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Seattle, WA, USA

Posted Thu Jun 03, 2021 6:09 pm

Last week I showed BYTE magazine's first cover feature of the Amiga in its August, 1985, edition. The accompanying article was a whopping 11 pages long. They were obviously excited and impressed. Someone told me that article was the 2nd longest cover feature BYTE ever printed, second only to the 1984 launch of the original Macintosh (I've not verified that claim, but I've no reason to doubt it).

The Amiga graced the cover of BYTE only one other time and it was for the launch of the Amiga 3000 in 1990 and the release of Workbench 2.0. The 3000 hit the market in June of 1990, and this issue hit U.S. shelves the month prior to help prime the pumps.
A rather impressive photo putting the A3000 on a pedestal we look up towards, yet what's with that haphazard keyboard and mouse? And I've never seen a Commodore 1950 monitor that looked like that - have you?

From BYTE's perspective this machine was a really big deal, especially for Commodore's future. They saw it as the company going all-in to try and own the multimedia landscape - a concept really only in its infancy at that time for home computers. As far as BYTE was concerned Apple had used a similar strategy for dominating desktop publishing, and Apple had won handily. The Amiga 3000 and its refreshed OS was seen as Commodore's attempt to take over an entirely different and emerging landscape.

Bob Ryan, for BYTE:
Imagine the ideal multimedia platform. It would have impressive graphics and sound, be easy to use, and work transparently with sophisticated video equipment. Throw in a low-overhead multitasking operating system, and you'd have all the pieces you need to run sophisticated multimedia applications. You'd also have an Amiga from Commodore.
Soon multimedia would be on the lips of many, eventually being replaced with "interactive" and then "online".

Interestingly, while the first cover story of the original Amiga traversed 11 pages, this article only graced four pages this time around with one being a full-page photo. To be fair, this spotlight was on a more mature product and not deemed as revolutionary; important and kick-ass, yes, but not nearly as utterly mind-blowing. The original unveiling would have been hard to beat.
We still get the uber geeky (and cool) "motherboard tour" which is nice.

The article spends a fair amount of time devoted to the 3000's built-in flicker and scan-line remover in both low and high resolution modes, but also points out that it still wasn't the fix that some in the industry were hoping for. While the Amiga's graphics were an obvious strength, it was also still perceived by some as an achilles heel for the future.

Bob Ryan:
Although the new capabilities of the graphics system are significant, they don't address the larger question of how to upgrade Amiga graphics to 8- and 24-bit color while maintaining compatibility with current graphics software. (The tight coupling of the graphics system and the Amiga CPU, which gives the machine its superior graphics performance, ironically also makes it more difficult to upgrade the graphics capabilities.)


Palette limitations on the Amiga 3000 are the same as for earlier Amigas: 32 colors in low resolution and 16 in high resolution, of a possible 4096. Techniques such as extra half-bright, dynamic high-resolution, and hold-and-modify let you increase the number of colors on screen (up to 4096 in the case of HAM), but they either force you to swap palettes on the fly - a serious drain on system bandwidth - or don't let you define each pixel independently. (The latter drawback is actually an advantage when you use HAM mode for video work; because it can take up to three pixels to change from one color to another, HAM mode is naturally anti-aliasing.)

Despite these alternative graphics modes, the lack of native 8- and 24-bit color on the Amiga is a concern. Such capabilities will be necessary for next-generation video and multimedia applications and are already available for many of the Macintosh, MS-DOS and Unix machines.
Even though part of BYTE's review seems to focus on the cup being half empty for the Amiga 3000, I have to say it's so refreshing to read an article from back in the day with this kind of depth and understanding. Maybe the fact that it wasn't a dedicated Amiga mag helped bring that objectivity. Bob Ryan didn't hold any punches, but in a way I get the sincere feeling he's an Amiga fan wishing he could bend the ear of those in West Chester, PA.
He very much gives the redesigned Workbench 2.0 big props while simultaneously giving a bit of a swipe towards OS 1.3 (to be fair, at the time Ryan's opinion wasn't exactly unique).

In the past, many people dismissed the Amiga as an unprofessional machine because of the look of its Workbench interface. When all you saw was a four-color, 640- by 200-pixel screen with visible scan lines between each row of pixels, it was easy to forget the sophisticated hardware and software that lay beneath it.
Well! To each their own, eh? But seriously, he isn't exactly wrong. That was a prevailing perception by 1990, and Commodore did something about it. Ryan goes on to devote a good half-page of copy about just the OS updates that came along with the 3000's launch. Before concluding, he dropped an interesting data point about the size of the Commodore user base. Remember, this is mid-1990 and the deliverer of the news is a noted technology journalist:
Because the Amiga 500 and 2000 can be upgraded with the enhanced chip set and run 2.0, programs written for the 3000 will also run on most of the Amiga installed base of nearly 1.5 million machines.
With estimates of approximately 4.8M Amiga computers sold from 1985-1994, that would seem to imply over 3 million machines were yet to be sold mainly in Europe from 1992-1994, mainly off the back of the A1200 and bargain priced A500's in 1990-91. It kind of boggles the mind Commodore collapsed while pushing that much product out the door those last two years of its life. Assuming Ryan's numbers are correct, Commodore's overhead must have been simply staggering at that point. Worth noting the C64 continued to be produced all the way until 1994. Take that, Bob Ryan! ;)

And yet, in his concluding remarks he gives the Amiga 3000 very high praise.

Ryan concluded:
With a primary focus in multimedia and secondary pushes in education, government, and productivity, Commodore has at last outlined a strategy that takes advantage of the Amiga's strengths. With the Amiga 3000, it has produced the most capable multimedia platform you can get in a single box. If the machine were the only criterion, I'd already call Commodore's strategy a success.
If anything, his final shot seems to be directed at Commodore management and marketing, not the hardware or software. At least that's how I read it.

Want to read it all for yourself? Here you go.

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Zippy Zapp

Posted Fri Jun 04, 2021 12:28 pm

Yeah that 1.5 million number was probably through the end of 1989. This was the June 1990 issue and given the fact, back then, they had about a 3 month publishing lead time that was probably written in March. That number was undoubtedly the USA or North American install base only.

This goes contrary to what is more recently published that ALL amiga models in North America didn't add up to a million. I never agreed with those low numbers because I know that the A500 and A2000 sold really well in North America and even in the early 1990s when the bundles were being pushed at Babbages, Software Etc and Toys R us that they were selling decently.

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