Week in Review (Feb 15, 2016 – Feb 21, 2016)

This week in review will focus on a great loss in the tech community. Dave Needle passed away on February 20th. While Dave had many successes in his career, he was one of the original engineers that worked on the Amiga computer in the early 80s (I learned C/C++ on it and some of the quirks of the 68000 assembler). He was personally responsible for optimizing the system to run on 256KB or RAM which was very expensive in 1983. What made this feat very significant in terms of computer history is that this particular system had:

  • colour display
  • windowed graphical user interface
  • multiple screen support (much like workspaces on Linux today except they were dragged down from the top by the screen title)
  • pre-emptive multi-tasking

The power that and true innovation that was attained in those years between 1982 and 1984 was nicely captured by this quote from Byte magazine in 1994:

“The Amiga was so far ahead of its time that almost nobody—including Commodore’s marketing department—could fully articulate what it was all about. Today, it’s obvious the Amiga was the first multimedia computer, but in those days it was derided as a game machine because few people grasped the importance of advanced graphics, sound, and video. Nine years later, vendors are still struggling to make systems that work like 1985 Amigas.”

and about Dave’s work on the operating system by John C. Dvorak in PC Magazine in 1996:

“[AmigaOS] remains one of the great operating systems of the past 20 years, incorporating a small kernel and tremendous multitasking capabilities the likes of which have only recently been developed in OS/2 and Windows NT. The biggest difference is that the AmigaOS could operate fully and multitask in as little as 250 K of address space.”

While the commercial successes of the other operating systems overshadow this legacy, it’s important to remember the remarkable innovation that many were happy to witness in their use of personal computers, NASA used to track low orbiting satellites and Andy Warhol used because it was so much like his other canvas; it would not have been possible without Dave Needle. RIP.

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