This is an incomplete report about the exhibition because I was there only the first day (Saturday, 20 September); however I think that day was the most important since the widely awaited Petro Tyschtschenko's conference (the President of Amiga International Inc.). Here you won't find his complete discussion because I did not have a voice recorder that day (and I didn't transcribe every word he said), anyway you'll find some important predictions about the future of the Amiga or, at least, some info you can ponder to reach some conclusions. If you were there and you think I missed some important information, or I made some mistakes, please notify me or CUCUG.
In Empoli (Italy), about 25km from Florence, on Saturday 20 and Sunday 21 of September 1997 has been organized by Jasa Communications S.r.l. an Amiga exhibition called Pianeta Amiga.
In Italy this is the first time in years that someone has tried to fill up a place like an exhibition (where you can buy the items too) with Amiga people only. The only other Amiga-based public event that takes place every year in Italy is IPISA, which is, however, mainly a conference for programmers (even if very enjoyable by simple users too). The time table for both days was between 09:30am to 11:30pm. The entrance cost was low: L.5.000 (about 5DM or $3) with previous booking or L.10.000 (10DM or $6) with no advance booking. When I arrived (from Udine by train, really uncomfortable due to the turmoil caused by the U2 concert in Bologna) I found a nice, big banner and a couple of flags talking about the Amiga :) . The building where the exhibition took place was the PalaEsposizioni, not too big, but good enough to take care of all Amigans.
Inside the building
In the entrance corridor you could find various pieces of computer history: a nice excursus from the VIC-20 to the Amiga 4000, passing by C-64, C-16, Plus 4, Amiga 1000, Amiga 500, Amiga 2000, Amiga 3000, Amiga 600, Amiga 1200, CDTV and CD-32--to be precise there was a Commodore PeeCee too :). Between them there was a TV set with a video recorder that played continuously a video showing technical data about those machines. A nice intro with a negative note (personal comments - see below). In the main exhibition space there were almost all Italian Amiga dealers, except four, as I know: Db-Line, Axxel Distribution, New Video and Hardital. I think they weren't there for their problems, not for bad hopes about the exhibition success... However there were also some user groups: in fact there were some money facilities for non-commercial exhibitors (cheap rates for stands). Now follows a list of all the commercial exhibitors with their items.
Amiga International & Micronik
The big mother had a small booth with Micronik. They featured an A1200 placed in an Infinitiv tower case. It mounted a CyberVision 3D and an unknown CyberStorm PPC because the PPC module didn't work (there were a solder near the computer; they tried to fix the problem with no result :( ). Nothing special to say: there were always some people because Petro and his collaborators kept distributing posters (only a few - Back For The Future) and Amiga stickers. Here you could find Infinitiv tower booklets too (in English and German).
This was the biggest booth of the exhibition; in fact it offered hospitality to many other Amiga-based companies (Euro Digital Equipment, Logica, Interactive, Haage & Partner Computer GmbH). NonSoloSoft probably is the most known Amiga software dealer in Italy (thanks to Ferruccio Zamuner); anyway now it treats also hardware things like the audio board Delfina Lite, that should has been presented at the exhibition (I said should because I didn't see it). In this occasion you could buy the items with a 10% savings too.
As I wrote before there were many other companies in this booth. Euro Digital Equipment showed some (?) Amigas with Picasso IV and it announced the 16 bits audio add-on for the above mentioned graphic board (I don't remember its name... it's a Latin one).
Logica, an important Amiga repair & spare parts center in Italy, sold keyboards, drives and other hardware stuff like the CDTV; these ones were sold for L.99.000 (about 99DM or $56) only. I didn't buy one because I was out of money, but I think I'll phone to Logica to ask if something is still unsold.
Moreover there was a CD-32 with its MPEG module displaying full screen/full rate video on a monitor (a Tina Turner concert, if I remember); there is some guy says that the CD-32 with its MPEG module is really better than those PC video card plus the MPEG adapter: these last ones usually lost some frames every now and then. Nice to know that... ;) Interactive is a small company from Feletto (Udine) producing an Amiga CD-ROM collection, especially for the Italian public, called Amy Resource: it's a best seller in Italy because of its quality and price. Now Luca Danelon (the company responsible) is preparing (or it's already out for sale) an European version of this CD-ROM collection. What makes this one valuable are the uncrippled shareware/commercial programs placed on every new issue (we are at number 5).
At the end (of this booth) we find Haage & Partner, very famous for StormC, their C/C++ compiler, and ArtEffect. Both of these products were on display at the exhibition. Personally I found interesting a graphic demo of a pseudo-Voxel generated landscape (called Turbo-GFX): Haage (or Partner, I don't know :) showed the speed of PPC 603e 150MHz compared with a 060/50. There was a lot of difference, 50 frames per second with the PowerPC, 16/18 frames per second with the 68060. The screen resolution was 320x200, but I don't remember the number of colors; with the mouse you could move the direction of the fly over the hills. Anyway I think a frame rate of 16/18 for a 060/50, at that resolution, is quite bad (even if in real time): a 060 can do more for me! However I don't know how that landscape was generated, and I'm not a "deep" programmer, so it's not a unnoticeable opinion.
Class X Development Italia
Class X is an Amiga software house specialized in desk top video applications. It featured X-DVE V2.72, for fabulous video titling and special effects, FontMachine V3.0, a font processor for making your plain fonts something colorful (metal, wood and fire fonts), and VideoFX V1.0, a multimedia authoring software (with it you can control events like pictures, audio samples, external equipment, etc., with your mouse. Just like Scala, but with a more standard way of doing things). As usual, for the exhibition, there were some savings.
Enigma Amiga Run
This is the first Amiga magazine born in Italy. You could subscribe at lower prices at the exhibition, as well as buy old issues.
This is shop from Naples that sells video products for the Amiga, those built by the German company Electronic-Design: this last one is well known for its genlocks (Pluto, Neptun and the fabulous and expensive Sirius). Moreover at the exhibition have been presented other new items from the same manufacturer: TBC Light and TBC Enhancer, two units for improving the quality of the analog video signals (composite and Y-C), Gemini VideoSelector, a cross-bar for a better organization of video sources in the studio, and DVConverter, a unit for converting the digital video standard IEEE-1394 FireWire to a normal composite, Y-C, RGB and component YUV (this new digital video standard is used on some new Sony camcorders). As I could see, the quality of these products is really high.
At Pianeta Amiga the famous UK company Power Computing sold various Amiga hardware: A1200 accelerators, original Amiga mouses (the black one is really neat!) with Amiga mouse pad, HD floppy drives, OS 3.1 kits (chips only too), etc.
An Amiga software dealer located in Rome, showed and sold at special prices their software catalogue which features TurboPrint V5.0, an advanced printer controller that permits you to exploit your peripheral, and ScanQuix, a program to drive a lot of scanners present on the computer market. In their catalogue, as at Pianeta Amiga, there was Cinema 4D, its plug-ins and its support programs too.
Video Computer Systems
VCS, as you guess from its name, it's specialized in video products: in fact it presented the DraCo workstation and Casablanca to the public. The former is an Amiga-based computer, running Amiga OS V3.1, suitable for non-linear video editing, at a low price (for video professionals :) . The latter is a similar thing, about using, but it's dedicated to non-computer people (anyway with a lot of money :) because it uses a special environment which is trackball driven only: you cut, title and process the entire video following on screen instructions. It seems a videorecorder and, in the lower configuration, costs about L.6.000.000 (about 6.000DM or $3500).
A local consumer electronic shop showed a DraCo workstation (Amiga-based, as you know :) doing some video things. It was interesting to see the speed of ShapeShifter on the DraCo too: it's faster than a friend of mine's PPC Mac (speaking about video refreshing and operations). I want to let you know the DraCo uses a 68060 and a Retina Z3 graphic board.
I didn't see any HiSoft logo anywhere, however this company was probably hosted by another one (maybe Power Computing) in some booth.
If I'm not wrong this company featured another tower transform solution for the A1200 (based on a common PC big tower case together with a Zorro (II?) daughter card) and, always if I'm not wrong, some used gaming software.
I don't remember it exactly. Anyway I think it was the one with a DraCo workstation running continuously a video demonstration.
It featured an Internet connection in a booth (since it's the ISP that provides the Web pages for Jasa Communications S.r.l.).
I'm sorry, but I remember nothing about it (I didn't see this name at the exhibition).
A graphic service that made the Pianeta Amiga t-shirts, pins, caps and flags (I bought a t-shirt and a pin... really nice). Every item features the exhibition logo.
And now the user groups and other non-commercial exhibitors.
Amiga Group Italia
This is the HQ of all the official users groups in Italy. They had an Amiga 1200 with a big TV set displaying info about them. They were placed just after the small computer museum at the entrance.
I don't remember them. Sorry.
This guy with his friends demonstrated how works AmyWARP, a clean patch, as the author said, for speed up the graphics.library; really useful for every Amiga user without a graphic board (a lot, as I think). He showed to the public some benchmarks and tests. Sadly I saw only the last part of the last demonstration before the conference, so I couldn't say more. Anyway it seems a serious product and it costs not much (it's shareware, L.15.000, about 15DM or $8.50). I suggest the author to advertise his program more (he will speak about it at IPISA '97).
He showed something called CD++, but I don't remember him. Sorry.
Even here I don't remember so much. I think these guys were the ones near the FIAT 126 (an old car, see later) plenty of DD external drives. They showed a couple of their games (one of them was a soccer simulation) and sold some used Amiga games and CD-ROMs with various software.
System Shock BBS
This was the most noisy, happy and attractive place of the exhibition. There were some friends using their Amigas together (they set up a net via Ethernet, serial/parallel with MagPLIP, etc.), playing funny modules (like the Pera and mine's one called PC Hurts, the follow up to The Intel Outside; stay tuned on mods/voice ;) , MPEG Layer III songs (like W*nd*ws 95 Sux ;) , AVI animations on some CyberGraphics screen, and so on. Here I found the famous Amiga musician FBY (from Florence, or near). They had an A1200 placed in a Micronik Infinitiv tower, two (?) A4000s, an A4000T, an Amiga 1000 and a Pioneer amplifier with its loudspeakers.
This new Italian software house is on the final stages (we hope) to release a revolutionary Amiga game called The Golem. It uses a special technique, called XFL 96 (personally I don't like to put the year at the end of a program name... why? :) , which permits to a bare A1200 with a 8X CD-ROM drive a 50 frames per second full screen animation of pre-rendered screens. They showed a limited playable demo and it seemed great, but we have to wait for the final product; anyway the authors (they were really crazy as any Amiga user should be :) said it won't be a thing like Dragon's Lair: it will be an arcade adventure with some beat'em up sections.
I saw another guy with something useful for soccer events/charts titling, but I don't know his name. He could be Georg Campana or a member of the group Dancing Fools (?).
Inside the exhibition there was an old FIAT car: a 126. At the first times I thought it was an extraneous item, but later, when I got near the car, I discovered that was another strange Amiga-related item (default behavior for Amiga convinced people). It was painted like the Amiga boing ball, with red and white square tiles. An A1200 keyboard has been placed by someone on its engine, and on the back, inside the car, there were a lot of DD Amiga external drives for sell (L.50.000, about 50DM or $28.50). There was a sheet on a door explaining car features. I shot some photos of it, but I have to take the photo film to the lab.
And Now For the Conference!
Just few minutes before 5:30pm the conference started with Petro saying: "Buonasera," with a German accent (means Good evening). Petro, despite some photos, is really agreeable: I photographed him while he was fixing up some "Amiga - Back To The Future" posters on the wall of the Amiga International booth.
A big applause followed his greeting.
The conference space was big enough to accommodate the majority of people, even if someone remained stand up. There was a big screen made of many TV sets on the left of the conference table (one tube didn't work). More left there was the audio technical's space.
On the platform were many people: from left to right Romano Tenca (arrived later), responsible for Amiga Magazine, Michele Iurillo, director of the magazine Enigma Amiga Run, Enrico Senesi, the Amiga enthusiast organizer, Luciano Cutrini, president of Jasa Communications S.r.l., Petro Tyschtschenko, Amiga International Inc. president, and a blonde interpreter (since Petro spoke in German).
Petro started speaking from the roots: he compared the Amiga to a starship that has to reach the Amiga planet. "In 1985 something wonderful was born..." since in the room there were Amiga users only, this story made everybody impatient to reach 1997. After a quite long introduction, we finally reached the present time. Now I focus the main arguments treated in the discussion that--I want to emphasize--permitted everybody to ask something of Petro.
Research & Development Team
It has been set up with prominent Amiga names (I don't remember those names, sorry!). This task took up more time than the one previously scheduled because Amiga International asked Carl Sassenrath to lead the R&D team, but he refused, so they had to search for another Amiga guy. As Petro said the team is now working on the new OS and by February 1998, other 50 people (!) will join the current team.
The New OS
You may have heard of an upcoming 3.5 release of AmigaOS. It's true, it's not a tale, but you'll have to wait at least until February 1998 to get it. Contrary to what Darrek Lisle said at another conference, OS 3.5 will be a software and a firmware upgrade (ROMs), as Petro answered to a specific question from Michele Iurillo. Anyway Amiga International will try to keep the cost as low as possible (about L.100.000, 100DM or $57).
The Next Amiga Main Processor
You say: "It's the PowerPC, of course," but no, this is not true.
"WHAAAAT!" <- You #8^O
Yes, you read well. The microprocessor to be used in the next generation of Amigas is not selected yet. "But Phase 5, the CyberStorm PPC, the Blizzard PPC...". Petro left the entire audience in total embarrassment. However continue reading before getting angry with Amiga International; I'm sure you'll agree with me at the end, about this right behavior.
Let's talk about Apple.
Petro said Steve Jobs (probably CEO of Apple, now) decided to use Intel microprocessors for running Raphsody, the successor of MacOS. What does it mean? If Apple isn't going to use PPC, what do you think about its future (PPC)? Since Apple was one of the three companies that wanted it, and, presently, its computers (PowerMacs) are the only ones using the PPC in the consumer/commercial area, you can imagine how negative this can be for the PPC future (even for the still unborn CHRP, or PPCP, platform). Now you're more calm :)... rejoin the Amiga side. Think...it wouldn't be nice to choose a microprocessor family that will cease to exist in a year or so. It's better to stop and take a look to other alternatives too. Anyway stop thinking bad. Firstly Petro said that Intel won't be chosen for sure ;) .
Secondly IBM and Motorola, the other two companies involved in the PPC project, made a lot of investments and are big too: so nothing is dead at all. We (Amiga users) have to be sure about the PPC future. To be precise Petro said: "It doesn't matter what the choice will be... it will be a good choice!". After this passage you may think the Amiga is the only short/medium term hope remained to the real computer world. We are the rebels!
The Next Amiga
Nothing is specifically planned (see above). The only thing Petro said is that it's scheduled to be out in late 1998 (probably as a prototype). I hope the R&D team will choose a microprocessor that permits to build up cheap machines too (like the A1200).
The is not much advertising about the Amiga around (we may say there is no advertising!). Michele Iurillo, responsible for Enigma Amiga Run (a Italian Amiga magazine), said it's a shame that the mother company doesn't produce any advertising even in the Amiga-based magazines. Yes, maybe right for the magazine point of view, but if you think that Amiga magazines are read by Amiga users only (that already have an Amiga; I think this is 99% true), this kind of advertising doesn't bring in any money to Amiga International.
Moreover at this moment PeeCees are technologically more advanced than the Amiga (I mean they use high technology for components, but in an old architecture, driven by a sucking OS), so for the same price you get "more" with a PC. The advantages of Amiga are not visible immediately: you have to try the two systems for some time. This keep the Amiga in niche, niche made of real computer enthusiasts. So, no advertising? No. Has been planned a big (we hope) promotional campaign when the new Amiga will born, not only on Amiga-based press, but also on other important magazines (eg. Byte).
Cooperation With Other Companies Offering Pseudo-Amiga-based Computers
Here Petro was very cold. For example someone asked about p-OS, and possible relations with the new version of AmigaOS. Petro said that the real AmigaOS is the one and only released by Amiga International. Similar answer about Phase 5 A/Box and its operating system.
Monitors Pose a Problem
You surely have noted the high prices for Amiga-compatible monitors (multiscan from 15kHz to 31kHz and upper). This is a marketing problem: monitors are built by Microvitec, which is based in the UK. The UK pound got appreciated too much, so the exchange with other currencies makes the prices to rise up (up by 40% too).
A solution proposed by Petro is to use scan doublers for using low cost VGA monitors: Amiga International would provide this low (?) cost peripheral. Personally I would be happier if Amiga International get in touch with another monitor manufacturer for building up new Amiga monitors that support scanning from the 15kHz frequency.
Amiga & Games
Even if the videogame market is now lead by PeeCees and the Sony PlayStation, the Amiga continue to evoke a game machine image for most people. This negative public image of the Amiga will be improved in the future (we hope) when the new Amiga comes, thanks to the advertising campaign: the image Amiga International wants to give is a personal affordable workstation. I hope that will be affordable (see The next Amiga section).
Final Notes About the Conference
What Petro said at the end is that every Amiga user can send to him or to Amiga International a comment and/or a suggestion. He will answer all e-mails. Just connect to the well known WWW site. Petro also said that more anticipations about the future of the Amiga will be revealed at the Cologne Computer Show.
Personal Comments About the Exhibition
Considering the bad Italian situation about the Amiga (I mean the limited number of active users and shops) the judgment is really positive. The guys at Jasa Communications S.r.l. did a great job, a good organization; we (Italian Amiga users) have to thank their eagerness. Anyway there are some negative notes.
I found the booths not very organized: the software, the hardware to sell wasn't well visible. Sometime the customer doesn't know what he/she wants to buy exactly: he/she has to see the items. For example the situation at the NonSoLoSoft booth: almost every item was in paper boxes on the floor. Some parts of the exhibition were not too much serious: I'll try to explain better. The small museum at the entrance was nice, but the most of the units used for making it were too dirty, with stickers, etc.
It doesn't matter for me and for other Amiga users, but for an external viewer (eg. a PeeCee user) it may seem too craftsmanshiply. Girls ;) : as you know the computer world is male. I saw only few girls, most of them were girlfriends of some Amiga users for sure, but they were nice. Probably I saw an alone girl that was an Amiga user, but I don't know. There were also two nice girls distributing some brochures about ClassX products.
Ahh... I want to greet three guys I found in that occasion: Gianfranco Camera, with him I spoke about the long awaited memory protection for the Amiga and the stupid file system of Windoze 95; Luca Falcomer and his friend Marco, for making the return travel by train more enjoyable. What did I feel from Pianeta Amiga? Positive vibes. The Amiga is alive and will regain its place in the "serious" computer world.