The ever-popular Commodore Amiga 500 home computer, a retro classic, enjoys a birthday of sorts this month, since its launch was announced in January 1987, thirty years ago. However, it did not arrive in European shops until April 1987 (in the Netherlands) and May for the rest of Europe. It did not cross the Atlantic to the USA until October of that year.
The Amiga 500, also known as the A500 (or its code name Rock Lobster), was the first low-end Commodore Amiga 16/32-bit multimedia home/personal computer. It was announced at the winter Consumer Electronics Show, with took place 8-11 January 1987 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, Las Vegas, USA, together with the high-end Amiga 2000 – and was intended to compete directly against the Atari 520ST, which had beaten it to market in June 1985.
Before the Amiga 500 was shipped, Commodore suggested a list price of US$595.95 for the A500 without monitor. At US delivery in October 1987, Commodore announced that it would carry a US$699/£499 list price. In the Netherlands, the A500 was available from April 1987 for a list price of 1499 HFL.
The Amiga 500 represented a return to Commodore’s roots by being sold in the same mass retail outlets as the Commodore 64 – to which it was a spiritual successor – as opposed to the computer-store-only original Amiga 1000.
The Amiga 500 eventually proved to be Commodore’s best-selling Amiga model, enjoying particular success in Europe and the UK. Although popular with hobbyists, arguably its most widespread use was as a gaming machine, where its advanced graphics and sound were of significant benefit. Amiga 500 eventually sold 6 million units worldwide.
Today is the 40th birthday of the Apple Computer Company, which is now the world’s most valuable firm, but back when they started up their world-changing venture in Los Altos, California, USA, on 1 April, 1976, they were just three guys with a dream – to make computers for the rest of us.
Incorporated as Apple Computer, Inc. on 3 January, 1977, Apple was renamed Apple Inc. on 9 January, 2007, to reflect its shifted focus toward consumer electronics. The technology firm has risen from early days in a Californian bedroom and Steve Jobs’ family’s garage to being worth more than £486 billion ($700 billion USD).
Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne (who was to leave the company before it became a major success) joined forces to make and sell the Apple I personal computer kit. Electronics engineer and computer programmer Wozniak (now affectionately known as Woz) was the man who single-handedly designed the first and much of the second early Apples of the 8-bit era. Jobs was to become the company’s now legendary (if occasionally controversial) inspirer and marketing guru. Wayne provided administrative oversight of the fledgling start-up. He also drew the first Apple logo, wrote the three men’s original partnership agreement, and wrote the Apple I manual.
The Apple I computer kits were first shown to the public at the Homebrew Computer Club in Silicon Valley, California. Strictly a hobbyist machine, the Apple I was sold simply as a motherboard (with CPU, RAM, and basic textual-video chips), which left the buyer to sort out a power supply, keyboard and monitor. Some even built their (now exceedingly rare and valuable) Apples into wooden boxes – kind of an Apple crate, in fact! The Apple I went on sale in July 1976 and was at $666.66 ($2,772 in 2016 dollars, adjusted for inflation).
Forty years after starting up, the company now has a massive space-age headquarters in Cupertino, California (with another being built) as well as more than 480 retail stores in 18 countries worldwide and reported income of more than $18 billion US dollars – £12.4 billion – for the first quarter of this year.
Come in number ][
The Apple I became the inspiration for one of the first mass-produced home, educational and business computer systems, the Apple II (or Apple ][ )range, and the shoulders upon which the later Macintosh range, still selling in its modern incarnation today, was to stand.
Of course no company has ever had a straight line course to success, and Apple had its own ups and downs, including problems with machines such as the Apple III and sales of the later incarnations of the Mac itself in the 1990s.
The Macintosh 128k was introduced in 1984 as ‘the computer for the rest of us’. It was Steve Jobs’ pet project– a friendly alternative to the corporate, user-unfriendly, business machines, typified by the DOS-based IBM PC. The ‘Mac’, as it has been affectionately known ever since, despite then being relatively underpowered, and expensive, built upon and popularised the WIMP concepts (Windows, Icons, Mouse, Pointer) which have since inspired other companies. It was the beginning of a revolution that brings us to where personal computing is today.
Of mice and men
It’s been a decades-long roller-coaster ride that almost came off the rails in the late 1980s-1990s, when Steve Jobs was pushed out of the company in the mid-1980s after the Mac range struggled and he attempted to oust then chief executive John Sculley.
That later period also saw faltering sales, too many similar models and miniscule market share compared to IBM PC’s and the myriad cheap clones which flooded the market, but after some years spent wandering in the wilderness (Pixar and NeXT, actually) Jobs returned in triumph in 1997 at a time when Apple was suffering a financial crisis, and bringing British design guru Sir Jony Ive’s (now Sir Jony for services to design), launched the colourful and fruity iMac the following year.
Years of innovation and style icons
The iMac (aka iMac G3), effectively a return to the original Mac, albeit in a colourful and more powerful new incarnation, as the ‘computer for the rest of us’, started to turn the whole ship around, and became phenomenally popular, but was to be just the first in a string of hardware products that includes successor LCD-screen based iMacs, Power Macs and Mac Pro’s, the iPod, iPhone and iPad, as well as the iTunes Store that cemented Apple’s place as an industry leader. The non-computer products have helped buil wider acceptance and interest in the Macs, especially the new-generation iMacs, and so the wheel turns.
In the late 20th and early 21st century, the company that was born in a bedroom and a garage and that eventually gained a remarkable reputation for refining existing technologies, adding inspiration and top design, and making them mainstream, has gone from strength to strength.
The company recently revealed that there are now more than one billion active Apple devices being used around the world.
End of an era
Sadly, the inspirational marketing genius and saviour of Apple, Steve Jobs, passed away in 2011 of pancreatic cancer; the company might have wobbled a somewhat then, but has since carried steadily on with new CEO Tim Cook at the helm.
Engineer and programmer Steve Wozniak, creator of the first Apples and pioneer of the personal computer revolution, is still about, doing his own thing and being surprisingly accessible through his website www.woz.org and social media. Since being one of the top partners at Apple in the early years, he’s still technically a stipended employee and is also an Apple shareholder, but has gone on to run several companies and other ventures as well as working in academia.
Today, forty years after the firm was official incorporated as The Apple Computer Company Apple has changed the world and the way we see, hear and communicate with it.
And what about the Mac, the computer which built on Apple’s early success, struggled for a while and has now become ubiquitous? It may not be so obvious as the iPhone in millions of hands and the iPad in millions of homes, but since the arrival of OS X in 2001 there has been a steady increase in sales in its hi-tech iMacs and MacBooks in spite of a global drop in PC sales. The wheel turns.
Where the future of Apple lies has still to be determined. There’s a good chance they’ll lead the way in technology for the rest of us, one way or another. The iWatch, for one latest example, has surely been a sign of the times. Technology is all around us, worn by us, and in some cases, is inside us.
In the words of Steve Jobs, though, as long as they can keep on coming up with just ‘one more thing’, they’ll continue to be the amazing success that seemed so far away and so unlikely all those years ago.
Happy Birthday Apple, and many happy returns of the day.
Retro Computing News is produced and edited using a 2008 Mac Pro 8-core. Our editor and publisher Stuart Williams has been a Mac user since 1995, and being of a retro disposition, is currently in the process of acquiring an Apple IIe for the very first time.
Exactly four years to the day since the birth of the diminutive single-board computer – and, not coincidentally, the rebirth of the British home computer – the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B has come out roaring with its best ever spec announced officially today!
And, what better way to reward the faithful and celebrate the Pi’s birthday than to keep the same price as the last model – just $35 USD (street price typically £30 in real money)?
The Raspberry Pi Foundation, which is a UK registered charity, unleashed the original 256MB Raspberry Pi Model B on a largely unsuspecting world, which immediately reeled back in shock at the thought of a new British home computer. They then took the world by storm.
The Pi was intended primarily to become a teaching tool as much as anything else, at a time when computing education in British schools was in the doldrums and there was a massive shortage of entrants to degree level computing course at universities as a result. The ARM processor-based Pi, then, arrived at just the right time, although it soon became obvious that, while it was having some success in the more imaginative sectors of education, and indeed continues to strongly encourage the teaching of coding and the learning of languages such as Python and Scratch by students and hobbyists alike, it was of much greater interest to computer hobbyists and makers across the UK and world-wide, and sales began to run out of control, with supplies rapidly drying up until production, first in China and later in Wales, ramped up to cope with the unexpected demand.
It’s a record-breaker!
Since then, they’ve shipped over eight million units, including three million Raspberry Pi 2’s, which amazingly makes the Raspberry Pi the UK’s all-time best-selling computer, beating the popular 1980’s Amstrad PCW (8 millions units sold) and the legendary Sinclair ZX Spectrum (around 5 million sold) soundly into second and third places – though to be fair, three decades and modern technology has made the Pi far less expensive to produce – cheap as chips, to coin a phrase – and far more powerful .
The Raspberry Pi Foundation has, they say, grown from a handful of volunteers to over sixty full-time employees, including their new friends from Code Club – another exciting initiative to encourage young people into programming (or coding, as it’s fashionably referred to today!).
Pi in the sky
Astonishingly, two Raspberry Pi’s have even gone into orbit on the International Space Station with the first official British ESA astronaut, Major Tim Peake, and are even now being used to run school students’ submitted programs and train teachers around the globe through the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s Picademy programme.
Harking back to the ARM processor’s origins with legendary British computer manufacturers Acorn – who also produced another very famous Model B home and education computer, and created the ARM for the Archimedes range – the Raspberry Pi has also become the retro computing emulation station of choice for many of today’s hobbyists, and has boosted the revival of interest in Acorn’s classic RiscOS operating system, which seems entirely appropriate.
In celebration of the Foundation’s fourth birthday, and that of the Pi, they naturally thought it would be fun to release something new – and who are we to argue, we are huge fans of the Raspberry Pi, which is the last, best hope for British home computing in the 21st century!
Accordingly, Raspberry Pi 3 Model B is now on sale and features the following eye-popping specs:
A 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53 CPU (~10x the performance of Raspberry Pi 1)
Integrated 802.11n wireless LAN and Bluetooth 4.1
Complete compatibility with Raspberry Pi 1 and 2
New Broadcom-supplied system-on-a-chip (SoC), BCM2837. This retains the same basic architecture as its predecessors BCM2835 and BCM2836, so all those projects and tutorials which rely on the precise details of the Raspberry Pi hardware will continue to work.
The 900MHz 32-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A7 CPU complex has been replaced by a custom-hardened 1.2GHz 64-bit quad-core ARM Cortex-A53. Combining a 33% increase in clock speed with various architectural enhancements, this provides a 50-60% increase in performance in 32-bit mode versus Raspberry Pi 2, or roughly a factor of ten over the original Raspberry Pi.
According the Raspberry Pi Foundation website:
“James Adams spent the second half of 2015 designing a series of prototypes, incorporating BCM2837 alongside the BCM43438 wireless “combo” chip. He was able to fit the wireless functionality into very nearly the same form-factor as the Raspberry Pi 1 Model B+ and Raspberry Pi 2 Model B; the only change is to the position of the LEDs, which have moved to the other side of the SD card socket to make room for the antenna. Roger Thornton ran the extensive (and expensive) wireless conformance campaign, allowing us to launch in almost all countries simultaneously. Phil Elwell developed the wireless LAN and Bluetooth software.
“All of the connectors are in the same place and have the same functionality, and the board can still be run from a 5V micro-USB power adapter. This time round, we’re recommending a 2.5A adapter if you want to connect power-hungry USB devices to the Raspberry Pi.”
Raspberry Pi 3 is available to buy today from the Foundation’s partners element14 and RS Components, and numerous other resellers, so you’d better get stuck in and order one before they evaporate as usual!
Owners will need a recent NOOBS or Raspbian Linux image from the Foundation’s downloads page, they say. At launch, they are using the same 32-bit Raspbian userland that they use on other Raspberry Pi devices; over the next few months, they plan to investigate whether there is value in moving to 64-bit mode.
Other OS’s than Raspbian, such as the Acorn legacy system RisOS Pi, may possibly need time to catch up, depending on how compatible they are with the new Pi 3. If in doubt about RiscOS, contact ROOL.
For more general info on the new Pi 3 Model B, a FAQ about the new model, and the whole range, see the official Raspberry Pi website: https://www.raspberrypi.org/
Many happy returns!
Needless to say, Retro Computing News would like to wish both the Raspberry Pi Foundation and the Raspberry Pi itself
Today is a day which should not only inspire women to an interest in computing, but a day which we should all celebrate as having a direct link to the modern world which surrounds us in 2015 – the 200th anniversary of the birth of the legendary Ada Lovelace.
Augusta Ada King, Countess of Lovelace (1815-1852), was the English daughter of a brief marriage between the famous Romantic poet Lord Byron and Anne Isabelle Milbanke, who separated from Byron just a month after Ada was born. Four months later, Byron left England forever. Ada never met her father (who died in Greece in 1823) and was raised by her mother, Lady Byron.
Ada was a brilliant mathematician and writer, chiefly known for her work on mathematician Charles Babbage’s early mechanical general-purpose computer, the Analytical Engine. Ada met Babbage in 1833, when she was just 17, and they began an extensive correspondence on the topics of mathematics, logic, and ultimately all subjects, including his designs for the Engine. They became lifelong friends.
Her notes on the Analytical Engine include what is now recognised as the first algorithm intended to be carried out by a machine. Because of this, she is often regarded as the first computer programmer. The computer programming language, ADA, was named in her honour in 1979. Based on the language PASCAL, ADA is a general-purpose language designed to be readable and easily maintained.
In 2012 we saw, and rightly celebrated, the thirtieth birthdays of the remarkable BBC Micro and Sinclair ZX Spectrum, the two main stalwarts of the British home computer revolution of the 1980s, which remain hugely popular today with retro-computing and retro-gaming enthusiasts. Another great milestone in computing history is now imminent.
This year, 2015, now marks the thirtieth birthday of the first multi-tasking multimedia computer, the astonishing, years ahead-of-its-time Commodore Amiga.
The first model of that much-beloved series of computers, the A1000 (pictured, above), was launched in July, 1985, by the American developers Amiga Corporation , having been bought by Commodore International (creators of the legendary Commodore 64 and others). In production for just two years, the elegant and powerful A1000 was succeeded by the even more popular A500, A2000, A600, A1200, A1500, A3000 and A4000, together with other variations from the ‘mainline’ of Amiga production such as the tower computers and CD32.
More than twenty years ago, back in August 1994, Byte Magazine attempted to describe the impact of the Amiga:
“The Amiga was so far ahead of its time that almost nobody—including Commodore’s marketing department—could fully articulate what it was all about. Today, it’s obvious the Amiga was the first multimedia computer, but in those days it was derided as a game machine because few people grasped the importance of advanced graphics, sound, and video. Nine years later, vendors are still struggling to make systems that work like 1985 Amigas.”
Derided, perhaps, by the blinkered business community, but not by legions of home computer enthusiasts looking for a step up in computing power and versatility, and certainly not by artists such as Andy Warhol and TV series creators such as J. Michael Straczynski, who used a group of networked A2000’s with Video Toaster boards to create the revolutionary digital special effects for the equally legendary sci-fi series ‘Babylon 5’.
Sadly, the original Commodore Amiga series ceased production in 1996, and their successors have apparently not seen any great commercial success in the hands of various companies, though Amiga enthusiasts live in hope.
Today, the legacy of the Amiga mostly exists in the hands of retro-computing and retro-gaming fans and collectors preserving and enjoying the remaining original hardware and prolific range of software – and in emulation, where variations on the original Amiga operating systems and more advanced successor software and cloned hardware are still in use today as a niche product, largely for enthusiasts.
Still, the legend and spirit of Amiga, which is irrepressible, remains, and despite the original Commodore company now being long-defunct, the flaming torch of the Amiga continues to be held aloft by a dedicated band of followers and retro computing enthusiasts, world-wide.
International Amiga Day 2015
Which is why, just a little over a week from now, we, and they, will be celebrating International Amiga Day – on 31 May 2015, the birthday of Mr Jay Miner, who was head engineer of Amiga Corporation, and is seen as the ‘father of the Amiga’.
If you visit the Amiga Day Facebook group founded last year by the late Dragon “Gyu” Gyorgy, who sadly passed away at the beginning of 2015., you will discover the admins and members of the group ‘keeping the flame’, and they have made this declaration:
“This year, 2015, the Amiga will be 30 years old!
We celebrate on the 31st May, Amiga “Father” Jay Miner’s birthday (1932).
We, Amiga users hereby declare the 31st of May as international day of the Amiga, the Home Computer that made us so much fun, that made us begin a career, that made us think differently about computers and games and made us a lot of friends with Amigas.
Amiga is Forever and We really want that to happen. Please share the idea with your
Amigan friends to keep the Amiga flame forever!” Dragon “Gyu” Gyorgy, 2014
International Amiga Day: 31st May 2015: How to join in:
It’s easy: On International Amiga Day do any of the following Amigan activities:
Switch on at least 1 Amiga computer.
Run at least 1 Amiga game (emulator is accepted).
Pamper your Amiga: Repair your Amiga; “Whiten” a yellowed Amiga; Change the condensers … do the job you need to do to make your Amiga function better!
Make a working Amiga from all your spare parts!
Wear your Amiga T-shirt.
Use your Amiga to make a demo, a graphic or music …
Take a photo of your Amiga collection.
Most importantly, be imaginative and do something special with your Amiga and share with the group!!”
Why not take the opportunity, this coming International Amiga Day, to find out more about this remarkable series of computers and software, and the equally remarkable community which keeps its legacy alive?
Better yet, get your own Amiga – and join in the fun!