Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Getting to know Adelaide Amiga Users - Epsilon

Did you know that Adelaide has been at the forefront of Amiga development in both software and hardware?

Below is the legendary Phoenix Board designed and developed by Andrew J Wilson in South Australia under Phoenix Microtechnologies Pty Ltd.

Image Source: "Big Book of Amiga Hardware" <http://www.bigbookofamigahardware.com/bboah/media/download_photos/a1000phoenix_4.jpg>
Below is an image of popular Amiga software: Directory Opus (or DOpus).  This program is well known to Amiga users as it originated on the Amiga system.  Originally developed and written in Adelaide by Jonathan Potter as a premier file manager program.  It's current release, version 11 is available now for Windows.  See here for more details.

To unravel this topic, a series of Amiga-related interviews are being conducted which will feature a guest who has been involved in shaping Adelaide's image for the Amiga.

To start this series off, we have an Adelaide based Amiga user "Epsilon" who has a very active involvement in both the local and online community.  He visited AmiWest last year in late 2014 and has been active with Amiga's since their inception.

How did you first discover the wonderful world of the Amiga?

[Epsilon]: My first use of an Amiga was actually at my High School in Perth when I lived there back in 1988. The school had Amiga 1000's set up for use in the art department for electronic artwork composition using Deluxe Paint. I didn't own an Amiga back then and hadn't seen one either, as I had recently moved to Perth from Alice Springs (where they definitely didn't have any!).

I was very much impressed by Deluxe Paint and I suggested I could help the school with this new computer they got! (I was already spending most of my lunchtimes in the computer labs at the school with their Australian made Microbee computers and Apple Macintosh systems). 

They agreed and so I did lots of work to learn how to make optimised boot disks and so on to make it easier for them to get students using the system with a standard floppy disk that contained their data. It started from that :-)

What was it about the Amiga that got you hooked?

[Epsilon]: Setting up Deluxe Paint at school was a fun distraction, but no question it was the games and demo scene for the Amiga that got me hooked. In the late 1980's early 1990's there was a thriving Amiga game and demo scene, even in Australia. Below is the Hinch Demo by Decay (Sydney Group) in 1990 - perhaps Australian locals may remember this one?
Going to department stores like Myer or K-Mart in Australia back then was such a different experience to today - you had banks of screens and computer models lined up from Commodore - Amiga, C64, C128, Atari - ST, Portfolio, 2600, 7800, Apple Macintosh, IBM PC & Clones (Windows, DOS, OS/2), Amstrad CPC 6128, (and others too) and all their associated game titles and applications in separated software shelves!

I ended up buying a lot of Amiga software over the years - mostly games admittedly... 

For a person like myself, keen to do anything associated with computers,  it really was like a kid in a candy shop and I couldn't get enough of it! I had no money at first of course but looking at the Amiga systems and dreaming was free!

I then started regularly talking to university students working in the Computer department in Myer City Store in Perth back then, and they regularly put on the latest demos on the Amiga 500 from Europe and games too. I used to sit there for hours just watching Scoopex and Red Sector demos run on loops and wishing I had an Amiga to run them myself...

Finally my dad decided to upgrade the Commodore 128 we had in 1988 to an 1MB expanded Amiga 500....and as you can tell, well before then I was already hooked on Amiga's! Later on we upgraded the Amiga 500 to an Amiga 2000HD in 1991. I even found an old photo of it from the early 1990's.

Students at that time were trumpeting their favourite systems they had at home - Commodore, Atari, Apple or PC clones. Rivalry between Atari ST and Amiga owners was considerable back then.

School student copy parties and swap parties were everywhere, and being at high school in Perth back then many of us brought to school our lists of games and demos we had, to swap disks for the latest stuff someone else had! We got to meet lots of new friends this way too!

With one friend of mine in particular we would sometimes play Populous on our Amiga 500 computers between our houses using our 2400 baud modems on the weekends...

Also I was using NComm on my Amiga 500 to access Bulletin Board Services (BBS) like Adam BBS (ADelaide AMiga BBS - now called ADAM Internet) and Perth based BBS's daily to get new Amiga software...still have the disks with some of the software I got back then! I even picked up plenty of public domain disks from mail order companies in Adelaide and elsewhere in Australia too..anyone remember these ones?

Later on I bought an Amiga 1200, 600, 1000, 3000, 4000D, 4000T, CD32 and many other systems too! 

Local Adelaide Amiga dealer G-Soft even did a expensive tower conversion of my Amiga 1200 into a Micronik Tower case - I no longer have the system (I sold it to get an A4000D) but still have an old photo of it from the early 2000's:

The upgrades to AmigaOS 3.5, 3.9 with new 030, 040 and 060 accelerators and graphics cards with some amazing demos from TBL kept my interest in Amigas well into the mid 2000's, when the Next Generation Amiga systems started becoming a reality.

I quickly jumped on board with a Sam 440EP in 2008, then AmigaOne X1000 in 2012 and most recently in 2015 a Sam 460Cr system, running AmigaOS 4.1 Final Edition and MorphOS 3.8 too:

Safe to say I still enjoy using Amiga systems today, Classic and Next Generation - It is still so much fun to play around with these systems!

Where do you see Amiga heading in the future?

[Epsilon]: I see the future of Amiga continuing to head on it's current course, which is a Hobby OS for Amiga and other computer enthusiasts. It will most likely never again be a mainstream operating system or hardware platform, but the small group of dedicated Amiga users around the world can continue to enjoy using their Amigas, thanks to the work of hardware and software developers continuing to push the platform slowly forward, and reminding them and us still of a time when mainstream computing was much more fun than it is now!

As a small example we can now stream internet video content on AmigaOS 4.1 Final Edition using the Odyssey web browser, including YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo and other modern websites:

  Whether people are interested in Classic Amiga systems (or emulating them on PC's and Macs), Re-implementation of Classic Amiga systems in FPGA (like Minimig, etc), or getting involved in the Next Generation Amiga systems like the AmigaOne X1000, Sam 460, Powerbook G4/PowerMac G5 systems running AmigaOS 4.1, MorphOS, and AROS on PC systems - there really is something for everyone interested in Amiga systems.

For me, I love the Classic Amiga era, and also the Next generation Amiga systems - the next generation systems are a natural evolution of the Classic Amiga operating system, brought much closer to modern operating system functionality. It doesn't replace these modern systems, but it is a lot of fun to see the boundaries continue to be pushed forward and seeing what Amiga can still do in 2015 and beyond!

Have you ever been involved in developing applications for the Amiga?

[Epsilon]: No, unfortunately I haven't to date. I was involved in the Amiga demo scene in the late 1990's forming a group called The Experience, helping to write music, graphics and code in assembly for Classic Amiga 1200 systems with 68030 accelerators.

Recently I have been doing significant quantities of pre-release software testing for AmigaOS4.1 applications for various developers.

Tell us about your experience at AmiWest – what were some memorable moments?

[Epsilon]: AmiWest 2014 was an amazing experience and for anyone who has the opportunity to visit it, I definitely recommend it!

Being able to talk directly to AmigaOS 4.1 developers like Steven Solie, AmigaOS 4.1 beta testers and the people like Matthew Leaman and Trevor Dickinson from A-EON technology (the guys behind the  AmigaOne X1000, AMIStore, and upcoming X5000 systems) was an amazing experience.

Being able to see the passion and genuine interest in the past and future of the Amiga platform was fantastic, as was being able to meet so many people I had previously only talked to on IRC. 

Having the opportunity to provide feedback and suggestions for future enhancements was also excellent! The seminars on various topics allowed all attendees to learn more about the latest releases for Next Generation and Classic Amiga systems, and get some tips and tricks on how to get the best out of them.

For me, apart from meeting some amazing people, being able to run my own seminar on how to run AmigaOS 4.1 under emulation on a normal Core i7 PC using WinUAE (and FS-UAE) was a highlight as I released just how many people were interested in doing this. 

Below is a screenshot of the latest AmigaOS 4.1 Final Edition release running in emulation under FS-UAE on my Macbook Pro Core i7 running MacOS X Yosemite:

Emulation is a cheap way to experience the Next generation Amiga systems on a modern PC, and if we can get more people to try via emulation to get a feel for whether they want to buy Next Generation Amiga systems or continue to stick with Classic Amigas, it will be a benefit for enlarging our small community.

The programming seminar held directly before AmiWest show itself is also a great opportunity to get your hands dirty learning how to code for AmigaOS 4.1, assisted by AmigaOS developers who live and breathe it everyday.

[For those interested, AmiWest is an event held in California where current and past developers of Amiga products lead seminars and discussions.  There are also other activities and particulars available at this show.  Please see here for further details.]

What do you think distinguishes Amiga from other platforms?

[Epsilon]: For Classic Amiga systems, the architecture of different chips for different functions was way ahead of it's time. It allowed the Classic Amiga to do things it's competitors could only dream of at the time, especially in graphics. Amiga Games and demos from the late 1980's and early 1990's were (in my opinion) unrivalled from any other platform available back then.

The AmigaOS itself also was easy to use and quite configurable. With the introduction of AmigaOS 3.1 we could see some very clever optimised use of memory, datatypes, language localisation and system resources to provide a full GUI that could run on a single bootable floppy disk, but scaled to large graphics workstations for TV use and much more.

The addition of commercial programs like Deluxe Paint, Fantavision, Directory Opus, Scala, NewTek Toaster, Lightwave, Final Writer, ImageFX, Octamed Soundstudio, Protracker, Music X, AMOS, Storm C, Personal Paint, Photogenics, Cinema 4D, Vista Pro, Geek Gadgets (and many others too) added a lot of new functionality and explored the potential of AmigaOS applications for commercial purposes, beyond purely games and demos for home users.

These days, the AmigaOS is the core of Next Generation Amiga systems and continues to provide the look and feel of the original Classic Amiga system, but heavily enhanced in AmigaOS 4.1 Final Edition, MorphOS 3.8 and Icaros Desktop (AROS) to provide modern functionality and new software support that could never run well on the original Classic Amiga hardware.

What specific things do you use your Amiga for – are you a gamer, programmer, artist or a bit-of- everything' person?

[Epsilon]: Primarily, I like to tinker with my Amigas - whether Classic or Next Generation systems. The same thing I have been doing in one form or another since 1988! I cover my various projects regularly on my blog to help other people out who want to see how to do things, or for people to just follow the latest developments in Amiga! 

I try out new pre-release software, get applications and games running well, and many other Amiga hardware upgrade projects too. Latest is the MultiviewerNG and Wings Battlefield software about to released for AmigaOS4.1.  I covered both and lots more on my main Amiga blog - Epsilon's Amiga X1000 Blog.

I like composing music on my Amigas when I have free time - not so much recently! This comes from my participation in the Amiga demoscene back in the day. I used to use Protracker, but then moved on to use Schismtracker (Impulsetracker - written on PC by local Adelaide uni student Jeffrey Lim) and recently started playing with the recently released Digibooster Pro 3 for AmigaOS 4.1.

I will admit to not really being much of a programmer or artist. But seeing Sketchblock on AmigaOS 4.1 demonstrated by it's author Andy "Broadblues" Broad at AmiWest 2014 has made me want to buy a Wacom tablet to get more into this area. Perhaps later this year is the time! :-)