David Matthewman comments on recent developments in the market.
I'm writing this shortly before the Wakefield Show. Six years ago, at the then Harrogate show, Acorn launched the Risc PC 600. The top-spec machine had an ARM600 processor, 8MB of DRAM with 1MB of VRAM, a 400MB hard drive and RISC OS 3.5 - and I bought one.
I still have it, and use it daily. It now has 24MB of DRAM, 2MB of VRAM, an 8GB hard drive, a 200MHz StrongARM processor and RISC OS 4, and is pretty close to being a top-of-the range machine. What's more, when Castle Technology's KINETIC Risc PC is launched at Wakefield, I'll be able to buy another upgrade card for the machine and upgrade it to the spec of one of Castle's new machines. That's pretty amazing for a six-year-old machine, and you won't find anything like it in the PC or Mac markets.
Around four years ago, when the talk was all of Oracle saving the Acorn market by developing the NC, one of the expectations was that technology developed for the NC would filter back into the RISC OS market. That didn't really happen at the time, sadly, but now something has at last made the cross-over for our benefit. It's not from Oracle, but from Oregan Networking, who sells large quantities of NCs to clients in the Far East and has developed a web browser to run on them. The browser is called Oregano, and a RISC OS version is now being sold by Castle Technology.
There'll be a detailed review of Oregano in the next issue, but the summary is 'Buy it!' It's a fantastic piece of software, stable, and well able to cope with most of the latest protocols used on the web. It wipes the floor with the opposition, and is being actively developed. I feel a little guilty for dismissing Webster XL which R-Comp and Andrew Pullan have been doggedly developing over the past two years when everyone else seemed to have abandoned the web browser market, but in all honesty Oregano is a far better browser.
The big news outside the RISC OS market is the DoJ's verdict in the Microsoft case, where a company that had bundled its own web browser with its OS and bullied dealers into toeing the company line got into big trouble for anti-competitive practices. One striking thing is that this is more or less what Acorn did, but Acorn simply wasn't big enough for anyone much to care. A few people have suggested that the possible break-up of Microsoft is good news for RISC OS; I'd like to think that, but I honestly doubt it; I think it's at best neutral news. RISC OS is simply not a big enough player to benefit from any problems Microsoft is having; Apple and the Linux community are far better placed to benefit.
Still, with Castle, RiscStation, Millipede and Microdigital pushing the envelope on new hardware, and with the holy grail of a decent web browser on our platform at last, who knows?
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, product details and (because Browse can't flow text around images and you asked for it) images. 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.
There are two copies of the editorial copy in the CD-ROM, one intended for RISC OS machines and one for other OSs. The RISC OS area of the site uses sprites to display screenshots - these are stored as PNGs (not GIFs) on the other area of the site. Bitmap files are converted using Spr2Png, Png2Spr and InterGif. Original graphics are created in Photodesk, Draw and (ahem) CorelXARA for the PC.