Home/BOING/BOING #7/Interview of Ján Zahurančík Last update: 2024-03-02
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Several distributions are available on Amiga to benefit from an optimized and pre-configured environment and avoid having to configure your system down to the smallest detail, particularly for emulation. AmiKit is perhaps the most famous of them and Ján Zahurančík, its author, agreed to answer our questions...

The interview was done by Glames and published in our (French) Amiga magazine BOING, issue #7 (October, 2023).

Hello Ján, can you introduce yourself to our readers?Ján Zahurančík

Hi there! I am just another Amiga fan like you, actually. Not a programmer. I studied psychology (really!), but my passion for Amiga combined with my perfectionism gave birth to AmiKit, a completely pre-designed Amiga environment. Since 2005, when the very first version came out, I have released more than 100 updates.

How did you discover the Amiga?

I was 13 years old when I first time saw her on my own eyes. It was Amiga 500 displayed in a shop window in my home town in Slovakia. I used to watch it from a street often because it was always on and playing Eric Schwarz animations in a loop :)

Which Amiga do you have today? What do you use them for?

Believe it or not, but I had no real Amiga machine for almost 20 years. I had an Amiga 1200 with Blizzard 1240/40 before, but since WinUAE became faster and more portable (and I was moving a lot at that time), it also became my preferred environment. Now I have a stock Amiga 1200 equipped with PiStorm32-lite and Raspberry Pi 4 and I cannot believe my eyes that such a combination is as fast as WinUAE. I am amazed. I'm currently using it to bring AmiKit for it, which should be available by the time you read this.

You are best known for your AmiKit product line, which makes it easier to emulate Amiga. But have you created other applications or projects related to Amiga before?

No, like I said, I am not a programmer :) But I am good at bringing things and people together ;) The AmiKit is actually a project that integrates more than 400 pre-installed programs and games. But in the 90's I used ProTracker, Octamed SoundStudio and also Symphonie to make some music. Some of my modules are still on Aminet. And there are few demos, actually, that use my music. Oh, and I used to show Amiga demos and ChaosPro fractals on a big projection screen at psytrance parties back then. That was fun! :)

AmiKitHow did you come up with the idea of creating AmiKit in 2005? There were indeed already at that time other distributions such as Amiga Forever in particular.

AmiKit is different in a way that it includes many add-ons that makes the basic AmigaOS much more modern and easier to use than ever before. However, it does not include the actual OS or ROM files (which you have to provide by yourself, from Amiga Forever, for instance).

The idea of creating AmiKit came even sooner, actually, around 2002. I loved to keep upgrading my own Workbench setup, and because of my perfectionism I used to make backups a lot. So if anything went wrong with installing some new program, I reverted to the latest backup. This was very easy thanks to WinUAE as I only had to backup and restore a single .hdf file. Thanks to this approach, my system was always clean. One day I realized that my setup is quite powerful and that it might benefit some other Amiga users out there. At that time I was inspired by the AIAB (Amiga in a Box), which was a similar project, so I got the idea to release mine on a similar basis.

How did you choose the name "AmiKit"? Weren't you afraid of having trouble with AmigaKit company whose name is very similar? Have you filed an "AmiKit" trademark?

LOL, I don't even remember if I actually knew about AmigaKit back then. I was already using emulation at that time, and AmigaKit was aiming at users with real Amiga hardware, you know. Many years later I met with Matthew from AmigaKit in person, actually we met several times, and he never mentioned any objections, fortunately :)

Anyway, I got a name suggestion from my friend. "What about AmiKitt?", he asked. What he had in mind was this Kitt car from the Knight Rider series with David Hasselhoff :) The point was that the car included many special features and upgrades that make it a really unique and modern experience, just like AmiKit. I liked the idea, but since I love cats, I shortened it to "Kit" to refer to a kitten. So feel free to choose the meaning you like more. Or both of them ;)

What kind of work did this project require? I guess it's not just "putting apps together". For example, did you have to develop a few tools? If so, which ones and which languages did you use?

Ján's office

Exactly, it's not just installing the apps, it's more about improving them and their settings, making them look nicer with new icons and graphics (made by Ken Lester), integrating them with other apps, tracing down all the installed files and checking their influence on other apps, etc. And imagine 400 of such apps forcing them to live in harmony :) Until a butterfly effect hits you, of course - you change a small detail that breaks everything :) So testing is very important too. Even after almost 20 years I am still fine-tuning the startup-sequence to get the best results possible. I mostly use simple AmigaDOS (or Hollywood recently) or ask my friends if I need something more complex. All that said, I also have to take care of the AmiKit website (which I designed myself), provide support to my users, do some marketing, create graphics, etc. In general it's not easy, but I love it.

AmiKit includes a "Rabbit hole" which allows you to directly launch host applications (Windows, Linux, ...) from AmigaOS: was this complicated to implement?

Paradoxically enough, that was easy :) There is a program called Winlaunch (or Hostrun for Amiberry), that makes it possible. It took some time to integrate it in an user-friendly way, so the host PDF reader or MP3 player is launched if you double-click on the PDF or MP3 file in Amiga, for instance. The time invested into this was worth as it creates a smooth or even magical experience of having a Windows (or MacOS or Linux) app running on Amiga desktop.

AmiKit is now available on several operating systems but more recently also on specific machines, such as the Vampire. That's a significant number of versions: are they all still updated? Are you planning new versions?

Yes, I release updates regularly for all platforms except the Vampire one as the hardware proved to be less stable and compatible with Amiga. Before, when AmiKit was free, I released updates irregularly. But since AmiKit is now based on subscription payments, I feel much more committed to my users to deliver to them what they paid for, you know.

Ján at Amiga34AmiKit, unlike other distributions, is not free: can you tell us why?

AmiKit was free from its very beginning in 2005 till 2017 when paid AmiKit X appeared. Now even that version is free (or pay what you want, to be precise) while newer AmiKit XE, with updates and support, is paid. It takes me a lot of time to maintain the project, release new updates on a regular basis and provide user support. And while many people think there is a huge team behind AmiKit, I am actually just one person here. And my time is very limited. Paying for AmiKit ensures that I can continue providing user support, and also facilitates ongoing development, so the AmiKit stays superior and not just a hobby project.

Are you satisfied with the sales of AmiKit? The community seems to be growing again for a few years: did you notice this tendency?

I noticed that and I am happy about it. I always used to think that my user base is shrinking but it seems there are new users finally hopping on. Sometimes even some fresh ones that never owned any Amiga before. That is fascinating! Regarding the sales, well, despite the community growing, it is still a very small community so I still need my daytime job.

The maintenance and evolution of all these products must take a lot of time: is this your main professional activity or is it still a hobby?

I wish it was my main activity but like I said I still need my daytime job. Fortunately, I've gotten to the stage where I've become my own boss at this regular job, so I can balance my time between Amiga, work and family to my liking.

There is also FlowerPot which can emulate AmigaOS 4: will we ever see a MorphOS emulation?Ján at Amiga38

FlowerPot is just a smart installer of AmigaOS 4 on your Windows, Mac or Linux. Because installing it manually was a real pain so I wanted to make it easier for the people out there so they can try the new generation of AmigaOS even without owning the expensive hardware for it. But FlowerPot, unlike AmiKit, does not provide many extra features to the OS. It's just an installer of the basic OS.

Is the Amiga popular in your country, Slovakia?

No idea, I haven't lived there for more than 20 years ;)

You launched a support campaign for Ukraine during the invasion of the country by Putin's Russia: can you tell us more?

I launched two campaigns and raised more than 3000 EUR to help the most vulnerable Ukrainian people. The country I was born in, Czechoslovakia, was also invaded by russians in 1968 so helping another country going through the same thing is natural for me and the right thing to do. I'd like to thank all the people who have contributed.

Any last words?

Greetings to your readers and long live the Amiga! :)

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