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While I never play as much interactive fiction as I think I "ought" to, I do still manage to keep up with the Planet IF aggregator. One of the more notable weblogs I've come to follow through it is Jimmy Maher's The Digital Antiquarian, working its way through the history of home computing and certain kinds of computer games. At the moment it's just rounding out 1981, with the IBM PC just introduced but the games continuing to be presented in their Apple II versions. When Maher mentioned he'd just had a book published that stepped several years ahead of that, though, I began thinking about getting a copy of it.

I can't remember ever having seen a Commodore Amiga computer in the 1980s and 1990s, just as I can't remember ever having seen an Atari ST or even a Commodore 64. My family does have one issue of Amiga World magazine, though, from late in 1992, right around the time I suppose my father must have been thinking it was about time to lower the Tandy Color Computer flag at last with Radio Shack no longer selling them and spend rather more money than that home computer had cost on a new system. For all that the magazine must have helped me be aware on some level of the Amiga's existence, it might also have suggested things were no longer quite what they'd been with that computer. Whatever the exact cause, we wound up following a path first put down when my father had managed to get his employer to pay for a pricy Macintosh SE/30. In the years since then, though, I have grown as curious about the Amiga as about any of the other "old computers" I hadn't quite seen when they were still being sold, even if I was aware I lacked the attachment others maintain to it, dwelt on as both ahead of its time and taken before its time. Learning something about the Amiga from someone whose breadth of view I already had a sense of did seem interesting.

"The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga" is a book in the "Platform Studies" series, and contains strong doses of technical detail. While it may not be a "history of a company," though, it does summarise the creation of the computer during a careful explanation of how the famous "Boing" demo worked (the explanation did leave me thinking the "bouncing ball" programs I'd seen for the Color Computer 3, even with its simpler hardware, might not be that different under the surface after all; of course, as others have said the Amiga demo had sound and could run in the background) and how the platform developed in parallel with a description of the versions of Deluxe Paint. I'd heard how Amigas were used to create the first "fan subtitles" for anime back when they were passed from hand to hand on videocassette; that, though, just fell under the general category of "superimposing graphics on video" described in the book. There was also a detailed explanation of the demoscene as developing from introductions attached to games in lieu of copy protection.

After some gentle comments at points in the book about community perceptions of the engineers who had created the Amiga and its custom hardware, Maher at last suggests the tight integration of processor and chips might in the end have played a role (along with the familiar, but not painfully described, weaknesses of management) in the Amiga's capabilities at last being passed by the other platforms still standing in the early 1990s. As for the thesis of the book that the Amiga was the first computer able to bring the real world in and reach out to it in turn, though, I did wind up concluding I could agree with it. I had wondered before reading the book about the digitization technologies and codecs like QuickTime and MP3, but even if the Amiga just helped to push towards them that was significant too. Even as I kept noticing the reminders of how much more expensive the Macintosh was than the Amiga, I did remember it being pointed out how five hundred dollars of the Macintosh's price had been added at the last minute to pay for a media blitz, something the Amiga didn't get. I also noticed a comment about effort being expended on the uncompleted development of the "Commodore 65" where the Amiga 500 could have been promoted and thought of the complaints that Apple should have treated the Apple II with greater respect and dignity, because after all it had paid the bills while the Macintosh had struggled forward. Beyond that, though, I suppose I was also surprised to find a little bit of "pathetic home team pride" in learning that NewTek's founder and president Tim Jenison had worked at the Color Computer software company ColorWare and developed "Coco Max," a MacPaint clone at a lower resolution that was even described in the book as "very impressive."

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