Amiga, The Next Generation - by Jack Seay

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What do I want the new Amiga to be like? First I must give my analysis of where the computer and software industries have gone in the past 20 years and where it needs to go in the next couple years. After that, almost anything could happen.

Before 1981, there was an incredible pace of innovation: new computer systems and OS's coming out each month. It seemed the whole industry was out trying to constantly outdo itself. This should have continued through to the present. But it didn't. Why? In 1981, IBM came out with an entry level personal computer that was consciously designed using long obsolete technology, and limited enough so as not to compete with it's higher priced mini-computers. It was designed to run only one program at a time and be used by only one person. It had built-in architectural constraints on the amount of memory it could use. It used absolute addressing of memory. This was THE key problem with the PC, and continues to plague the design to this day. It was a design that was never intended to use more than 640K RAM or run more than one program at a time. Rather than scrap the design when it became apparent to many people that this should be done, the absurd decision was made to patch it. This has resulted in the configuration nightmare and instability that plagues Windows users (and developers) today, myself included (I use it at work).

Several other mistakes were made by the whole industry. Each company, to protect it's proprietary hardware, OS, and software, made certain that it could not share data easily with other proprietary systems. Business managers also made the mistake of putting up with IBM's mediocre offerings because of such nonsense beliefs as "no one ever got fired for buying IBM". Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. Microsoft learned this from the company that made Microsoft big: IBM. Microsoft tossed out frequent upgrades filled with bugs in a frantic race to out-feature the competion. The users paid with time and data lost to frequent crashes (usually involving errors produced on their hard drives). I have used many operating systems, and only Windows causes this level of damage. Features should be added for their usefullness, not marketing value, and thouroughly de-bugged BEFORE being unleashed on the unsuspecting public.

Business managers, for the most part, are incredibly ignorant of computers, and believe the lies told them by the computer salespeople, because they don't know enough to evaluate the propaganda. This is somewhat understandable, because of the priesthood nature of the computer science field. Everything is made as difficult as possible to learn and use, to keep out the great unwashed and "ensure a monopoly on the secrets of the initiated". It is a secret society. Any programming book will confirm this. Because business managers didn't know things could be better, they didn't ask for better: such as non-proprietary data sharing between operating systems, and designing for expected future computer capabilities.

At one manufacturing company I worked at, they spent $1 million dollars to buy the industry leaders' hardware and software. Some operations that should have taken me 2 minutes took 2 hours. We ran the old and new systems in parallel for about a year. After the new system went online solo, it generated 1100 pages of errors, one error per line. The head of the information department carried this monstrous printout around for months trying to fix things. This resulted from software the president had said would save the company. He even handed out buttons proclaiming "Hallelujah, I'm Saved", referring not to religion, but to his confidence in this software salvation.

In 1983, Apple became the first company to challenge all this IBM conformity and mediocrity that the industry had fallen into. They gave the world a 2-D graphic user interface and a design for more memory. It lacked the ability to run more than one program at a time, however. Multi-tasking has slowly been added in small increments, but is still incomplete.

In 1985, Commodore bought the Amiga computer, and introduced the world to color, true multitasking in a personal computer, and high powered graphics, sound, and animation. The business world ignored it because it wasn't IBM, but began to demand that their IBM's do some of the same things. So Windows was added, in a misguided attempt to patch the inferior architecture of the PC. This was a huge mistake. The design should have been scrapped because it wasn't designed to do what was now expected of it. It used the wrong kind of memory addressing, and since every program's operation depends constantly on how it addresses memory, instability and incompatibility was ensured. It couldn't be otherwise. Windows is just a graphic interface covering the weak operating system called MS-DOS. Microsoft tried to hide this fact in 1995 by lying to the world that Windows no longer used MS-DOS, but this was soon discovered to be false.

Despite the superior design of the Amiga, it failed to catch on. This failure was aided tremendously by the uncaring attitude of top management at Commodore. If only Petro had been CEO of Commodore, things might have been different. The users and software and hardware-add-on developers of the Amiga, however, cared a great deal about their favorite computer. But they were treated like dirt by the owners of the system. They were ignored, and Commodore went bankrupt. The German company, Escom bought it, but they had already over-extended themselves, and also went bankrupt. Viscorp stalled progress by attempting to buy it for "webtv" like devices. Then GateWay bought it. Of all the PC clone makers, Gateway was the most enlightened, but it was still a PC company, and top management seemed incapable of knowing what they had. They lived in the clone world. There were many in the Amiga subdivision that knew what needed to be done, but without the full support of top management, it was doomed. Three more years of broken dreams for the customers. Disappointment, to understate it.

Now, for the first time, the Amiga is in the hands of people who care about the users, the computer, and the OS. They have the technical know-how to create the next Amiga and the support of the remaining die-hards like myself (who think settling for mediocrity a sin). But is there money? I doubt that they could build the hardware themselves. I might be wrong. Probably no American company has the mindset to think far enough ahead. Maybe a Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese or Chinese company.

But should the computer, the box, even have the Amiga logo on it. I don't think so. To be profitable, millions will have to be sold. The few Amigans left who haven't been alienated by past inept and uncaring management could not buy enough of them if they all mortgaged their homes. What is needed is a generic black box, (maybe in iColors too), running a chip like the new Sun MAJC. That could turn some heads. Open systems or at least cross-platform hardware, interfaces, and software should be used wherever possible. Amiga seems to already be doing this.

The hard drive would contain enough of an operating system to read a CD-whatever containing many OS's: Amiga, Mac Windows, OS/2, Linux, BEOS, Java, and more. The buyer would then log onto the Internet or call an 800#, purchase unique encrypted keys to unlock the OS's they wanted installed. The software would then install and configure everything with minimal input. The user would just need to specify how much space each received.

So Amiga should become a company that concentrates on developing the OS to run on a high-end box like this.

A few years ago I dreamed I was flying through floating streams of text, video images, and sounds. Trailing off from the main thread I was following were related threads I could also follow, and trailing from them were other threads. I called this Thoughtspace. This was before I had heard of cyberspace. Something like this will be the Future of Information. The two nearest systems being developed to implement this are Xanadu and Mirror Worlds. Xanadu has several features sorely lacking in the current Internet: payments sent easily to authors, including quotes in other documents, and everything being editable by anyone without losing the original or previous versions. An edited document becomes a new version, but all previous authors continue to receive credit and payment, and their versions are still available. Any computer system in the future to be taken seriously has to be able to run this type of software. Mirror Worlds are still theoretical, but the languages exist to create it (including Rexinda and Torqueware on the Amiga). It will allow collaboration between people and programs in a worldwide network of computers where any program can run anywhere it has permission (agents), and every form of information is instantly accessible in a huge data ocean that can be mined, summarized, linked, classified, edited, added to, etc. Xanadu could be running inside the Mirror World.

In one of David Gelernter's books, "The Muse In The Machine", he theorizes that thinking doesn't involve only the brain, but all our senses and those things external to ourselves that our senses interact with. Feelings, dreams, and day-dreaming are particular types on a thought-spectrum from low to high focus. Dreaming is at one extreme and mathematics is at the other extreme. But all of our senses are involved in thinking, and thoughts influence each other, combine and transform into new thoughts and variations. These thoughts/feelings are expressed sometimes in text, pictures, animations, music, poetry, and combinations of these. Sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch are all involved in the levels of thinking processes. Sometimes we think on many levels at once, such as while watching a movie. The Amiga was the first computer that realized the importance of "multi-media" in the thought processes. Computers are thought tools, and as such, are extensions of the users. This is why some become so emotional about their favorites. When computer and software companies are either unresponsive or caring about their users, it is deeply felt by them, and should not be taken lightly.

The Amiga is not the ultimate possible computer. We will see it improve, change, and running on several types of black and blueberry boxes in many forms. In the future, hopefully soon, the interface you use on your Amiga will probably look more like a life-like video game than a flat desktop. The Dreamcast is one machine to look at for an example of possible interfaces but there are other conceptual constructs that may not look anything like we have yet seen. Linux and Xanadu provide good business models: freedom from proprietary prisons and simple online payments. Eventually the mouse and keyboard will either be replaced or improved, and much interaction will be with voice, eyes, hands, and feet.

We won't even think about computers and operating systems and programs and files and directories; but about working, playing, and interacting with real and simulated people. This is how it should be. We don't think about the telephone when we are using it or the electronics and programs inside our TV, or the projector at the theatre. They have become transparent tools of thinking/feeling, and so will the computer.

You may not like to think of yourself as a cyborg, but unless you are in a sensory deprivation tank, you are constantly interacting with your environment, and it becomes part of your thinking, feelings, and memories. I am talking about science here, not mystical new age concepts.

As for my future Amiga, I don't care whose logo is on the box, as long as I can use the tools I have grown to love and that have become a part of my life. There will be other parts to my life as well: camping, kayaking, paintball, poetry readings, symphonies, and coffee shops. Hopefully, someone will make a portable computer I can take with me to record the sights, sounds, and words of some of these places. Some things, however, can only be fully appreciated live. All data will become non-proprietary. You will use any of a variety of tools to read/view/listen to it and add/modify/merge/ morph it. I will interact with information, hopping from one program/ component/OS to another without missing a beat. Perhaps the OS will consist of components that take anything designed to run on any OS; emulate that OS if needed or decompile/recompile the program to run on a preferred OS. As long as everybody gets paid. That will be handled transparently by the software. Just as the hardware is merging (so your cell phone will have a touchpad video screen, and sound and video recorder), the software, operating systems, data, and programs will be interchangeable and intertwine and mingle together.

Finally, a warning. In today's business market, the customer is in charge, has goals and needs, and whoever meets those wins, whoever doesn't, loses.

Jack Seay January 14, 2000
Permission granted to republish this anywhere.

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