History of the Amiga
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- 1 Amiga Corporation
- 2 Commodore
- 3 New Amigas
- 4 References
- 5 Further reading
The Amiga's Original Chip Set was designed by a small company called Amiga Corporation during the end of the first home video game boom. Wary of industrial espionage, the developers codenamed the chipset "Lorraine" during development. Development of the Lorraine project was done using a Sage IV (m68k/8 MHz/1MB) machine, nicknamed "Agony". Amiga Corp. funded the development of the Lorraine by manufacturing game controllers, and later an initial bridge loan from Atari Inc. while seeking further investors. The chipset was to be used in a video game machine, but following the video game crash of 1983, the Lorraine was repurposed to be a multi-tasking multi-media personal computer.
The company demonstrated a prototype at the January 1984 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago with an attempt to get investors on board. Reporters saw it perform the Boing Ball demo with stereo sound. The Sage acted as the CPU, and BYTE described "big steel boxes" substituting for the chipset that did not yet exist. The magazine reported in April 1984 that Amiga Corporation "is developing a 68000-based home computer with a custom graphics processor. With 128K bytes of RAM and a floppy-disk drive, the computer will reportedly sell for less than $1000 late this year."
Follow up presentations were made, at the following CES in June 1984, to Sony, Hewlett-Packard, Philips, Apple, Silicon Graphics and others. Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, who had just introduced the Macintosh in January, was shown the original prototype for the first Amiga and stated that there was too much hardware -even though the newly redesigned board consisted of just three silicon chips which had yet to be shrunk down. Investors became increasingly wary of new computer companies in an industry that the IBM PC dominated,
Employees mortgaged their homes to keep the company running.
In July 1984, Atari was bought by the recently fired CEO and founder of Commodore, Jack Tramiel, who was taking a substantial number of Commodore's employees with him. He offered $500,000 which must be paid back in one month or Atari would own all of the Amiga technology. It was agreed on of desperation.
And then in a "surprising" development, in August 1984, the Amiga group found an interested Commodore. Amiga was purchased by Commodore for $27 million -including paying off the Atari loan. And Atari went on to develop the ST which launched in June 1985.
1985-87, The early years
When the first Amiga computer was released in July 1985 by Commodore, it was simply called the Amiga -devoid of references to Commodore. Commodore marketed it both as their intended successor to the Commodore 64 and as their competitor against the Apple Macintosh. It was later renamed the Commodore Amiga 1000.
At a relatively affordable base price of 1295 USD the Amiga could display up to 4096 colors, produce 8-bit stereo audio and run several applications concurrently. These qualities were unprecedented in a consumer-oriented computer and gave the Amiga 1000 a significant technical lead on its three main competitors (the Atari ST, the Macintosh and the IBM PC) that was not matched until after the Amiga faded from the mainstream market.
The public saw both Commodore and Atari as selling, as John C. Dvorak wrote, "cheap disposable" game machines. Poorly marketed, the Amiga 1000 was not an instant success. An August 1986 Compute editorial expressed amazement that Commodore, insisting that the Amiga was a business computer, did not show it at the summer Consumer Electronics Show. The magazine estimated that in their first year of availability the Atari ST, with Tramiel's "superior marketing attack", had outsold the "withered" Amiga. Stating that the "industry needs the vision and direction that a Commodore can help provide", it urged the company to pursue the consumer market that it had been very successful in with the 64. Bruce Webster reported in BYTE in January 1987 that Commodore had sold about 150,000 Amigas as of October 1986, but "imagine how many [the company] might have sold if they had done things right". He criticized many aspects of Commodore's handling of the computer, including selling "not-quite-finished" hardware and software, not supporting third-party developers, poor advertising, and internal uncertainty of the Amiga's target market. Aware of its reputation Commodore asked the press to call the computer "The Amiga, from Commodore" and designed new logos to replace its own iconic "C=" design. Commodore compounded the problem by marketing the new 8-bit Commodore 128 alongside the Amiga, confusing the general public about Commodore's direction and the Amiga's advantages.
By 1987 rumors spread that the size of the Amiga market disappointed software vendors, which were uncertain of Commodore's intention for the computer. Bing Gordon of Electronic Arts, which had prominently supported the Amiga, stated that year "The Amiga has never done as well as we had hoped when we started out", and that Electronic Arts had expected Commodore to sell it as a $600 high-end home computer instead of a $1800 business computer. The best-selling Amiga games sold about 25,000 copies in 1986, said Gordon, compared to 125,000 to 150,000 copies on the Commodore 64. In 1994 BYTE wrote "The Amiga was so far ahead of its time that almost nobody — including Commodore's marketing department — could fully articulate what it was all about. Today, it's obvious the Amiga was the first multimedia computer, but in those days it was derided as a game machine because few people grasped the importance of advanced graphics, sound, and video."  This marketing confusion would plague the Amiga throughout its lifetime, even as it changed hands between Escom, Gateway and other owners.
1987-90, Cost reduced and high end models
In 1987, faced with strong competition from Atari ST in the lower end of the segment, Commodore released the cost reduced Amiga 500 and the high end Amiga 2000 for the respective prices of US $699 and $2395 (this price included 1 MB RAM and a monitor).
By 1988 software sales for the Amiga remained disappointing compared to those for the IBM PC, Commodore 64, and Apple II. With its lowered price, the Amiga 500 went on to become a successful home computer and eventually outsold its main rival, the Atari ST. The Amiga 2000, thanks to its Genlock and internal expansion slots, managed to carve out a market niche within desktop video. This market was not as large as the office and publishing markets dominated by the IBM PC and Apple Macintosh and as a result the Amiga 2000 lagged these systems in sales. Also, Commodore had initially announced a price of $1495 for the 2000, resulting in widespread grumbling among their customer base when the higher price was made public. To a lesser degree this was the case for A500 which Commodore announced its price $595.95 but later released it at $699. The Amiga did see widespread use in the television and video production industry during the late 1980s and early 1990s, including on popular shows like Clarissa Explains It All and Unsolved Mysteries.
1990-93, Height of popularity
In 1990, Commodore released a significant update of the Amiga platform, in the shape of the Amiga 3000 featuring an enhanced chipset (ECS) and the second release of its operating system, commonly referred to as Workbench 2.0.
Commodore had a poor reputation among consumers and developers. Computer Gaming World wrote in 1990 of its "abysmal record of customer and technical support in the past". Many users[who?] had criticised Commodore for letting the Amiga platform languish since its introduction five years earlier; this criticism did not diminish with the Amiga 3000. Commodore was unable to match the pace of PC advancement with their lower resources and economy of scale, and users complained that the custom ECS chipset failed to match the features of the PC and Mac display hardware at the time. Users also felt that the operating system (Workbench 2.0) only featured improvements taken from the user community. As Apple was the only other major user of Motorola chips at the time, Commodore often had to wait for a new CPU technology until increased supplies allowed Motorola to sell chips to anyone but Apple.
On the plus side many users considered the Amiga 3000 the most well engineered Amiga model, and the Amiga 3000's integrated flicker filter made it painless to use inexpensive PC-style VGA monitors. This may in part be the reason Commodore went on to sell one million Amigas in just one year, which is equal to a third of all Amigas sold up to that time.
In the same year as the Amiga 3000, Commodore released the US $895 CDTV, aimed to move the Amiga platform to the living room and a competitor to devices such as Philips CD Interactive (CD-I). Commodore believed that there was a market for a system that could display animations, pictures and offer educational software and games on a television, and many game developers thought that interactive CD-based video games would become a popular market. The end result was a system that could be described as an Amiga 500 with a remote control replacing the keyboard and a CD-ROM replacing the floppy drive.
Considering that the Amiga 500 was cheaper, more versatile and had the promise of a future CDTV expansion few Amiga users had any interest in the Amiga CDTV. At the same time the general public preferred cheaper game consoles over both the CDTV and CD-I, and was not aware of or interested in the multimedia potential of these CD-ROM based systems.
Both Commodore and Philips tried to tempt users with promise of an MPEG-1 module capable of playing video from a CD-ROM. These Video CDs can be considered lower-resolution versions of today's Digital Versatile Disks (DVDs), but without some additional features and the inconvenience of having to change the disks during a full length movie.
The CDTV became Commodore's first Amiga based failure, one that allegedly cost them a significant amount of resources. Commodore made a last-ditch effort in saving the system with the CDTV 2, but dropped that design in favor of the much more capable Amiga CD32.
1992-94, Trouble ahead
Commodore began 1992 early by introducing the Amiga 500+, a slightly updated and cost reduced Amiga 500, officially. This model had actually been introduced the year before to meet good sales of the Amiga 500. Viewed primarily as a game machine, especially in Europe, this model was criticized for not being able to run popular games such as SWIV, Treasure Island Dizzy, and Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge), and some people returned them to dealers demanding an original Amiga 500.
By the early 1990s the IBM PC platform dominated the market for computer games. In December 1992 Computer Gaming World reported that MS-DOS accounted for 82% of game sales in 1991, compared to Macintosh's 8% and Amiga's 5%. In response to a reader's challenge to find a DOS game that played better than the Amiga version the magazine cited Wing Commander and Civilization, and added that "The heavy MS-DOS emphasis in CGW merely reflects the realities of the market". Instead of discontinuing the obsoleting Amiga 500 and 500+ Commodore envisioned it taking the place of the Commodore 64 in the low-cost segment. To make that possible Commodore set out to design the Amiga 600, a system intended to be much cheaper than the Amiga 500. The Amiga 500 itself would be replaced by Amiga 1200, also under development.
|“||Commodore had the new machines (A600) manufactured in Australia and launched them on what it assumed would be an eager market. Unfortunately, soon afterwards it announced that two new super-Amigas would be released.||”|
—Edge, August 1995
Shortly after releasing the Amiga 600 Commodore announced that two new super Amigas would be released at the end of the year. In classic Osborne style, consumers decided to wait for the new Amigas and Commodore had to close their Australian office in face of plummeting sales, At the same time, Commodore's foray into the highly competitive PC market was unsuccessful. This contributed to Commodore's 1992 profits falling to an unimpressive $28 million, and made the need for a successful new Amiga launch all that more critical.
Computer Gaming World reported in March 1993 that declining Amiga sales were "causing many U.S. publishers to quit publishing Amiga titles", and in July that at the Spring European Computer Trade Show the computer was, unlike 1992, "hardly mentioned, let alone seen". That year Commodore marketed the CD32, which was one of the earliest CD-based consoles and was also the world's first 32-bit game machine, with specifications similar to the A1200.
The last Amiga (and the last computer) released by Commodore was the A4000T, in 1994.
Amiga in the United States
Mass-market Amigas were considerably cheaper than PCs and Macs at the time. This factor helped to boost sales in European markets, but it also continued Commodore's misfortune from the VIC-20 and C64 era of being viewed in the more price-conscious U.S. markets as a producer of cheap "toy computers" and "game machines". This perception was furthered by the fact that most Commodore retail outlets were toy stores, and marketing campaigns were mismatched with the American public's needs and wants. Overall, the Amiga was very successful in Europe, but it sold less than a million units in the U.S..
Another factor is that in the U.S. market, the IBM PC was already a dominant market force, especially in the workplace. Potential buyers' first question was often, "Is it IBM compatible?", allowing the user to "take work home" or more often take software home to install on their own machines. To satisfy these users, Commodore introduced a variety of PC-compatibility add-ons, such as the Amiga Sidecar for the Amiga 1000, the Bridge Board for the A2000 and a 5.25" floppy disk drive to facilitate data exchange with PC disks. But even as Commodore was improving the Amiga's interoperability, the PC's graphics drastically improved from the early mediocre CGA and EGA modes prevalent at the Amiga's introduction to VGA and SVGA which appeared to match or exceed the Amiga's abilities. This caused a raft of PC gaming titles to be introduced during the late 1980s and early 1990s, including many ported from Amiga versions. Consumers began to see no advantage in the Amiga's "incompatible" technology. Commodore's attempts at interoperability did not persuade users concerned about IBM compatibility to buy an Amiga instead of one of the inexpensive PC clones that were beginning to flood the US market. As a result, US Amiga users tended to be technophiles enamored of the Amiga's software or hardware capabilities, Commodore loyalists upgrading from the C-64 or 128, iconoclasts who disliked IBM, and video or graphic arts enthusiasts (or professionals - the desktop video market was one of the few areas where the Amiga would gain widespread adoption in the US outside of the home).
|“||In 1993, Commodore lost a staggering $357 million.||”|
—Edge, August 1995 edition
Commodore management voluntarily filed for Chapter 11 under US bankruptcy laws in May 1994. Chapter 11 US rules allow a firm to recover its debts and reorganize. Two times in the past Commodore was reorganized in various occasions and repaid by Irving Gould without requesting filing for Chapter 11, but this time, as being controlled by US bankruptcy laws, the board of trustees, which was appointed by the court to oversee Commodore, decided to "liquidate" (sell) the company without proceeding to reorganization. The majority of Commodore's assets and name were sold to Escom. Production was halted briefly, until it was restarted for a short time under Escom's Amiga Technologies. Though the machines had been upgraded and had plentiful hardware and software support, the lack of new Amigas meant that vendors sooner or later moved on. Most of the 'leading edge' technology hobbyists and productivity market moved to PC architecture, sometimes running Linux or BeOS in preference to Microsoft Windows.
Due to the fierce loyalty of some Amiga fans, the 'scene' continued, many years even after the last original Amiga was sold. Inevitably, the PC eventually became the undisputed leading home computing technology, and the console wars also left the CD32 for dead.
The rights to the Amiga platform were successively sold to Escom and later Gateway 2000. Escom had almost immediately gone bankrupt itself (due to non-Amiga related problems), while Gateway decided to keep the patents and sell the remaining assets to a new company later renamed to Amiga, Inc. (no relation to the original Amiga Corporation) in 1999. Amiga also received a license to use Amiga-related patents, which were retained by Gateway until they expired. Amiga Inc. sold the copyrights for works created up to 1993 to Cloanto and commissioned development of AmigaOS 4 to Hyperion Entertainment.
Since demise of Commodore-Amiga there have been many attempts to create new Amiga hardware and solutions. All new Amigas are built from standard components without using the original Commodore custom chips.
Only Amiga compatible machines share the original Amiga heritage with the custom chip compatibility. While they are not using the original chips as in original Amiga computers they implement compatible functionality using their FPGA.
Minimig is an open source hardware implementation of the Amiga 500 with the custom chipset implemented using an field-programmable gate array (FPGA), released under the GNU General Public Licence. It uses the MC68000 CPU chip from Freescale.
AmigaOS 4 systems
Since 2001 Hyperion Entertainment have been developing new AmigaOS 4 running on PowerPC based systems. AmigaOS 4 runs on Samantha systems developed by ACube Systems, Pegasos II systems developed by Genesi/bPlan and AmigaOne systems developed by British Eyetech and A-eon Technologies. AmigaOS 4 can run system friendly AmigaOS software written for original Commodore Amigas.
AROS is an open source re-implementation of AmigaOS. It runs on many x86 based systems as native or hosted flavors. AROS also runs on some 68k based Amigas and PowerPC systems. There is also a company selling AresOne systems dedicated to run AROS only. Unlike many other Amiga based solutions AROS is Amiga binary compatible only on 68k based systems.
MorphOS is a closed source re-implementation of AmigaOS. It runs on PowerPC based systems but can run system friendly AmigaOS software written for original Commodore Amigas. MorphOS runs on Efika, Pegasos I/II and PowerPC based Apple Mac G4 models Mac Mini, eMac, PowerMac PowerBook and iBook.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Amiga computers.|
- A history of the Amiga - Jeremy Reimer's discussion of the history behind the Amiga's creation and demise with Commodore.
- Famous Amiga Uses