David Matthewman comments on recent developments in the market.
Two software releases have cast a huge shadow on the RISC OS market over the past few months, but from different ends of the timeline. From the past, the release of RISC OS 4 marks the point where we finally broke free from Acorn, and could at last look beyond the events of Black Thursday. From the future, the upcoming release of Vantage marks the culmination of years of waiting for something new, a killer app that breaks new ground and will hopefully prove that there's still a reason for developers and users alike to stay in the market.
RISC OS 4, for all its flaws, is a remarkable acheivement, and RISCOS Ltd is to be congratulated on rolling it out at least approximately on time. Its significance should not be underestimated; yes, a lot of the work had already been done by Acorn and no, RISCOS Ltd does not have the resources behind it that Acorn did, but our operating system is now in the hands of a team of programmers who are approachable and actually seem to be responsive to comments from users. When the OS was in Acorn's hands, development stagnated, probably because it was a very small part of Acorn's operation. The OS is RISCOS Ltd's raison d'être - the company must push ahead with development or go under.
I installed RISC OS 4 into my home machine a month ago, and I haven't regretted it. Above all, it feels like a more mature OS, with fewer of the annoying inconsistencies I remember from earlier releases. That's not to say it's perfect by any means, but it's a step in the right direction - and it is a little faster in use, too.
Quite why Vantage should be seen as such a significant release may puzzle some people. It's a specialised application (vector graphics for print media, when everyone else is falling over themselves to jump on the the web bandwagon) and its high price tag makes it unlikely to be bought by the majority of Acorn users. What's important, though, is what Vantage symbolises: an application, years in the making, that's a world-beater on any platform. We Acorn/RISC OS users haven't had one of those for quite some time, and we were beginning to suspect that our machines were just not up to it any more. Here's to hoping that Vantage proves us wrong when it finally is released.
Such are the shadows cast by those two releases that it's easy to think that nothing else much is happening; that the software market is in a lull. Reports from shows tend to focus either on what RISCOS Ltd was doing with the new OS or how close Vantage appeared to be to release. That's not entirely a fair assessment. Many software products such as Fresco, the Tech/EasiWriter family and Organizer have been quietly receiving updates and attemtion that shows that work is still being done on them and that they're still live products. Nonetheless, I suspect that just as many software houses were cautiously watching the reaction to the release of RISC OS 4, so many of them are holding their breath a little to see if such a huge and expensive project as Vantage will fly in the current market.
Hardware-wise, of course, everything's very busy with RiscStations now being shipped in numbers and the likelyhood that other innovative machines will follow shortly. I don't like to make too much of the Imago at this point - it's a wonderful concept, but it's not clear whether it's commercially viable for home users and Richard Jozefowski has repeatedly denied that Millipede itself has much interest in making them in any numbers - but the Mico's an interesting little machine, and Castle appears to have plans but is keeping its cards very close to its chest at present. I'm predicting Wakefield 2000 as a show where there'll be exciting new hardware both on-sale and being actively discussed as in development.
So, welcome to this, the first issue of RISC World. As with all start-up ventures, this one has had a few hiccoughs along the way (not least my changing jobs and moving house right on the deadline) and when you find out what we're going to manage to pack in the next few issues, I expect you'll find this one a bit empty. Nonetheless, we're assembling a strong team of writers, and I'm very happy with the quality and variety of the articles we've got for you.
RISC World is published by David Holden of APDL and edited by David Matthewman.
Contributors for the magazine submit their copy in a number of forms: HTML, plain text, Impression, Ovation or EasiWriter being the usual ones. The copy is passed through EasiWriter Pro+ and saved as HTML, then hand-finished using the HTML mode in Zap. A couple of Awk and Perl scripts are used to add standard formatting to the HTML.
The HTML uses DTP-like tricks like table-based layouts and physical markup as little as possible, saving tables for the page heading and product details. No style sheet is used, because currently no RISC OS browsers understand them, so the fonts and font sizes will be whatever is the default for your browser.