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How a stupid patent killed off one of the most innovative computers and company, the Commodore Amiga.

Before I go to bed, to continue on the Amiga theme (caused because +Matt Mastracci brought up Babylon5 which was produced using Amiga Video Toasters early on), hear the tale of how a patent on Exclusive OR (XOR) killed Commodore by killing off their cash cow on the eve of success.

Now, there are many reasons for Commodore's ultimate demise, the company was poorly managed and was on the ropes several times, but had an awesome engineering team that continued to churn out innovations in hardware and software.

A long time ago, Commodore introduced the Amiga 1000, a revolutionary computer, in 1985: hi-res color graphics, 4096 colors, playfield and sprite hardware, hardware blitter, a video co-processor, 16-bit sound, and a true preeemptive multitasking mouse-based OS. It was based on what became known as the Amiga Chipset (Agnus, Denise, and Paula) responsible for its graphics and sound.

Commodore later introduced a cheaper version (Amiga 500) and a more expandable desktop version (Amiga 2000) using the same chipsets, and for awhile, the Amiga stagnated. Things changed when Commodore introduced the Advanced Graphics Architecture (AGA) chipset, and with it, the Amiga 600 and Amiga 1200.

But by then, the PC world had started to catch up, VGA graphics were already displaying a palette 262k colors at higher resolutions (albeit, they had no sprites or special playfield hardware). Commodore realized that the AGA chipset would make a really great games system (they had tried and failed with CDTV), and created the Amiga CD32. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amiga_CD32)

It seems they pretty much "bet the farm" on CD32, depleting most of their cash reserves, but their instincts seemed to be on the right track, as they would have beat the PlayStation to market by 2 years, enough time to build up a sizable base.

There's just one problem: a judge ruled in favor of an injunction preventing CD32's from being sold in the US, as a result, huge inventory for an American launch piled up in the Phillipines.

Why the injunction? CadTrack held a patent for the XOR cursor, won in court, and Commodore was forced to pay up $10 million (which it apparently didn't have), and because it didn't pay up, the judge banned the CD32 from sale. Of course, like throwing a debtor into debtor prison, they couldn't sell the stockpiled CD32s for the US to pay their bills, money which they also wanted to use to pay the Phillipine factories.

Commodore thus, was forced to declare bankruptcy, the beginning of the end.

But where would we be if companies were prevented from "protecting" the "massive amount of research and development that goes into software patents", because, um, Exclusive-OR is so kick ass, everyone should be paying CadTrack for the huge innovation they developed.

As Will Ferrell said, sometimes I feel like I'm taking crazy pills!
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24 comments
 
Sadly, while I still have my other Amigas (1000's, 2000), both my CD32's were stolen many years ago. I really REALLY liked the CD32, and things would have been different had Commodore not gone belly up.
 
"It seems they pretty much "bet the farm" on CD32, depleting most of their cash reserves, but their instincts seemed to be on the right track, as they would have beat the PlayStation to market by 2 years, enough time to build up a sizable base. "

I dunno, Atari beat the PSX out by two years with a 64-bit system (sorta), and they still went boom. Actually, they were busy losing all their music computer customers to Apple around that time, Atari, come to think of it.
 
The CD32 had one thing going for it that the Jaguar didn't: a huge existing library of content and developers already familiar with programming the Amiga. It was essentially an Amiga 1200 with extra Akiko chip). In Europe alone, it had sold 100,000 units.

Atari's squandering of the MIDI market was a real shame. Commodore almost squandered the DTV market if they hadn't been rescued by NewTek.

We don't really know if CD32 would have been a raging success, but certainly, being asked to pay up $10 million and having your new product launch blocked by the courts didn't help. Imagine if the iPhone had been banned a month before Apple launched it.
 
Oh yeah, I wasn't slamming Commodore or anything. And I love my Jaguar.

I actually worked a little on one of the attempts to bring the Amiga name back, at a UI consulting firm. It was a "thin client," Internet device kind of thing, back in the nineties.
 
I like the Jaguar too, it had fairly advanced graphics power for its time. The Japanese game developer ecosystem was very mature however, so any consoles originating from Japan would have an instant leg up on content. American publishers like EA, Activision, Accolade, etc really lacked the ability to make up for the gap.

The Commodore 64 did hold out for quite a long time as a games computer despite the NES/Sega systems however, because a lot of European development houses had extensive Commodore ties.
 
Not to mention: first ever "sandbox" free-roam game that we all enjoy so today, Hunter.

Hunter Amiga
 
We have a few of the 32's in the club they have had huge fan base for years and would have had have if taken to the next level still have been a top systems .. The Cd32 has has some under cover fame and it was use d but some companies to run set-top box systems for a cable outlet and one company used them in an ATM systems. Lat year at Amiwest we had the prototype sell as one of the people who work on it Carl Sassenrath along with some other vintage systems base on the CD32 he had new in the box. If the systems and C= had gone on and changed with the time we would and should have seen PPC version with the AGA or other chips set. But even Carl Sassenrath told us made years back the AGA was never done beyond prototyping . I note our club SACC(Sacramento Amiga Computer Club) still has a CD32 or two in the collection not sure their status but i do know they are working ones.. my A500's and A3000and A1200 all still run and I hope to have new systems soon as we had the new X1000 at Amiwest this year and they are sweet looking and powerful http://www.amigaos.net/hardware/35/amigaone-x1000. All in all the CD 32 was a A1200 and it was one of teh systems i would have loves to have in my own collection ..
 
Fascinating info and conversation. Really tragic, the demise of Commodore and the tattered history of the Amiga.

I'm an Amiga fan from back in the day, stemming from the C=64.

I never owned a cd32, but I do own a copy of "Akira" for it. Used to play it on my A1200.

+Robert N. Lee I'm guessing you did some work for VisCorp in the 90's?
 
The Jaguar had some potential, and I owned one. There were really only a few good games, IMHO. "Tempest 2000," "Alien vs. Predator," "Iron Soldier" are a few that come to mind. The problem with that system was developer support. There were some powerful custom chips in there, but most of the devs focused solely on code for the familiar Motorola 68k chip that was inside, hence games that never really shined like they could have and should have.
 
+Jason Rosenberg As far as I understand it, it went like this:
When you move a cursor, you have to have some way of removing the old copy of the cursor or you'll end up with trails around the screen. One way is to record the area under the cursor into a bitmap and when you move the cursor, paste that image where the cursor was and repaint the cursor at the new position. On older machines, this was a bit expensive (read from graphics memory is still expensive on many cards) but if, instead of copying pixel data you performed a logical exclusive or on that data, you could erase the cursor by xor'ing it again. (A ^ B) ^ B = A.
Most programmers worth their salt know what an XOR is. Most graphics programmers would have figured this out - in fact, there was significant prior art with patents but Commodore failed to find these patents! The system is (and has been for a long time) totally broken and is damaging innovation and the simple ability of programmers to make a living. As it goes, I also 'invented' the XOR cursor as a 16 year old kid in 1991 - but I wouldn't have tried to patent such a trivial thing and then sue my then favourite computer company out of existence. That would be wrong, right?
 
Heh, Yeah, I implemented the same thing in some commercial software I was working on in the late 90's....No idea there was a patent on it (or that it was possible to do so).
 
Yesterday was clearing up some old boxes and came across an copy of Video Magazine with the cover talking about Movies on CD(the first issues ot talk about DVD's) In the magazine it talked about new devices to play these movies and one was The CD32. They had it listed int eh top 5 new device to watch .. I did keep that issue. I found it great to see the Amiga talked about ans well as the CD32.
 
It's not a gaming machine but we have relaunched the Commodore Amiga brand with the Commodore Amiga mini.. more models to follow..
 
Still not sold on the C= USA like of Amiga's I sorry it's just me..
 
Amiga mini? Do tell... I'd love to see the old girl back in the mainstream.
 
Yeah, its just an overpriced PC. Sad, really.
 
A-Eon iX1000 s running OS 4.1 and it is very Amiga..and don't mean like I mean Amiga with an updated flare and speed and all.. Haven't see this Mini Mig..that I guess is running a Linux OS..
 
Does it run A500 games and demos perfectly? That's what I'd worry about, if it can emulate the Amiga Chipset.
 
On with one ?On the X1000 its getting better we ran some classic programs with no issue some still need some work.. I think the X1000 will be more like the A4000 and beyond as it is PPC system not an X86. as for the Amiga Mini ..no clues guess you can run the Amiga forever emulator for that ..
 
in my book, PPC is definitely the way to go for a new-generation Amiga. The reasoning behind Intel boxes is as flawed as the decision to build PC's that killed Commodore in the first place.
 
That why i like the X1000 and the Specs show it a very clean full size MB that has room to grow.. The Mini well .. it small and well mini.. and that all I can say lol
The Duel Graphic PCI-E slots on the X1000 is a very nice touch too.
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