Part two of ArsTechnica’s excellent series on The Birth of the Amiga is now up on their site. Here’s a sample:
This short-lived era of the young company’s history had one long-lasting impact on the Amiga computer. RJ Mical, a programmer writing some of the complicated routines that would bring the Amiga to life, developed a simple game that used the Joyboard and was designed to try and help him to relax. The game was called “Zen Meditation” and the object was to try and sit absolutely still. The game was a kind of running joke in the Amiga offices, and when the time came to write the text for a serious error message for the Amiga operating system, a programmer came up with the term “Guru Meditation Error.” This would remain in the operating system for years to come, until a nameless and unimaginative Commodore executive insisted on removing the Guru and making the message into “Software Failure.”
The second front of deception against industrial espionage involved codenames for the powerful new custom chips the team was designing for the Amiga computer. Dave Morse decided that henceforth all these chips would be referred to by women’s names. The idea was that if anyone intercepted telephone conversations between Amiga people, they would be unable to figure out that they were discussing parts of a computer. The idea of “Agnes” being temperamental or “Denise” not living up to expectations also appealed to the engineers’ sense of humor. The computer itself was codenamed “Lorraine,” the name of Dave’s wife.
Oh the fond memories I have of the Guru Meditation Error. It was to the Amiga what the Blue Screen of Death is to Windows, though much smaller and with a nice flashing border effect. OK, that’s not quite true. The Guru Meditation Error was annoying, but it rarely inspired the sense of impending doom that BSODs tend to bring to mind. BSODs often signal the death of your PC thanks to a corrupted registry or bad driver update which could mean having to wipe out your hard drive and reinstall everything from scratch whereas the Guru Meditation generally meant you needed to reboot your Amiga.
Still it was always a thrill when you’d spot one in public. Lots of cable companies used Amiga 500s to run their scrolling displays on the Public Access channels and when they’d crash you’d see that good old Guru Meditation blinking away on your cable channel. The informational monitors at the metal detectors in Detroit Metro Airport used to run on Amigas as well and I can recall spotting a Guru Meditation when boarding a flight years ago.
The ArsTechnica article goes on to discuss the fledgling Amiga company’s method of working out in design meetings what would and wouldn’t make its way into the first Amiga and talks about the original custom chipset with its three specialized chips: Agnes, Denise, and Paula. A chipset that still does a trick or two no modern day PC is capable of. Good stuff. Go check it out.