Amiga preps dual-OS plan, outlines hardware line-up
Sounds good, but hasn't Be been here before?
Amiga, inc. is turning itself into Be, if this weekend's revelations from the Amiga 2000 show, held in St. Louis, are anything to go by. During the show, the company said it had entered into partnerships with a series of companies, most notably Sun, Red Hat and Corel, put Java at the forefront of its software efforts and outlined its hardware plans. The key announcement on the hardware front was an upcoming developer-oriented machine, designed to get coders working with Amiga's software technology as quickly as possible. Based on a 500MHz AMD K6-II and 64MB of RAM, it's not exactly the most powerful box out there, but it should be cheap. Nvidia will provide the graphics engine, a GeForce 256, though the company itself now has much bigger fish to fry thanks to its X-Box partnership with Microsoft. Curiously, the developer machine - which bears a broad similarity to Be's original BeBox, at least in terms of target user - will run Red Hat Linux, though again this seems to be an interim measure to get Amiga's technology into the broader development community. That explains the deal with Red Hat. Amiga describes Red Hat as a strategic partner, but it's important perhaps not to read too much into that, since the phrase 'strategic partner' means little more than 'supplier', these days. Anyone who uses Java is a Sun strategic partner, and since Amiga's technology is based on that language, it can claim to be one too. The details at this point are a little vague, so it's not clear whether Amiga's technology is fully Java-based or whether, like Apple's Cocoa API (aka Yellow Box, aka OpenStep) it's simply programmed using Java. Either way, Sun likes it. Linux or Tao - it's your choice What it will do is clear: provide consumer devices with full multimedia and Internet functionality. That's essentially the plan laid down at Amiga last year when it was owned by Gateway, and was the basis for then CEO Tom Schmidt's 'software only' strategy. The core OS back then was Linux, not the more recently announced Tao kernel, but it's noteworthy that the initial use of Red Hat suggests that Linux support hasn't been abandoned. And Corel's support suggest it never will be. Corel likes Amiga's technology since it will provide its version of Linux with a consistent set of consumer-oriented features (the more server-oriented Red Hat is probably less bothered about this, though that might change, and having not bought Be, it might now be interested in acquiring Amiga) with which to compete with Windows. From the Corel connection, it's not hard to imagine a two-pronged Amiga strategy: on the one hand it can provide manufacturers with a robust embedded OS (Tao) with its own APIs sitting on top of it, but for those who have already committed themselves to the open source OS, well, they can use Amiga's APIs, too. Be's been here before That compares with Be's Internet appliance strategy, launched earlier this year, which has the BeOS' rich multimedia and Internet APIs sitting on top of the BeOS kernel, together called BeIA. is also open sourcing its front end, so there's a possible route to market via Linux here too. Amiga's current strategy closely follows Schmidt's, the big differences being the support for the existing Amiga community, through application support and retaining the hardware connection. The latter may prove a problem is it did for Be and, before it, NeXT. Will Amiga be able to sell enough to make money - or at least allow money made elsewhere (licensing its software technology, presumably) to subsidise what it looses on hardware? The company's focus on an embedded OS should help, since it reduces the hardware's horsepower requirements, but it's still going to be difficult to build a hardware business. Amiga hopes to have consumer machines out by the end of the year, though the schedule is broad and largely governed by the speed of other development efforts. The developer machine should ship much sooner, possibly as early as May. Either or both should keep the Amiga die-hards happy, and still allow Amiga, as a company, to move forward to tackle new markets instead of old ones. The snag is that it's up against Be - not to mention Microsoft's own 'embedded NT' efforts, which will power the X-Box and other dedicated devices, and other schemes to add multimedia features to embedded versions of Linux. Unlike many of these - and Be in particular - Amiga's plan takes in a number of possible core OS choices and processor choices, making it arguably the more flexible approach out there. Assuming, of course, it can deliver. ® Related Stories Be launches info appliance OS Gateway sells Amiga to ex-Amiga employee Amiga users demand open source AmigaOS Amiga CEO confirms software-only strategy