The History of Utilities Unlimited... By Jim Drew
In 1984, I returned from Honolulu, Hawaii and began working for a Commodore dealer in downtown Portland, Oregon. Within a few months I became technical support representative of the educational division of Commodore for the state of Oregon. I worked for this company for about 9 months before being approached by several individuals trying to recruit me as an employee to write disk duplication software. After some nagging, I decided to go ahead and I began working with a company by the name of 'Final Source Software'. I wrote many commercial disk copiers, and designed several hardware based disk copiers. I was also writing some software for a company by the name of MegaSoft (located in Battleground, Washington). After MegaSoft's hardware disk copier had failed to meet its expectations, I was asked to fix it. I did, and shortly thereafter Final Source Software was dissolved and turned into a retail software rental chain. I worked for a few months at Central Point Software, and wrote their Copy ][ 64/128 program. After this was completed I went to work full time for MegaSoft, which after many problems changed its name to "Utilities Unlimited".
In 1986, a couple (husband & wife) purchased 50% ownership in Utilities Unlimited. This couple previously bought and sold forklifts (they did not know how to turn on a computer, but wanted to be on the road to the future). After about 9 months of problems with the original owner, the couple purchased the remaining 50% of the company, which included me. At this time the C64 market was just about at its end, and our hottest selling product, SuperCard+ (a hardware based disk copier) was just about at saturation.
A deal was made that I would get a small (very small) percentage of the company if I would stay on and develop new products. A choice was made between a Nintendo cartridge copier or an Amiga disk copier. We went the Amiga route after a phone call to Nintendo was returned by their legal staff.
SuperCard Ami was born. I designed the hardware, the software, did the advertisement layouts, handled dealer accounts, and technical support. I was constantly busy with software updates due to new copy protection. I was always busy. During this time, I married my beautiful girlfriend Chauna (pronounced Shaw-nuh). During the course of the next two years, I designed the KickStart board (ROM switcher), Boot Drive Selector, DigiDither, SuperCard Ami II, SYBIL, and a few other things which did not make it to market. I also released more than 30 updates to SuperCard Ami I & II. I was still doing everything by myself.
We filed a lawsuit against Ashcom Design & Development for ripping off Super-Card Ami II. More than a year after the initial filing, and $10,000 later, we won the copyright infringement suit. In return, we got a box of "MAC II" units (their copy of Super-Card Ami II) and that was it... no damages because the company had nothing (it had been liquidated by its owners).
Some things were a bit startling to me at this point because of sales starting to decline. Ads were placed for products that did not exist yet (like SYBIL), based on assumptions. I did not voluntarily create these ads.. I was told to. When products would be late (a natural thing in the software world), lots of excuses would be given... we even had a fire one time that never really happened. I had never done business this way before, although I did not like what was going on, I was only 24 and did not own enough of the company to be counted and the idea of working at McDonalds was not too appealing.
I had setup a deal with ReadySoft to bundle SYBIL with their AMAX II+ upgrade for A500 machines (software only since there was no Zorro slot on the A500). After spending a great deal of time setting up this deal, a lot of bad things happened, and it cost Utilities Unlimited nearly everything. I had designed a custom version of SYBIL that could be detected (at the request of ReadySoft) so that you could just not run the AMAX II+ without SYBIL. I had the circuit boards made, boxes printed, etc... the deal fell through and Utilities Unlimited was in trouble.
The primary owners of the company decided to sell their home and move the company to Lake Havasu City, Arizona (to start fresh with some new capital). I had little choice but to go, so I did.
Before I left, I started getting phone calls from Joe Fenton, who was living in Texas at the time. He was very helpful, giving some suggestions to some quirks he had with SYBIL. After talking with him quite a bit, I explained what had happended with ReadySoft, and I was really out for revenge.. to write a full color, multitasking MAC emulation. Joe said he had a pretty decent knowledge of the MAC OS, and that he thought there would be no problems.
Once I got to Lake Havasu (April of 1992), I talked the owners into hiring Joe. Joe came in the middle of May, 1992. Much to his surprise, I was the only person at the company (that did anything). He was under the impression (like thousands of customers) that Utilities Unlimited was as large as GVP, having dozens of employees.
This is where things went really sour with Utilities Unlimited....
The owners wanted ads placed immediately for EMPLANT (which by the way was just a name I thought up one day, and then turned it into an acronym after the fact). I could not believe that they wanted to advertise such an elaborate product that had not even existed yet! I knew that they had faith in my abilities, but this was a bit much. So, a list of 'features' was made based on what Joe and I thought we could do. Joe worked on hacking the MAC OS, and I worked on the circuit board layout. We both worked on the custom logic equasions and the features the board would have (we had lots of ideas, some of which were implemented on the EMPLANT board, but have NEVER been used!)
Keep in mind that EMPLANT, the circuit board layout, the software, in short EVERYTHING was designed on an Amiga 500! I had a slingshot Zorro expansion on my A500 (which had a VXL*30 accelerator). We had really no Amiga equipment, just two accelerated A500s and a stock A2000 (this at a time when the A3000 had been out for awhile).
In the middle of August (already late for its shipping date), EMPLANT went to FCC testing in Chandler, Arizona. We failed miserably. Actually, our Seikosha printer failed, along with our A2000. The EMPLANT board had absolutely no problems, but if the system fails, the product can not be passed. We were at FCC on a Friday, and returned on a Monday (Joe's birthday) after doing some pretty elaborate things to our system in order to get EMPLANT passed.
In September, we were suppose to show EMPLANT at the World of Commodore show in Pasadena, California (at DMI's booth, supporting the Resolver video board). Well, Joe, my wife, and I all went to the show and caused quite a scene because we brought the prototype EMPLANT board with us. I have most of it on video tape (my wife taped me with the crowd). At this point we had NEVER even scene a MAC screen pop up! Joe and I were getting very worried. The company had spent all of its money on advertising (full page/full color ads were about $5,000 each) in the various Amiga magazines instead of getting us the equipment we needed to finish and test EMPLANT.
Sometime in early November, we saw our first MAC screen appear! (I don't recall the day exactly, but I have it on video tape! We had a party that day!) Hey, we did it! Only 3 months late, but we were successful. Upon hearing this news, the owners instantly cashed checks and ran credit cards.. even though the product was in no way ready to ship! It would be almost a full month before the first version was ready to go. Lots of angry people! Where is my product!? The product shipped, and wow was there a ton of problems (which we expected). Joe and I were working 20+ hours a day, sometimes in 30 hour shifts. Not only did I have to help debug, I had to make new advertisements, handle dealer sales, do magazine interviews (try doing that with a straight face when you know what REALLY is going on), etc. It was a nightmare. The only good thing about the entire situation is that I had beaten ReadySoft, which was my only intention in creating EMPLANT. The first release of software was reportedly in October (according to the history)... this was faked! It was not until mid November did we actually release the product for the first time.
Before the first release, the husband of the couple died of a heart attack. Joe and I were shocked by the death, as it was completely unexpected. We were a bit concerned that the remaining owner (a women with no computer experience what-so-ever) could handle things... but who were we kidding? We did everything already anyways! However, pressure was intensified greatly. She had only one thing in mind, and that was retiring.
At the World of Commodore show in Pasadena (1993), sound support and 32 bit clean operation was shown for the first time. John DiLulu (Commodore's cheif marketting manager) and Alex Amor (Creative Equipment, Inc.) had a meeting with me to discuss an AMIGA/EMPLANT bundle deal. An agreement was reached, but as usual nothing came of it. One thing that was requested by Commodore engineers was our chunky to planar routines. These routines were given to Commodore (through John DiLulu), but apparently never reached engineering. By the way, we did spend a great deal of time getting licensing agreements with Commodore for reverse engineering the multitasking code. Commodore stated that if we were not using the code in its entirety, then no licensing agreement was necessary, but they would like a copy of the code for reference. I still have the letter from Commodore's managing division (John DiLulu's office) pertaining to this.
Looking back, it is now easy to see why Commodore went down the tubes... the cheif marketting manager couldn't even pass along a disk.. how the hell could he make executive decisions?
Things were going pretty well for EMPLANT.. AMAX IV was no competition, and it was funny to see them with a full color, multitasking MAC emulation after spending several years stating that it could never be done! I do have to say that I have a great deal of respect for Simon Douglas. Joe and I checked each new version of AMAX IV to see if anything had been 'borrowed' from EMPLANT's MAC emulation, and we never found anything even remotely similar between our code. This made it a good, clean, competitive game.
We wanted to make a PowerPC based Pentium(tm) emulation. I even met with IBM and Apple to discuss a technology buyout because our ideas were so revolutionary. We decided to first make a PC emulation on the Amiga, and then port the code to the PowerMAC platform.
Business was starting to slow down, so the owner asked what was next? I told her that we could start working on the PC emulation.. great, time for new ads... remember those 'e486DX coming soon!' ads? How about the ads showing Windows running?.. the Windows screenshots were faked!
We hired Mark Wignall to write all of the PC sided drivers. A lot of the speed the emulation has is due to experimentations. We spent a lot of time creating things like the CD-ROM driver, comparing our work constantly with SoftPC, PCTask, and CrossPC. We spent countless hours on the ANSI routines so that text output would be the fastest possible. We would time every revision with a stopwatch, hoping to gain that 1/10th of the second extra speed. Mark also wrote the PC emulation's documentation, which would be the last paper-bound documentation ever produced at Utilities Unlimited. The owner did not want to pay for packaging or documentation. She believed that documentation on the disk was sufficient. She also believed that 'people just throw away the packaging anyways, so why pay the extra money to make it look nice?' Sheesh!
At this point I was being told what to say and do. Neither Joe nor Mark had a clue as to what was really going on behind the scenes. It became so bad that Mark didn't even know when we released the PC emulation for the first time! He was not to know, fearing he would try to convince everyone it was not ready (which it wasn't)... it did not run Windows, DOOM, or anything else it was suppose to. It worked in simple DOS mode, supported the x87 style FPU, and had the Pentium(tm) Processor instruction decoding. For the most part, it did work well for what support it had (missing ALL of the protected mode and MMU mode support). I went to the World of Amiga show in London, and showed it for the first time. People were impressed at the speed of things that I showed, but I could not show Windows because it simply would not work.
Mark left because of what was happening. Joe and I continued our work on the emulations, but we wanted to build some new hardware goodies! NO WAY! The owner did not want to have anything to do with FCC or hardware ever again. Ack! We had plans for a multiprocessor board, 060 board, video board, and other really neat things. We had even drawn out schematics and gotten developer information for everything we needed. I know that we could have made the fastest accelerator and video board ever. Our hands were tied (more like we were tied to a pay check).
About this time ShapeShifter was released. After Joe and I looked at it, we were pissed beyond belief. The majority of the code came from AMAX IV, with some of our code, and even Apple's code. I immediately starting documenting the code, and the changes that the code went through after several releases (especially after making it clear that much of the code was 'borrowed'). After going through the lawsuit in the UK, the owner did not want to attempt to go after 'some kid in Germany', because it would cost too much money, and we would get nothing back.
I sent two registered letters to the author, and each letter was returned undeliverable. I just wanted him to stop while he was ahead. Joe and I are probably the best 68K reverse engineerers in the world. We have gone through gigs of code over the last 4 years, figuring out why certain MAC applications do weird things with our MAC emulation. We can tell which Apple engineer wrote any part of the ROM or OS code, based on their programming style. We knew AMAX IV well too. It was easy to document what code came from where inside of ShapeShifter.
At this point I really can't do much about ShapeShifter, although there are a couple of legal councils in Germany willing to take 80% of the earnings of a successful lawsuit. Personally, I think that when judgement day rolls around, the author will wish that ShapeShifter was just a character in Archon...
After a few months, we started working on the PowerMAC version of the e586DX emulation module. But because the company's revenue was slowing down, we were told to make something in the mean time. So, MACPRO was created as a means to produce income. We continued to work on PowerCLONE, and once again, the company's revenue was not up to par, so we created Mac1200 and MacLite. These emulations took several months to create and debug. The company was in bad shape, although it had several considerable assets (a new 10,000 sqft building, cars, etc.)
On August 23rd, (one day before Joe's birthday) the owner decided to shut down Utilities Unlimited. We had absolutely no warning. I had been repeatedly told that the owner simply had too much money invested in the company to ever shut it down, so this was the last of my worries.
Utilities Unlimited International, Incorporated is officially bankrupt. Even though there were no creditors, a bankruptcy was filed to prevent any potential lawsuits in the future, and to null and void any commitments (like the lifetime warranty on products).
Joe and I are both unemployed at this point. My small percentage of the company was dissolved in outstanding loans to the owner. The one thing that I did manage to get was the copyrights to all products free and clear (I owned 50% of the copyright myself, plus a percentage of the company's 50%, so I had controlling interest in the copyrights anyways).
Since together, Joe and I did *everything* (except write paychecks), it makes sense for us to try to form a new company ourselves.. one that is honest with what is going on, since we will have no pressure from any outside source.
We have decided the name of the company will be "Persistence Software". We will provide the same technical support that we provided to the customers in the past (I think you will find every review of our technical support to be outstanding). We will also still provide support for EMPLANT customers, and I am going to make the information about EMPLANT hardware publically available.
Since November of 1995, Joe and I have been working on the PowerMAC version of the e586DX module. That emulation is about 80% complete at this point. IT IS NOT DONE! ...and I am happy to be able to say that! (Well, maybe not happy.... just glad I can be honest about it!)
During this time, we have also been working on a completely new Amiga based PC emulation. We have re-written the emulation from scratch (yes, again). And instead of releasing bullsh*t specs, we are going to odopt a new (read as REALISTIC) approach of hyping our software... we are going to release a crippled demo version. If you like it, great... order the full version. If not, you didn't get screwed and left with something you can't use. Here is some information about this new emulation:
Product name: 'PCx' Function: PC emulation Computer: Amiga
This is an all new 80x86 emulation. (Pentium and 686 instruction set, including Intel undocumented P5 instructions). The speed is roughly 3 times faster than v2.3 of EMPLANT's e586DX emulation in protected mode (like Windows, DOOM, etc.). It is about 50% faster in DOS mode. This speed increase is without the CPU transcription, which has finally been debugged. I use the words 'roughly' and 'about' because it has NOT been completely finished yet. Things could get slightly faster (hopefully) or slightly slower. I don't anticipate any significant speed changes, and again, a demo version will show you exactly what the speed will be like (without CPU Transcription or Turbo Mode). PCx IS NOT DONE YET! WE ARE STILL TESTING IT!
The demo version limits you to 8 megs of hard drive space, no ability to write to floppys, no Sound Blaster(tm) support, no CPU Trancscription, no CPU Turbo mode, and a few other limitations. Yes, we do have standard Sound Blaster(tm) support, which is mono only (v1.0/1.5 Sound Blaster). We can probably make it stereo, but no promises or bogus release dates for this support.
We also have video board drivers. These drivers can use the Amiga's system drawing routines, or direct access to the video board's memory.
Here are SOME of the features that we are planning for the full release
Nice user interface, without the mess of multiple windows. *DONE*
Self configuring. *DONE*
Intel Pentium Processor(tm) instruction set. *DONE*
Sound Blaster (mono) emulation. *DONE*
MDA/CGA/EGA/VGA support. *DONE*
VESA SVGA support. *THIS IS NOT DONE!*
CPU Transcription. *DONE*
Video board support. *DONE*
Selectable display modes (fromdisplay database) *DONE*
Creation of our own BIOS. *THIS IS NOT DONE!*
Windows 3.11, OS/2, and Windows 95 support. *THIS IS NOT DONE!*
ASPIcompliant SCSI manager. *DONE*
Ability to mount Amiga partitions on PCside. *DONE*
CD-ROM support. *DONE*
We have set the retail price at $59.95 US ( 49.95 UK/Europe), which includes a licensed copy of American Megatrend's 'AMIBIOS'. If you are an owner of EMPLANT's e586DX emulation module, you can send in your original e586DX disk and get this upgrade for 1/2 off ($29.99 US, 24.95 UK/Europe). At this point, it looks like our disk labels and packaging will take longer to get than the completion of the software (we were shooting for an October 1st release). As we get closer to actually releasing the product, the features list (above) will be updated.
We are pleased to announce that Blittersoft (a UK based company) has been granted the world-wide distribution rights to all Persistence Software products. Blittersoft was Utilities Unlimited's European distributor, and quite frankly, was the only reason Utilities Unlimited survived as long as it did. Paul Lesurf does an excellent job of promoting products, and I know that our products will be well handled by his company.
All orders (also Trade) should be directed to Blittersoft.
Blittersoft and Persistence Software will jointly provide technical support through WEB pages, email, CompuServe, GEnie, and telephone support. Software upgrades will be available through our WEB pages and on various support forums.
Again, I would like to stress that Persistence Software WILL support EMPLANT customers. There will still be updates and technical support. No more EMPLANT boards will be manufactured (unless somebody wants to buy the rights to EMPLANT). We do have parts here for repairing boards, however, we will not be able to repair or replace boards for free. Some reasonable fee will be charged for any repair work necessary.
I know that this announcement will come as a shock to many people. Hey, it was a shock to Joe and I too! Utilities Unlimited was one of the most successful and well known Amiga companies around.. and everything was done by only two people, not a building full of people. We have accomplished a lot in a very restrictive environment, and I know that we can accomplish much more now that we have complete control.
The reason for releasing the 'history' of Utilities Unlimited is to let people to know what really went on behind the scenes, and for everyone to know that although I was the figure head for the company, somebody else was pulling my strings. I will not do business like Utilities Unlimited did. I want honesty at all costs, even if it means losing business. Although there is only two of us, I believe that we have proven our abilities sufficiently for people to at least listen to what we have to say. Joe and I like to tackle the impossible, and fortunately, we don't have to make anymore wild claims. Any officially released information will be very real.
I would be interested in hearing from you! If you have an Amiga product idea that you would like to see a reality, drop me a note. We have a lot of nearly finished products (hardware and software based) that we are looking into releasing. Since the Amiga market has temporarily stalled (it will be back), we are not quite sure what products are necessary at this time. This is where you, the user, can help us!
I can be reached at my new email address: firstname.lastname@example.org My AOL account will be gone shortly, so don't try there!
I appreciate your support in the past, and I look forward to providing you with high quality products in the future.
Jim Drew, Persistence Software
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Copyright 1996 by Brad Webb.
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