An Advanced Astronomical Simulator for the 21st century
...now re-released for the Amiga.
December 1, 2007
W. Eaves, a long time supporter of "The Digital Universe", has taken the source code of the software (with our consent :-) and produced a much-needed update for Amiga owners. "The Digital Universe" now runs natively for PPC machines under Amiga OS4, and contains numerous fixes, features, and enhancements, bringing it up to version 1.5. Full details about the new release can be found at www.digitaluniverse.org.uk
The price of this new release of "The Digital Universe" for the Amiga is $55 Canadian for new orders, or $25 Canadian for people upgrading from a past release (23 Mb download only). People in the UK and Europe also have the option of purchasing a CD directly from Mr. Eaves.
If you'd like to place an order online for the downloadable version of the software, you can do so online via our secure server.
What happened to the Mac and Windows version of The Digital Universe?
First, a quick history of "The Digital Universe":
Work on "The Digital Universe" began conceptually in 1992, and then in earnest by 1994. Simulating the universe at the level of detail that we wanted was a groundbreaking undertaking - by modern standards, the state-of-the-art computer hardware at the time was glacial. The first release, several years later, was for an Amiga based around a Motorola 68000 CPU. Those really fortunate individuals who added a math coprocessor to their computers were able to see a 2-3 times speed improvement.
Yet, even at that, the computer was capable of only a few thousand transcendental operations (like trig stuff) per second (in contrast, "modern" computers have no difficulty at all in calculating millions per second). The problem was that astronomomical calculations are full of transcendental operations - and figuring out where everything of significance in our corner of the universe was, is, and will be, would take ages. So a lot of time was spent in optimizing the processes used to calculate the positions of objects as accurately as possible. For those software developer-type people out there, this wasn't just a simple matter of selecting an "optimize" checkbox in the compiler - the algorithms used were extensively scrutinized, and in some cases entirely new mathematical approaches were invented to improve methods of solving the problems involved.
This is why development of the software took so long, but it was worth it in the end. "The Digital Universe" was by far the most accurate astronomical simulator available on any platform, while at the same time being quite responsive enough so that people didn't have to worry about or even notice the crunching going on under the surface. Actually, in some areas (such as determining the location of the Moon), "The Digital Universe" is still much more accurate than any other competing software on any platform (with the only notable exception being the numerical integration algorithms used by JPL for their mission planning, but most "average" astronomy enthusiasts don't have easy access to that).
The initial release of "The Digital Universe" was for the Amiga, as it made the ideal platform for a package such as ours. It originally came out on 14 floppy disks (again, a rather unprecedented size for the time). Within a year or two, more people started to have CD-ROM drives, and so it was re-released on CD.
Of course, however, the Amiga market was relatively small, so we started porting the software over to the Macintosh and Windows platforms as well. Macintosh development was done in-house, while work on a Windows version was outsourced. Unfortunately, the person working on the Windows version got busy with other projects before it was completed, so a Windows version was never released (and likely won't be - technologies have changed enough that we'd have to start over almost from scratch, and we've become too involved with other projects to do so now). But the Macintosh version was released in early 2001.
Since CD-ROMs were now prevalent, we were able to provide much more data that the original Amiga release, as well as add some features that were frequently requested (and a lot of others that we just thought would be cool to have). Sales of the Macintosh version did well, but unfortunately our timing was a bit off.
This is because we had done all our development under Mac OS 9, but within a month or so of our release of Digital Universe, Apple announced the availability of Mac OS X. The difference between the operating systems was significant - by far the most significant update since Apple began making Macintosh computers. And the end result was that Digital Universe, though it could run under OS X in emulation, wasn't native OS X software.
For the first little while, this wasn't that significant, since it took awhile for most of the population to switch over to OS X. But once they did, more and more people expected software to be written specifically and natively for OS X. Unfortunately, this would have required a significant revisit of the software yet again, since virtually all of the user interface coding would have to be rewritten. And we had become involved in other projects, so a future Digital Universe update went to the backburner. Though we'd like to say it will again come under active development, realistically we can't say it's likely. There are just too many other projects we'd like to dip our toes into in the future, not to mention the ones we already have underway.
People still used (and use) Digital Universe for Macintosh under "Classic Mode" emulation on PPC-based Macintosh computers, but that option became limited when Apple began shipping Macintoshes based on Intel chips. Since by now, most software authors have released native versions for OS X, Apple felt that continuing to support emulation of OS 9 on Intel CPUs is no longer necessary. Since all Macintoshes now being sold are based on Intel CPUs, we are left with a situation where Digital Universe is no longer a viable alternative for Macintosh owners.
So, hopefully this short history explains why we do not have currently have a version of "The Digital Universe" for any platform other than the Amiga. Fortunately, W. Eaves, an avid Amiga and Digital Universe enthusiast, has taken up the reins to update our software so that people with the newer Amigas have an option that remains useful and relevant.
Dan Charrois, Head Programmer of Digital Universe and President of Syzygy Research & Technology.