Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Is the Amiga in Chapman's Book?

I noticed that the IBM PC jr was mentioned in one of the chapters, but I think that the demise of the Amiga was a PERFECT example of brilliant techies being derailed by idiots in suits...

Tim Lara
Friday, August 01, 2003

Ultimately the Amiga was a technical failure as well as a business failure for integrating its hardware too tightly to the operating enviornment which caused a catch-22 situation regarding hardware upgrades: There was no point in upgrading to AGA systems because no software supported them, and there was no incentive for developers to make AGA-enabled software because they wanted the biggest possible market.  End result? Commodore can't move new machines, no revenue, out of business.

As crappy as the IBM PCs of that time period were, they were incrementally upgradable which did a lot to eliminate that sort of a thing as a problem, and the rest is history.
 

Mister Fancypants
Saturday, August 02, 2003

i'm not so sure about that. If you really think about that tim, it wasn't so usual to upgrade your PC but in a few aspects (probably video. memory and HDD) and the amiga was perfectly capable to support new framebuffers, like the harlequin (sp?) external SCSI or IDE HDDs and lots of RAM.
I think there was no amiga error but PCs were an irresistible force.

Ros
Saturday, August 02, 2003

The reason I moved off Amigas was the prohibitive cost of hard drives. In the early 90s you could get a 386 system for the same price as an external hard drive for a A500.

Great machines though. A 1986 Amiga would outshine any PC until Pentiums and Windows 95.

Matthew Lock
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Commodore's managers had all the great stuff (AGA etc.) finished at a time when PC user's still dreamt of Hercules graphics card. However, they held it back because they thought they can control the speed of innovation, i.e. artificially slow down innovation so they can live from past innovations withou investments. When they finally released it, it was too late.

Johnny Bravo
Saturday, August 02, 2003

I agree that the "closed system" architecture probably did hurt the Amiga somewhat, in the eyes of people who thought that the system was expensive in the first place and were worried that they wouldn't be able to upgrade it, but I still think that poor marketing was mostly to blame for the platform's demise.

It could also be argued, though, that Apple's computers have always been quite proprietary as well, yet the company's savvy marketing strategies have always kept them more or less afloat.  I actually always thought of Apple as a more dangerous competitor to the Amiga than IBM, because at the time the Amiga 1000 came out, Apple seemed to already be heavily focused on getting their machines into schools.  It seems like this kind of helped foster the attitude that IBM was "Dad's work computer" and Apples were fun and educational.  In the meantime, the average non-geek had never even heard of the Amiga.  Sadly, it seems that Commodore botched the launch of the Amiga so badly that they practically locked in their "iceberg" course from the beginning.

It's pure speculation, of course, but I can't help but wonder if the Amiga would hold at least as much market share as the Mac today if Commodore had just gotten schools to use it...

Tim Lara
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Was part of the success of the PC the cooperative/adversarial nature of Microsoft and Intel? I know that through the late 90's they played off each other - new Windows environments meant people wanted faster CPU's, and faster CPU's meant people wanted more out of their PC's (gaming plays a significant factor in there as well), so MS and Intel spent about ten years leapfrogging each other in a synergistic way.

In fact, thinking about it, I wonder if the MS/Intel unpartnership is the reason for the Wintel dominance, and the heretical thought - that it was pure serendipity that it happened - nobody could've planned it so well.

Bottom line - Microsoft made good software, didn't make any killing blunders, treats their developers well... but the main reason they're a monopoly is that Intel was right there next to them the whole time?

Philo

Philo
Saturday, August 02, 2003

Philo - this is a common argument.

The really major leaps in consumer computing technology were in the Internet. To be honest with yourself, what can you do now that you couldn't do 10 years ago? Digital photoraphy? Home movies on the PC? Video e-Mail? File sharing and mp3's?

The basics.. word processing, e-mail, the www, chat were all there. So why do we keep *needing* faster computers? Because they keep releasing more and more bloated apps.

The software & hardware impovements go hand in hand in an - as  you say - synergistic way.

I'm surprised nobody is drawing an Amiga / Apple comparison. Closed system... ahead of it's time & innovative, great for media, etc.

www.marktaw.com
Saturday, August 02, 2003

To say that software is just more "bloated" now is a gross simplification...wrong, even. 

Ever tried to write a Word processor on the old Apple II that did real time spelling and grammar checking?  WYSYWIG with good font rendering on screen? Etc?  Sure, there is the occasional Clippy, but there's also tons of stuff that is fairly new in our modern word processing programs that real people use every day that just wasn't technically feasible to implement on systems with 1 mhz CPUs and 64k of memory.

If you really think things are so bad now, put your computing lifestyle where you mouth is -- buy an old system on ebay and use all that wonderful old software back from before everything got so "bloated".

Mister Fancypants
Sunday, August 03, 2003

Heck, you don't need to buy an old system from eBay. Many folks use Linux, which, from a desktop perspective, has been a fairly impoverished platform until recent times. Many of the folks using Linux and other *nixes simply don't care much about a rich desktop experience-- and more power 'em. These platforms give them what they value most; stability, customization, code-access, a close-knit community.

So there's little need to buy new hardware. Plenty of folks are still running old Wintel hardware with a minimal Linux/*nix package.

Augustus
Sunday, August 03, 2003

The Amiga is mentioned in the book, but while Commodore's marketing of the system was often inept, I believe the system's demise was inevitable due to the rise of what I call in the book "The Silicon Beast" (the PC standard).

BTW, I owned threee Amigas and an Atari ST.

rick

rick chapman
Monday, August 04, 2003

Amiga's proprietary architecture would have worked out in the end, with clueful management and careful engineering work.

It used to be that every Mac had built-in video, but now they are using AGP slots and identical ports.  Were they to have had money to do it, they could have taken their choice of the available RISC architectures and switched architectures at about the same time as the PowerMacs hit the market.  They could have migrated things over to using PCI slots, IDE drives, etc.

But the business wasn't strong enough to really sustain the efforts necessary.  And the Amiga folks did a little too much resting on their laurels, as mentioned above.

Wintel being the lead system is very much an accident.  The market can and will bear two or three "platforms" at the same time.  A reasonable chunk of peripherals will work with Wintel, Lintel, and Mac... especially as the Mac platform has moved to the same busses as the Intel platform.  Any of the popular platforms in the mid 80s could have evolved into a wintel-quality platform were the business decisions to have gone in different directions.

And yes, I believe that if there was money and the right decisions and the right situations, one of the 6502 based systems could have been intel-quality.  The CPU would probably have been an very much like an ARM with a 6502 compatability mode, but that's something completely else.

Flamebait Sr.
Monday, August 04, 2003

>BTW, I owned three Amigas and an Atari ST.

You are indeed a very well-balanced and tolerant individual, Rick!  ;) 

(I remember there was a fairly intense platform rivalry there from my old user group days that went back as far as arguing over which one ran the famous "boing" demo better.  Hmm...looking back, it's no wonder the PC world was leaving us in the dust.)

What can I say, I'm a sucker for nostagia...guess you just sold another book!

Tim Lara
Monday, August 04, 2003

Augustus,

Thanks for reminding me how unbloated things are on Linux.  I installed a Linux box to get that pure unbloated feeling.  After installing a good editor (Emacs), a windowing system (X11) and a good desktop/wm (KDE), I now realize what a fool I have been for not noticing how unbloated and efficient everything is under Linux.

Thanks again my friend!

Mister Fancypants
Monday, August 04, 2003

"To say that software is just more "bloated" now is a gross simplification...wrong, even. "

So, does the flight simulator that was built into Microsoft Excel as an "Easter Egg" not count as bloat? Somehow, I don't think of it as adding a useful capability not present in other spreadsheets.

As for the Amiga, one problem was its image. PC-supporters back then disparaged it, saying that the fast color graphics and advanced sound capabilities meant that it was a "game system" and not a "business computer." After all, nobody needed color graphics ... there were no consumer color-graphic printers in those days.

The Mac had already carved out a niche in desktop publishing, and even though the Amiga had the first DTP package with Pantone support, the Mac was too entrenched by that time.

Steve Wheeler
Monday, August 04, 2003

The Amiga did end up with a neat little niche at the end with the Video Toaster, however.

Flamebait Sr.
Monday, August 04, 2003

+++As for the Amiga, one problem was its image. PC-supporters back then disparaged it, saying that the fast color graphics and advanced sound capabilities meant that it was a "game system" and not a "business computer."+++

Well, it WAS a game system.  And the best there was for a while.

Unfortunately, the Amiga market was rife with piracy.  They tended to be much worse than the PC and Apple crowd.  It was not uncommon for Amiga user groups to set up swap meets where the latest, greatest version of "Shadow of the Beast" and other titles were freely "shared."  And, of course, everyone whined interminably about the unfairness of all those greedy publishers charging outrageous prices for their games.  (This is an early precursor of the "information needs to be free argument.")

The greedy publishers retaliated by A) going out of business since they had insufficient sales to stay alive and B) pulling out of the Amiga game market.


+++The Mac had already carved out a niche in desktop publishing, and even though the Amiga had the first DTP package with Pantone support, the Mac was too entrenched by that time. +++

Actually, for a while the Amiga DID establish a niche in video editing.  Remember Toaster?  The early CGI work on Babylon Five was done with Amigas.

Alas, Commodore WAS a badly run company.

rick

rick chapman
Monday, August 04, 2003

Fancy
Clearly Augustus was being facetious, and you took the bait, tsk tsk.

Tazzi
Monday, August 04, 2003

+++(I remember there was a fairly intense platform rivalry there from my old user group days that went back as far as arguing over which one ran the famous "boing" demo better.  Hmm...looking back, it's no wonder the PC world was leaving us in the dust.)+++

The Atari ST was a pale shadow of the Amiga, though its MIDI port gave it a temporary niche in the music biz.

The Amiga was literally years ahead of its time.  A worthy ancestor of the Atari 800.

But long term, I believe it was doomed.  The Silicon Beast has slowly eaten everything.  The Intel hardware standard has knocked off Apple, SGI, and is eating Sun.

rick

rick
Monday, August 04, 2003

I think Commodores mistake was not recognising their niche, and playing to it.

I think the UK arm got it right with the CD32.  However, while the American HQ chased IBM they surrendered their real market to Sony.

Ged Byrne
Tuesday, August 05, 2003

In my humble opinion, what really killed Commodore wasn't their handling of the Amiga, but the way they dealt with their low-end cheap computers.  The Commodore 64 wasn't a very fast machine, but it had pretty graphics and interesting sound and was really cheap near the end.  It was a game console with a keyboard and user-programmability, and it was good.  Nobody has pulled off a product like that since.  Commodore bungled the low-end line, and that's what sank them.

The Commodore 128 was awful.  My parents got me one for the same reason that most C128 purchasers bought theirs - to replace a dying C64.  It was, after all, completely backward-compatible.  However, it was an obvious hack-job.  Not really better in any measurable way.  Sure, it had more RAM - but this required a convoluted bank-switching mechanism which most programmers didn't bother with.  In theory it could be upgraded to 512K, but the DRAM chips were not readily available to anyone but the most serious hobbyists.  It had a slightly better version of Microsoft BASIC built in - but all the real apps were written in assembly anyway.  It had a nice machine language monitor built in, suitable for programming and debugging - but you probably had a tape of Supermon anyway for your 64 if you were an amateur, or a real assembler/compiler if you were a pro ... and all these new software goodies took up valuable memory.  You could swap them out - but why not just keep writing Commodore 64 programs?  They were completely compatible, after all.  There was not a single reason why any programmer would move up.

Oh yeah, the C64 had great video and sound for the time.  Guess what the C128 had?  It had the same damned video and sound chips.  Yeah, it was nicely backward-compatible alright, but it was completely and totally obsolete.  Prettier than a PC for sure, but the NES came out and blew it away with smooth scrolling and better sprite graphics.

Worst of all, they DIDN'T UPGRADE THE PROCESSOR!  They kept the moldy old 6502.  And, this is really stupid - they put a frigging Z80 on the motherboard also.  Plugin Z80 carts were available for the C64 for people who wanted to run CP/M, but the C128 could run CP/M all by itself!  Yay!  Too bad that CP/M was dead by the time the 128 came out, and that there was no reason for a programmer to write for the Z80 when he could write for the equally-fast 6502 and maintain back-compatibility with an unmodded C64....

Had Commodore not done such a half-assed job on their low-end machines that plugged into TV sets, had they moved up to 16 bits and designed more modern video and audio chips instead of greedily shipping the same old junk in a new box, they might be still around making a friendly user-programmable, Web-enabled, cheap, game console.  And everybody would have one.  Not everyone could have afforded an Amiga, but most people could have afforded a C128 - and they would have bought it, had it been any good.

Trollumination
Wednesday, August 06, 2003

For anyone who bothers searching this up, CBM engineering *was* working on future-proofing (well, future-acknowledging) designs, while management (remember, they brought on Sydnes, father of the, er, PCjr) were trying to treat things not unlike the phase-out of the C64, in retrospect.

So engineering *did* understand the issues with retargetable graphics, PCI, "big box" machines with card-cages to begin supporting commodity expansion, etc, but weren't getting the go-aheads to productize... any of that.  Meanwhile, the A600 gets coughed up (sort of the C64GS model, when you think about it), then the A1200 and A4000, indeed the whole idea of "AGA," was all rushed when CBM realized it was letting the line slip without a Next Big Thing to supplant it.

In retrospect, you have to wonder what management was counting on while shooting down all the R&D.  Even the Amiga team seemed to have the idea that Windows NT was probably the future, as far as profit in the marketplace was concerned, but obviously CBM's PC division wasn't really raking in the dough... and there was no real ramp-up on that side of things while the Amiga was ground into dust and CD32s.  Perhaps they simply expected their alienated customers to come back for x86 hardware, instead of packing up and going to Gateway or Dell.

Interested parties can Google for the "Acutiator" and "Hombre" projects, the latter of which was a general-purpose GPU that we can now realize may've kept CBM on the map somehow (or attracted better suitors for the flaming wreck, had it been productized)...

Anonymous Peon
Saturday, June 19, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home