Cologne Computer '97 Show Report By Jeroen T. Vermeulen
From: email@example.com (Jeroen T. Vermeulen)
Subject: Re: Cologne Fair Briefs
Date: Fri, 21 Nov 97
Okay, looks like not a lot of news has leaked out of the Cologne show yet, or
at least not a lot of it has leaked into my news server. For those who missed
out and want to know just what they missed, here's what I remember. Call it
"Computer 97, a view from under the table"...
In article <3472A369.76D8@zeta.org.au> David Meiklejohn <firstname.lastname@example.org> writes:
> It was easy to forget, in my disappointment over the lack of
> "news" from the Computer 97 show, and I feel sorry for that.
Actually, one problem I had with the devcon was that there was just too much to
remember a significant fraction of it (okay, I was also numb from exhaustion).
I did make some notes, like most others, but gave up halfway through the
presentation--or about one page of notes. Here's some of what my sheet says.
It's semantically decompressed, so don't expect it to be literal or 100%
- AI is negotiating with REC (the Wonder TV A6000, or whatever it's called).
Looks like there's no real problem between the two companies, just the need
for Gateway 2000 to assert their Amiga IP (excuse me, that's Intellectual
Property, not Internet Protocol) lest parts of it `expire'. Use 'em or lose
'em. More about this later.
- Jeff Schindler has talked to RJ Mical, he has seen a video (presumably the
Deathbed Vigil video) about the Amiga, and was much impressed by the
enthusiasm and dedication he saw there. No feel-good jive or hippie talk
though; he apparently read it as an indicator of how the engineers appraised
the Amiga design.
- About the many emails and phone calls he got: "Keep 'em coming". On a
planet where it's always somebody's lunch hour, I'm sure he'll regret those
- Ted Waitt was "really behind" AI's independent position within Gateway. So
far I'd been cautious not to take all this "Gateway believes in Amiga" stuff
too seriously, but this time I really got the impression it was true. Jeff
Schindler, not exactly a newbie at this kind of process insofar that there's
anything remotely comparable, seemed tingling and even a little nervous about
making his presentation.
- Amiga, Inc. will be "in the technology business, not in the products
business". They want to produce worldwide standard technology for
convergence products. They presented a very, very wide range of potential
applications for the Amiga IP portfolio. Some of the subranges may require
different reference platforms with different GUI setups etc. This could be
much like what Microsoft is trying to do with the Windows ("Bermuda")
Triangle of 95 for home systems, NT for serious use, and CE for embedded
applications. Except that Amiga OS doesn't require 4 Mb or ROM to power a
palmtop computer, of course.
- Content is key. They need software to run on the Amiga, services to provide
through the Amiga, data to process with the Amiga. IIRC there was some
mention of using Gateway's leverage with major software suppliers. So far I
think Petro has shown himself a good behind-the-scenes player in this regard,
but obviously it's difficult to convince big players like Epson when you're
such a small company.
- AI have looked into, and will continue to investigate, the strengths and
weaknesses of the Amiga. More about these later. They also put emphasis on
the need for feedback, keeping in touch with trends in the computer market,
supporting industry standards, and keeping abreas with technical (that's a
good word I just rediscovered, you don't have to say `technological' all the
time) developments. Their aim is to get the Amiga "at or above the state of
the art", and Gateway's experience with the current state of the art
(press F1 and reinstall Windows) seems to have convinced them that this is
both feasible and desirable.
- Identified strengths of the Amiga: Compact, efficient & reliable
environment. Preemptive multitasking, no buts. AutoConfig as opposed to
Plug-and-Play, without compromise for older products (Jeff mentioned the
phrase Plug-and-Pray here). Video and graphics rich system. Good
cost/function ratio, considering of course that current systems are
artificially expensive due to non-mainstream hardware market. Ability to use
both TV and monitor.
- Weaknesses of the Amiga: "Mostly four-year-old technology" which needs
overhaul. GUI improvements needed. "Leading application support" is needed.
Driver support is needed for add-on hardware. Motorola has not aggressively
supported the 68k line. Must have state-of-the-art hardware. Last but not
least: Lack of industry attention. Like I said, no feel-good jive there,
but obviously these items form the top of their todo list.
- Acting as advisors (which I take to mean they're willing to help but not
giving up their current lives): Carl Sassenrath, RJ Mical, Dale Luck, one
Dr. Alan Havamose, Andy Finkel (everybody spells it as `Finkle' nowadays, is
that correct?), Dr. Ed Hepler of Hombre fame.
- Amiga, Inc. interfaces directly to the large developers, ICOA handles the
run-of-the-mill support and organizes devcons. Actually that's just my
synopsis of a diagram that was shown; suggestions about this structure were
- Developer support will have to include hardware reference designs,
comprehensive software development kits with decent debugging tools, and
software compliance testing. Third-party software quality apparently has a
- See http://www.amiga.org.
- OS 3.5 is to be released "sometime in 1998", after that frequent (eg. yearly)
updates are to follow. The 3.5 release may or may not include new ROMs.
Some third-party software may be bundled to bring the OS up to par with other
systems, feature-wise. This has happened with the Amiga before, but since
this time we're talking about commercial software or software that competes
with commercial software, care will have to be taken to do this fairly. It
was said that "a lot more OS tools" were needed, but I'm not sure what
details or examples were given, if any.
- In order to preserve the value of the Amiga IP portfolio, AI said it is vital
that these patents and trademarks be asserted in the marketplace. That means
that all unauthorized use of the Amiga trademarks (just imagine how many
computer companies would like to get their hands on names like Workbench(tm)
and Intuition(tm)!) and patents must be tracked down, and proper licenses for
them negotiated. To do this, all attendees at the conferenced were asked to
look for possible infringements on these rights and report them to AI. The
deadline for this is december 31st, 1997.
- Gateway is willing to put gobs of cash into getting the Amiga going. This
includes a multi-million dollar advertising budget. As Petro called it,
"Gateway is our bank".
- A three-year development roadmap is being drawn up or has been drawn up. No
vapour. The AI guys seemed to be biting their lips most of the time; on the
one hand they seemed very enthusiastic about platform development plans, but
on the other they took secrecy very seriously. Some minor beans were spilled
in private conversations over alcoholic beverages, so there was some "I'm
under non-disclosure" and "oops, you didn't hear this from me okay".
Unfortunately (at least in this case), the Germans have this great light type
of beer called `Koelsch' that I never knew about, which doesn't cloud your
judgment even after several liters. And some of the more criminal elements
in the Amiga community (notably GPSoft's Greg Perry and Amiga Format's Ben
Vost who actually kept records of their Koelsch consumption) really worked
hard to find out how much it took to get plastered.
There was more reason for this secrecy than just to avoid the Osborn Syndrome
(announced vapour competing with your existing product); one of the AI people
put it privately as "Microsoft is the problem. We don't want Microsoft to
know". Most people were convinced that some of the mishaps that have befallen
the Amiga so far were coordinated acts of sabotage; there were a lot of stories
of people who fought the Amiga tooth and nail, not just within Commodore. In
fact I was surprised by how easily these cases would pop up in conversations.
You'd mention a name and somebody would say, "hey, here's what that guy pulled
on me". Some of the stories had never been put together yet, but confirmed each
other in great detail.
There was also a lot of other news on the show, some of which really deserved
more attention IMHO: One machine had a PCI graphics board in it. I don't think
it had a fully-functional RTG driver yet (it used CyberGraphX IIRC), but this is
certainly a promising development. Phase 5 said they had temporarily taken some
resources off the A\Box project to give the PowerUp boards a performance boost
(the 64-bit memory interface makes the board faster than previous accelerators
even on the 68060 side), and will soon make some important decisions about
hardware and software development to ensure "conceptual continuity" from PowerUp
towards the A\Box. There was also a certain degree of detente towards Haage &
Partner w.r.t. the conflict over the alternative software solutions for these
boards; Wolf Dietrich and Juergen Haage had a friendly and seemingly quite
relaxed chat about this on saturday.
There was also a lot of fairly new, but not quite hot-off-the-presses stuff:
During an AI dinner on saturday night, one of the Cloanto people demonstrated
Amiga Forever by running Personal Paint on an IBM Thinkpad using their improved
version of the UAE emulator. They added in a lot of tricks to speed up often
needed tasks, eg. a filesystem that ran natively on the PC side and an Intel
version of PPaint's blit library. The claim that "no really, it's a real
Amiga!" (this is formally correct because Amiga Forever has been licensed to use
the "Powered by Amiga" logo) caused some heated debate, which was silenced by a
quick demonstration of Amiga screen dragging. You could change the colours of
the mouse pointer on one screen, then drag it halfway down and position the
pointer over the transition between the two screens. Just like with the real
Amiga chipsets, the two halves of the pointer appeared in the two screens'
different palettes with a couple of pixels left blank between them.
Haage & Partner showed a PowerPC version of Quake that ran very smoothly.
Unfortunately there is no license yet for any Amiga port of Quake as far as I
know, so this was no more than proof that it could be done. The author of
Class-X gave me an impressive demonstration of his animation compression format,
which could play complex animations smoothly even from disk. Apparently it made
very effective use of the Amiga chipset for both its video-compatible output and
its very effective motion compression; when the same machine played the same
animation on CyberGraphX, it looked like a demented slide show.
The central AI booth sported products from lots of different Amiga companies, as
well as a transparent vertical tube with a small Boing ball floating up and down
in it. The A5000 was on display there (made by recently licensed Amiga cloner
DCE and distributed by Power Computing Ltd.), which apparently includes MPEG 1
support but is otherwise a fairly low-end model by today's standards. High-end
users may provide the more powerful A6000. The booth had HiQ's Siamese system
displaying its Amiga screen on an adjacent PC. According to a sign put up
between the machines, the Amiga side was not using a graphics card. Right next
to this, at least on friday and sunday, was the new Boxer motherboard (from
Index Information Systems IIRC), a PPC module for which has apparently been
announced. Bloody shame I lost my leaflet about it.
There were Amiga mugs on sale on the booth right next to it, and lots of other
paraphernalia to be had. There were free Amiga mouse mats after the show, which
was very fortunate: My old mat had a Wintel PC shop logo on it, so I had to use
it upside down.
Many celebrities were to be found at the Amiga booth at one time or another:
Dr. Peter Kittel, Angela Schmidt, NASA's Chris Greene, Heinz Wrobel, Holger
Kruse, the AI people, and naturally Petro Tyschtschenko himself. One visitor,
who was also there last year IIRC, had gotten Petro (and perhaps some others as
well) to autograph the back of his Boing shirt.
All in all, I thought the show was pretty good. Lots of ideas were exchanged,
and lots of developers discussed product plans or possible product plans with
Petro and with each other. Lots of shop talk over lots of beer (oh Heavens, the
beer!). As for me personally, I bought the *entire* Aminet on 21 CD's, which
means I'm ready to get into the second-hand floppy business. When I went to
Cologne my trusty polyester weekend bag felt like half empty; when I returned it
felt like half a ton. In fact I swear it was so full that the fabric started
ripping loose of the zipper during the ride home. And it didn't end there: Even
back in Amsterdam I met up with some developers returning from the show (image:
Droves of Amigans spreading across Europe, leaving trails of Boing stickers and
black-white-red logos) and got a free copy of their product.
; Jeroen T. Vermeulen \\"How are we doing?"// Yes, we use Amigas ;
;--- email@example.com ---\\"Same as always."//-- ... --;
;firstname.lastname@example.org \\"That bad huh?"// Got a problem with that? ;
So we've killed anybody who doesn't like us. How come we're still not popular?
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