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Amiga What?



 Image © Bill Bertram 2006. Obtained from WikiCommons.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Amiga computer, it was originally released in 1985 by Commodore who bought the developers of the amiga, Amiga Corporation. At a time when most computers had monochrome screens and text interfaces, the Amiga could show up to 4096 colours, smooth full screen animations, four channel stereo sound. Based on the Motorola 68K series processor (the same one used by the Apple Macintosh), the Amiga achieved its graphics and sound capabilities via a series of co-processors that were dedicated to each task. It was well and truly ahead of its time and was the first true multimedia computer. As such, it was a great gaming machine. 

Being a multimedia computer, various photorealistic renderers such as Lightwave and Cinema 4D were originally released on the Amiga. The introduction of NewTek's Video Toaster saw the Amiga used for professional video production, offering high quality effects for a fraction of the price of other video production hardware. TV series such as Babylon 5 and SeaQuest DSV were made using Amiga hardware.


An Amiga 1200
 An Amiga 1200.

In 1992 the AGA chipset was released, extending the graphics capabilities to higher resolution and 24-bit (16.8 million) colour. At this point, the Amiga's popularity was at its height. The AAA chipset was under development, that would take the platform forward even further, and maintain its lead over standard PC hardware. Sadly, Commodore had financial troubles; its PC clone business was failing and they were losing money very quickly. In 1994, Commodore declared bankruptcy. Since then, Amiga technologies has been bought by several companies, each of which announced projects, and then failed to deliver. Gateway's purchase of the Amiga looked promising, but they cancelled their Amiga MMC project which was to be the next generation Amiga.

 In 2000 A.D., a group formed Amiga Inc., and purchased the rights to the Amiga from Gateway. Initially, they were going to develop a completely new OS based on Tao's Intent OS. This virtual machine based OS was intended to allow applications to be written once and executed on any machine with an Amiga DE player (similar to Java). However, after a negative response from the Amiga community they contracted Hyperion Entertainment to make Amiga OS 4.0 for the PowerPC, and Eyetech to make the PowerPC hardware. Unfortunately, the project saw delays and various problems. Initially the hardware was available, but not the OS. Eyetech had planned to make money by selling the board to industry. This was made difficult due to the chipset used (developed by the now defunct MAI logic) contained hardware bugs, including lack of cache coherency. Cache coherency is required by Linux.

Amiga OS 4.0 was finally available as a pre-release in 2004. The final release arrived in 2006. By this point, the Amiga-one hardware designed for the OS to run on was no longer available. To make matters worse, Amiga Inc. sued Hyperion Entertainment in 2007. This court case (and related ones) are still continuing today. Since then, Amiga OS 4.0 has also been released for ageing classic Amiga hardware with PowerPC accelerators. Whilst porting the OS to other PowerPC hardware would be relatively easy (a partially done port to the Mac Mini was leaked in 2008), Amiga OS 4 is only allowed to be run on licensed hardware. Amiga Inc. has so far failed to license more hardware, and is unlikely to do so until the court case is finished. It is hoped that the legal proceedings will come to an end soon so that the hardware availability issues can be solved, and the user base expanded.

At present, development of Amiga OS 4 continues. My own RadeonHD driver project is helping to bring support for some of the latest graphics cards to AmigaOS, and full modern OpenGL support including shaders is set to come with AmigaOS 4.2 (as at 25 June 2012). Multi-core support has also been mentioned as being in development. The future looks bright!

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