The Future was Here

The Future was here (2012) by Jimmy Maher is an excellent book about the wonderful Amiga computer. If you are an Amiga enthusiast or someone who remembers the Amiga fondly you can stop reading now and simply go and order the book for yourself. You won’t regret it. The book isn’t perfect but it offers a very welcome in depth study of an amazing computing platforms.

The Amiga was designed in the early 1980s by a team lead by Jay Miner . The Amiga was based around the Motorola 68000 chip that was also the CPU for the technologically less advanced and considerably more expensive Apple Macintosh. What was special about the Amiga is that it had a chipset that enabled much of the graphics and sound processing to be handled by something other than the CPU. Agnes, Denise and Paula that formed the original chipset. Sprites, blitting and sound were vastly superior on the Amiga to other contemporary systems. The Amiga wouldn’t really be outclassed as a computer for 6-7 years after its release. Today, such a leap forward is unthinkable.

The book covers the Amiga’s creation, the chipsets and the operating system the Amiga used., Next the release of the machine and the ‘Boing’ demo are described. The details of why the Boing demo was impressive and some of the tricks that were used is well described. Then there is a chapter on ‘Deluxe Paint’ which was one of the most famous Amiga painting programs that could create color art that was not possible on other systems of the time. The Amiga’s contribution to 3D modelling – SSG and Sculpt-Animate are then described. There is then a chapter on NewtTek and the HAM system for using all of the Amiga’s 4096 colors. Following a look at the Amiga’s OS there is a chapter on the Amiga demo scene that describes how clever hackers produced clever short bits of art on the system. The penultimate chapter describes Cinemaware and Psygnosis and some of the games on the Amiga. Finally there is a chapter on why the Amiga died in the 1990s.

The book is a little disjointed. It jumps around a bit in time and from subject to subject. It’s also a little haphazard in what it covers. The detail in some areas is deeper than the detail in others. There is also not enough thought given to how the Macintosh managed to survive while the Amiga floundered. The explanation is probably that the Macintosh managed to find an application that it was ideally suited for that worked for many businesses, desktop publishing, while the Amiga’s great abilities never found a similar market that was large enough. In addition the Amiga failed to improve the technology substantially to keep it ahead of the competition. The failure to develop new chipsets is, however, covered well by the book.

Maher has written an excellent account of a wonderful computing platform that is now largely a memory. He manages to capture just how it felt to use a computer that did give a glimpse of the future and describe many of the features that made it so outstanding.


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