What is the Amiga

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Many people don't know what the Amiga is, especially younger people who didn't grow up with the system. This is therefore a short article to give a broad overview of the Amiga and its history.

The Commodore Amiga is a 16bit (and later 32bit) Home Computer first released in 1985 by Commodore. Launched in 1985 as the successor to Commodore's best selling 8-bit home computer, the Commodore 64, the Amiga quickly gained international success throughout the US and European Markets as a games machine and graphics development platform.

At the time the Commodore Amiga was far ahead of the competition, offering unparalleled graphics and sound that exceeded anything the Macintosh or IBM PCs of the day could achieve. The key to it's power was a custom chipset design that performed specific tasks such as graphics output or sound, taking the processing load away from the Amiga's main CPU. At the time this concept was years ahead of it's time and wasn't bettered until the mid 1990's when the PC platform finally caught up with the Amiga's graphics and sound capacities.

The first Amiga model, the Commodore Amiga 1000 was a desktop machine with a traditional base unit and separate keyboard design. It was quite expensive at launch and so mainly attracted graphics artists and business users.

The breakthrough into the home computer market came in 1987 with the launch of the Commodore Amiga A500. This was a cheaper version of the A1000 with an all in one design containing the computer and keyboard in a single unit, and it had an updated version of the Amiga's OS known as Workbench. The A500 was the model responsible for launching the Amiga into the home and making it the most popular home computer of its time.

The Amiga's only direct competition was Atari's ST range. Many fans of both platforms still argue which was better, but everyone knows that in reality the Atari ST was a poor second to the Amiga. It was quickly developed by Atari using off the shelf parts so they had a 16bit machine to compete with against the Amiga. The ST had more limited graphics and sound, and a very basic hardware architecture compared to the Amiga. Most games were released on both the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga and running any of them side by side immediately highlighted the power of the Amiga over the ST. At the time, the Atari vs. Amiga argument wars were bigger than any of the "console war"s you see these days on forums and in print.

Over the years many different Amiga models were launched, aimed at both the low and high ends of the market. The Low end systems, such as the Amiga A500 and A600 provided an affordable Amiga to home users who were attracted to the platform by it's wide range of games that featured the best graphics of any home platform at the time, and also by it's award winning graphical and word processing packages.

The high end models, such as the Amiga A3000 and A4000 were aimed towards businesses and professionals as they offered faster processors as standard and a far greater expansion potential. High end Amigas were used to create many of the graphical and 3D effects seen in movies and TV shows of the late 80's and early 90's including Robocop, Terminator II, The Abyss, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5! And as a result of this, the Amiga gained a following for its abilities to produce professional results.

The Amiga continued successfully for many years as the most popular home computer, but in 1995 Commodore International, the owners of the Amiga, entered into liquidation, ending the Amiga's domination of the home computer market.

Since then the Amiga brand has been purchased by numerous businesses (Escom, Gateway and Amino Development Corporation), who wished to use the brand recognition for their own needs. Escom did continue the production of the Amiga A1200, but they overstretched themselves by opening stores right across Europe and soon followed Commodore into Liquidation. Since Commodore's demise no new Amiga models based on the original range have been developed or released until recently when a group of companies developed the Amiga One, but this is a very different platform and is incompatible with much of the classic Amiga ranges software and games.

At present the Amiga brand is owned by Amiga Inc (formally Amino Development), an American based startup company. The company is currently developing a range of platform independent products for mobile phones and PDAs using the Amiga brand name. The original Amiga OS has been licensed to a third party developer, who have ported the operating system to the PowerPC platform for use with the Amiga One and PPC powered classic Amigas. The resulting product, AmigaOS 4.0 is a PPC native operating system that supports modern hardware, while providing sandbox emulation for older applications and games.

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