In the early eighties the
home computer market was exploding. Dozens of different computers
tried to succeed. Among them were famous names such as Commodore
64, ZX Spectrum, Amstrad (aka Schneider) and Dragon.
When these classic systems
got too old (technically speaking) a new generation of home computers
were fighting their way into many a kid's room. Famous machines
as Atari ST and Acorn Archimedes and (of course) AMIGA 1000 were
known all over the world. The Atari was used for all kinds of
MIDI applications while the AMIGA was used for Video and games.
At this time the PC was
too expensive for private use (and not as powerful). At home
Atari and AMIGA were fighting for customers. This battle was
lost by Atari after several years because they were not able
to push their system to the newest level of technology without
losing compatibility. In the meantime the AMIGA was well known
as a video computer and was used in lots of TV-Series (Robocop,
Babylon 5, Seaquest) and cinema pre-productions (Jurassic Park,
The biggest problem the
AMIGA always had was it's owner. Commodore being once a major
player in the PC-business took most of the profit from the AMIGA
division to keep up in the PC-market. In the end they didn't
succeed and Commodore was liquidated. Then every AMIGA-User was
looking for a saviour. When Escom came by it all looked so good...
but Escom acquired too much in a short time which forced them
into liquidation themselves. After that the Amigans had to wait
for nearly one year and were begging for a new saviour with lots
of cash and good customer-service. Well, we were lucky, because
Gateway2000 bought the remains of AMIGA Technologies. They founded
a second company for R&D and they were working on really
But once again, the big
guys screwed up and two years went by, almost without a change.
In Autumn 1999 the AmigaOS got updated to V3.5 by Haage &
Partner. This much-needed update brought many valuable features,
but there was still some bug squashing to do. Christmas 1999
the first update for AmigaOS3.5 was downloadable. Lots of bugs
were fixed and some new functions were added. We're waiting for
the next update to the Classic AmigaOS.
Jay Miner - The Father of Amiga
"The story starts
in the early 1980's with a company not originally called Amiga,
but Hi Toro, which was started by Dave Morris, our president,
but before all that I used to work with Atari and I wanted to
do a 68000 machine with them. We had just finished the Atari
800 box and they were not about to spend another umpteen dollars
on research for a 16-bit machine and the processor chip itself
cost $100 apiece. RAM was also real expensive and you need twice
as much. They couldn't see the writing on the wall and they just
said "No", so I quit!
"I went to a chip
company called Xymos as I knew the guy who started it. He gave
me some stock and it looked like an interesting startup company
(I've worked for a lot of new companies). We hired a little office
on Scott Boulevard, Santa Clara and they got a Texas millionaire
to put up some money. I had an idea about designing a games machine
that was expandable to a real computer and he though that was
a great idea but didn't tell any of his investors. I moved to
Santa Clara from Xymos. They were still called Hi Toro but the
investors weren't too keen so they chose "Amiga" and
I didn't like it much - I thought using a Spanish name wasn't
such a good move. I was wrong!
"We worked out a deal
whereby I got a salary and some stock and I also got to bring
my dog Mitchy into work every day. Dave did reserve the right
to go back on that one if anyone else objected but Mitchy was
very popular. There were a lot of various arguments and the way
most were sorted out was by hitting each other with the foam
baseball bats. The stung a bit if you got hit hard. There was
a conflict in the fundamental design philosophy with some like
RJ Mical wanting the low cost video game (the investors side,
you might say). Others like Dale Luck and Carl Sassenrath wanted
the best computer expansion capability for the future. This battle
of cost was never ending, being internal; among us as well as
with the investors and Commodore.
"I started thinking
about what we wanted to design. Right from the beginning I wanted
to do a computer like the A2000 with lots of expansion slots
for drives, a keyboard etc. I'd also read a bit about blitters
and so I talked with a friend called Ron Nicholson who was also
interested in them and he came to join us. We came up with all
sorts of functions for the blitter. Once you've got the design
concept for the chips, all you need to do then is pick names
for the registers and tell the software people something like
"I'm going to have a register here that's going to hold
the colours for this part and it's called whatever." They
can then simulate it in their software.
"In 1983 we made a
motherboard for the chips to be plugged in, took this to the
CES show and we showed some little demos to selected people away
from the main floor. At the show itself, they wrote the bouncing
ball demo and this blew people away. They couldn't believe that
all this wiring was going to be three chips. The booming noise
of the ball was Bob Parasseau hitting a foam baseball bat against
our garage door. It was sampled on an Apple ][ and the data massaged
into Amiga samples.
"With things running
desperately close, we were forced to look for more finance to
keep the ball bouncing. Commodore stepped in at the last minute
to take the Amiga for themselves, shelling out a mere $4.25 per
share and installing the team in the Los Gatos office.
"The Amiga 1000 really
didn't take shape until long after Commodore bought it. The president
had the idea of sliding the keyboard underneath the machine and
it took nearly a year to redesign the motherboard to fit in.
Everything was set... and then Commodore decided that 512K of
RAM was too much. They
wanted a 256K machine as the 512 was too expensive. Back in those
days RAM was very pricey, but I could see it had to come down.
I told them it couldn't be done as we were too close to being
finished, it would spoil the architecture, etc, etc. Dave Needle
came up with the idea of putting the cartridge on the front which
worked. I was in favour of putting sockets on the motherboard
so the user could just drop in the chips."
"There were a lot
of compromises which I didn't like, but it was better than it
might have been if we hadn't gotten our way on a lot of things.
We didn't get our way on everything, though. The 256K RAM was
a real problem. The software people knew it was inadequate but
nobody could stand up to Commodore about it. We had to really
argue to put the expansion connector on the side and this was
before the deal was finalised so we were close to sinking everything.
The lowest cost way of doing it was the edge connector and I'm
glad it got through".
"Once the Amiga was
released, work at Los Gatos continued, but the days for this
fine, but maverick, design team were numbered. I was really pleased to see Commodore moving in
the direction of the A2000 - it was the first Amiga you could
really tailor to your own needs and this was one of the reasons
for the success of the early Apples. We then wanted to go onto
horizontal slots, like the A3000 as that would be easier to cool
and shield - there was a design to do it but at that time the
A2000 came from Germany so that's the way we went. We wanted
to do the Autoconfiguration for the slots but Commodore weren't
keen because it added 50c to the cost, so we had a big battle
with them and did it anyway. Our divisional manager from Commodore
was a guy called Rick Geiger. He promised MS-DOS on a small card
to make an IBM interface. He worked alone, and weeks went by
with nothing appearing despite all the promises which worried
me a lot, and this really led to Rick's downfall. He promised
he could do it and nobody kept close enough tags on him, always
a few more weeks. Commodore started advertising and the board
didn't work so both men were canned. This was the start of the
downfall for the Los Gatos division.
Footnote: After suffering
a long bout with a kidney illness, Jay Miner passed during the
summer of 1994. His death is mourned by all the Faithful and
the light he lit burns on.
See the full interview at the AUGWA Inc. Online Magazine
Classic Amiga Games Pictures
EMULATOR INFO / DOWNLOAD
Commodore Amiga Links
Return to EMULATION+