How and when had all begun?
Now the Amiga-History ...

Page: History I / History II

The beginning
A girlfriend called "Lorraine"
The women of the Commodore
More is often less

Commodore was already founded in 1958 in Canada by Jack Tramiel and was in the beginning a manufacturer of mechanical typewriters and distributed them just as mechanical adding machines and office furniture. The german branch, the Commodore Büromaschinen GmbH, was founded in 1971 in Frankfurt.

In the 70's Commodore went into the computer market. Very important for that was the buying of MOS Technologies in 1976 who designed processors, for example the processor 6502. These processore were installed in Commodore's computers in the next couple of years. In 1977 was the first cheap microcomputer, the PET, released. It was almost completely build of parts of the MOS-production. Together with the Apple II and the Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80 it has the reputation to be the first micro- or desktopcomputer. The PET was one of the first computers anybody could buy and showed that computers in offices or at home could be accepted. With this model and the following ones, mainly constructed for office use, Commodore became quickly famous.

1981 the VC20 reached the market. It was global sold more than 1.3 million times. With that success the VC20 was one of the most sold homecomputers. Already one year later Commodore released the C64. With more than 22 million sold pieces is it the most sold computer worldwide of all times; the german part counts round 2 million. Sometimes the share of the market was over 75%! What this computer could do was sensational. With the C64 came the breakthrough for Commodore.
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In the very same year there was a playing console in the planning stage which should become a revolution for the videogame-market. Jay Miner, who developed the graphic-chips for the Atari models 2600 and 400/800 and was now working on cardiac pacemaker-chips for the company Zymos, was contacted by Larry Kaplan (a collegue of Jay at his time working for Atari) who wanted to found a videogame-company. Together with David Morse and some other investors the company "Hi Toro" was founded which was renamed in "Amiga" shortly after that. The first name reminds of lawn mowers so it was looked for a more friendly name (in fact it existed for real a company with a name sounds like that). So the spanish word for girlfriend was choosen. For outside "Amiga Corp." was designing high-quality joysticks in Silicon Valley. Since his time at Atari Jay Miner wanted to develop a computer with the new chip of Motorola, the 68000. It should be a videogame-console which can be upgraded to a computer, for the beginning just with an option for a keyboard and a disk drive.

In 1983 after a couple of months Amiga Corp. got its first crisis as the videogame-market broke down. The homecomputer age started since Commodore released its VC20 and C64 and everybody wanted to own one of these things. After internal quarrel and some changings the console were put into a big case and called "Lorraine".

Until the CES in january 1984 they were tinkering at "Lorraine". Words like "Zorro", "Beep" and "HAM" used 'til today were developed. And of course the Amiga-logo, the "Boing-Ball" (Commodore used a multicolored hook). There was great interest but no financial support. So they got their second crisis and were forced to sale in fall 1984.
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Jack Tramiel, who was fired in the meantime by the chairman of the supervisory board of his own company, bought meanwhile the shaken firm Atari. He wanted to take over Amiga Corp. for low and just using the technology. But the final word was that Commodore bought Amiga for 27.1 million dollar and took over the technology and the workers. Atari was processing versus Commodore to finally get the special chips. But Commodore said that Tramiel enticed some important engineers and developers away. So arised the war between Amiga and Atari.

Because of these delays they had no deals on christmas and the CES 1985 started without Commodore, too. Because of problems with the operating system they started a cooperation with MetaComCo who brought the CLI and other very important routines. This computer, which was later renamed in Amiga 1000, was the first one with two operating surfaces. With unbelievable 4096 colors, stereo sound and different videosignals it was the first video handling-homecomputer and was openly introduced on july 23, 1985.

"If you are interested in history you would mark this date; at this day the IBM PCs, Apple Macs and dozens other silicon wonders of the decade are the past."
- Benn Dunnington, INFO Magazine, Sept/Oct 1985.

In the very same year Commodore released the C128 who should continue the success of the C64. Too similar to be better the production was stopped shortly after that. In fact it reached acceptable sales, indeed the C64 was produced a longer time.

After a couple of years of development and rumours the following models Amiga 2000 and Amiga 500 could be released in 1987 at the CES. This was the place "Lorraine" was renamed to Amiga 1000. The Amiga 2000 was designed to be the high-end model for professional use in offices. The Amiga 500 should be the low-end model for use at home. All periphery was build in just one case so it could be sold much cheaper than the Amiga 1000. The Amiga-Boom came with the Amiga 500.
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In the middle of the 80's Commodore constructed the IBM-compatible PC-series. With models like the PC10 or the PC20 (which were successful in their beginning) Commodore wanted to become famous in the office-world, too. But this try wasn't very effective. In the USA the image as a gamecomputer-company was dominating. And in the following years Commodore couldn't loose this image. So they were forced to close the PC-section in 1990 'cause the share of the market was too small.

Between the CeBit 1987 and 1990 the hardware-development was stagnating of course the sales. A whole year Commodore had no new products to show. New software was also rare except of a mass of games. First in 1988 they reached their first magic number - 1 million sold A500. The second million-border was reached two and a half years later, mainly in Germany. Not until that came the boom in the UK with one million sold Amigas.

On April 24, 1990 the Amiga 3000 and AmigaVision was shown in the Palladium of NY. With the capabilities of the new computer and its new software Commodore won an actual application area: Amiga could deliver what Apple called "Multimedia"! The Amiga 3000 had the 32-bit-architecture and the new OS 2.0.

Six weeks later Commodore presented at the CES Chicago a Amiga-CD-"hermaprodite" called CDTV (Commodore Dynamic Total Vision). In mind that enough software is available Commodore released the CDTV first in 1991. No stones were lying on their way to the future.

But what now happened was typical for Commodore. As you could see in the »Deathbed-Vigil«-Video* "they tore the defeat of the claws of success". Commodore had much profits with the Amiga but the way down had begun; the top was reached. Wrong decisions of the management, some flops and the profit, which was taken for the PC-line, were shaking Commodores throne.

One big wrong decision was to stop the production of the A500 and to exchange it for the A500+ with the new ECS-chipset. Suddenly many games won't run. Protests of the game-developers were no help, Commodore kept its way. In fact that they needed much room for the A500+ there was a big selling off. All of the old A500 were sold below the old price - a big losing deal. And now was the time they were forced to close the PC-line. Meanwhile the design of the AA-chipset was ready but the management stopped the installation. The planned very-low-end Amiga 300 for absolute computer-beginners was technically changed and released as Amiga 600 which should replace the A500. These computer hadn't the performance but was more expensive. The next one they had planned was the Amiga 2200 which should fill the gap between A300 and A3000 but all branch offices rejected it. The financial crisis became bigger.
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Finally now the A(G)A-chips had green light. The blueprints of the A3000+ and the A2200 were used for the A4000. And OS 3.0 were also released. For low-end the A1200 was developed which has had nice capabilities. Unfortunately it came too late for the christmas-business and the demand was bigger than the supply. Great disaster: Nobody wanted to buy the A600 'cause of the A1200 and the A3000 'cause of ECS. The losses were high. The CDTV was also a flop because its technology was in comparison with the new models old. Keep in mind that the CDTV was a small sensation at its release.

In 1993 the CD32 was developed which based on the A1200. It was a console but could be upgraded to a fully functional computer. But from now the time ran quick. Commodore had only money for a serial production of 100.000 pieces left; 50.000 pieces only in the UK. The »Deathbed-Vigil«-Video shows that Commodore with 400.000 pieces would have been survived.

Commodore reached its end in April 1994. There was no more money left for new developments although the AAA-chips were existing as prototypes. They were only working at the MPEG-module for the CD32, the A4000T and the new OS 3.1. After they also had lost many shares of the market to Sega and Nintendo there were now only 30 people working from more than 1000 at its height.

On April 29. some branch offices submitted the liquidation on the Bahamas. Commodore went bankrupt.
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* Info »Deathbed-Vigil«-Video:

»The Deathbed Vigil - and other tales of digital angst« are private recordings of Dave Haynie which were filmed in the last days of Commodore in West Chester. The video shows the final rest of the fabrication and warehouses, the offices of different members of the development-crew, the "dismissal-party", the opinions of some developers about the end of Commodore and the reasons. And the history of the last years will also be shown on some notice boards.

The in 1994 released video is a part of the actual version 5.0 of the emulation-CD "Amiga Forever" which can be ordered at Cloanto.