The Commodore Amiga is a now-legendary series of home and business computers that had its origins in the fertile minds of some very inventive and creative people who got mixed up in the computer wars between American companies Atari and Commodore back in the early 1980s. The first of the line Amiga A1000 was years ahead of its time and was an important milestone and pointer to the future of computing. The Amiga remains one of the most popular hobbyist and creative computer systems ever, and is still beloved of thousands of retro-computing enthusiasts and hobbyists, occupying a proud place in the history of computing. We enjoy its legacy today in many ways.
July 2015 saw the thirtieth birthday of the Amiga A1000 computer itself, and that was loudly celebrated around the globe, but before that, a very special group of Amiga fans, organised through a Facebook group, decided to dedicate an annual day, International Amiga Day, to remembering and using their Amiga computers in memory and celebration of the late Jay Miner, the remarkable engineer who is generally honoured with the title ‘father of the Amiga’.
The editor and publisher of this site, Stuart Williams, is proud to have been a regular contributor to the first ever European magazine dedicated to the Amiga, the now-defunct Amiga User International magazine (affectionately known as AUI), and we are therefore delighted to be able to re-publish in this new Amiga User International website this interview from the pages of AUI, both in tribute to Jay Miner and to the much-missed Amiga User International, in this thirty-third year of the Amiga.
Sadly, there is no indication in the June 1988 issue of Amiga User International, where this interview was first published, as to who conducted the interview. Possibly it was the Managing Editor and Publisher Antony Jacobson, but credit was not given, and we would be glad to hear who it was if anyone out there knows.
Nonetheless, it stands today as one of the most interesting and insightful slices of computing history from the twentieth century.
THE AUI INTERVIEW
JAY MINER – ‘The father of the Amiga’
‘The father of the Amiga’ – the man most credited with its initial development – gives AUI an exclusive interview in which he tells how the computer came into being, says some very tough things about how it nearly never happened, and predicts what may come next.
I completed six months of Electronics Technician School in the [US] Coast Guard, and then I spent three years on Coast Guard in the North Atlantic Weather Patrol repairing radars, radios and also the Captain ‘s Hi-fi. That’s how my interest in electronics got started. After the service I studied engineering. I graduated in 1958, with a major in the Design of Generators and Servo Motors.
The first thing, however, that I was asked to do after graduation was to design a Computer Control Console with a Video Display, I had to teach myself transistor circuit design and logic design out of the few books which were then available. This was an advantage however since it was easy in those days to learn enough out of one book to become the company expert.
In 1964, I went to work for General Micro Electronics, the first spin off in Fairchild devoted exclusively to MOS chips. Again it was easy to become an expert in this field, because the field was so new. We designed sixty-four of their chip register chips and the world’s first MOS Calculator with twenty-three custom chips.
In 1974 after ten years of calculator, watch and computer chip design at a lot of different chip companies, Atari was just starting up and needed a chip designer. My friend Harold Lee was already there and he introduced me to Nolan Bushnell (the founder of Atari). Harold had done the chip for the first video game and Nolan Bushnell asked me to do a chip for the video game twenty six hundred system. You probably know how successful the twenty six hundred or the Video Computer system as it became called, was, so in 1977 they asked me to design the new Atari computer the 400 – 800 model. I directed the architecture and the chip designing of this new machine and this too was a huge success.
The year was 1979 and Atari was rolling in money. However, they made a decision to write off all of the development costs in that first year production. This allowed them to show just enough profit that year to not quite trigger the bonus payment they promised to the engineers and programmers. The chief programmer on the project’s name was Larry Kaplan and a half a dozen of his team went off to start Activision.
This was the beginning of the end for the old Atari however, I wanted to do an advanced sixty-eight thousand machine at that time to compete with Apple but Atari decided that they did not need another computer. They decided not to pay the bonus they promised me and the engineers. So I quit, as did nearly all of the engineers and programmers. Atari then started to produce a bunch of junk cartridges, thinking that the public would buy anything I guess, I blame them in large part for the crash in the video game business that happened a few years later. I spent the next three years in a chip company called Zimast doing special purpose computer chips for heart pacemakers.
It was in 1982 that the programmer I mentioned earlier, Larry Kaplan, called me up and said he was unhappy with Activision and did I know anybody with money who could help him start a company. Most people don’t know but it was actually Larry Kaplan who started AMIGA although it was not called AMIGA then.