Exploring the history, technology, and legacy of the Amiga…

Long ago, in 1985, personal computers came in two general categories: the friendly, childish game machine used for fun (exemplified by Atari and Commodore products); and the boring, beige adult box used for business (exemplified by products from IBM). The game machines became fascinating technical and artistic platforms that were of limited real-world utility. The IBM products were all utility, with little emphasis on aesthetics and no emphasis on fun. Into this bifurcated computing environment came the Commodore Amiga 1000. This personal computer featured a palette of 4096 colors, unprecedented animation capabilities, four-channel stereo sound, the capacity to run multiple application simultaneously, a graphical user interface, and powerful processing potential. It was the world’s first true multimedia personal computer.

The Amiga’s capacity to store and display color photographs, manipulate video (giving amateurs access to professional tools), and use recordings of real-world sound were the seeds of the digital media future: digital cameras, Photoshop, MP3 players, and even YouTube, Flickr, and the blogosphere. I examine different facets of the platform — from Deluxe Paint to AmigaOS to Cinemaware — in each chapter, creating a portrait of the platform and the communities of practice that surrounded it. Of course, the Amiga was not perfect: the DOS component of the operating system was clunky and ill-matched, for example, and crashes often accompanied multitasking attempts. And Commodore went bankrupt in 1994. But for a few years, the Amiga’s technical qualities were harnessed by engineers, programmers, artists, and others to push back boundaries and transform the culture of computing.

The materials on this web site are meant to accompany and enhance the material found in the Platform Studies volume about the Amiga, The Future Was Here, written by myself, Jimmy Maher, and published in 2012 by the MIT Press. It can be purchased from the MIT Press’s online store, from Amazon, from Barnes and Noble, or from brick-and-mortar booksellers worldwide. Readers of the book may also be interested in my personal blog, The Digital Antiquarian.

24 Responses to “Exploring the history, technology, and legacy of the Amiga…”

  1. How can we get autographed copies.

    • Jimmy Maher Says:

      Ha, I’m not sure I can accommodate you there. I guess if you want to send a copy to Norway I can sign it and send it back. 🙂

  2. Alessandro Gerelli Says:

    Hey! Dear Jimmy,
    I’m a Commodore user from 1982 with a C64 (I was born in 1971, one year before you I think 🙂 and I pre-ordered your book from Book repository and received three days ago… (still using my A4000 some days 🙂

    Good job!

    Alessandro from Italy!

    ps: are you on facebook or twitter? .. bye!

    • Jimmy Maher Says:

      Thanks for that!

      I’m not a big social networker, but am always happy to respond to email queries.

  3. I’m starting to read the book now! Amazon should have thought about autographs on kindles, cause I want an autograph as well! 🙂

    • Funny you should mention that, Francis ….
      I’d always thought ereaders/tablets should have some sort of an autographing capacity, so here’s my idea ….

      Since now ereaders — and by default, of course, tablets — are multitouch, why not have a page in an ebook where the author can use the tip of thier finger & sign an autograph?
      You can call it a “digigraph” or whatever.
      Pretty cool, huh?

  4. Mitch Durdle Says:

    I received my copy a couple of days ago and had to say you’ve done a great job. The memories came flooding back, as well as the excitement and anticipation I experienced during those early days. Thanks!

  5. Roman Baranovic Says:

    thank you for the book. I was amiga user 1990-1994 as I was just 16 when I have got it and from the postcommunist country, your book helped me to better understand what I was actually part of 🙂 but I had no idea…

  6. excellent reading! I started with a Commodore128, then moved over an A2000HD. I’m now a proud user of AmigaOS4.1 on a Sam440ep.
    You actually showed me things that I couldn’t imagine. Looks like that Amiga is still alive and kicking mostly thanks to Europe.

    Greetings from Italy!

  7. Paradox (one of the top producers in the UK drum & bass scene) still uses an old Amiga 1200 with OctaMED for both production and live shows to this day (althought probably mostly for novelty purposes). Here’s a video of him explaining his use of the system/software: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2e0wg_618ac

    And here is a video of a Mulder remix of Fatboy Slim’s Rockafeller Skank playing on Octamed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iG1CLi_Fjkw

  8. I just got your book and starting to read it and I am truly amazed. Bravo. It was certainly the most exciting time of my life. Those of us there at the very beginning certainly new the impact the Amiga would have on computing’s future. As some of you may know, my contribution is in the field is 3d graphics and animation. I still look fondly upon all those images that I and so many others created that in the beginning. I recently compiled all of the newsletters for the 3d Artforum and will be posting them on the web for everyone.
    Cheers, Victor Osaka

  9. Just downloaded the sample on my iPad Mini from the iBookStore a few seconds ago.
    Looks pretty good so far!

    I’d’ve bought the book outright, but since being spoiled by $10 prices in this, the Kindle Era, I was kinda taken aback by the $27.
    B-U-T, rest assured, as soon as I can swing it, I’m gonna buy this book!

  10. Armin Pöhlmann Says:

    I finished reading your book, and I found it truely touching. Everything else I read before was mostly from the Commodore perspective – what did they do, how did they develop etc. Your book shows what we, the users did with these machines.

    I must say: We heard as youngsters the Amiga was called a “creative” computer – but we didn’t realize that all this painting, digitizing, playing around for fun was exactly that: creativity. It gave me great joy to read all this about DPaint etc.

    Nearly all the aspects which made and destroyed the Amiga are mentioned in your book – it’s great work.

    Maybe some remark: The AmigaOS has these multitasking features – but we young Amiga 500 users never realized. We had only one program running: The one we booted from floppy. Multitasking for us only got unfolded after the intruduction of hard disks – for me with purchasing my A4000. Actually multitasking was pretty useless with only one floppy drive – but still it was developed! Amazing!
    Maybe there is some space for another analysis of the hardware. The Amigas seem terribly expandable: E.g. Commodore saves the money for a clock, puts a clock port. Years later some other guys come an develop sound cards and usb controllers for this clockport. I find this equally amazing.

    Nevertheless, a great book, it gave me a good time and thinking about how Amiga computing made me the man I am. Thanks a lot!


  11. Just finished reading your (e)book, and as a former bare metal programmer on this platform, I can see how insightful your text really is regarding the Amiga hardware and its tight connection to software.

    I also liked the ARexx discussion (AppleScript isn’t mentioned, but found it in your errata). I’m still thinking not having it on the otherwise very usable Windows 7 is an unpleasant ommision. Most user don’t even know what *could* be done ;-(.

    There’s really only one or two words missing: Texturemapping and c2p (regarding Doom). I think with just a small paragraph one can explain why the Amiga couldn’t run something like Doom at that level, further explaining why bitplanes where yesterdays technology when RAM became cheaper.

    But I don’t think this (or the EOL of the 68k line) added to Commodores fate. The Mac survived two architecural changes, and RTG with more advanced/different graphics hardware became, as you wrote, a reality. It was just not done by C=, leading to highly problematic solutions. If done by C=, more elegant solutions are imaginable bridging into a future without tightly integrated custon chips and bitplanes.

    Thanks for some nice hours reading it. Now I need to buy the physical book!

  12. This is a great addendum! Even though I purchased and read your book something like a year ago, I did not know about this website… Or I forgot about it.

    Ebook could be better in terms of layout, but it is clear and readable. The thing that bothers me is the left margin. Too wide. Anyway I think I will buy the pbook too. Just to have it physically on the shelf.

    Thank you very much for the effort, work and passion. The book is great. I was amazed by level of details.


  13. Well done…a very insightful and well research text. Thank you for compiling this text Jim. I still use my A2000 in my studio today as my 2nd DAW.
    I have been to Norway a few times in my career and will be sure to ping the next time I am there.



    PS: You may also want to check out this text which I think you will also find interesting, if you have not read it.

    The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation:


  14. Ii am going to buy this book IMMEDIATELY but i wonder which source do you prefer people buy from? You mention MIT, Amazon, and Barnes. Does one outlet give out a higher % commission than the other? I want to give back the most i can to you as a great author!

  15. John Heritage Says:

    Interesting – been reading this blog on and off for a bit.. and just now noticed you wrote “The Future was Here” book :). It was a great book – that definitely explored aspects of the Amiga that I was not fully aware of (former Atari 800–>ST user). Why ARexx was important, or Deluxe Paint were really eye opening!. Also the flaws in the exec/kernel were nicely laid out.. Some day I’d like to know more about the California proposal for the A500 that never got made. Great job on the book and thanks for the wide coverage of topics on the blog too!

  16. JAMES RAIN Says:

    Still reading this book. Wow! What a fabulous read so far. Jimmy, you write with clarity, detail, and respect for your material. It’s so wonderful to finally discover a book with technical details and insight into what happened.

  17. I have been disabled since 1980-81!(OSI challenger c2-4p never upgraded for color and sound -8k Microsoft-floating point basic in ROM 4k ram on motherboard upgraded to 8k)[2 places for more boards were never occupied]
    My apple 2e (1983 close-out PRO-dos) was bundled w/ Epson MX-80[came with green monitor and one floppy drive] and applesoft BASIC.
    AMIGA 500 sat unused from 91-93 while I was treated by a SANDOZ medication – It never had more than 1meg Ram and no hard-drive.(software-city StealthFIGHTER simulator (does not work on NTSC).

  18. hankmander Says:

    The link to the MIT Press shop is broken and should be: https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/future-was-here

    Just bought the book and looking forward to reading it, you have such a wondrous tone in your writing!

  19. Keith S. Says:

    One of my favorite entries in the Platform Studies series; well done! Before I started a real career in video game development, the Amiga was the dream machine I wished for but would never have, while trying to eke out something that looked like a game using CGA and EGA graphics. Your book was a fascinating look into the machine and the community that I only got to see from the perspective of an outsider, back in the day.

  20. Not Fenimore Says:

    Just got the book for Christmas! Looking forward very much to reading it.

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