Monday, 24 December 2018

Blitterwolf Christmas 2018 Edition - Interview with Trevor Dickinson

Hello Amiga fans and welcome to the 2018 Christmas edition of the Blitterwolf blog!

In this special Christmas edition we've got a special exclusive interview with Trevor Dickinson of A-EON Technology. Courtesy of Blitterwolf founder and all round Amiga guy, Phillip Dehn. An early Christmas gift for all our readers that is packed with answers. Including a big bonus as not only is our standard interview included but an extra one about the Amiga platform in the future. We hope you enjoy our Christmas edition and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. Or is that an Amiga Christmas and Happy Amiga Year? Take it away Phil!

1. Hello and welcome from us at Blitterwolf. For our readers could you tell us your name, country and occupation please?
A. Thanks, I like to start with the easy questions first. My full name is Robert Trevor Dickinson, but I've always been called Trevor. Blame my parents. I am British by birth and emigrated to New Zealand in 2011 and last year became a New Zealand citizen. I am the founder of A-EON Technology and avid Amiga enthusiast. Apart from my Amiga passion/hobby/obsession (delete as applicable) I am a very active Business Angel and work with numerous young technology start-ups, mostly in New Zealand.

2. When was your first experience with the Amiga and what were your thoughts?
A. Like many Amigans my first computer was an earlier Commodore model. I started with the 'Commodore PET 4032' and worked my way up to an Amiga. The PET was replaced by the amazing 'Commodore C64', I just had to play 'International Soccer'! The C64 was replaced by a 'Commodore C128' then a 'Commodore C128D' when I was transferred to Houston, Texas by the company I worked for at the time. During a particularly violent thunderstorm my house was struck by lightning and my C128D, which was connected to the telephone line via a 1200 baud serial modem was zapped. Fortunately, I had home contents insurance and I put the insurance money towards purchasing an 'Amiga 2000'. Like many C64 and C128 owners I had been using 'Berkley Softworks, GEOS mouse driven GUI and I was really ready for the advanced WIMP based operating system of the AmigaOS. I was not disappointed. Even today, I like the simple elegance of the early AmigaOS. However, I was also impressed by the superior graphics and multitasking capabilities compared to the Macintosh and IBM PC.

3. What Amiga systems do you currently own?
A. Ha! How do I answer that question? Can I say all of them?

4. How many Amiga systems have you owned in your lifetime?
A. Hang on I'll just go and count them... well if you will allow me to include all my next-generation systems, including MorphOS and AROS, then around 120. If I can include all of my Commodore 8-bit machines dating back to the Kim-1, then over 200. (Repeat: passion/hobby/obsession... delete as applicable)

5. Do you prefer using Classic or New Gen hardware?
A. That is a very difficult question for me to answer. There is an elegant simplicity about the Classic Amiga models that is very hard to beat. Just like the look and feel of a classic car such as a Jaguar E-type for example. I get a lot of pleasure from working with my Classic hardware but I don't miss the flakiness of my fully loaded A4000 tower. It would work like a charm for a couple of months then suddenly it would fail to boot and I would have to strip it down, remove all the boards and rebuild it to get it working again. It would then work flawlessly again...until the next time. So for raw power, performance and general reliably A-EON Technology's latest next-generation Amiga models are pretty cool. Also, 'AmigaOS 4' continues to be updated and improved and the additional work A-EON is doing supporting modern graphics cards and 3D graphics drivers together with the 'Enhancer Software Pack' further adds to the overall 'AmigaOS 4' experience. Having said that, A-EON should be releasing an 'Enhancer Software Pack' for Classic Amiga power users in the not too distant future.

6. What Amiga Operating System between 1.x and 4.x do/did you like to use most?
A. Again, a very difficult question for me to answer. Coming from the big box 'professional' Amiga background, remember my first Amiga was an A2000 and I upgraded to the A3000 and then A4000, I was always looking for the best solution to keep my system updated to increase my productivity. Adding a ‘Phase 5’ RTG graphics card and 68060 accelerator with extra fast RAM really improved the performance of AmigaOS and, for quite a time, helped me keep up with hardware from the mainstream computing world. As far as the Classic AmigaOS goes, I have nostalgic fondness for the blue and orange scheme of version 1.x. Version 2.x introduced the predominantly grey scheme with a more 'professional' unified look which was carried over into version 3.0 & 3.1. Version 3.1 is probably my favourite Classic version because of its simplicity and power. Version 3.5 added more features to support graphic cards and online access in the post-Commodore era. Version 3.9 did not really add a lot more. Of course I still upgraded to each new version as it was released.

With regards to 'AmigaOS 4.x', I started with the 'AmigaOS 4.0' developer pre-releases and signed up as an active beta tester. I have faithfully upgraded as each new version of AmigaOS 4.x was released. My current favourite is ‘AmigaOS 4.1 Final Edition, Update 1’. Now there’s a surprise and a mouthful. The latest v2.0 beta release of A-EON’s Enhancer Software package adds a lot of new features too, including the advanced RadeonHD 3.x and Warp3D Nova drivers.

7. Have you ever been a member of an Amiga group and if so when and where?
A. Yes, although the first pre-dates the Amiga release in 1985. In the early 1980s I occasionally went to the local computing group in Cults which is near to Aberdeen in Scotland. (I just realised how apt that town name is ;-)) I had a C64 at the time having 'upgraded' from a PET 4032. I just had to play 'International Soccer'! I was a member of ICUPG when the 'C' stood for 'Commodore' not 'Computer'. When I lived in London I occasionally met up with Robert Williams and Mick Sutton from SEAL (South Essex Amiga Link) for a day tearing down and rebuilding Classic Amigas in my basement. SEAL were the publishers of 'Clubbed SEAL' which became the excellent 'Total Amiga' magazine. I suppose I should 'blame' Robert and his crew for my getting involved with next-generation Amigas. I began writing the 'Amiga Retrospective' series for 'Total Amiga' magazine. The series started as a review of the Amiga models in my collections but over time morphed into the story of the Amiga's rise and fall. I became so intrigued by the post Commodore 'soap opera' with the Amiga IP being passed around and fought over like the proverbial hot-potato it eventually fuelled my desire to help create new Amiga models. What was the question? Oh yes Amiga groups. I'm not a member of SACC but I attend and personally sponsor AmiWest every year. I was an honorary member of the Amiga Auckland user group and attended a few meetings. However, as I live in Wellington I am not able to attend as often as I would have liked. Apparently I'm now an honorary member of AUG, the Amiga User Group in Melbourne, Australia.

8. Did you have your most favourite played games on Amiga and what were/are they?
A. I did not play a lot of Amiga games. I probably used my C64 more for games like 'International Soccer' which I mentioned earlier. However, when I got my A2000 I was blown away by the cartoon quality animation of 'Dragon's Lair' if not the gameplay which I found very difficult. I never really finished the game and it was only when I found the cheat many years later that I was able to watch the whole animation (with a lot of floppy disk swapping if I recall). However, games like Lemmings and Zool did eat up some of my time. I used a series of big box Amigas (A3000s & A4000s) in my business for graphics & video work, and desktop publishing for creating technical manuals and sales brochures.

9. Best Amiga system of all time for you?
A. I wrote an answer to that question for my Soapbox editorial in the upcoming edition of 'Amiga Future' magazine. I'll try to make this answer a lot shorter. If it's a Classic Amiga probably the flaky A4000 tower which I retrofitted myself, although I still have a nostalgic fondness for my first Amiga, the A2000. My multi-booting A4000 Classic tower system is pretty cool too. It was custom built for me in 2010 by AmigaKit using all the modern components available at that time. It runs 'AmigaOS 3.9', 'AmigaOS 4.0 Classic', 'AmigaOS 4.1 Classic beta' and 'MorphOS PowerUp'. If I can select a next-generation Amiga, the 'AmigaOne X1000' would be very close to the top but the 'AmigaOne X5000/20' just shades it in terms of overall performance and much lower price. If you allow me to include beta systems then the 'AmigaOne X5000/40' would take the prize and I should also probably mention the fun I'm having with my, hopefully soon to be released, 'AmigaOne A1222' which is also a pretty cool little beast and should introduce new standards for price and performance for AmigaOS 4.x systems.

10. Best Amiga game of all time for you?
A. Difficult to answer as I said previously, I did not play a lot of Amiga games. Probably Lemmings which I found annoyingly addictive.

11. What are your thoughts about what happened to Commodore - Amiga?
A. I could go on for hours. I used to joke with my children that I was looking forward to getting an Amiga 5000 which would include a 64-bit CPU, gigabytes of RAM and 32-bit graphics with 32-bit audio and could fly! Sadly in 1994 Commodore achieved the almost impossible feat of going from a $1billion dollar company to bankruptcy in a short three year period. Almost unbelievable. Although many of the reasons for the company’s failure are known I’m still really looking forward to reading David Pleasance’s book, ‘Commodore: The inside story’ which I hope will reveal all the deep dark secrets behind the company's fall from grace. Even then I did not think that the Commodore company would simply fade away but in reality that is what happened. The Amiga IP almost disappeared without a trace after Commodore’s demise. All of the attempts to resurrect the Amiga's fortunes failed, not for the lack of trying. I still think it's quite remarkable that 23 years later we have managed to self fund and create new 'AmigaOne” models like ‘X1000' and ‘X5000’on a comparative shoestring budget with the AmigaOne A1222 waiting in the wings. You will note I finally got my 'Amiga 5000' in the form of the 'AmigaOne X5000'.

12. How do you feel towards AmigaOS4 and reincarnations like AmigaOne?
A. Well since I'm involved in helping to fund and develop new AmigaOne models I think it is safe to say I fully support the initiative.

13. What do you make of the Amiga spin offs like MorphOS or AROS?
A. Actually you might be surprised to learn that my first experience of any next-generation OS was 'MorphOS PowerUP' running on ‘Phase 5’’s ‘Cyberstorm PPC 233/60’ accelerator card in my A4000 tower. I was trying to find an Eyetech 'AmigaOne' machine which were in very short supply at the time. Eventually I managed to locate 'µA1-C' developer system on eBay which was running a pre-release version of 'AmigaOS 4.0'. It made my A4000 look very pedestrian. That was followed by the ‘A1-XE’ motherboard which I sent to AmigaKit to build into an AmigaOne tower system for me and shortly afterwards I signed up as an 'AmigaOS 4.0' beta tester. You might say my interest in AmigaOS 4 was sparked by my first taste of MorphOS. Shortly afterwards, at 'Big Bash 3' in Peterborough, I purchased a 'Genesi Pegasos II' motherboard and again sent it AmigaKit who built me a nice MorphOS system in a small desktop case. I also purchased an ‘Efika’ motherboard when it was released and in recent years have added a 'PowerBook' laptop and 'G5 PowerMac' which both run the latest version of 'MorphOS 3.11'. I've even tested the latest version of MorphOS on my 'AmigaOne X5000/40' beta system. As for ‘AROS’, I had difficulty installing the earlier versions and it was not until Paolo Besser released ‘Icaros Desktop’, his customised version of AROS that I was really drawn in. I purchased one of the few 'iMica One's and 'iMica Silent' desktop systems produced by Steven Jones and an early version of the 'AresOne' Tower system supplied by Pascal Papara. All three systems ran versions of 'Icaros Desktop' and were set up as dual-boot with either Ubuntu Linux or Windows. As you can see I embrace all next-generation Amiga flavours. I even found time to dabble with Amiga emulation by helping to support the development of Cloanto’s ‘AmigaForever’. 

14. What do you think about accelerators like the Vampire?
A. Fantastic! I am always amazed by the ingenuity and brilliance of people in the Amiga community. There are numerous community based projects in the works like the ‘Vampire’, ‘Amy-ITX’ and new cases for the A1200 and hopefully the A500. Anything that can help promote the longevity of the Amiga lineage is OK by me.

15. What do you see as the future for Amiga or Amiga like OS?
A. That’s a more difficult question to answer and should really be directed at the companies and/or individuals who control the development of their respective operating system. From an A-EON perspective we will continue to develop Classic and Next-Generation AmigaOS software as long as Amiga users keep buying our products.

16. Any further comments to make?
A. What the interview is not over yet?


Just a few more questions for the community to remain excited!

17. Will you continue to support the community with further hardware in near future?
A. That is my intention. If people keep buying the hardware AND software that A-EON produces then I will continue to help fund and support the development of both. However, in the longer run the next-generation Amiga market must be a self sustaining business if it is to grow and prosper.

18. What struggles have you encountered when building up A-EON, and do you feel it has all been worth it? (We think it has been worth it)
A. Yes it has been one h*ll of a struggle at times. I think I said in a previous interview that developing customised hardware is very expensive and fraught with multiple risks no matter what architecture you are working on. Non-recurring engineering costs (NRE) have to be recovered against the selling price of the commercial product. In the Commodore era, the market was massive and the NRE cost could be spread over hundreds of thousands of units sold. In 2018 the market size is a shadow of its former glory but the NRE costs have gone up not down and still have to be paid for. Developing software for that hardware is even more expensive which is something that is not really appreciated by everyone. If hardware development is expensive, software development is even more so and greatly undervalued. Device drivers have to be written, something which is taken for granted in the mainstream computer world but is one of the more critical factors when developing next-generation Amiga hardware. Has it been worth it? I got a lot of personal satisfaction helping to create the ‘AmigaOne X1000’. I liaised with Varisys, our hardware partner, coordinated the beta test program with the help of AmigaOS 4 Team Lead, Stephen Solie and beta tester Carl Moppet who created the AmigaOS 4.1 ‘First Contact’ iso... and paid all the bills! Although I didn’t take the same lead with the ‘AmigaOne X5000’, as a beta tester I worked closely with Thomas Frieden, a core AmigaOS 4.1 developer to help him track down some critical performance issues which were preventing the release of the machine. I’m also having a lot of fun helping beta test the ‘AmigaOne A1222’. So has it been worth it? Financially, no not yet but I’m having a lot of fun. Long may it continue.

19. Is there any chance in future to attempt to get more developers for the Amiga OS4.x? If so, how can we maybe entice programmers of other platforms to maybe also join in the fun part time to develop software and games?
A. Good question. Most of the AmigaOS 4 developers are volunteers, as are most of the developers of the other next-generation Amiga-like operating systems. There are a few exceptions who manage to make their living creating multi-platform software. We are quite lucky to have talented games developers like Thomas & Frank of EntwicklerX, the creators of the additive ‘M.A.C.E.’ game and the recently released ‘Spencer’ which is the first game to make full use of A-EON's Warp3D Nova graphics technology and the latest RadeonHD 3.x drivers which break AmigaOS 4's 256MB graphics RAM barrier. A-EON is also very fortunate the have a talented developer like Hans de Ruiter who writes all our graphics drivers for the latest RadeonHD and Rx graphics cards and is developing, Warp3D Nova, a new 3D graphics framework for AmigaOS 4.x. Then there is games developers like Daniel Müssener, author of the ‘Tower 57’ port for AmigaOS 4.1, MorphOS and AROS, who is also working on an OpenGL ES2.0 wrapper for Warp3D Nova and HunoPPC who is developing an EGL wrapper library for OpenGLES 2.0. In addition A-EON also has over 20+ part-time developers who, like Hans, work on specific paid software projects plus a similar number of active beta test volunteers who help to track down the bugs in our software. We also have good links with developers from other platforms like MorphOS developer, Mark Olsen who updated the uboot firmware for the 'AmigaOne X5000 models and is working on other drivers for A-EON. 

20. What are your aspirations for having started your company A-EON, and are there people helping you along the way? Or is this like a one man army operations to keep the community alive?
A. Why did I help co-found A-EON Technology? The short answer is, I wanted to help preserve the Amiga's legacy. I know there are probably one or two people who might question this reply but it is a simple fact. Actually, without the Amiga community continuing to support A-EON’s development effort there would be no new hardware or software produced, or company for that matter. The same goes for the Amiga OS 4 operating system. If users don't buy the upgrades that Hyperion Entertainment release there will be no funds to continue developing the core AmigaOS 4 assets. Same goes for MorphOS of course. A lot of people have helped along the way. Too many to list in this interview but a special thanks to all the AmigaOS 4 developers and best-testers who buy our prototype hardware and freely give their time to help test both the hardware and software. Without their continued dedication and support to the next-generation AmigaOS cause it would have probably died long ago. Matthew Leaman of AmigaKit, provided invaluable help with commercial release of the ‘AmigaOne X1000’. Without the AmigaKit distribution channel it is doubtful whether the ‘AmigaOne X1000’ system would have made its commercial debut. He was also responsible for the X1000 customised ‘Boing Ball’ door panel and the ‘Boing Ball’ keyboard and mouse combination (which were based on a Cherry keyboard and Logitech optical mouse models). He took the initial lead on the ‘Cyrus Plus/AmigaOne X5000’ development project and is the driving force behind ‘AMIStore’ and the ‘Enhancer Software Package’. What many people probably don't know is that, unlike me, Matthew is also a developer in his own right. 

21.While the hardware from your part has been a great achievement, will it continue to be PPC or are there talks in the pipeline to head towards a different architecture? If so, what about compatibility issues that may arise if moving onto another architecture?
A. Developing custom designed hardware is expensive no matter what platform architecture you might select. As I said earlier, hardware is only one aspect, software and drivers are another. At the moment we are tied to the PowerPC architecture. Will that change in the future? Good question. Based on the software and compatibility issues and the cost of porting to a new architecture I don’t see this happening any time soon. But never say never..... 

22. Could the community of Amigans help you? For example could we as a community do some free advertising for your brand and the amiga brand, and if so, what would you suggest we do to try to entice others into the community?
A. That’s an easy answer. Keep promoting the Amiga in all its glorious forms. It doesn't matter whether it’s the original 68K, next-generation PowerPC, FPGA based systems or emulation. One interesting statistic supplied by Aaron Smith of AOTL who is A-EON’s lead distributor in the USA. He reports that almost half of his customers who purchased an ‘AmigaOne X5000’ system have never owned a next-generation Amiga before. Even more surprising, half of the new next-generation users never owned an Amiga before.....ever!

23. Do you think the community will survive another 30 years?
A. If I have any say, yes and hopefully I will still be around to see it! Hey, who said wishful thinking?

24. LASTLY, we here at Blitterwolf, which used to be Blitterwolf Development, thank you very kindly in participating in this Interview, and the fun you have bought back to our community is indeed a welcomed sight. We appreciate all your efforts Trevor, and can not imagine a better way to end the interview but to say, Perhaps you will be seen as a saint for our Amiga community.
A. Thanks for all the kind words. Knowing there is continued support from most Amigans is what makes it all worthwhile. As for being a 'saint', I don't know about that? Someone recently asked me if I was evil. I suppose only time will tell!

Damien Stewart

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