Things are getting weird. (at Commodore) (Amiga Resource) (column)
by Arlan Levitan
What the heck is going on at my favorite computer company? If things get any weirder, it will have to reincorporate as Twin Peaks Computer. Recent events at Commodore leave the distinct impression that while the wagons are being drawn into a circle, the muskets seems to be pointed in the wrong direction.
At Commodore's home base in West Chester, Pennsylvania, heads are rolling in the marketing department faster than in Nightmare on Elm Street. At least six key executives, including the VP of marketing, have vanished in a flurry of pinks slips and resignations, and company-wide cutbacks are rumored to be on the way. My sources posit two likely scenarios, with the first placing the axe in the hands of Commodore president Harry Copperman, who has reportedly been less than enthused with marketing's advertising campaigns, or recent lack thereof. The alternative view places Copperman's own tenure in jeopardy, with Commodore chairman Irving Gould cast as the Lord High Executioner. "Irv, I'll take golden parachutes for 500, please."
It's generally conceded that, other than a garish press conference, the marketing group failed to sustain any appreciable Amiga 3000 momentum. The 3000 was prominently featured in dozens of magazines last summer and received generally favorable treatment. Since then, the new machine has made like Elvis. It's a real shame. Besides being jackrabbit quick in Amiga mode, the 3000 packs plenty of punch when outfitted with Ready-Soft's A-Max Macintosh emulator package. I recently clocked the aforementioned combo as being slightly faster than a pricey Macintosh IIci.
The few criticisms leveled against the 3000, concerning expandability, should be addressed with the introduction of the Amiga 3500 at the winter COMDEX show in Las Vegas. The 3500 will be housed in a floor-standing tower case, with plenty of expansion slots and a 100-megabyte hard disk standard and higher capacity drives offered as options. Unfortunately, the fate of a UNIX version of the 3000 seems to be up in the air. The software is reportedly ready to fly, and the system's price/performance ratio makes it a potential PC and Mac workstation killer, but Commodore higher-ups are questioning the firm's ability to sell such a machine into the Fortune 500. It seems nobody is willing to step up to building a corporate sales staff that will actually call on prospective customers.
What little advertising that is planned for the 1990 holiday season is focused on the Amiga 500. The theme of most of the ads is What to you do when your mind outgrows Nintendo? Anyone passingly familiar with the home videogame market knows what those people do. They buy Sega Genesis systems.
The only thing that may keep things hot is the impending release of NewTek's Video Toaster, which may end up making the Amiga a de rigueur part of any professional or semipro video studio. Commodore execs recently visited New Tek's headquarters/clubhouse in beautiful downtown Topeka. Although they were mightily impressed, they reportedly declined to butter NewTek's toast or kick in any additional bread for Toaster promotion.
There are also strong indications that Commodore may be prepared to throw the baby out with the bath water. Spokespersons for Commodore USA have recently taken great pains to distance themselves from the company's CDTV project. When questioned about the status of the Amiga-based appliance, Commodore USA representatives disavow any knowledge concerning CDTV, insisting that all aspects of product development and delivery are being handled solely by the company's international division. The inside word is that the project is hopelessly behind schedule, and it's even money whether CDTV will ever become more than a vapor product.
Meanwhile in the United Kingdom, Commodore has released a computer in game-machine clothing. Amiga fans will be disappointed to learn that the new machine is not based on a stripped-down Amiga 500. With no CDTVs to ship, Commodore has come up with a plan to empty those warehouses chock-full of Commodore 64s that can't be given away for love nor money. Those crazy Brits have unleashed the 64GS, a mutated, keyboardless C64 with a cartridge slot and joystick ports. Commodore is packing four games into each cartridge in an effort to fend off increasing sales of game machines in England and Western Europe.
There's a ray of hope amidst all of this doom and gloom. By most accounts there are almost 2 million Amiga owners spread over the face of the planet. Stock analysts estimate that CBM chairman Irving Gould holds about 5 million shares of Commodore stock, which has been going for a shade under 5 bucks a share. If we all kick in 12 bucks or so, we can buy out Irv and install yours truly as chairman of the board. How can we lose? I'll be the first to admit that I've demonstrated a total lack of managerial and/or administrative ability during the ten years I've writing for COMPUTE and that I'm prone to inappropriate random irrational acts. Look at it this way--at the very worst, it'll be a wash.