“The Future Was Here: Commodore Amiga” Review

Hardcover copy of "The Future Was Here: Commodore Amiga", by Jimmy Maher.

Hardcover copy of “The Future Was Here: Commodore Amiga”, by Jimmy Maher.

Published in 2012 under the Platform Studies series by MIT Press, Jimmy Maher’s “The Future Was Here – Commodore Amiga1 is, without a doubt, the single most comprehensive study of the Amiga yet published.  The book is throughly researched, as evidenced by the copious footnotes and bibliography.  That said, this is an academic book and may be too technically in-depth for casual fans of the Amiga or computer history. “The Future Was Here” does focus on what made the Amiga an important system in computing history.  While the book probably deserves a place in the library of most serious Amiga fans, those people looking for a great story about the history of the Amiga are likely to be a bit disappointed.

Maher pulls no punches, as it should be for an scholarly examination. Very early on in Chapter 1, he makes clear that he sees the Amiga as a “pioneering platform”, but also flawed in ways that aided its demise – beyond the bungling and mismanagement from Commodore. In the same chapter, he writes:

The Amiga was far from a perfect creation even in its time… these (imperfection) points become especially important to make when one confronts a certain narrative about the Amiga that has become the dominant one in many computing circles, which almost deifies the platform

The author continues;

Although Commodore did the Amiga very few favors, I believe many of the reasons for the Amiga’s downfall can be found not in external factors, but within the core design – ironically, the very same design that made it such a remarkable machine in 1985.

I won’t share any spoilers as to what Maher believes the Amiga’s design flaws to be, but he does address those throughout the book. I largely agree with many of his conclusions, and have touched some of those issues in my own history of Jay Miner and the development of the Amiga 1000, writing;

In retrospect, Jay Miner’s vision of a computer that uses a limited external-chassis bus for expansion, is quaintly stuck in the late 70’s/early 80’s. The Amiga 1000, while a beautiful industrial design, is a flawed computer. But the Amiga concept – of a fast and powerful multimedia computer, driven by co-processors for graphics, sounds, input/output, etc, and paired with an equally powerful operating system – was game changing.

To be totally fair, Maher is not universally critical of the Amiga, far from it, he writes;

The seeds of the future, of desktop systems that no longer seemed like toy versions of their larger (mainframe, institutional computing) cousins… are here (in the Amiga).  As the first mainstream PC OS to support multitasking, the Amiga’s OS redefined the way we interact with computers.

In the book he credits the Amiga, not just for the standard ‘visionary multimedia machine’ reasons, but sees the vibrant user community that grew around the Amiga as the nascent beginning of the Open-Source movement. Maher concludes;

The Amiga impacted the culture of computing in another significant way: in drawing together a community of users who shared code and labor in an effort to further and sustain the platform. If there was one article of faith among Amiga users, it was that Amiga’s corporate parent, Commodore, was incompetent and unworthy of the technology it had managed to acquire.

“The Future Was Here: Commodore Amiga” is broken down into nine chapters.  The first one-and-a-third chapters cover the history of the development of the A1000 in pretty good depth, and the last two-thirds of Chapter two offer an incredible history of the development of the Boing demo.  Chapters three through eight are detailed histories of important Amiga software or hardware, such as Electronic Art’s Deluxe Paint series. and products like NewTek’s Video Toaster.  Still other chapters examine; video game companies Cinemaware and Psygnosis, the AmigaOS, and the AmigaDemo scene. Due to the academic nature of the book, each of these chapters can become highly technical.  For example, the chapter on Deluxe Paint includes 12 pages of detail into how the additions of Extra-Half-Brite (EHB) and Overscan modes in Deluxe Paint III were accomplished.

Overall, “The Future Was Here: Commodore Amiga” is a strong book.  While it may be too-much for a casual fan, or some ‘oh, I owned one of those back-in-the-day!” folks.  For students of computing history, it is a vital resource.  And, for any serious/hard-core Amiga fans and collectors, it – along with “Commodore Amiga: A Visual Commpendium” – is a must-have.

The Future Was Here – Commodore Amiga, by Jimmy Maher2 – 

Pros:

  • The best, most comprehensive, study of the history and significance of the Amiga platform.
  • Terrific depth and detail

Cons:

  • Not a great ‘story of the Amiga’ book.
  • Technical details may overwhelm casual or non-technical readers, who – to be fair – are unlikely to be reading this book.

Verdict = For its target-audience, highly recommended!

References   [ + ]

1, 2. Amazon Referral Link

Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80's, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP's in the mid 1990's. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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