Monday, 30 July 2018

Interview with Renaud Schweingruber

1. Hello and welcome from us at BlitterWolf. For our readers could you tell us your name, country and occupation please?
A. Hi all! My name is Renaud Schweingruber, I’m 36 and I live in French part of Switzerland where I'm born. I'm sales director in an IT services company based in Switzerland providing Cloud and Managed Services in B2B market. I’m involved with some kind of PR/marketing activities for Apollo Team and am “as much as I can” tester of the core.

2. When did you initially conceive the Vampire board and the reason behind it?
A. Majsta did conceive the Vampire V1 some years ago and got in touch with Gunnar who tried to port his Apollo core to the Vampire V1. The FPGA used in V1 was at that time okay-ish for a small TG68 core but not for the Apollo Core. That's basically how the Vampire V2 story that you know today started.

Vampire V1

3. What is your drive behind continuing with Vampire development?
A. Beside of being one of the most active project in Amiga-land at the moment, Apollo Team is also a very interesting and motivating human story. People in team are constantly discussing core and hardware development on IRC since years now and do it from 8am to 24pm without interruption. That dedication to such project is just impressive and I don’t remember seeing such hobbyist computer project involving so much human resources around the world. This is where I personally get my motivation from.

4. Accelerators always seemed popular in the Amiga community, how do you feel the Amiga community have reacted to the Vampire boards?
A. If I take a look at how many people shown interest in our products by registering themselves on our website, I can say that the community was really waiting for a powerful accelerator which bring a complete set of features. We receive quite a lot of positive comments from customers and that is really motivating for the team.
There are of course some old greedy bears in caverns but they aren’t the majority and in some way, they are also promoting the product by bad mouthing on it.

5. Why did you initially set out to create an accelerator and not go straight to a standalone machine?
A. Recreating a complete Amiga is a very complex task. An Amiga isn’t just a processor, it’s a complete set of custom chips which are interconnected to work together. If we went straight to a standalone machine, it’s highly probable that nobody would have an AC68080 right now. We preferred to deliver already part of our work through accelerators and build up a standalone machine step by step.

6. What is the roadmap for the Vampire boards?
A. Roadmap is pretty clear: we want to cover the highest number of Amigas with Vampire accelerators and offer a standalone product to customers. From that very simple sentence comes lot of technical and commercial choices we are discussing every day (which Amiga to support, which FPGA to choose, how much RAM, etc.).
We have some big tasks to work on at the moment in a short-term plan:
Bring AGA to non-AGA Amigas with GOLD3 core
Finish testing Vampire V4 and bring it to the market

7. Do you see yourself selling complete hardware such as a laptop with the Vampire as the motherboard?
A. A Vampire laptop would be really awesome and a killer product. We are of course thinking about it.

8. Can we see AmigaOS 4.x running natively on a Vampire board?
A. As AmigaOS4 is mainly coded in C, even if it gets ported back to 68k (which will likely never happen), it will be really slow compared to a lightweight and optimized OS as OS3 is.
I also doubt that considering investments made by the PPC market actors in AmigaOS4 for years it will ever happen.

9. When it comes to the original Amiga Operating System between 1.x and 4.x which do/did you like to use most?
A. Workbench 1.3 was a good starter for me when I was young and I liked very much how responsive it was at that time. I then moved to 3.1 and never went back to earlier releases. When I could afford to upgrade a bit my Amiga, I then tried OS3.9 and found it was a great step forward and a good attempt to modernize the aging OS3.1 without losing all it’s 3.1 mind. Regarding AOS4, I don’t own a PPC Amiga so I can’t really tell.

Amiga OS3.9

10. Have you ever been a member of an Amiga group and if so when and where?
A. I’m member of the Amiga Multitasking Force (AMF) which is a local group of Amiga users in French part of Suisse Romande. We meet every month to share Amiga news between us and enjoy being together.

11. Did you have your most favourite played games on Amiga and what were/are they?
A. Amiga had lot of super game titles but I of course had some preferred ones:
Simon The Sorcerer
The Settlers
Theme Park

12. Best Amiga system of all time for you?
A. Any vampirized one ;-)
 Joke apart, the Amiga 1200 is the golden one for me.

13. Best Amiga game of all time for you?
A. The Settlers

14. What are your thoughts about what happened to Commodore - Amiga?
A. Commodore made lot of mistakes and bad choices which lead them to bankruptcy. Alone, most of these choices would not have hurt them but considering number of them together at the same moment, I think Commodore destiny was pretty obvious at that time.
I’m a bit sad that considering how far in the past this happened nobody could not manage to get more IP from Amiga gifted to the community. For sure lot of sources and code are lost forever and will need to be recreated from scratch. AROS was conceptually a good attempt but failed on Amiga due to lack of developers interest.

15. How do you feel towards AmigaOS4 and reincarnations like AmigaOne?
A. One thing I always liked about the Amiga was how fast it was booting to Workbench and this is very important to me even today. I’ve seen AOS4 systems taking ages to boot and I know I could myself not stand that even if AOS4 feels very Amiga-ish when booted.

16. What do you make of the Amiga spin offs like MorphOS or AROS?
A. I have a PowerBook G4 running latest MorphOS version on it. I have to admit that MorphOS is really more advanced than AmigaOS4 in many, many topics and well packed but it misses that “little something” to bring me emotion I have with OS3. From what I have seen, AmigaOS4 has a better integration of E-UAE from a default setup and I think this could be improved in MorphOS to bring a better overall Amiga feeling.

17. What do you see as the future for Amiga or Amiga like OS?
A. With Vampire, 68k is getting a growing interest again and I’m sure that in the future we will see a resurgence of more and more 68k software and developer coming back to the Amiga.
Regarding OS4 and PPC, it looks to me like a dead-end since X5000 costs more than most people can afford to pay for a hobby and Tabor is lacking some important feature in CPU that will split the user base again as it was the case on 68000 with all its derivative binaries (020, 040, etc.). I would say that the “only” chance for OS4 to survive in a near future is to quickly make the same move that MorphOS made and support Mac PowerPCs. Moana was an early attempt to, I wish it was continued.

18. Any further comments to make?
A. Either being “silicon Motorola” 68k, 68080 FPGA, PPC or even emulation, I would like people to keep enjoying the Amiga platform and never forget it. Amiga is the root of most of our modern computers and it deserves to survive until the end of days ;-)

I'd like to say a big thank you for this interview, If you ever find yourself with a spare Vampire board for an A600 I have a very nice A600 waiting.

I'm really looking forward to where the Vampire road takes you and us next.

Michael Holmes

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