RISC World

R-Comp internet suite - 2 months on

Harriet Bazley with her experiences after last issues review.


Our ISP set-up is very basic — we're simply using the single FreeUK account that came with the program — so as far as exploring DialUp's full potential for managing multiple ISPs goes, I'm really not qualified to make an assessment. Nor do I have anything other than the default mail/news/browser programs supplied by R-Comp available, so I can't say how well it may interact with other software. Almost all I use nowadays is the Quickfetch option, which downloads news and e-mail and then automatically logs off — warning you that it is about to do so, and giving you the opportunity to override and stay on-line, which is very useful if you happen to be doing something else simultaneously. I also like the way DialUp gives you a thirty-second warning if the connection has been open for a long time without being used; the assumption is that you have forgotten to hang up after a background process has finished, and generally this is indeed the case!

In everyday use, DialUp is robust and more or less invisible, which is as it should be. I don't really use it as an application launcher for Webster and Messenger, preferring to double-click on the applications, but now that I can close the Internet Connection Panel without repercussions I find myself using it more often. On which subject; another suggestion — how about making an ADJUST-click on the launch icons close the panel automatically? (Andrew tells me this is in DialUp 1.54 - Ed)

Its other main selling-point is its ability to automate the process of setting-up Internet software, and certainly from our experiences it seemed to cope admirably — and the FreeUK account provided by R-Comp as part of the package has given us sterling service.

Messenger Pro

As far as I can judge, Messenger Pro is literally a world-class application, better than almost any alternative available for any other operating system anywhere. As far as is possible for such a complex program, it is intuitive enough for a new user to learn by experiment and become competent within days. It is also the holder of a "Good Net-Keeping Seal of Approval" in enabling its users to conform to established Usenet standards (Microsoft-bashers might like to visit to compare its 95% pass score with the 67% fail of the latest version of Outlook Express).

Its native filtering and scoring system seem at least the equal of those offered as 'expert plug-ins' for other mail agents by applications such as nfilter for Windows. It is infinitely easier to set up and use than its RISC OS freeware relative Messenger "non-Pro", and whilst it is extremely configurable, in almost all cases the default settings are both eminently sensible and appropriate to the specific situation in hand. The multi-user support is excellent and almost seamless in action. This feels like a truly mature program, where the raw edges have been ironed out by use and the interface adjusted to fit.

Finally one feature I'd really like to see introduced - auto-repeat when you click above or below the scrollbar in Messenger windows, as StrongED provides. The display of all messages in a newsgroup can be extremely long, and when you're searching for a particular thread, rapid scrolling of a whole screen at a time by this method saves an awful lot of repeated clicking and yet is easier to follow than dragging the scrollbar with the mouse.


It is difficult to judge a program like this where performance is so dependent on the outside world. I gather that the rest of the world is measuring it against browsers like Microsoft's Internet Explorer; but I've never seen or used these. My standards of comparison are with early releases of Fresco and early Apple Mac browsers like Mosaic and the original Netscape, none of which I have used on the modern Web. Certainly, Webster feels less stable than these older products; but then there are a great many more complex, broken and badly-written Web pages out there than there used to be, most using JavaScript and other sophisticated new technologies. For example, when I've complained about certain aspects of Webster, such as the confusing implementation of the minor heading tags, I've been told that "this is the way Internet Explorer does it", and thus other browsers have to imitate this undesirable behaviour to ensure that complex layouts created by IE users render properly.

Webster is slower than Fresco, but in practice, due to modem bandwidth constraints, this only really shows up when looking at pages off-line — as a rule it renders pages at a rate little slower overall than that at which they are downloaded, and at least it multi-tasks while doing so. Even on a StrongARM, graphics are slow to decode, but then this is the built-in handicap of the fact that the popular graphics formats used on the Web are not Acorn-native, and all have to be translated before they can be shown on screen. Webster maintains a cache of sprite versions in !Scrap, which speeds matters up when reloading pages; in fact, Webster's cache provision is generally very good.

Saving pages as drawfiles is useful where layout is important, but they can also be exported as text files where only the content is of interest.

The ability to select and save out sections of text is extremely useful, as are the ability to search for text strings within a page, and the global history list. Saving HTML pages complete with graphics might be potentially useful, if the results were a little more predictable.

JavaScript support is patchy, with some sites working and others failing. Generally, I gather that while the JavaScript implementation makes no pretensions to be "finished", features are being improved on request in order to cope with specific major sites.

'Secure' transmission of financial details appears to work; or at any rate, while obviously I can't answer for the actual degree of security obtained, Webster is able to convince the remote server to go through with the protocol. I was successfully able to order via Viking's online system, although I was less than impressed with Viking's delivery service!

My overall impression of this program, particularly in comparison to Messenger Pro, is of a relatively raw and new application, dealing with a rapidly evolving frontier. I've tried to be scrupulously fair in this report, as I can't agree with the amount of opprobrium I've seen heaped on WebsterXL from certain quarters, with users of the various different RISC OS browsers regularly attacking each other with little reason! It certainly seems to have improved no end with the various upgrades that I have received over the last few months.

As yet, I really can't describe it as a world-beating browser, feeling that it is merely adequate where Messenger is outstanding. It is, however, very much cheaper than its closest rival, the similarly raw Oregano.

General conclusions

As a largely trouble-free introduction to the Internet (or to be more accurate in my case, a somewhat belated return), the R-Comp Internet Connection Suite is certainly worthwhile. DialUp serves to automate the general business of setting up the data necessary for dialling up to a new ISP. Messenger Pro excels as an off-line e-mail and news client (it will also act as an on-line message reader for those with a permanent connection to a remote server, though I was not in a position to test this). WebsterXL will give you access to most of the Web and has a number of useful features. FTPc is more than adequate for maintaining a personal website, though I still don't really understand the use of most of the options it provides.

All the products are fully supported by R-Comp, which in practice means that individual telephone and/or e-mail support is available more or less on demand, and that if you can reliably reproduce a bug it can be fixed. Suggestions from users will be taken into account in new versions of the software — and new versions just seem to keep on coming. Our most recent Webster upgrade, 1·97q, was on March 13th (a week or so ago), and at the time of writing DialUp 1·50 has just arrived and Messenger 2·50 will very shortly be available. R-Comp certainly believe in active support and development!

Harriet Bazley