"Free" Software & Vampire Info

by Eric W. Schwartz
From the AmiTech Gazette, June 2018

Welcome to another month, another meeting (usual time and place, check the front page if you don’t know what that is.), and another mass or rambling ranting from yours truly.

This particular ramble was kicked off when I received notice that my go-to application for graphics and drawing on my tablet, Autodesk Sketchbook, was now free, as long as you set up an account with the company, “graciously” allowing me to continue using the program without an active account for a number of days before usefulness is (presumably) cut off. First off, this was a little annoying to me because I was one of those people who paid actual money to have a full working version of the program on my tablet(s), only for the ownership paradigm to be swapped out before me. I don’t have much experience yet with this new “free” Sketchbook, so I can’t say for certain what to expect, but I do have plenty of experience with other ostensibly free applications of various types, which is why I’m concerned about the change. Will I be able to use my graphics software freely? Will I have to endure interruptions as advertisements are put between me and my work? Will my account information guarantee additional spam and targeted marketing headed my way? Does the need for an account mean the program won’t run if it can’t “check in” with its home base, thus being useless anywhere I don’t have a wireless internet connection? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions yet, but I’m sure I will find out soon enough, and I have my doubts I’ll be happy with the answers.

It’s all part of an ongoing campaign to remove the concept of user ownership from software. As an Amiga user, I remember the good old days when you owned the software you bought in a relatively unambiguous way. Part of this comes from the software usually being sold only on physical media such as floppy discs and later CD-ROM (or tapes, or ROM cartridges depending on the platform.). As the buyer/owner, you pretty much had the legal right to do whatever you wanted with it, including making personal copies and modifications, as long as you weren’t distributing or reselling them and messing with the software creators’ business (even though a draconian user agreement might say otherwise).

In this age of digital distribution and constant connectivity, the balance has shifted far more toward the software publishers, and the idea of buying a game or application is more akin to licensing or renting it. It’s easier for them to enforce any restrictions they want to place on something when the net lets the program converse with some distant home server, and snitch that you might be using it on too many different machines, or using an unofficial (pirated) copy, or in some other way not fully sanctioned by the publisher, regardless of what money you may have spent to gain access to that software in the first place. Perhaps they don’t ask you for money at all, at least not a first, instead using the game or app as a vector to target advertising at your head. Perhaps they use the free stuff to hook end users, then offer further enhancements for money as the free part of the experience grows more tedious. Perhaps the publisher eventually decides to stop supporting that particular piece of software, or anything at all because they went out of business themselves, and suddenly your app doesn’t work because it’s looking for some home server that isn’t there any more. Perhaps I don’t really need to worry about those things with my Sketchbook program, but historically, switching from “thing you bought” to “free thing if you have an account with us” rarely comes without strings.

As I am the resident club member with a Vampire accelerator for my Amiga, I was asked to relay some information regarding the current availability of Vampire hardware. This was not quite as simple as I was hoping, but here is some of info on the current state of the Vampire Amiga hardware family.

Currently available hardware:

Planned upcoming hardware:

Versions of the hardware are planned for the Amiga 500/1000/2000/CDTV, Amiga 600 (adapter for the A500 board), Amiga 1200, and a stand alone version which requires no Amiga hardware for plugs/interfaces/power.

Current availability:

Stock fluctuates, but as of this writing:

For more up-to-date information, visit the www.apollo-core.com site. Also, you can visit the sister site www.apollo-accelerators.com, where you can put in your contact info, and receive word and payment request once hardware is available (usually via PayPal). Currently only the V500 V2+ is listed as available on the site, at the price of 300 Euro.

Based on my brief amount of research, there are still hoops to jump through if you want to lay your hands on a new Vampire card, but the overall convenience and number of available purchasing options is far greater than when I tried to do so over two years ago. Good luck to anyone who might want to make the attempt in the future.