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Nick Plante

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Remembering the Amiga (25th Anniversary)

August 06, 2010

A few weeks ago (July 24th to be exact) was the 25th anniversary of the Amiga. Although it wasn't my first computer, the Amiga 500 was probably the first computer I owned that felt special in some way. It was a hacker's computer, an audio/video entertainment box, a unique and colorful thing full of possibilities. The Amiga users I knew were different, too. Their platform of choice wasn't just a number cruncher or a means to an end, it was something they were passionate about and involved in. They were fanboys. They promoted the Amiga, they developed software for the Amiga, they open sourced the software they developed for the Amiga.

At its height, the Amiga was celebrated by artists and videographers, as well as hobbyists. Even now, the Amiga still has a cult status among the hardcore fans. However, the machines haven't been widely manufactured since Commodore went out of business in 1994. The rights to the Amiga brand and IP have since changed hands a number of times, at one point even belonging to PC manufacturer Gateway 2000 (who supposedly had "grand plans" for the platform).

Today, the trademark is owned by a company called Amiga, Inc. However, the status of that company is unclear; their web presence (amiga.com) seems to have disappeared off the Internet. A company called A-Eon is still manufacturing PowerPC-based Amiga hardware. The latest incarnation, the AmigaOne X1000, was announced in January and supposedly goes on sale in "Summer 2010". Specs and more information are available at A-Eon's website (make sure to check out the retro navigation).

The Amiga operating system, AmigaOS, is officially licensed to another company, Hyperion Entertainment. Hyperion continues to develop the OS (currently at version 4.1) and appears to be surprisingly quite active.

In fact, to celebrate the big 2-5 the folks at Hyperion used some commit visualization software to make an entertaining time lapse video of AmigaOS development history from the early days to the present, including personal commentary from the development team. It makes for a wonderful visual history of the platform, the hardware devices, and both the boom times and periods of uncertainty that have plagued the platform. If you ever owned an Amiga, or were exposed to them, it's definitely worth watching. They've also made a video available of AmigaOS running on the IBM's eLap PDA (from 2004), which was unfortunately never released.

It's impossible to say what the future holds for the Amiga, but the past decade has been a rocky one. It's certainly difficult to believe that the platform will make any sort of mainstream comeback, but perhaps not entirely outside the realm of possibilities. Either way, the Amiga has a firm place in the history of personal computing, as a pioneer of audio/video and interactive features that didn't catch on with wider Mac and PC audiences until years later. Regardless of what's next for the platform and it's die-hard users, the Amiga's brief flirtation with the mainstream had a serious impact on the market -- or at least on a few users that were smitten with it, like me -- and for that, we should celebrate it.

(If you've got a few minutes to kill and want a more thorough history of the Amiga, make sure to check out this wonderful series of articles at Ars Technica written in 2007)

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