- amiga history guide Supporting Amiga and compatibles since 1997 -
-
-
- banners - disclaimer - faq
 
- - -
- -     -
-
recent updates
amiga history
features
amiga models
magazines
technical
interviews
internet links
downloads

 

-

© 1997-2006
Gareth Knight
All Rights reserved

-

 
-

The Evolution of Amiga NG

Ever since Gateway 2000 bought the Amiga there were rumours that it was not just for the patents. In fact this was exactly why they bought the Amiga but they soon found that the box marked "Stuff" also contained a few million devoted users anxious to buy new technology. "Gee-Whizz!" thought Gateway, "if we can develop an alternative to the Windows platform we may have additional revenue on our hands!"
Of course, the above is just guesswork but it has also been confirmed by people at Amiga and Gateway. Yes, Gateway 2000 did buy the Amiga for the patents and yes, the discovery that there was also a loyal band of followers associated with the platform. The Amiga users had once again saved the platform from oblivion.

As soon as the purchase of the Amiga technology was complete, Amiga International set about creating a road map for the future. The 68k processor had been dead for a number of years and there was little chance of Motorola resurrecting the line to develop a 68080@200MHz. To even have a future, the AmigaOS would have to find a new home on another processor. The problem was that Amiga International had a number of managers but no engineers. The company needed a development team; this team was constructed in the newly formed Amiga Inc. However, problems over funding prevented the company from doing anything meaningful. Desperate to show Gateway that they were doing something, Amiga Developments, LLC (the official name) filed a patent for a multiprocessor system on the 9th of July 1997. Clearly the company saw the future was the Internet, if Amiga were to rise again they would have to be part of it. The patent (No. US5935230) describes a cluster of processors in one place, and a way of switching tasks to another cluster somewhere else. This could be in the next room, or somewhere over the Internet. The potential for development was still there. The "Phantom CPU" is technically a workaround to a true multi-location processing system, allowing hardware not designed for the task to act as a multi-processor. Behind the scenes there were also talks with Be, some long-time fans of the Amiga that were developing a "media OS", a modern day AmigaOS. BeOS had been built from the ground up to support multimedia and multi-processing. Amiga Inc. were clearly planning to develop a multiprocessing operating system designed for system intensive tasks. The fall in CPU prices would result in a system with the power of Windows NT being sold alongside Windows 95.

PPC Amiga

Meanwhile the Amiga 68k market was being torn apart by arguments over the choice of PowerPC kernel. Both Phase 5 and Haage&Partner believed their system was the best for the task. However, they were aware that there had been no official announcement made by Amiga International or Amiga Inc. on the Amigas next processor. If they chose not to go with the PowerPC, a number of Amiga companies who had wholeheartedly supported Amiga PPC would either leave the market or enter liquidation. Not exactly a good choice!
As if by demand an announcement was made on the Amiga International web site. The document, subtitled, "One man's answers to common questions about the choice of processors in future Amiga computers." The author Joe Torre indicated the next Amiga processor would be both 68k and PowerPC. This was obviously a political choice rather than technological to support the existing PPC boards from Phase 5. It was also pointed out that Amiga Inc. would not be producing new Amigas themselves. This clarified what many had expected. Just as Apple were doing at the time, Amiga Inc. were changing from a hardware & software company to a software-only producer. It was later stated that the announcement was not confirmed by anyone else at Amiga Inc. Joe Torre later lost his job in August 1998 partly because of this announcement.

Back to the Future

Amiga Workstation
Behind closed doors talks were being held with a number of partners to use the kernel for a new Amiga. It would take a number of years and a dedicated development group to write a new AmigaOS; It took the AROS team at least 5 years to get even halfway. So, it was finally decided that Be and Amiga Inc. would enter into an agreement to work together. As part of the deal Amiga Inc. would use the BeOS kernel adding their own high level specifications on top of this. The resulting AmiBeOS would have at first run on a x86 development system and then on the true AmigaNG platform when it was released. With their plans ready the announcement was due to be made at the World of Amiga show 1998, and Amiga International spent a lot of time promoting it as the beginning of the future. However, at the last minute the announcement of the kernel partner had to be  canceled, allegedly due to restrictions placed upon the licensing by Be. All that Amiga Inc. could show for their meticulous plans were some talk about Digital Convergence, bridge systems, and a Mystery Chip that would be as far ahead as the Amiga 1000 was ahead of the competition. Hardly what they had promoted, leading to criticism from Amiga users around the world bored of waiting once again. To salvage their plans and hopefully buy them some time, Amiga Inc. announced the development of AmigaOS4 Developer, ready for the release of AmigaOS5. The AmigaOS 4.0 platform was scheduled for a November 1998 release. This was planned to include an emulation for the SuperChip. The purpose of the transition hardware was for developers to port their software ready for the release of the new Amiga. The AmigaOS 5.0 release date remains unaltered, scheduled at late 1999. However, without a kernel partner Amiga Inc. could not continue with their plans forcing them to once again failing in expectations.
 

The Mystery Chip

The original Amiga Inc. announcement stated that Gateway had access to a new chip which was to form the core of the new Amiga. It was so secret it didn't even have a public name. According to comments at the time, "The Chip" (as it was simply called) was described as  "not being a processor". What little is known is that the chip could emulate other processors, such as the x86. Speculation that it was being developed by Transmeta were flatly denied at the time but may eventually turn out to be true. Comments from Amiga Inc. employees at the time gave little indication of who was developing it. Joe Torre stated at the WoA 98 the company did not have exclusive rights to the chip. Another question was why this chip couldn't just be put onto a PCI card; Joe replied with a comparison of having a PentiumII as a keyboard controller. Amiga users dubbed it the MMC, standing for Monster Mystery Chip or MultiMedia Chip depending upon which people you asked. Later Amiga Inc. indicated that they never had such a chip. However, according to insider information such a chip did exist but became unimportant after ATI bought the Chromatic.
Gateway had 10% holdings in Chromatic and knew the companies direction at the time. The feature list that was banded about at the WOA 98 was:
  • 5-10 Times faster than a current Pentium II
  • 1.2 Gb per second data transfer rate
  • Can process graphics, sound and video + (possibly) CPU
  • 400 Million Pixels per second 24-bit 3D rendering
  • Simultaneous decoding capability for 4 MPEG2 streams (High Definition TV)
  • Live video remapping to 3D
  • 6 Channel, 16-bit surround-sound audio
  • Support for ASDL or similar communication systems
  • Completely reprogrammable/reconfigurable during execution 
The system specs are quite general and could point to a number of products in development. So the company distanced themselves, and Fleecy Moss publicly stated the OS was more important than the hardware. This was obviously a change of tactics. After Fleecy Moss had left Amiga Inc. he publicly stated there had always been a particular chip, but it meant tying the OS to another proprietary chip. He also indicated that, although impressive, the chip would not have competed well against the Emotion Engine found in the Playstation 2.

After the mess that had been made with Be, Amiga Inc. were still looking for an OS partner. After examining a list of possible OS partners and contacting the company in question, they chose a little known company called QSSL and announced the decision a few months later on November 13th 1998. Confidence was high that their OS, Neutrino(Q-Nix) fit within Amiga Inc's plans for the operating system, as well as displaying certain Amiga-centric characteristics that fit in with the Amiga philosophy (highly efficient, yet small OS). To meet their end of the deal, QSSL began development even before a contract was drawn up between the two. The Neutrino OS currently supports x86, PowerPC and MIPS. It was already known that a non-Intel x86 would be chosen as the main CPU for the developer box but had been ruled out for later use because it was not powerful enough. That only left PowerPC and MIPS as the options. The mist around the AmigaNG seemed to be clearing...
 

AmigaOS > Amiga OE

As time progressed the operating system for the proposed next generation system went through a number of changes. By the beginning of 1999, the AmigaOS 4.0 developer release had been changed to Amiga OS5dev, and Amiga OS 5.0 became Amiga OS5Prod. A few months later, Amiga Inc. announced the operating system would be known as AmigaSoft OE. The name was immediately attacked by Amiga enthusiasts. Name calling from 'Microsoft wannabes' to AmigaSofties' and a number of unprintable ones were sent to Amiga Inc. As it turned out, the company were actually listening to the users and dropped the Soft. The final name simply became Amiga OE.

Meanwhile, Amiga International and Amiga Inc. were facing closure from Gateway. To save the company and turn its fortunes around, Jim Collas left his job at Gateway, and took a significant pay cut to become president of Amiga Inc. He also set about unifying the two companies, merging their web site and killing of the noticeable difference, simply calling the company AMIGA. This move saved the company from closure but also caused problems. In opening discussions with various partners, such as Corel, Jim Collas found an overwhelming hostility to the niche operating system, QNX Neutrino. Under great pressure to go with the flow Collas quietly swapped to the Linux kernel. There is also indication that Gateway had influence on this decision as well.

As part of their magazines-first initiative, Amiga (the company) revealed the concept designs in the August 1999 (AF126) edition of Amiga Format, before they were published on the Internet. This forced Amiga users desperate for news to buy an Amiga magazine and support the Amiga market. The designs, created by Pentagram, had more in common with the iMAC than any Amiga of the past. Of course this was a welcome change- Amiga users had suffered the restrictive wedge shape of the A500 and A1200. As examined previously, the wedge-look of the casing represented a development of the Commodore 8-bit design. A stereotype the Amiga has tried to shake off for many years. The new case designs are aesthetically pleasing, allowing the Amiga to move out of the bedroom/computer room and into the kitchen or living room. Prototype case designs were promised at the World of Amiga show along with screenshots of the operating environment.

Gateway's influence seemed to have a dramatic effect on the unfolding events. In an interview with the Guardian, Ted Waitt commented that the Amiga was "definitely not a computer business." While Amiga users were flattered by the media attention, the comments caused an uproar. Amiga users wanted computers, not set-top boxes or appliances. Jim Collas was quick to issue an 'Open Letter to the Community' offering an assurance that it did not represent a change in their plans. However, it soon became clear that this was a point of disagreement between Amiga and their parent company. One that would eventually lead to a stand off.

It was exactly one month later that news of QNX being dropped finally got out. Events are rather hazy at this point- according to Jim Collas, QSSL had known for a few weeks they were no longer the OS partner, yet a statement was issued on their web site indicating they had fulfilled their part of the bargain. Both Amiga and QSSL remain tight-lipped at the exact circumstances. What does seem clear is that QSSL realized they may lose the support of the Amiga community and decided to make an announcement they were ready. This would force a response- Amiga could either support the development, or announce that QNX was no longer the OS kernel. This may seem dramatic or underhanded, but QSSL had a right to do this. They had spent 8 months developing their product for the market- a tight deadline that required immediate action, and now Amiga were dumping them. Until the beginning of July, the Amiga world had thought the next Amiga would use the QNX kernel. Many knew the advantages in comparison to Linux. So the choice was made to appeal to the Amiga community. Amiga could keep their Digital Convergence system, the real key to the Amiga was the community. Like a jilted lover, QSSL played their part to perfection. Just one day after the Linux announcement, QSSL asked "Where Do We Stand?" Meanwhile, behind the scenes they found a hardware partner in the Amiga- another jilted lover from the Amigas past, Phase 5. Together they agreed to port the QNX operating system to Amiga PPC boards and give it away free of charge.
Suddenly "Amigans" had two suitors, both asking them to the prom. The dashing Amiga company, who the community had known from childhood, or the dependable QNX. A newcomer that had tried its best to win the communities heart. Jim Collas assured the community that all would be explained in the Technology Brief that would be released 'soon'. This was obviously a damage control. When the Technology Brief was finally released on July 16th, 1999 there was nothing new about why Amiga had chosen Linux instead of QNX. The whole announcement was based upon a business, rather than technological reason- other companies wanted Amiga to use Linux, so they abandoned QNX. However, amid the sales jargon Amiga released solid information about the new Amiga were coming out. The Brief indicated the company were developing two products- the Amiga Operating Environment and Amiga Multimedia Convergence Computer (MCC). It also clarified a mysterious technology, the AmigaObjects. For weeks Jim Collas had been using metaphors to describe the functions, the Technology Brief indicated it was like Java. However, it did not indicate how this technology worked. It also introduced the use of X Windows, a choice many Amiga users latched onto as foolhardy. X Windows is hardly known for its responsive and efficient design. The only choice that was still unknown was the processor. Speculation indicated either MIPS or Transmeta. The choice may not matter, Amiga intend to use different processors for their technology. It is likely that both processors could be used depending upon the cost and use of the device.

The release of the Technology Brief surprised many at Gateway. Jim Collas was well aware of their policy of not revealing developments until the product is ready for release. Why was he giving out details to competitors? This was soon followed at the World of Amiga 1999 that seemed to reveal Transmeta were one of the hardware partners in a video clip.
WOA 99 Video- Transmeta
The expected announcement did not come but this seemed to be an unsubtle hint that Transmeta was the new processor, without actually stating anything publicly. Otherwise the show was seemed to be a let down for many enthusiasts. Amiga had promised final announcements, including prototype systems, explanation of the Amiga OE and screenshots of the project in development. Apart from the Amiga MCC case design, Amigas plans seemed to be as closely guarded as ever. Apart from support from Sun (most likely to develop the Java and AmigaObjects technology), and a public announcement by Corel, there seemed to be little support for the new Amiga. However, whispers among the corridors at Gateway suggested many of their partners were testing the hardware. However, there was concern that ATI's mystery graphics hardware may not make it on time. The most likely project in development was the 'Aurora'. If the Aurora was the one intended for the Amiga MCC, Amiga (the company) may have been forced to use the Voodoo 3500 to keep to their schedule.

On the 2nd of September 1999 the patents Amiga had been waiting for were announced. These indicated the new Amiga would be closely tied to TV, showing a similarity to the Gateway Destination. However, it seemed that Amigas plan had changed. Bill McEwen departed Amiga, followed by Jim Collas. It soon became clear that Collas had been involved in a battle of egos with Gateway and some of his own team over the development of the MCC. When Gateway forcibly canceled the project, Collas was given an ultimatum- support the Gateway decision or resign. Collas cashed his shares in the company and left.

The gap left by Collas was quickly replaced by Tom Schmidt, an individual who would reinforce the Gateway decision. His first Executive Update announced the end of the MCC. The company had morphed into a software-only subsidiary developing Internet technology for Gateway. The revolutionary operating system had turned into a standard distribution of Linux for the purpose of running the platform-independent AmigaObjects. In a gesture of goodwill, Schmidt announced they were would the technology to be licensed and developed by Amiga dealers to support the Amiga community. This has led to numerous plans to open source the AmigaOS and port the AmigaOS to existing IBM POP systems. As one journey ended, another began...

The end was closer than everyone thought. On December 31st 1999, Gateway leaked news that the Amiga had been sold to Amino- a startup run by former employees Fleecy Moss and Bill McEwen. By selling the Amiga name they had finally put an end to the harsh criticism from the Amiga community. They had what they wanted- the Amiga patents, and could continue to develop their AmigaObject technology under a different title. A few months previous AOL had announced a partnership with Gateway, leading to speculation that the AmigaObject technology would form the basis of next generation AOL software. A few days after the Amiga had been sold, AOL announced a merger with Time-Warner providing access to a range of broadband communications. For the first time AOL are forced to develop for both the low-end modem user and the high-end market. It is likely that the Gateway relationship will lead to the Amiga technology being used as a method of servicing Time-Warner customers.

Over the last two years the AmigaNG had changed considerably, the machine began as a PPC workstation based upon an efficient hardware design. Since then the OS partner has been changed twice, the hardware specification, particularly the processor and graphics card remained in a state of flux. The operating system also went through a number of changes from AmigaOS 4.0 to Amiga OE. Finally the new Amiga had a name, the MCC was to be the chariot with which the Amiga would stage a comeback. Suddenly, when everything seemed perfect the project was canned and the Amiga sold. It was now Amino's turn to create a next generation system, this time based upon Tao's Elate OS.

Post-mortem

In October 2001, Gateway discontinued the touchpad and other AOL TV technologies that were partialy based upon the Amiga OE technology.

BACK

-

Latest updates to the Amiga History Guide. (more)


-
· Amiga Hardware
· Amiga History.de
· Amiga Magazine Rack
· Amiga-news(en)(de)
· Amiga.org
· Amiga World
· AmigaOS 4.0
· Amiga University
· Commodore Retrobits
· Dave Haynie archive
· Lemon Amiga
· MorphOS Support
· morphos-news.de

-

Other interesting items in the archive!


-  

--

home · changes · amiga history · features · amiga models
magazines · technical · interviews · internet links · downloads