Throw away your PCs and Macs (Amiga)

by Alan Zisman (c) 1998. First published in Vancouver Computes, July 1998

Is the Amiga on its way back?

Did it ever leave?

For many users, the Commodore Amiga may be the best personal computer ever made, and the worst personal computer ever marketed?another example of superior technology out-maneuvered in the marketplace.

The Amiga 1000 debuted in 1985, a year after the original Macintosh. Like the first Macs, it ran on Motorola?s 68000 CPU. But unlike the Mac, because its designers imagined it as a superior game machine, from day one, it featured advanced on-board co-processors for sound and graphics. Almost from the beginning, Amiga users were using these capabilities to create animations and multimedia far beyond the abilities of the Macs and PCs of the era.

With a 32-bit, fully pre-emptive operating system designed from the beginning for multitasking, an Amiga with 512 kb of RAM could run multiple programs better than a Windows PC with multiple megabytes of memory. (PCs only got such abilities in a mass-market operating system with Windows 95. Mac users are still waiting). Anticipating an Apple add-on of a decade later, Commodore even sold an optional Bridge-board, allowing Amiga users to run a DOS-PC on their Amiga.

In the guise of NewTek?s Video Toaster, Amigas sneaked into many TV production studios, to create special effects at a fraction of the price of specialized hardware. (A PC-version of the Toaster was eventually released?under the hood, it was an entire Amiga, tricked out as a PC accessory).

Even though Commodore went out of business in the early 1990s, many Amiga-users remain devoted to their platform. A company called Vaporware ( offers Internet software for the platform. And once on the Web, Amiga owners can go to the Amiga Web Directory (www.cucug.ord/amiga.html) to find resources for the machine, world-wide. While Mac publications like MacWorld and MacUser merge forces while MacWeek folds, there are currently over 30 Amiga publications.

With built-in support for large disk drives and with solid SCSI implementation, Amiga owners have been able to keep up with technological change, adding CD-ROMs, Zip drives, and more to their aging machines. Contrast it to the Atari ST, released at virtually the same time as the original Amiga. Although it built a following among musicians (it included built-in, though basic, MIDI capability), it never really had the cult-like appeal of the Amiga, and after it went out of production, simply seemed to disappear. (I?m not anticipating receiving a barrage of e-mail from angry Atari owners). Instead, Amiga owners seem more like owners of Sony Betamax video machines?loyal users long after their platform has given up hopes of reaching a mass market, but hanging on to what they see as a superior technology.

And it looks like the faithful may finally receive their just rewards.

US-based computer manufacturer Gateway-2000 purchased the rights to the Amiga name and technology, and turned them over its newly-formed Amiga Inc. subsidiary ( Since the Gateway purchase, a mini-revival of Amiga products has started. There are games like Myst and Quake, a compilation of the Netscape source code, and soon, the highly regarded Opera web browser.

Amiga Inc has announced (at last) a new version of the operating system?Amiga OS 5.0 due sometime next year. At the same time, there will be new hardware, finally replacing the long-in-the tooth Motorola 680x0 processors. Amiga is promising hardware that will be anywhere from five to ten times as powerful as today?s PCs, with 3D capabilities, high speed Internet, and the ability to run up to four MPEG video streams at the same time. They expect to sell some hardware versions for under $500. All this and backward compatibility with the past generations of Amiga products. Rumours abound about Java and Linux capabilities.

Heady stuff this. Much of this vision remains fuzzy?the company seems to be planning initial hardware versions based on Intel CPUs, before moving to a yet-unnamed mystery processor. And Amiga devotees have been burned before, repeatedly by Commodore in the years before its demise, and more recently, by the German company which owned the rights to the system prior to Gateway?s purchase. The possibility of being offered some sort of emulated Amiga software on a Gateway PC doesn?t sit well with many Amiga fans.

I hope that Amiga Inc. can pull it off?After their years in the wilderness, Amiga?s loyal users deserve it. And they?re right?the Amiga was (and remains) a neat computer.

Search WWW Search

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