Published at 10:46am on 23 Jan 2007
The Amiga, a cherished computing platform from the 80s - 90s era, which was finally killed off by the dominance of the PC market, may be about to undergo a revival with the release of Amiga OS 4. But is a new OS release really the best way to continue the Amiga legacy?
Ars-Technica has just posted a review of the long-awaited Amiga OS 4:
For the benefit of readers born less than two decades go - the Amiga was a beautiful but short-lived computing platform that appeared in 1984, arguably ahead of it's time.
The Amiga had amazing graphical and audio capabilities, making it an excellent platform for games, video editing, and digital music composition, and a nice architecture that balanced a fully-fledged graphical windows-like OS (called Workbench) with a fast-boot capability that allowed you to bypass the OS when playing games.
Unfortunately (largely due to poor management) the Amiga was slowly killed off by the more business-oriented PC market, and in 1994 Commodore, the company that owned the brand, declared bankruptcy. Despite this, the Amiga lived on for half a decade, with a lively online community (not bad for a machine with no web browser) and a thriving second-hand market in old machine and spare parts.
Eventually though, after changing hands several times, the promises of new hardware never materialised, the steady stream of new game releases dried up and the machine that was ahead of its time saw its time pass.
Now however, the release of the new Amiga OS has once again brought about speculation of a revival...
On Slashdot there was the usual banter between the "Amiga's the best and will soon take over the world again" fanatics and the "Stop flogging the dead horse" realists. It brings to mind the pro-Mac, pro-PC disputes that preceded the revival of Apple in the late 90s, and no doubt the Amiga enthusiasts are hoping that where one ailing platform can rise from the ruins to achieve success, so can another.
But while I loved the Amiga back in its day, and was a tough proponent for the platform at the time, I now find myself questioning the value of this continued development.
I think the best question posed in the Slashdot comments was "What is this for?"
As stated, I loved the Amiga, but I loved it primarily because it had the best and most innovative games - because for some games, even if they were ported to other platforms (Worms anyone?) the Amiga version was still the best. Other people used it because it was the best video editing platform, or digital sound studio, or 3D modeling/rendering rig at the time.
But what is it good for now? Its video, audio and modeling apps are now all defunct, replaced by far superior offerings on other platforms, and it is unlikely to ever catch up again since modern software relies on specialist graphics and audio hardware that isn't Amiga compatible and requires proprietary drivers that won't be ported.
And as for games? Well, I believe that what made Amiga games great was that the hardware was really good at doing colour 2D sprite-based graphics, and great music, and that inspired people to make innovative games that either couldn't be done on other platforms, or would have required a lot more work. That was true even in the early era of the Playstation, when its 3D was obviously superior, but its 2D still didn't quite match the Amiga.
But now the Amiga has been truly surpassed in hardware, and all the gaming effort I've seen for next-gen Amigas has been in trying to port Doom or Quake. What's the point? Who cares if you can play a 10-15 year old PC game on an Amiga, or even one from this year? If it doesn't do anything that you can't do on a PC or a Mac then why bother?
When Apple was failing, everyone pointed to the fact that its hardware and software was lagging the industry standards, and the best that its supporters could counter-argue was that the Mac was nearly as good for most things, and that the OS and software we had was so much more user friendly that we were actually more productive with what little we had to work with.
Had things continued this way, I have little doubt that the Mac would have eventually died, but fortunately the Jobs-era Apple has demonstrated that rather than being content to follow the pack, it will innovate its way to the top and there are now plenty of ways in which the Macintosh platform leads and the PC market follows - much like it was with the Amiga in the early days.
At present though, it seems that modern Amiga is doomed to play constant catch-up forever (this is born out by the fact that even this new OS release is designed to work only on AmigaOne motherboards, which are no longer being manufactured).
Everything new that Amiga once had to offer is now old hat. Its old Workbench OS was never very good compared to Mac OS (preemptive multitasking notwithstanding), and its new one seems to be just another Linux wannabe. There are no new games, and no real prospect of Amiga users even getting current gaming titles ported from the PC, let alone providing a desirable platform for original game content to be created.
Amiga OS looks like it wants to be the new Linux, but I honestly believe that the Mac is the spiritual successor to the Amiga. Granted it isn't much of a games platform, but it is the "creative professionals"' choice, like the Amiga once was. And unlike the Amiga it has managed to stay in lock-step with the current hardware and software trends, dictating them as often as it follows them.
Linux is not about innovative new software or hardware, it's about open source - that's not what the original Amiga stood for, and it's not a direction I'd especially like to see it taking. I'd rather remember the Amiga for what it was - an innovative multimedia platform - not constantly have to hear over the next few years about how it finally has a web browser that's a bit like Firefox but buggier and with no Flash support (currently it doesn't even have CSS), or that it now has a usable office suite that's basically Open Office, but less feature-rich, etc...
I would rather see a concerted effort to make Amiga-like games and software for Mac OS (and Windows too, if you must) so that modern computer users can experience what it was like to own an Amiga without constantly bumping up against the fact that none of the business or application software (or web pages) they need to use actually work on it.
If you want to revive the Amiga, try to bring back a bit of the Amiga magic to modern computing, don't turn the Amiga itself into nothing more than a pale (and inevitably inferior) clone of the machines that eventually killed it off - it deserves better than that.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are those of the author and are not shared by Charcoal Design unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.
I loved my Amiga. I can still remember the day I took the proceeds of all those paper runs and summer yard work, plus the pittance I got for my Commodore 64, and handed them over in exchange what, at the time, seemed like a revolution in computing.
I think you're right about attempts to revive the platform. They say nostalgia ain't what it used to be, and this is doubly true in the world of computing.
Let the Amiga rest in peace.Reply
Posted by Kieran at 3:30pm on 11 Apr 2007
Amiga Moving Forward
I loved my A500 when I first got it, it blew the socks off of any computer at the time. The amiga platform was ground breaking in its day, it was a truly multitasking computer with the first multitasking OS. The games were cutting edge and the sound was amazing.
Things have moved forward since then. The new Amiga OS4.1 has new hardware to use, but it is still tied to the PPC which is like dragging an iron weight.
If the developers had taken a hint from the Mac there could be a future for Amiga. If they developed an x86 motherboard with custom chip set like Apple have done, then they can fine tune the OS for that hardware alone.
Select which cards are supported, create a range of Amiga computers with up to date competitive hardware and development of updated classic games to 3D and the platform would stand a fighting chance.
The OS is better than Mac OS X, which seems to have borrowed most of everything from the Amiga. And OS4 would be complete with memory protection and up to date browsers.
Commodore is back making new hardcore gaming rigs, If they picked up the ball they could make the platform viable again.Reply
Posted by a reader at 12:32am on 10 Apr 2009