jay-miner-1Jay Miner, the “Father” of the Amiga and Atari 8 bit computers

The Amiga was originally called the Lorraine, designed by a group of ex Atari engineers, led by Jay Miner, who was also involved in designing the Atari 2600 games console, as well as the Atari 400 and 800 computers. His team included RJ Mical, programmer of Intuition, Carl Sassenrath programmer of the Exec part, graphics programmer Dale Luck and hardware engineers, Glenn Keller, Dave Needle, and David Dean, as well as several others. Jay Miner wanted to design a new, more powerful computer, which could also play games, but Atari weren’t interested in doing this at the time, or at least not in the expenses of development. For this reason, Jay Miner left Atari and assembled a team which became Amiga Corp. Their plan was to get finance for the development themselves, then sell the completed product to Atari. In the meantime, Amiga Corp developed a strategy of producing software and joysticks to earn them some more development money, as well as cover up their real work from competitors. One of these was a “joyboard”, based on a surfboard. They named their custom chips Paula, Agnus (not Latin for lamb, but an alternative spelling to Agnes), and Denise, so that competitors who overheard them talking would think they were referring to their girlfriends. Only one chip, called Gary, had a male name.

The concepts behind the Amiga’s design were very similar to the earlier Atari 8 bit computers (i.e. the Atari 400 and 800). The idea was to push the hardware to the limit, this time based round a 68000 CPU, like the original monochrome Apple MacIntosh, but with more colours than any other computer generally available (except for expensive specialised workstations) and custom chips for graphics and sound, which took a lot of the workload off the CPU. The graphics chips in Amiga and Atari 8 bit computers have direct memory access (DMA) to the video RAM and the sound in both is four channel stereo. The Amiga graphics chip can even display custom screen modes, by using “Copper Lists”, similar to the Atari’s “Display Lists” and the sound chip has four channels, the same number as the Atari 8 bitters. They mixed this with concepts from mainframe computers such as UNIX OS, to produce a multitasking operating system, eventually based on TripOS, called Amiga Workbench, including components such as the graphic Intuition and the text command based AmigaDOS.

Early Amigas were supplied with ABasiC by Metacomco, which was influenced by Sinclair BASIC and Commodore BASIC 3.5, but this was changed later to AmigaBASIC, by Microsoft, similar to Microsoft BASIC for the Apple MacIntosh, descended from Microsoft extended BASIC for Tandy, Dragon, and MSX computers, as well as from GW-BASIC on early PCs. AmigaBASIC includes about 205 commands (as listed in https://ftp.fau.de/aminet/docs/help/A500UserGuide.pdf ), including those for colour, graphics, music, speech, windows, and mouse input. Lots of books about programming in AmigaBASIC were written by Data Becker of Germany, then later translated and republished by Abacus of the USA.

Amiga1000KingTutThe Amiga running Deluxe Paint

The official Amiga debut presentation included artist Andy Warhol colouring in a digitised pic of the singer Debbie Harry, using a pre release version of a graphics package called by different sources “ProPaint” or “Graphicraft”, with its own custom PIC file format, instead of the later, truly amazing, killer application “Deluxe Paint” with the more common IFF ILBM format. IFF stands for Interchangeable File Format, allowing most programs to share data, while ILBM is the specific Interleaved Bit Format for graphics screens. Andy Warhol had been working with this software for about a year beforehand.

That’s all for this installment about the Amiga’s 30th anniversary! Another post on this topic will follow shortly.

Posted February 11, 2015 by C64hater in Uncategorized

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