This 1985 multimedia computer was owned and mismanaged by Commodore, then messed with by ESCOM, and finally bought by Gateway. It is currently (1998) slated for a much needed rebirth to recombine its innovative designs with more modern hardware. This is expected to begin in earnest in late 1998 and result in a new Amiga with new operating system version 5.0 in 1999. The fact that such an elegant system has not been widely accepted by the industry is just a bit maddening for Amiga fans.

There was something special about the Amiga. A community of un-paralleled creativity and technical innovation formed around this machine. The user experience it afforded was and in my opinion still is unique.

Intuition, the machine's high level graphics/UI / windowing toolkit was amazing.

To me, Deluxe Paint IV on the Amiga was the ultimate evolution in real time interactive painting applications - I have yet to see anything modern equal it.

Note that I'm not suggesting it did what Photoshop does, it's a different niche, and The Gimp fills that bill anyway.

The games were pretty cool, too. Dr. J. and Larry Bird go One on One, Archon, Marble Madness, Shadow of the Beast.

For its time it was truly beautiful. Then the company was taken over by an idiot who didn't care about the computer or its community. He robbed the company dry and fled to warmer climes.

For many of us, those will always be the good old days.

Amiga is spanish for friend (girl), Amigo is also stands for friend (boy)

The Amiga was originally designed by a team led by Jay Miner at a company originally called Hi-Toro. The name was changed to Amiga primarily in order to appear before Apple in the phone book. Atari funded some of the early development, but when Amiga were looking to sell out to a larger company offered less than a dollar per share. Commodore were willing to go up to four twenty-five and ended up owning a small Californian company with some pretty impressive custom hardware. Amiga had been aiming at something that was effectively an incredible games machine with some computing ability, while Commodore shifted the focus to a more general purpose machine hoping to mimic the success of the Commodore 64.

Several Amiga models were released between 1985 and 1994.

1985 - Amiga 1000
1987 - Amiga 500 and Amiga 2000 (see also Amiga 1500)
1990 - CDTV and Amiga 3000
1991 - Amiga 600
1992 - Amiga 4000 and Amiga 1200
1993 - CD32

In 1994, Commodore US filed for Chapter 11 reorganisation. The Amiga division was bought by Escom in 1995, who went bust in 1997. Gateway then bought the assets, went through several business plans, gave up on all of them and sold the rights to two ex-employees at the end of 1999. Amiga are now developing an operating environment based on the TAO multi-platform OS which is supposed to be released in mid-2001 and is mainly aimed at developers of digital convergance systems rather than replacing existing desktop OSs.

The Amiga systems, and particularly its operating system have a lot of unique features, many of which are still unmatched today.

First of all, it has a multitasking, pre-emptitive OS, with a very nice GUI, a not exactly UN*X-like console and good stability that fits on a 512k ROM and works fairly well on two floppies (880k ones); later versions have a larger footprint but will fit with basic utilities on about three megs.

AmigaDOS is beautifully designed, perhaps even more than common unices. It has a very simple structure, it is very easy to mantain and it is very small and compact (usual RAM usage is about 512k freshly booted, and 1-2 megs at full use). It is the off-spring of the British Trip-OS, with a weird BCPL heritage (some system commands did not get a C rewrite for a lot of time). Main differences is a file system with no / ideas; there were units, which took the form name:, which usually corresponded to physical devices, and a /'ed directory structure (i.e.: dh0:s/startup-sequence), although assigns could be made which created a kind of virtual devices (usually the previous file would be accessed as s:startup-sequence, thanks to a assign s: dh0:s, btw, that's the script that got executed on boot).

The OS had a very complete IPC facilities, based on messages, quite different from BSD; I mean, no pipes or shared memory, through the lack of memory protection (only later models had MMU's, and the OS didn't usually use it) and a very efficient library system.

Later versions (from 2.1 onwards) featured a tightly integrated Rexx scripting facility, called ARexx which is one of the most useful things around. Basically, ARexx scripts could communicate with most applications via their ARexx port, and, as many had one, Amiga apps are easily combined and scripted, with only one language.

The hardware is in many ways outdated now. Speedwise I seem to recall that the bus runs at 14 MHz, although DMA and lots of neat tricks let the Amiga cope with bandwidth-hungry applications such as video with ease. Sound is perhaps the most ancient part of the Amiga, not updated since the original design (it could output audio at 44.1 kHz, 8-bit and on four stereo channels), with no affordable third-party cards that I know of. Of course, recent applications mix their own audio so the 4 channel limitation is not so important, but the 8-bit quality is a big problem.

Graphically, the Amiga shines even today in 2D. Originally there were 320/640x256/512 (200/400 in NTSC) resolution modes, with 32 colours for low horizontal resolution and 16 for high-res. The x512 modes used interlacing, really useful for video work (320x512 is a very good resolution for that). Except the first batch of Amigas, they also had the HAM (hold and modify), all of the 4096 of the palette were available (but only 16 could be freely used, the other were obtained as variations on the preceding pixel). Later AGA models gave the typical SVGA resolutions in 8-bit (and an enhanced 18 bit HAM mode); third party cards give 24 bit modes.

Graphical tasks are done using the custom chips, originally Paula, Agnus and Denise. They also took care of sound, floppy control and general I/O. They also contained the Blitter and the Copper, maybe the coolest gizmos it had. The Blitter (block-image transferrer) copied chunks of memory very fast, applying boolean operations and basic transforms. The Copper, on the other hand, was a very-reduced instruction set processor (4 different operations), which was tied to the screen refresh, so you could perform operations depending on the scanline being beamed. The most common and famous Copper Trick was those rainbow-hued skies, performed by changing the palette on different scanlines; but there are lots of more impressive techniques.

Besides that, the graphical system also had hardware sprites (with collision detection), awfully smooth scrolling facilities, and loads of chances to exploit the very close ties between the Amiga's architecture and the physical display.

Sadly, I believe one of the biggest problems for the Amiga was that it had a planar based bitmap structure, which is totally unappropiate for 3D graphics, particularly for texturing. The Doom boom popularized graphics which were very difficult to do on the Amiga (basically, it started at being eight times slower, even though coders eventually found zillions of ways to have chunky displays with very little perfomance loss). All the Amiga architecture was very good for traditional 2D sprite-based graphics (think 80's arcades).

Well, let's see if there is a comeback!

The same Amiga who is known for their computers also used to be a third party producer of cartridges for the Atari 2600.

They had big plans for the console, including all sorts of expansion packs, and other fancy hardware add-ons. But they unfortunately launched their Atari line based around a stand-on controller called the "joyboard". So far every stand-on controller ever made for any console has been a total failure. Amiga did not know that, since the "joyboard" was the first of its kind. Nintendo later went on to have a similar failure with the Power Pad.

Stand-on controllers only really ever took off in the arcade setting, where games like Top Skater and Dance Dance Revolution can put them to good use.

The quality of Amiga's few Atari offerings were fairly high. They probably would have succeeded in this market if they had decided just to concentrate on quality software, rather than odd hardware add-ons.

Amiga Games
  • Mogul Maniac - Mogul Maniac was an expensive first person skiing title that came with a stand-on controller called the "joyboard". This controller was easily broken, and wasn't really usuable for most Atari titles, but it was an interesting idea for the time.

  • Off Your Rocker - Off Your Rocker was the original "Dance Dance Revolution", same concept, same gameplay. The only difference was in the quality of the graphics and in the music. This title was playable with either the "joyboard" controller, or a standard Atari joystick. This title was never widely released because Amiga gave up on it right before it was supposed to ship. They later sold their inventory of the title to Pleasant Valley Video in California, who sold them all cheaply over a period of several years.

  • Surf's Up - Surf's Up was an unfinished surfing game that was also supposed to use the "joyboard" controller. It was a shame that Amiga gave up on the Atari 2600 while developing this title, because it was shaping up to be a great title. The graphics on this game looked to be a cut above the standard 2600 graphics, they looked more like Nintendo Entertainment System graphics. They were really that good.

ambimouseterous = A = Amiga Persecution Complex

Amiga n

A series of personal computer models originally sold by Commodore, based on 680x0 processors, custom support chips and an operating system that combined some of the best features of Macintosh and Unix with compatibility with neither.

The Amiga was released just as the personal computing world standardized on IBM-PC clones. This prevented it from gaining serious market share, despite the fact that the first Amigas had a substantial technological lead on the IBM XTs of the time. Instead, it acquired a small but zealous population of enthusiastic hackers who dreamt of one day unseating the clones (see Amiga Persecution Complex). The traits of this culture are both spoofed and illuminated in The BLAZE Humor Viewer. The strength of the Amiga platform seeded a small industry of companies building software and hardware for the platform, especially in graphics and video applications (see video toaster).

Due to spectacular mismanagement, Commodore did hardly any R&D, allowing the competition to close Amiga's technological lead. After Commodore went bankrupt in 1994 the technology passed through several hands, none of whom did much with it. However, the Amiga is still being produced in Europe under license and has a substantial number of fans, which will probably extend the platform's life considerably.

--The Jargon File version 4.3.1, ed. ESR, autonoded by rescdsk.

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