October 24, 2000 4:40 PM PDT

Welcoming back an old Amiga

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After years of false restarts, it appears there will once again be a new Amiga computer.

Famously loyal Amiga fans will be able to purchase in coming months a new AmigaOne computer based on a Motorola PowerPC processor, Amiga president Bill McEwen said at a weekend meeting in Australia. Amiga itself, which develops only its namesake software, will rely on partners to sell the computers, the first in six years from the company.

The first partner, a British Amiga supporter called Eyetech, will sell Amiga circuit boards in the first quarter of 2001, McEwen and Eyetech said. A German company, bPlan, will build an entire computer.

"They are the first two of many," McEwen said in an interview today. The plug-in cards to upgrade current Amiga systems will cost about $500, including a CPU, McEwen said. A stand-alone machine will cost about $800.

Amiga's future, however, lies chiefly in its software, in particular its new Amiga Digital Environment software, which can run as an operating system of its own or atop other operating systems, including Linux and Windows CE, McEwen said.

The new AmigaOne machines are the latest chapter in a 16-year saga of a computer whose superior technology was unable to carry it past market leaders such as Microsoft and Apple Computer.

The Amiga computer was born in 1984. Amiga was a subsidiary of Commodore, an early PC company that lost out to IBM and Apple and eventually went bankrupt. Amiga survived for a time as a subsidiary of German computer seller Escom, another parent company that faltered financially.

Gateway bought Amiga in 1997. But Gateway scrapped Amiga computer plans, focusing instead on making Amiga software. It eventually sold the Amiga name last December while keeping several patents for itself.

Amiga software runs on a variety of computers and even on operating systems.

The new lease on life may be too late, however, as Amiga hardware and software lost their technical edge over ordinary PCs and Linux, which arrived to capture the attention of those wanting to buck the trends of the mainstream. Amiga enthusiast sites still exist, but declining Amiga interest led prominent download sites such as the Champaign-Urbana Computer Users Group to cancel Amiga sections last January.

"It was felt that while CUCUG could continue with the Amiga Web Directory for several months, it was better to retire now rather than allow the site to slowly decline with the market," the site organizers said.

But Snoqualmie, Wash.-based Amiga is working hard to keep its fans from defecting while potentially raising a little funding for itself.

In a note posted on Amiga's Web site Saturday, McEwen said he's considering selling shares in the company, potentially letting outside investors own as much as 10 percent of the company stock.

"We are looking for no less than $250 per investment," McEwen said. "If you are interested, please send an email message along with the dollar amount that you would be interested in investing."

The new AmigaOne faces some of the same issues that Apple's Macintosh had to go through in the mid-1990s, when Apple switched from Motorola's 68000-series chips to its higher-performance PowerPC line. The new AmigaOne can use the same G3 and G4 versions of the PowerPC as today's Mac.

Using the same strategy Apple selected, the AmigaOne will offer emulation software so that older software can run on the new machine, Amiga chief technology officer Fleecy Moss said.

Amiga's Digital Environment, developed in partnership with the Tao Group in England, is a central part of the company's future business partnerships. It will run on everything from handheld computers to multiprocessor servers, McEwen said. "We can run 100 processors on a box."

Amiga's Digital Environment software also runs on other CPUs, such as those from Intel, Hitachi and MIPS, according to Amiga. "The ability of the Amiga Digital Environment to host itself on multiple hardware and operating system platforms frees us from hardware dependency and gives our customers the freedom to choose the hardware that best suits their needs and tastes," McEwen said.

McEwen said the company will introduce the latest version of its Amiga OS operating system, version 3.9, by late December. The new version looks similar to several other current operating systems, including Mac OS X, Windows and Linux.

To be certified as an AmigaOne computer, Amiga's hardware partners must come up with a machine with Universal Serial Bus, the high-speed IEEE 1394 Firewire interface, Ethernet, a 56K modem, at least 64MB of memory and several other features.

 

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