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Andy Warhol once said that in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. To Amiga observers, however, it seems more likely that everyone will get to be in charge of the frame-grabber project for 15 minutes. Commodore first announced that it would manufacture a realtime video digitizer at the Amiga's Lincoln Center debut in 1985, where Warhol himself used it to produce an instant pop art portrait of Deborah Harry. In the following months, Commodore exhibited prototypes of the unit at trade shows. Months dragged on, and production was still nowhere in sight. Finally, when Commodore failed to bring it out within the time limits imposed by their contract, it was agreed that A-Squared, the creators of the digitizer, would distribute it.
At that point, R. J. Mical and some other members of the original Amiga design team stepped into the picture with a plan to finish the software and manufacture the hardware. They formed a company called Grab, Inc., and started taking orders. However, just a few days after the product was displayed once more—this time at the Siggraph computer graphics show—it was announced that because of artistic differences between Mical and A-Squared, Grab is no more. Mical has since gone to work for Epyx, following in the footsteps of David Morse, the charismatic founder of Amiga, who is now Epyx' president.
This latest development puts the fate of the frame grabber back into the hands of A-Squared, which is currently wrapped up in product development for the Apple IIGS market, and, thus, is likely putting the Amiga product on the back burner. One has to wonder about this since the GS market appears to have a smaller potential (and market), while the Amiga 500 could have more than a million new owners by next year. So it looks like Live! is finally dead, at least for now.
Word Processors: Old And New
The sad tale of the frame grabber brings to mind many other fine products that have had a confused evolution. For example, when the Amiga first appeared, Commodore commissioned a company named Arktronics to write a word processor for the machine. The result, a program called Textcraft, was easy to use, but did not really mesh well with the Amiga operating system. Reason? To get the software out on time, most of it had to be written before the operating system was finished. A few months after the Amiga's release in early 1986, Arktronics, which had by then become ICT, finished an extremely nice, updated version of the program called Textcraft Plus. It was fully multitasking. It used a window on the Workbench screen, with a size gadget. It had many nice new features, such as mail-merge. By this time, however, Commodore—for reasons possibly stemming from the staff and departmental restructuring at Commodore over the past couple of years—decided that it really didn't want to be in the software business. It wanted to encourage third parties like WordPerfect to write word processors, without having to worry about competing with Commodore itself. Textcraft Plus went into an extensive quality control testing phase, where it has stayed ever since.
As a result, Amiga users have been able to buy only one word processor, Scribble, for over a year. This is not to say that Scribble isn't a reasonably good word processor. It is clearly not, however, the perfect word processor for every user and for every use. Lately, with the appearance of Pro Write, LPD Writer, and WordPerfect, Amiga users are finally getting a bit more choice. Meanwhile, Commodore has decided to release Textcraft Plus. In fact, Textcraft Plus is going to be used in a promotion for the new Amiga 500. Commodore is planning to mail coupons to a quarter-million Commodore users group members, allowing them to buy big software bundles with the purchase of a 500. For $99, group members will get $600 worth of software, including Textcraft Plus, PageSetter, Deluxe Paint II, and Marble Madness. For $199, they'll get $1,200 worth of software, including Word Perfect, Superbase, PageSetter Deluxe, Maxiplan, and Deluxe Video. Commodore hopes to convert a lot of 64 owners to Amiga owners. If bargains like these don't work, they'll have to try dynamite.
While Commodore was busy "testing" Textcraft Plus, ICT wasn't sitting still. They were improving the program, adding features like a spell checker and onscreen fonts, and provisions for importing graphics into a document. The resulting program will be marketed by Electronic Arts as Deluxe Write, probably around the end of the year. One of the unique features of the program will be its superfont printing mode, which will use the highest-density graphics mode of each printer to produce the highest quality fonts possible. In a future column, we'll take a look at Deluxe Write, along with other upcoming word processors.