The Killer App

by Eric Schwartz
From the AmiTech Gazette, April 2016

There’s not a ton of news in the Amiga sphere, but there are a few tidbits. A new “Silver3” core has been released for the Vampire 600 V2 expansion, with updates to the CPU capabilities, SAGA 24-bit video modes, and more. I’m still waiting for a reply to my request for a Vampire board of my own, though according to recent board chatter it appears there may be a wait of up to two months before as much as a reply is sent, as Kipper, who produces the boards and handles orders, is dealing with order requests in the order they were received. I think I still have some time from my first request to go, so wish me luck.

Here is a new Amiga article link:

It’s a little history of the Prevue cable guide channel, which showed rolling TV schedule info in the days before every digital TV box had their own guides, and was run with Amiga computer systems. It’s worth a look if you enjoy a little nostalgia and history lesson.

The next AmiWest gathering in Sacramento has been set for October 8th and 9th this year. Drop by for further information. A company named Retro 7-bit is selling a USB keyboard adapter specifically for the Commodore CDTV, in what may be one of the most obscurely specific hardware releases I’ve seen in a long time.(with the possible exception of a high-spec CPU expansion for an Amiga 600, but that’s neither here nor there.).

Over the history of computers there is the recurring idea of the “Killer App”—the software that creates enough demand to sell the hardware required to run it. Spreadsheet and word processing software helped sell early computers to business, since they offered the ability to change a document with requiring White-out. Big arcade ports like Space Invaders kicked sales of the Atari 2600 VCS into high gear. Desktop publishing software (and the desktop publishing concept itself) helped save the Apple Macintosh from the unprofitable market of early adopters and tech snobs. While the Amiga may not have reached the heights of some other platforms, there are a few items that fall under Amiga “Killer App” territory. One thing that sold Amiga systems, especially A500s in the United Kingdom and Europe, was games. Perhaps the earliest example, predating the A500 even, was “Defender of the Crown” by Cinemaware. It was also a pioneering example of a game (or “interactive movie” as Cinemaware liked to term it) that gave graphical style and flash far greater priority than the complexity or quality of the game itself, much as games today are frequently accused of doing. Ironically, while versions of the game for other systems couldn’t match the color palette, most offered a better overall gameplay experience than the rushed Amiga original. Another example is Psygnosis’ “Shadow of the Beast,” a shallow, stupidly difficult, frequently unfair, yet utterly beautiful game to look at, and a standout in a time when most Amiga games looked identical to their Atari ST counterparts. As the games sold the Amigas, the easy-to-program Amigas spawned more game creators, who created more in-demand games to sell more Amigas. Those early visual feast games showed off the possibilities and got the ball rolling.

While productivity and creative software never moved the same units as the games did, they still did their part, especially for the larger, higher-powered machines. The “Deluxe Paint” series, created by Dan Silva and Electronic Arts, is probably the biggest success of the earlier Amiga days. While hardly the first paint software on the Amiga or other platforms, DPaint set many of the paradigms for ease of use in that period, along with simple paint, brush, and psuedo-3D effects. Version 3 brought those tools to animation creation as well. Even in today’s photo-paint world, there are still apps that ape the DPaint paradigm, especially useful for those who wish to work their graphics on a pixel-by-pixel basis.

The greatest killer app of the Amiga’s later life (and its high end) would have to be NewTek’s “Video Toaster,” the hardware/software bundle that made it possible to do with a few thousand dollars worth of computer and video equipment things that would have required tens if not hundreds of thousands in equipment before, and essentially created the “desktop video” field like the Mac pioneered desktop publishing. Amigas with Video Toasters all but dominated from the amateur to medium-professional video production field, and an industry of extra support hardware and software around it. Amigas and Toasters were mainstays of video studios and public cable channels for much of the 1990s, which sadly didn’t keep Commodore out of bankruptcy in 1994. Toaster systems kept chugging on for years to come, and it wasn’t until the rise of HD and non-linear-edited digital video that the Toasters started to fall out of favor. In theory, a higher profile for modern Amiga systems like OS4, MorphOS, or AROS is just one killer app away. We’re probably not going to see that anytime soon though, as long as most are concentrating on small utility apps or basic Linux ports. Good luck to you all.