Interview with Jon Potter

I think it was in 1986 or 87. I had a C64 and had been programming it in (mainly) BASIC and a little assembler, when I saw this amazing new computer in the local computer shop. I think I sold my C64 that same week and bought an A1000.

I think that was kind of the idea, yes – a way to access the power and the flexibility of command line tools from a graphical interface. Back in those days there were FAR more command line programs around and in use than there are now. The configurable buttons in JPDirUtil were a way to hook your command line tools into the file manager – in a sense providing a very simple “plugin” system.

I think the idea came from a friend of mine, Andrew Wilson, who suggested that being able to see the source and destination directories at the same time would make the program a lot more useful. At that point I’d never used a PC and never seen Norton Commander or any other dual pane file manager before, so I don’t know if his idea was truly original or if he’d been inspired by those other tools, but it made sense to me.

It’s a bit pretentious really. The “Directory” part comes from “Directory Utility” which is what those class of tools (file managers) were known as on the Amiga. “Opus” comes from “Magnum opus” which means “great work” in Latin. I guess I knew it was going to be a great program right from the start :)

I probably have the source code on a floppy in the shed at my parent’s house, if anything could be found to read it and if the disc still worked.

Yes, it was just the name of a company I formed to market software. I was never really enough of a business person to consider expanding it, at its peak it had two employees :)

Actually this is a slight misconception, Opus was never shareware (in the original sense of shareware, meaning “try this and use it and send a donation if you feel like it). It was always intended as commercial software.

A lot of them were just me learning about and teaching myself about programming the Amiga. Some of them (PopInfo I think) in particular were truly awful code, although they kind of worked. I think the ideas for some of them came from people at the local user’s group, although it’s a long time ago now!

Ha, I’d forgotten about that. I did some contract programming for a couple of years for Angle Park Computing Centre (which was a government run institution that was charged with finding some way to use these new fangled computers for education). Jara Tava was a port from a game on another platform (I can’t remember which, but it would have been an 8 bit platform – possibly Amstrad). I did some other stuff for them too, there was a free-form database I think and possibly one or two other “educational games”.

Other than the games for APCC I don’t think so, in fact I don’t even remember TicTacToe :)

Tim Martin called me one day and asked if I would be interested in them publishing it.

I’m pretty sure they did start with version 3 (maybe 3.41?), but it wasn’t until version 4 that they had any real input into the software, so that’s why they weren’t mentioned earlier.  Eddie Churchill particularly had a lot of influence over the direction Opus 4 went in.

Not sure to be honest, but yes it’s always been very popular in Germany particularly. I think the fact that we had a German translation helped a lot.

I think I came up with it, but I don’t remember when exactly. I can’t be sure though. To me it’s an obvious term for something that lists things (files), although particularly these days a lot of people seem to have trouble with it.

Opus 4 was the first with a full ARexx interface and so was definitely the most complex and powerful version until that point. It was still tied to the traditional full-screen two window display, however. 

If everyone who used Opus had paid for it I’d be a lot wealthier than I am today, that’s for sure!

No I don’t think so, other than some mild embarrassment over how bad a lot of that code was :)

I had known Greg Perry for a few years, and after Inovatronics went broke he suggested I go and work with him to develop a new version of his fax software. For various reasons that never went anywhere, and instead we picked up and continued the development of Opus.

It was almost completely rewritten.

Yes, rather a lot :) I was amazed how many people seemed wedded to the idea of two static lists. It just seemed obvious to me how much more flexible the program was if you could pop open one or more Listers any time you wanted.

Yes pretty much. It came out of the idea of not having a “main window” as such – and without a main window you needed some way to actually open an Opus lister. It seemed obvious that the existing interface of icons on the desktop, which people were used to and which were often ignored completely by Opus users, would fit well in the metaphor. We’ve kept the same idea in the Windows version.

I can’t remember a coverdisc deal that ever led to any meaningful increase in sales, no.

Yes I think so, although Greg came up with that idea so you’d really have to ask him.

See above :)

I don’t know how far Guru Meditation got with their ongoing development of Opus. There hasn’t been anyone else seriously interested in developing it further (except for the open source people).

Yes I’m amazed actually that there are still so many Amiga users around.

I miss the sense of community, that was a big thing on the Amiga. Everyone pretty much knew everyone else. I’ve never had that feeling on the Windows platform at all.

I think at that point we were aware there were lots of Amiga users making the switch to Windows. Opus had been very popular on the Amiga so obviously these were users we wanted to reach, so it made sense for Windows Opus to be a a continuation of the Amiga product rather than a completely new one. Also although it was a complete rewrite for Windows, a lot of the ideas had come from the Amiga version so it was also a sort of homage if you like. I don't think either Greg or I could quite believe we were really leaving the Amiga completely.

At the beginning of the Windows development we still considered ourselves Amiga users, and as I said above we wanted to maintain the connection with our Amiga user base, so supporting Amiga file formats like icons and IFF files made sense.

I suspect they consider Explorer does everything it needs to do. Microsoft’s target has not been the computing expert for a long time now – each version of Windows dumbs down the interface more and more as they continually target novices at the expense of people who actually know how to use their computers. Explorer is the logical evolution of that train of thought.

Yes, lots. Despite what many Microsoft people say about how important backwards compatibility is to them, we have found that every new version of Windows has broken something, normally to do with Explorer Replacement mode. There’s still no officially supported way of designating an alternate file/folder browser like there is with a web browser, so Explorer Replacement mode is a long series of hacks and kludges and the steps we have to take grows with each Windows version. Microsoft seem to love inventing new ways to do the same things. Each new version of Windows seems to add at least one or two new ways of associating a filetype with a particular program, so it’s a constant battle keeping up.

I’m sure people miss lots of features, but the alternative would be to overwhelm new users with a huge number of toolbar buttons and menus and I think that would be even worse. We did make a big effort with Opus 10 to redo the default menus and toolbars to expose a lot more of the functionality.

We’ve always relied on user feedback for new feature ideas – I would say at least half of the features in Opus would be as the direct result of user feedback. I like to think we have a great relationship with our users, and I suspect we are one of the more responsive software companies around in terms of taking on-board user feedback.

There are three active developers and they’re not even all in the same country!

I love the new archive plugin we added in Opus 10 - it added transparent support for 7zip, rar, ISO and many other archive formats.

Wait and see!