13 April, 2007

Top (100?) signs you were (are) an Amiga user

Personal computers are a lost art. If you think otherwise, then either you were one of those normal people who looked askance at all those geeks who were experimenting with those newfangled machines, or you were born after the 1980s. Personal computers (not PCs) burst onto the marketplace in the late 1970s and enjoyed a golden age through the 1980s, collapsing in the triumph faceless, character-less business machines that we refer to (ludicrously) as PC's.* You can tell that we've lost something the way children look at computers as game machines, rather than an opportunity to explore technology.

My favorite personal computer was the Amiga. (I said it before, and I'll say it again. Apologies.) If I hadn't fallen in love and married, I'd probably have bought myself one of the recent crops of "modernized" Amigas that ran a "modernized" AmigaOS.* I would have geeked out on it, never completed my PhD, and now I'd be employed as a software engineer somewhere, making more money but profoundly unhappy, arguing with people that Amiga was still the best.

I like to say that, but who knows. In reality, I left the Amiga scene long ago, more or less. Amiga users are like old generals; we don't really quit, we fade away. Or maybe I should say that we don't quit; we just experience GURU meditation. Last year, I gave away an Amiga 2000 that I hadn't used in the year since someone gave it to me, but my last gasp was an Amiga 1200 that I bought in 2000. My main machine from 1992-1999 was a used Amiga 500 that I bought for about $500, which I souped up over the years, on which I learned how to program in Modula-2 and C. The Amiga was the technological apex of the personal computer era, and was mismanaged into oblivion. Never again would we see a personalcomputer like the Amiga, as contrasted to a business computer adapted for home use. The smooth movement of the mouse pointer, the soft touch of the keyboard, the unusual default color choices of the operating system...

A hardy breed of fanatics continues to buy any Amiga hardware and software they can get their hands on, and I read their websites from time to time, for old times' sake. One of them recently posted "the top signs you are an Amiga user," and some users have added more. I thought I would share the best ones here, marking with a + the ones that apply to me now, or that applied to me once. I've added some comments in parentheses. Apologies for the length; I guess only Amiga users will care, let alone understand, but soothing this old broken heart is a common Amiga user's pastime.

Signs You're An Amiga User
Calum Tsang (tsangc@mie.utoronto.ca)
Hey kids! Find out if you're an Amiga user! If you fit a few of these categories, then maybe you're one of the crazy few who are lucky enough to own such a wonderful yet tacky machine. (Ed: TACKY?!? I think not!)

+1. You'd rather say "co processor" and not "graphics chip".

+2. You have more than one Amiga, and the other one is an A500.

+3. You considered the A500 040/25 board.

+4. Sandwiching expansion devices between chips is an acceptable expansion.

+5. You thought the Walker prototype case was cool.

6. For you, a local area network means Parnet.

7. You ran a BBS. And you did it with a one floppy A500.

10. You have (or more!) one of the following:
-Amiga shirt+
-Gold Disk t-shirt
-AmiEXPO t-shirt
-NewTek shirt
-a cinnamon cat lollipop
-prototype Amiga hardware
-a copy of The Deathbed Vigil
-blue button that says "Only Amiga Makes It Possible"
-Amiga promotional literature hanging on your wall.

+12. You think running an Amiga is possible on 4MB RAM.
(What does this mean, "think"? I know for a fact that the Amiga ran quite well on 512KB; I did so for at least a year, maybe more, with full GUI and command-line. You can't run any of the our modern operating systems on less than 128 Megabytes.)

+16. You've compared an 030 to a Pentium before.
(I've compared the 68000 to a Pentium, favorably.)

+17. You tried to explain that custom chips offload CPU usage.
(I wrote a paper on it for a class.)

+18. You always say "but raw CPU speed isn't important" at the start of every conversation.
(Okay, not every conversation.)

19. You mumbled "Windows95 is like the Amiga in 85" but you forgot about constant disk swapping, and the lack of RAM.
(The qualifiers are a cheap shot. You didn't need so much RAM on an Amiga in 1985. Even in 1999 I ran my Amiga with only 8MB or so, and viewed web pages, without the images, admittedly. And as someone who actually used Windows95, I must say that it wasn't like Amiga in 85, because Amiga in 85 was much better. Windows95 also had constant disk swapping, only it was the hard disk that was thrashing from the OS's constant swapping, rather than the floppy disks.)

20. You saved the January 1990 BYTE cover "Mainstream Amiga: A3000".
(Missed that. But, BYTE was the same magazine whose editors asserted seriously two years later that Unix was dead. Note that the Amiga was never mainstream, even with the A3000, and while Unix still lives in BSD, Linux, and OSX, Byte is dead.)

+21. You thought AmigaWorld was a good magazine.
(Not as good as the TRS-80 CoCo's Rainbow magazine, though.)

+23. Your 1084 has no front panel.

24. You tried to repair the 1084 front panel.

27. You don't mind 15 Khz interlace flicker.
(I did mind it, but used it anyway, because flicker fixers were ridiculously expensive.)

28. You like MUI.
(Hated it, actually.)

+30. You know all the models of the Amiga, including the ones never released. Yes, that includes the CDTV II.

+35. You've replaced at least one chip.
(Agnus to "Fat" Agnus, Denise.)

36. You sell used Amiga stuff, posting it on BBSes. Or you're a one man Amiga store.

38. You can recognize at least two of the following terms:
+-sync rate
+-random number generator
(I programmed a BOB once, as part of an ANIMOBJECT. Either Commodore's documentation was incorrect, or I was really bad at understanding it. Probably both.)

39. You compare the Amiga to SGIs. And the Amiga wins in your comparison.
(No, but Amigas were SGIs for the home.)

40. You believe those textfiles about new Amiga specs.

41. You wrote messages describing what YOU think the next Amiga should have.

43. You plan to visit Los Gatos, West Chester and Branschweig in the near future.

46. You're miffed you can't argue with Atari ST users anymore.

+48. You keep saying the VideoToaster is cool, but you've never used one.

49. Nonlinear editing means cutting up 320x200x32 ANIM5's.

50. You tried the 2MB chip hack.
(Only 1MB.)

+51. You know Workbench 2.1 is missing narrator.device and translator.library. You copied it over anyways.**
(Didn't copy it over, unfortunately.)

52. You run MagicWB and wonder where all your CHIP RAM is.

+53. You tried to set someone up with an Amiga too.

54. You had to expand your desk to fit the expansion modules.

55. You play MOD files and you sample them too.

56. The LIBS: directory is full of libraries you never use.

57. You install pointless software, because it's fun. Then, you wonder which program is crashing your machine sporadically.

59. You write letters to the editors of publications that comment on the Amiga negatively, or ones that don't write for the Amiga.

+60. You know the story of the Guru Meditation.

65. You'll argue the AmigaOS is faster than Windows, even comparing it on 060's versus, Pentium Pro's, at the same price point.

66. When defeated on an Amiga argument, you complain you're being personally attacked.
(Personalizing the issue is a sad characteristic of certain sectors of the Amiga community.)

68. ** - You emailed me to correct me about narrator.device.

70. You argue that the CDTV was a concept 10 years ahead of its time.
(It was.)

72. You always compare boot times between amiga and pc with your friends!

73. You'll argue that a modern OS doesn't require multi-user capability but that screen dragging is an absolute must and that fast boot-time is a compelling advantage of AmigaOS over other OS.

74. ARexx is the only human-readable IPC language (and you know what IPC means).
(I know what IPC means, but since I only ever used AREXX (note all caps) I can't compare it to others.)

77. You make lists about signs that show you're an amiga user.

80. Your kids know who Fred Fish is.
(Not my kids, but I know who Fred Fish was. Is. I keep forgetting that's his actual name.)

82. You don't need to wait for booting down your system, while waiting for new automatic installations of softwareupdate(s).

+87. When you're forced to use windows you think its broken when you click something and nothing immediately happens.

+88. You think windows is broken because of the... pffft, you just think windows is broken.

+88.5. Also have you noticed that (ex)Amigans tend to stare at the loading screen of windows while it boots but experienced PC users go off and make a cup of tea? I still do that.
(I still do that, too. Part of it is because the Amiga booted so quickly that you didn't need to pass time by getting a cup of coffee, but part of it is because the screen would change colors at startup, and each color meant a diagnostic test had been passed.)

+89. You've ever bragged about being able to do X, and format a floppy "at the same time!"

+97. Lack of social skills.
(Yeah, well... it gives you a reason to study.)

*Okay, so I am typing this on an Apple iBook, and at work I run a Linux desktop, and also at home, but the "style" of an Apple fails to recompense the user for its cold, heartless Unix core. I'll take

assign WORK: HD1:Work
ln -s /home/perry/work /work
any day. Don't get me started on Windows. The only thing that could pry me from Amiga was the gruesome death of my Amiga 500 in December of 1999. I was doing my email and web surfing with that machine, a vintage 1987 technology. Talk about being wayyyyyy ahead of its time. How could it not have been? It had (perhaps still has) a working Eiffel compiler, to say nothing of a massive Modula-2 community, and a group dedicated to a reputedly elegant, albeit Amiga-specific, language named E.


Clemens said...

As a not very satisfied user of the new Windows Vista, I read every word of this post. Even if I only understood about 1/5 of it. What exactly was Amiga and what became of it? Obviously it failed in the market, but any reasons?

I feel the same way about WordPerfect compared to Word, but I seem to be losing that one.

jack perry said...

Amiga was a home computer released in 1985 that featured many things that are considered state of the art computing today, but in one form or another didn't appear in the competition for at least ten years:

- a colorful, windowed GUI with a fully functional command-line shell (not the half-functional "MS-DOS prompt" which didn't interact with Windows until Win 2000, maybe)

- special co-processor chips dedicated to graphics, sound, and peripherals, that talked with memory through different wires than the main processor (speed improvement, and is essentially similar to how Apple and Windows now unload graphics drawing to the video card)

- pre-emptive, multitasking OS (could run more than one program at a time, and more important programs would get taken care of before others)

- a modular software architecture that didn't require a reboot when you installed new hardward drivers or, in many cases, system software (actually, no one seems to have caught up with this yet)

- built-in "genlock" capability which allowed the user to manipulate television images (Max Headroom, Babylon 5, a lot of shopping mall monitors)

This probably isn't helping much; I'm trying not to give jargon, and not succeeding. Sorry.

Obviously it failed in the market, but any reasons?

Most Amiga commentators I have read feel that management at Commodore (the company that bought the technology and produced it) never realized what a great thing they had, and squandered resources on PC-compatibles that created huge financial losses. They rarely advertised the Amiga outside the niche market (you couldn't find an Amiga ad outside an Amiga magazine, people would say), they dawdled on developing the technology (the Amiga 1000, 500, 2000, 3000, and CDTV constitute a sort of "mark time" for 6 years), and frequently chose to bring "incremental" or even "decremental" designs to market that were technologically inferior to other designs produced by marketing groups. (The Amiga 600, 2000, and 4000 were examples of this.)

I feel the same way about WordPerfect compared to Word, but I seem to be losing that one.

Yeah, I liked WordPerfect too. These days I use OpenOffice or KWord, but WordPerfect was special.

Clemens said...

I still use WordPerfect. It is still being supported by our University tech department (where my friend Clovis works).

But the handwriting is on the wall.