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Amiga OS - Evolution

Once the hardware components and chipsets for the Lorraine were reaching completion, all that was needed was an operating system to finish the job. However, as the final product specifications differed so much from their original concept, it was felt that the software to run the machine could no longer be developed in house as had been previously envisaged. The major problem was cash; after all of the development there wasn't much left for the software. This was where a British company stepped in to claim a part of computing history. Metacomco, a Bristol-based firm took on the job.

MetaComCo had previously developed an Operating System called TRIPOS for mini and mainframe computers in conjunction with Cambridge University. Excited by the excellent technical specifications of the Lorraine machine, the MetaComCo crew decided to rework TRIPOS for the Amiga. The result was an Operating System that went far beyond the interface meeded for a games machine, but it was felt that the result was too slow and not reliable. This meant more time had to be spent addressing these issues and any profit that might have been made by a quick release was lost.

Workbench, as it came to be known, was a full WIMP (an acronym for Window, Icon, Menu, Pointer - a simple method of performing complex tasks using the on-screen mouse 'pointer') implementation which also featured a very powerful command line interface. This gave the Lorraine the direct power of a command-based operating system, much the same as that used by MS-DOS machines at the time, as well as the ease of use of an icon-driven interface which had proven to be very popular on the Apple Macintosh and in the labs at Xerox. This was many years before Microsoft announced Windows for MS-DOS.

Moreover, Workbench was a full pre-emptive multi-tasking operating system, similar to those used on mainframe computers. With Workbench, the Lorraine would be able to run more than one application simultaneously. This was something not possible on any home computer at that time, and even today the PC and Macintosh do not have comparable multi-tasking abilities. Microsoft Windows 3.1 was able to run multiple tasks on the computer but only one would run at any one time, a concept known as time-slicing, whereas Windows 95 and Windows 98 use pre-emptive multi-tasking although not all applications are able to utilise its power and it is not easily configured, while OS/8 on the Macintosh claimed to be multi-tasking but was notoriously unreliable when used in that way. However OS/X finally got it right.

The reliability of the Amiga's Operating System, and its ability to cope with sudden power-offs etc, made it ideal for process control applications and situations where it could be setup to run without any manual intervention. For example NASA and London Transport used Amigas in this way for many years, and we understand that Amigas were often used in hospitals to control the MRI scanners. What is even more incredible is that many of the people using them did not even realise they were using an Amiga or even what an Amiga was.


Copyright 2005 Amiga Auckland Inc. All rights reserved.
Revised: September 25, 2005.