That Friday Mr Belett and I, met at 8 am. I wonder what made me get up at 6.30am while I was not working that day. This was the first time I thought we were both crazy to do such thing.
On site, the place is huge. It looks like a hangar big enough to hold a space shuttle or two. Immediately I started to set up my stuff on the "Triple A" booth: my Red One Sam440ep connected to a wide 19 inches monitor. This is for the "alternative" part of the show. I have bought a solar panel especially for the event which will for the "ecology" part. For the rest, we had the necessary water bottles and Valda candies brought by Mr Belett.
Next to us there are three other associations, the association of Lyons for the development of free software (ALDIL) and April, another association which deals with free software. While we are discussing with all these free people, the number of visitors was growing in the alleys.
Many people approached our booth and they stood there trying to understand what we were showing. Seeing they were surprised, we asked a "do you have some questions?" to start the conversation. I would like to give you the most accurate idea of the discussion so here is a transcript:
Visitor: What is it?
Me: You know the name Amiga?
Damn this guy doesn't know much. The explanation could take long but ok, let's be nice and explain him what he should know.
Me: It's a computer which was famous in the eighties but is still developed today. It is very small and it makes it very responsive even on a computer which is much slower than what we can buy today at the local store.
Visitor: Is it based on Linux?
Me: No, it's based on nothing else. It is AmigaOS. It is also for this reason that it's fast. Check that computer (I show him the Sam440ep of NGI which runs Debian-Gnome and I continue). This is exactly the same machine inside and this one is running Linux. But when I start even a very small application like the calculator it takes a long time to open. I run the Gnome calculator and during the four seconds it takes to open the calculator window, I continue. You see we wait, we wait and wait again while on the Amiga everything goes faster. Look on my computer again we are watching a movie and yet the system is responsive.
On my Sam, DvPlayer is showing Terminator 3 in Divx. Meanwhile, I open my SYS disk, I select all directory icons and I do "Amiga-O" on the keyboard to open all of them simultaneously. All directories then open and the video is still playing. I continue my explanation.
Me: Even if a video is being shown, so the system is working, I still can open directories without problem. The system is still answering my request. But the computer is relatively slow because it runs only at 600 MHz. It is far from the PC running at 3 GHz we find today.
At this precise moment, the hands of the guy fall off. He opens his eyes as if we would like to see better. It seems he is trying to understand how this is possible. I take this opportunity to give him a second shot.
Me: And this computer power consumption is less than 20 Watts while a PC goes up to at least 100 Watts! It makes sense. This computer goes slower (600 MHz), it doesn't need as much power as the Intel processors. So the hardware doesn't heat and it does not need any fans, look inside.
I then remove the top of the RedOne that I left unscrewed on purpose and I reveal the Sam board.
Me: Here is the processor. I can put my fingers on it. I feel a little heat but nothing else. There is no fan so the machine is does zero noise! Well, it's not a super fast computer but the system is responsive thanks to the small footprint of AmigaOS. Moreover, here is another way to understand this fact is that you can compeltely start the machine in 20 seconds!
At this moment we can read on his face he doesn't believe it. He thinks "Oh come on! this is only a 600 MHz machine. It cannot start that fast." So, while DvPlayer is still running, I hit the "Ctrl-Alt-Alt" keys and the Sam reboots and I explain him.
Me: I restart the whole computer. By the way, you'll notice that I did not click a Start menu/Turn off or any other way to tell the system that I want to restart it. It doesn't need to be told. I just restart and that's it. As you know the video was playing and many other programs were also running but it's not a problem for the system. If we do the same with Linux for instance, it displays a warning message when restarting and it checks the harddisk. Here, there's no such thing.
The time to finish my explanation and the Workbench appears with Amidock and all icons ready to be used. So I hit the guy again.
Me: Done! 20 seconds and the system is ready for action! And I can even restart much faster than that if I restart only the operating system instead of the whole machine (while saying that type "Ctrl-Amiga-Amiga" on the keyboard). This time I don't restart to the BIOS. This way the machine won't have to redetect the hard discs. I start the boot process with the operating system directly. This time the restart takes about 12 seconds. And by the way, I still didn't tell the system I wanted to restart. And the Workbench appears again.
A this time, the visitor is lost and he doesn't know what to say. He thinks about his PC/Mac that needs two hours to restart, that makes more noise than an airplane and which needs more power than a nuclear power plant can deliver. So he hopes to have some reason left to use his computer and he asks:
Visitor: And what software are available?
Me: Over 2,000 programs, commercial or free software. As an example we have the Hollywood multimedia application which can do, from simple PowerPoint presentations up to multimedia applications such as games. We have Internet browsers, messaging software, mails, FTP, software delopment,...
After 10 or 15 minutes of explanation, many visitors left the booth with a smile. They were happy they could see all these things they did not believe possible. Everyone had now a good idea of what is an Amiga. They now have the choice to get more information about the system, or to forget it. But I think they will never forget this alternative, different system they discovered.
After one day, having said the same discussion again and again, my voice was broken. The visitors were coming one after the other and we started all over again: responsiveness, silent operation and low power consumption. In the evening, I thought again that we were really crazy to do all this.
The three days of the show we met many different people. The ex-amigans of course know what is an Amiga but they are often surprised to see it's still alive. Those who do not know the Amiga name but who are interested by computers are surprised to see the Sam440ep running so well. But on this kind of show it is also possible to make interesting meetings that could spread the Amiga name long after the show.
I want to give you an example of an English musician who told us that he does electronic music so he knows computer music software on PC. He knews only the Amiga name. He was very interested by the Sam440ep because it makes no noise while his PCs are so noisy. Even if I showed him Audio Evolution or Milky Tracker he will probably not buy an Amiga. But it's not a problem. The important thing is that the message was spread. It has musician friends who know the Amiga and he promised us that he would tell them about Sam and AmigaOS. Let's hope his friends will get interested by our system.
As a second example, I want to tell you about Jean, a Linux user and member of the Aldil. I hope he won't mind that I speak about him here, but the discussion I had with him is the perfect example of the interest the Amiga can create. Jean saw our little demonstrations we did to the visitors. He came to see us to better compare AmigaOS to Linux which he knows well.
So I showed him the shell which is often described as "powerful" on Linux. I showed him that there is an online help, that we can easily see the arguments to commands and that they are easy to understand (nothing like -l -s -f)... I also showed him the Workbench which is completely translated in french (!) and its online help which is also contextual.
I think I saw in his eyes an interest growing and this is especially important that he compared AmigaOS, which is developed again for five years to Linux, one of the mainstream system which is developed without interruption for twenty years!
These two examples show us that our presence at shows which attract a large public is essential for the development of the Amiga community. All amigans already know AmigaOS. These are not the people we must convince to buy an Amiga NG but the "other" people are.
And if that happens, even once, then we will make things move and all this would be worth it.
Thank you to the Amiga fans who gave their time to show and explain what AmigaOS is: Mathias "Corto" Parnaudeau, Jean-François "Voxel" Bachelet.
Thank you to the strong support from: Cicile and Fabounio, Lionel "Dr Bio" Menou, Pascal "Ampico" Marcelin, Christian "Janal" Bugnon, Mehdi "K-L" Boulahia, Rajah, Imré "Amiga Concept" Antal.