November 6th 2006: Genesi announces that the Pegasos G4, the last shipping Amiga-compatible computer, has been discontinued. Its successor, the Efika, is available in single-unit quantities for developers and system integrators.
December 24th 2006: Hyperion Entertainment announces the release of Amiga OS 4.0.
March 25th 2007: Hyperion and Acube Systems announce a partnership to sell OS4 for various PowerPC Amigas.
April 3rd 2007: the first Efika-based machine, Efika Open Client, goes on sale.
April 22nd 2007: Amiga, Inc. announces that new Amiga hardware is âon its way".
April 26th 2007: Amiga, Inc. sues Hyperion Entertainment for trademark infringement and contract violation.
In other words, the ongoing situation comedy-stroke-soap opera that is the story of the Amiga continues apace. You still can't buy any of the things, mind you, but there are lots of announcements to read.
Last year, we reported that the Amiga was inching closer to rebirth with the long-awaited release of AmigaOS 4.0 - the new PowerPC-native version of the classic AmigaDOS from the 1980s. We caused great ire to Amiga fans around the world by pointing out in the same article that the last Amiga-compatible PowerPC computer, the Pegasos, had just recently gone out of production. I received many emails telling me that I was an idiot because the Pegasos wouldn't run AmigaOS 4.0 anyway. (OS4, even in its several preliminary beta versions, requires special Amiga Inc.-authorized firmware.) I was even contacted by the CEO of Amiga, Inc., Bill McEwen, who took issue with some of my comments - although he didn't reply to my requests for clarification or more information.
Last week, the Inq reported that AInc had announced new hardware coming soon. Not the machine that was being exhibited at Amiga shows last year under the codename Samantha" - now more formally known as the Sam440 from ACube. Bizarrely enough, there's no mention of that whatseover, even though AInc's McEwen publically talked about it last year.
And naturally, it's not the Efika, which is technically perfectly capable of running OS4, because Amiga Inc and Genesi don't get on.
No, the new hardware is from a new entrant in this ongoing game: Canadian company ACK Software Controls. We'd link to its website, but it doesn't seem to have one - indeed, the only email address we could find for ACK's president, Adam Kowalczyk, is on MSN Canada. Guess he's a Microsoft user, then.
So now what's happened?
But four days after AInc announced the new machines - which are PowerPC-based and therefore presumably are intended to be OS4 boxes - it sues Hyperion, the authors of OS4! WTF, you might well ask, is going on?
Well, at the moment, it's not clear. You can read the court filing yourself (2.2MB PDF).
In brief, it goes like this. AInc states that it decided to produce a PowerPC version of AmigaOS in 2001 and on November 3, 2001 signed a contract with Hyperion (a developer of games for PowerPC Amigas as well as Linux and Macintosh) to write it. The contract gave Hyperion access to the sources of the last Commodore version, AmigaOS 3.1.
(In another fun little detail in this epic, AInc didn't develop AmigaOS 3.5 and 3.9 itself - they were done by German developers Haage & Partner.)
AInc also says that its contract allowed Hyperion to use Amiga trademarks in the promotion of OS4 on Eyetech's AmigaOne and stipulated that Hyperion should make its best efforts to deliver OS4 by March 1st 2002. Your humble reporter is not a software developer but cannot help but note that November '01 to March '02 is just four months - not very long for a complete rewrite of an elderly operating system for an entirely different processor architecture.
AInc also says that the contract permitted AInc to buy the full sources of OS4 back from Hyperion for US$25,000 - which seems like a bargain price to me, even for such a minority product. The court filing says that AInc paid this in April-May 2003, to keep Hyperion from going bankrupt, and that between then and November 21st 2006 AInc paid another $7,200 then $8,850 more which it says Hyperion said was owing.
(Doesn't seem a lot of money, does it, compared to, say, the $400 million that Apple paid for NeXT in 1996? Mind you, Microsoft paid Seattle Computer Products $25,000 to develop MS-DOS and then bought all the rights for a further $50,000 - but that was in 1981.)
In the filing, McEwen says that AInc still hasn't received the sources for OS4, that he's discovered that much of its development was outsourced to third parties and contract developers and that it's not clear if Hyperion has all the rights to this external work. So, after five years and $41,050, on 21st November 2006, AInc told Hyperion it had violated the contract and gave it thirty days to sort it out - to finish the product and hand over the sources. This didn't happen, so the contract terminated on 20th December 2006.
Four days later, Hyperion released the final version of OS4 - although AInc says that Hyperion claims that this was merely an update of the developers' preview version of 16th April 2004.
Since the contract ended, Hyperion has no rights to use the name Amiga" or any Amiga intellectual property, nor to market OS4 or enter into any agreements about it with anyone else.
And that's about it. The suit doesn't appear to be after money - AInc don't want damages, they want to get control of OS4 and to prevent Hyperion selling it, either on new hardware - Acube's Sam440 machines - or on machines based on AmigaOne motherboards. There won't be any new AmigaOnes since Eyetech has left the market.
Sadly, without seeing Hyperion's side of the story, AInc's case looks pretty good. They paid for OS4 to be written and they provided Hyperion with the old sources to allow it to happen. Now they want it back.
The bigger picture
For those who were watching these developments as they happened, things look a little different.
For a start, who or what is Amiga, Inc.?
The story is laid out in the court document. After Commodore went under in 1994, its name and IP rights, including Amiga, were sold to Escom. Escom kept the Amiga stuff and sold the Commodore name on to Tulip. Escom went broke in 1997 and sold the Amiga IP to Gateway 2000. On 27th December 1999, Gateway sold the Amiga name and rights to Bill McEwen and Barrie Jon Fleecy" Moss (with additional backing), who set up Amiga Inc. on 3rd January 2000.
But it's not as simple (hah!) as that. On the same date as Amiga signed the contract with Hyperion, another company, KMOS, Inc., bought the Amiga name and rights. A little over four years later, on 31st January 2005, KMOS changed its name to Amiga, Incorporated.
It looks to me like there are some shadowy, un-named financial backers involved here, possibly even multiple sets. The main reason that so many companies have been interested in Amiga over the years is the patents that went with it: the original Amiga Corporation, founded by Jay Miner and Larry Caplin in 1982 and bought out by Commodore two years later, got 47 patents out of the development of the machine that was codenamed Lorraine" - seventeen of them for video-related technologies.
From the start of Amiga, Inc. in its new, twenty-first century guise, the company seemed to be primarily interested in an entirely new project: AmigaAnywhere. This was a platform based on the small UK developer Tao Group's "int ent" OS. [Don't blame me - that's how they spell it. Small 'i', bold 'e'.] It's hard to describe int ent, because it's so utterly unlike any other OS. Essentially, it's a highly parallel, object-oriented microkernel OS that runs on networks of heterogenous processors. All int ent code, including the majority of the OS itself, is compiled for the int ent Virtual Processor and the OS only translates it to native machine code when it's loaded from disk - so any int ent binary can run unmodified on any supported processor: ARM, PowerPC, x86 and others. It's vaguely like the Java Virtual Machine, but it's much smaller and faster and as well as running on top of another OS, like a JVM, it can also run on the bare metal of various computers.
Think of existing symmetrical multi-processor machines. All the processors must be absolutely identical - not only the same model and speed, but identical steppings, or it won't work. In contrast, int ent could run on a single machine with one Intel x86 chip, one AMD x86 chip, one PowerPC and one ARM processor - well, if such a machine existed. A single multi-threaded program could be running on all those processors at once. There is nothing else quite like it in the world, nor ever has been.
What Amiga did with AmigaAnywhere was layer on top of int ent a set of multimedia and gaming APIs, plus an accompanying set of cross-platform development tools called AmigaDE, to make it easier and quicker for developers to create applications for any int ent platform. The same binary could run natively on an int ent workstation, or inside a web browser, or on a mobile phone or PDA - literally, anywhere.
Tao's int ent is a classic British success story: a world-beating, unrivalled technology with massive potential, which hasn't actually got very far. What int ent has actually become, in the market, is a tiny, fast JVM - it mainly sells to the companies who write the software powering cellphones. For Amiga, this means that AmigaAnywhere has become a tool for developing games for mobiles. This is potentially quite a big market, but not as big as the company had once hoped.
What's going on now?
Well, I'm not privy to any details, but here's my take on it.
AmigaAnywhere has not proved to be a big deal, which was led AInc to taking an increased interest in AmigaOS 4. It wasn't much bothered before - after all, just a year after AInc incorporated, it licensed AmigaOS out to Hyperion for them and Eyetech to build PowerPC-based Amigas. At the same time, AInc sold off the Amiga rights to KMOS. At the time, it probably looked like the right thing to do - the Amiga was dead and gone with little future potential, whereas AmigaAnywhere looked like it could be huge.
But actually, AmigaAnywhere has become Amiga Nowhere, while the poor old Amiga fans from the 1980s, kicked from pillar to post when they weren't being completely ignored, are still loyal to their beloved platform.
For a while, it looked like salvation was Genesi and the Amiga-compatible Morphos, but Genesi found out that there was more money to be made selling PowerPC workstations running Linux, and Morphos has rather languished in recent years.
But at last, Hyperion has finished OS4. It's taken five years, which is a long time, but producing a modern PowerPC OS that's compatible with a floppy-based 68000 OS from the early 1980s is not easy - especially not for a tiny company. AInc didn't seem all that interested and has only paid $40K towards it - less than the cost of employing even a handful of coders for five years.
Now that OS4 is here, hardware is being designed for it. Little cheap PowerPC motherboards based around Systems on a Chip (SoCs), such as ACK's new motherboard, the Sam440 - and indeed the Efika. Hyperion seems no more willing to deal with Genesi than AInc, but it's got a product and it wants to sell it, which seems fair enough.
But AInc doesn't want that to happen. In its new shape as the former KMOS, it owns the name and the rights to AmigaOS, and if anyone's going to make money out of Amigas, it's going to be AInc. Last year, AInc CEO McEwen was happily talking about new, Sam440-based Amigas. But as it came up to five years since the deal was struck with Hyperion with nothing to show for it, AInc got annoyed and ended the deal. Hyperion responded by announcing that OS4 was, in fact, finished after all and made its own deal with the group of companies behind the Samantha to launch new PowerPC machines running AmigaOS 4.
The snag is, it's not their name. Hyperion wrote OS4, but it doesn't own it, and without Ainc's permission, it can't use the Amiga name, nor even sell OS4. It looks from the March announcement that it's decided to do so anyway and AInc has responded in the only way it can as the owner of the name and the rights - by suing.
It looks suicidal, but there's a majestic inevitability to it all. Now, there's a trans-Atlantic battle brewing over the corpse of the Amiga, between North America - Amiga, Inc. in the USA and ACK Software Controls in Canada - versus Europe: Hyperion in Belgium and ACube in Italy.
Whoever wins, it's a safe bet they're not going to make much money out of it. At the end of the day, the only people who really stand to lose are the loyal Amiga fans. µ
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