The Amiga Question: What If...?

Run a web search for Commodore Amiga user groups and you'll find a fair amount of them still in existence in major U.S. cities. If you're a younger person, or perhaps an older person who's not computer savvy, you may not even know what a Commodore Amiga is. But Amiga enthusiasts the world over know that their beloved home computer was a gem in its day. In fact, it was ahead of its time.

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The Amiga line of computers were the successors to Commodore's highly successful VIC-20, Commodore 64, and Commodore 128 computers which tore up the fledgling home computer market in the early 1980s. Commodore introduced the home computing world to 8-bit, color technology with the C64, which became so wildly popular that it dominated the market with nearly a 40% share during the mid 80s. The C64 went on to be the best selling home computer of all time, putting out almost 17 million around the world.

Eager to build on the C64's success while advancing the technology, Commodore bought the Amiga Corporation and began aggressively developing their products. The Amiga 1000 was introduced as a business machine in 1985. Commodore fans were eager to latch on to the machine, yet the price of the Amiga 1000 left them clamouring for a less-expensive home version.

In 1986 they got their wish with the release of the Amiga 500, along with the new Amiga 2000 business model. As the popularity of Commodore's machines grew rapidly, the company was poised to become the undisputed leader in all things computer. But a handful of poor business decisions, combined with poor marketing, left the door open for an established but obscure rival known as Microsoft.

Commodore filed for bankruptcy in 1994 and sold its assets to a German computer maker who went under themselves just a few years later. The newly created Amiga Technologies was sold to Gateway, who in turn sold the Amiga brand name to Britain's Eyetech Group, Ltd. Eyetech granted Hyperion Entertainment a perpetual, exclusive license to develop and market the AmigaOS worldwide in 2009.

Though Amiga still exists in terms of an operating system, the glory days of the 1980s are long gone. AmigaOS is now just a run-of-the-mill OS for hobbyists or small businesses with basic computing needs. In fact, Hyperion hasn't done any significant Amiga development since 2006, though they promise version 5 will be released.

The demise of Amiga is an unfortunate thing when you consider how technologically advanced the machines were in the 1980s. Amiga's co-processors, which took care of DMA access and audio/video functions separate from the CPU, made the machines ideal for games and applications with heavy video loads. No one else could match Amiga's video performance as early models could display up to 4096 colors in 32 or 64-bit mode. Later models could display up to 16.8 million colors and automatically adjust refresh rate.

Video and music editors loved the Amiga's cheap peripherals for sound sampling and digital video editing. Expansion boards that could increase memory, upgrade the CPU, or add improved audio and video capabilities kept the Amiga at the top of the heap as business machines. Throw in Amiga's ahead-of-its-time networking capabilities, and you couldn't have a better personal computer.

If Commodore hadn't dropped the ball in the early 1990s, who knows what the current landscape of personal and business computing would be. But the reality is, they did drop the ball; now Amiga has been left to wither on the vine like so many other technologies of days gone by. And that's a shame.