The Future of Amiga -- Three Options

by Eric Schwartz
from The AmiTech Gazette, September 2015

The Amiga 30th Anniversary train chugs along a little further. October 10th marks the event in Dusseldorf, Germany (http://www.amiga30.de) and October 15-18 has the returning AmiWest show in Sacramento, CA. My own efforts at putting out an anniversary animation continue, though I’m feeling a bit shaky about getting it finished before the Amiga’s 30th year is actually the 31st. I’ll have a thing or two to show for the meeting regardless.

After catching various pieces of discussion on different Amiga and related boards, there seem to be a few primary opinions on what Amiga can, or should be. Actually, it’s more like a spectrum of possibilities, but it’s not difficult to boil it down to a few basic positions. On one end of the spectrum are the people who are happy with the Amiga more or less as it is, or around where it was when Commodore went bust in 1994, if not earlier. These people are mainly interested in retro-gaming and using the classic period software, and not particularly concerned with anything more than that -- they have other systems to handle their ‘modern’ needs. The usual options for their goals include maintaining the classic Amiga hardware, emulation on other systems, or newer recreations of the older hardware such as the Minimig and related machines. The original hardware might be problematic to use with new HD monitors or televisions, which emulation or updated hardware can address, though some may prefer to use an old CRT monitor for the full retro experience.

The next step is to embrace the benefits of newer computer hardware and updated operating systems and software, but trying to maintain a reasonable level of compatibility with the original Amiga software applications. These are best represented by systems running Amiga OS4 and MorphOS, which both offer modern (yet Amiga-like) operating system experiences on fast PowerPC-based hardware and powerful video cards, running both software written to the new systems’ strengths as well as ‘legacy’ Amiga software which does not require legacy Amiga hardware to function. The discontinued Amithlon software did much the same on Intel-based computers, using the classic Amiga OS. There have been a couple attempts to make updated machines allowing hardware compatibility too, but they have been mostly non-starters. For many, these systems represent the best balance between old and new, but they do have their shortcomings. The top end of available PowerPC hardware is being reached, which will eventually force the OS developers to move to a different hardware line eventually, or stagnate. Also holding them back is the Amiga software compatibility itself. As the original Amiga system was designed at times when the machines we use today were barely conceived as possible, it is between difficult and impossible to support massive amounts of RAM or memory protection for better stability without the support for the old breaking down, which leads us to...

On the far end of the Amiga spectrum are those who like the Amiga more as a concept than a tangible reality. When told that adding a feature to the OS will require classic compatibility to be dropped, they advocate dropping it in the name of progress. While there isn’t really a system to exactly match this philosophy, AROS, the open-source Amiga-based Operating system does on a base level, as it can be ported to nearly any hardware, and only directly supports software written to run on AROS. There are other niche operating systems and distributions of the Linux OS that take inspiration from the Amiga in varying degrees. The obvious benefit is with nothing holding it back, the system can incorporate whatever features are required or desired, and make use of whatever hardware capabilities it needs. The downside is, of course, the lack of direct support for older Amiga software (though emulation or other abstraction is still possible), requiring new applications to be written or ported, which has proven to be less than forthcoming historically. In such a hypothetical situation, one wonders on a conceptual level at what point the “Amiga-ness” ends.

Who knows, it all might become moot when phones, tablets, speech interfaces, or holographic brain interfaces change the paradigm and a ‘computer’ is unrecognizable to the people of today. All I know is when that happens, someone will probably try to get it to run an Amiga application or game. It might even be me.