Steve Jobs and the Amiga

Steve Jobs was aware of the Amiga. He didn’t think much of it. Even still, Steve Jobs and the Amiga did have some connections.

Jobs’ opinion of the Commodore PET made bigger headlines after he died, but Jobs had an opinion about the Amiga, too. Both pre- and post-Commodore Amiga.

Overall, Jobs thought the Amiga’s chips were overkill. Brian Bagnall’s book On the Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore states on page 419 that Jobs said there was too much hardware in the machine.

Perhaps this wasn’t surprising. He was coming off the design of the original Macintosh, which didn’t have color, had limited sound, and he didn’t want the RAM to be expandable. Jobs liked closed architectures. The Amiga was closer to Steve Wozniak’s design philosophy, except the Amiga engineers designed their own chips rather than using off-the-shelf stuff. It had 4,096 colors, 4-voice stereo sound capable of playing digital samples, and just about everything else that home computers didn’t have up to that point.

Amiga (the struggling independent company) needed someone to sell to. In 2015, Amiga investor and director Bill Hart told the story of Steve Jobs visiting Amiga in 1983. Jobs had money, so Amiga was interested in talking to him. Hart said Jobs came in and made himself at home, putting his feet up on other people’s desks as they demonstrated their technology. But it was a fishing expedition. On the way out, Jobs said, “I don’t see anything here that would ever be a threat to the Macintosh.”

He was wrong, of course. The Amiga 1000 wasn’t a bestseller but it sold better than the original, crippled 128K Mac. That machine is valuable today because so few people bought it. The 128K Mac didn’t have as much hardware in it, and didn’t have any facility to add more.

Apple fired Jobs in the spring of 1985, before the Amiga 1000 even hit the market. Once it was possible to buy an Amiga, Apple scrambled to catch up, adding color, more memory, faster CPUs, better sound, and rudimentary multitasking. It was an uphill battle, but Apple’s leadership was more interested in staying in business than Commodore’s leadership, so they won.

But that wasn’t the end of Steve Jobs and the Amiga. Jobs indirectly influenced the Amiga in the late 1980s. Commodore bought some computers from Next, Steve Jobs’ new company, for routine evaluation. Some of the Amiga engineers got their hands on the big Next monitors. They were monochrome, but they were big, and good for development. The developers modified Amiga OS 2.0 so it would look really good on those big Next monitors.

Over time, Apple made the Macintosh more and more Amiga-like. But the one thing they weren’t able to add themselves was modern, pre-emptive multitasking like the Amiga had since 1985. Apple bought Next to get multitasking. Jobs was part of that deal, and you undoubtedly know the rest of that story.

Eventually, Jobs even saw the value in computers being able to play digital music. Amazing.

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