"Trial copies" of PC and Mac emulators will be included with the
machine. I didn't see what sort of performance these emulators
provide... certainly, Soft-PC on a Mac Quadra isn't the way I'd want
to run Windows, but emulation seems to be here to stay... Apple's
PowerPC next generation Macs will use emulation to run this
generation's Mac software, and Windows-NT uses a licensed version of
Soft-PC to run DOS programs.

We'll have to wait to see about the emulation stuff, but obviously,
INDY isn't meant to simply be a sort of super-Mac plus Windows
machine.
 

SO WHAT ARE WE AIMING FOR, ANYWAY?

INDY ships as a slim, trim, pizza-box... a little bigger than a Mac-
LC. Not indigo, like it's bigger, pricier ancestor. Nice shade of
medium blue, however.

It provides now, a lot of the power that PC and Mac users are still
dreaming about... 64 bit processor. 100 mhz speed. Built-in
multimedia. 20 meg optical disk drive, that reads Mac and PC 3 1/2"
floppies.

And look at the back of the machine... all the ports and connections
you can imagine... two different ethernet connections, for example.
Video in... both S-Video and composite analog, and digital video.
Microphone (stereo, natch)... audio line in, digital audio in. Fast-
SCSI-2. ISDN.

And a video camera built into the top of the monitor(!) (Sorry...
the monitor comes in gray-granite or beige... not colour
coordinated). Pop THAT into your e-mail!

It's a UNIX machine, but you don't need a pocket-protector. Silicon
Graphics has desined a new generation graphical user interface,
called MAGIC DESKTOP, built over the X-Windows standard. It looks
slick, although really, guys, can't any of you come up with another
phrase than "It has a consistent iconic interface that lets you
organize your desktop environment to suit the way you work"?

Magic Desktop supports multiple desktops, and includes a 'power bar'
for quickly moving around the directory tree (MS-DOS stole its
directory tree model from UNIX). There's a 'shelf' on the bottom of
a window, for quick storage of often-used icons.

More powerfully, it's designed to fully support multimedia... video
clips, including SGI and QuickTime formats appear as full 30 frame-per-
second, large area movies... not the tiny, flickering things we're
just now seeing on PCs and Macs. CD-quality audio in and out.

This can be integrated into communications, with add-on software
expected later this year (for about $1000)... a pair of these would
provide real-time video tele-conferencing with the added convenience
of a shared whiteboard. Anything either party drags onto the
whiteboard (a graphic, or your spreadsheet and chart, or what have
you), is shared by both users.

SGI claims that INDY can provide the fastest 2-D imaging of any
platform at any price. 3-D is slower than the higher-priced INDIGO
series (a fully equiped Indigo-2 can run $45,000).

Some of the potential buyers include:

-- CAD and Architectural Design. Not only the fast 2-D, but the
ability to insert voice and video annotation into drawings.

-- Media authoring

-- Geographic Information Systems

-- Color Pre-Press. Adobe PhotoShop is expected in November.

And the systems designers obviously had fun with it, too. In fact,
they include a CD-ROM disk of games, including interactive network
games, and what they refer to as the "out of box experience" (so
listed in the fine print of their Technical Specifications list,
under the heading "Serious Fun Features").

When I left Robson Square on August 24th, I sadly concluded that no,
this probably wasn't going to show up on my desk anytime in the near
future. It's not the low-price, high performance computer for the
masses that I'd been dreaming of. But it will bring high-end,
graphics workstation power to people outside of the big Hollywood
studios.

And it's a cool shade of blue, too.



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan