Amiga: My Alternate History

Sat 30 March 2024 by R.L. Dane

Just a few days before Christmas Day, 1989, I excitedly carried home one of the greatest Christmas gifts I have ever received. I vaguely remember going with my stepdad to the university computer store (The "MicroCentre," it was called; no relation to the large, currently-extant computer store chain) to pick up a brand new Macintosh SE. It was to be my home computer for the next few years. Coming from my Commodore 64, this machine was an absolute beast: 1 Megabyte of RAM, a high resolution 512x342 display (no more 320x200!!), and twenty megabytes of disk?!? (along with a 1.44 MB floppy). To me, this machine was amazing, and I absolutely loved it.

I spent almost all of my free time playing around with my computer — trying to understand how it works, and what the OS and the few applications I had could do. I remember often calling my stepdad's secretary to ask her computer questions, as well as the MicroCentre's tech support line — no credit card needed! They just answered the phone and spoke to you like a human being! Truly a different era. It still impresses me that these busy college students would field questions from some random kid calling over the phone.

The Macintosh made a huge impression on me. While I'm quite a vocal and vociferous critic of Apple, Inc. today, I was an absolute fanboy in those days, to the extent that I simply could not understand why anyone would want to use a PC. DOS seemed so laughably limited to me — no immersive and easy-to-understand GUI, clearly inferior processors (at the time), really low resolution graphics, and merely two horrific-looking colors beyond black and white (if any color at all). Of course, being undiagnosed ADHD at the time certainly didn't help things. I was a capital infodumper, and while my parents tried explaining on many occasions that other people didn't necessarily share my interests, it was for naught. 😄

I woke up especially groggy this (Saturday) morning after a very long week, and started idly perusing PeerTube looking for interesting new content when I discovered a very neat new channel that I tooted about on the fediverse. One of the user's videos was explaining Amiga image formats, and I started thinking about the Amiga computer family, which I know so little about. I found myself thinking, "What if I had gotten an Amiga instead of a Macintosh??" I had played with Amigas a tiny bit during those years — I had one friend with an Amiga and a nice monitor, and I noticed that the Amiga's speech synthesis sounded suspiciously like Macintalk (I believe both were actually developed by a third party), but the graphics demos he showed me impressed me greatly. While the monitor wasn't on par with the (extremely expensive) Macintosh monitors I had seen at the University, it was still quite good, and the quality of the display itself (e.g., color depth) was earth-shattering for the time. I loved the Mac, but the Amiga's capabilities sufficiently impressed me that I remember literally dreaming about having an Amiga one night during High School.

So, time permitting, I'd like to take the next few weeks (and the next few blog posts) to explore my alternate history: What if my parents had brought me home an Amiga instead of a Mac? Knowing the budget we had at the time, the amount of software I had access to (really just basic productivity programs like MacWrite II and Microsoft Word 4.0), the amount of hardware upgrades I got over the next few years (just one RAM upgrade the next year, and an external 105MB hard disk a couple years after that), and knowing the amount of games and extra software I was given during that time (very, very few items other than readily available shareware titles), I'd like to write an alternate history (or at least an analysis of it) of my imaginary time as an Amiga user in the early 1990s.