RISC World


Insider with more behind the scenes information...


Once again it has been a good and bad couple of months for RISCOS Ltd. On the good news side Insider was delighted to see that after the comments made in the previous RISC World, a beta version of the RISC OS 4 Programmers Reference Manuals is now available on the RISC OS Ltd website. Regretfully only those who have subscribed to the RISC OS Select scheme can currently obtain a copy. Insider is delighted to see RISC OS Ltd making further efforts to support developers with documentation, but feels that the Programmers Reference manuals should be made available not just to Select subscribers, but also to those who are part of the RISC OS Foundation. After all Insider seems to recall that one of the many things that was used to tempt users to join the Foundation was the offer of technical documentation, and upgrades. It now seems that in order to obtain these a user must also pay again for a Select subscription.

Whilst we are on the subject of the RISC OS Select scheme, at the time of writing the releases CD's have still not shipped to customers. Of course a Select subscriber can download the latest "beta" version, but when will they get the "up to 3 CDs" they were promised? And another important question, when will Select include support for the MicroDigital and RISCStation machines? Insider has been reading some old RISC Worlds, and was amused to find this from the Select review in Volume 2 Issue number 3.

There are a couple of questions remaining. The cost of the Select Scheme subscription is £105, for this customers will receive up to 3 CDs. If RISC OS Ltd can deliver 3 CDs, and each one contains upgrades similar to the proposed first CD then at only £35 an upgrade the Select Scheme would represent an unmissable opportunity.

However suppose that RISC OS Ltd cannot produce the 3 CDs, remember the scheme will be up to 3 CDs, so it could in theory end up just being one. The question remains is this just a cynical cashing in on work already done in the past (but not released), or a brave attempt to push RISC OS forward. Perhaps we won't know till the 2nd CD comes out? Mind you if you don't subscribe perhaps there won't be a second CD and you could miss out on all the improvements?

I suppose it comes down to this simple point, do you trust RISC OS Ltd to deliver?

Insider thinks that most users would be able to draw their own conclusions.


As I am sure many people are aware, the newer designs of ARM processors, such as the ARM 9, no longer include the 26 bit processor mode that is used by all current versions of RISC OS. This means that in order for new machines, using new processors, to be built RISC OS has to be changed to run in 32 Bit mode. RISC OS Ltd have publically stated that they are not working on a 32 bit version of RISC OS. This may seem somewhat odd, as surely RISC OS Ltd are supposed to be developing the operating system further. However, Pace have developed their own 32 bit OS, so it would make a great deal of sense to simply licence and adapt an existing product, rather than start from scratch. It would now seem that is may well be unlikely, having spent a great deal of time and money on their own version of RISC OS, would Pace just give it to another company, especially one that could be seen as a competitor (more on this line of reasoning later). This newgroup posting from a Pace employee may throw some more light on the subject.

Unfortunately, there's a nasty impasse at the moment with regard to the 32-bit libraries, in that it was Stewart and I who developed it and passed it on to RISCOS Ltd for distribution - Pace then attached those absurd license conditions (as Pace had never released software before, and couldn't quite get their heads around it).

But when the time came to actually have a "release" version that people could use, it was after the last re-org, and Pace panicked at the thought of people getting their hands on their valuable software. So that release has stalled, and is sitting gathering dust on some manager's desk somewhere.

The last I heard was that Andrew Clifforth (head of Pace's IPTV division, which sort of acquired control of RISC OS after the canning of the short- lived IA division) does not want any 32-bit RISC OS stuff released at all, to try to stop third parties using RISC OS.

This does raise one important question, which third parties could use RISC OS?

The RISC OS Ltd licence

At this point Insider is going to have to speculate to some extent, so it is best to assume that the following is purely hypothetical.

We know that RISC OS Ltd has a exclusive world wide licence for "desktop" versions of RISC OS 4. Insider has also been informed that part of the contract under which RISC OS Ltd licences RISC OS includes a set of restrictions, that prevent RISC OS Ltd from doing work that is "outside" the desktop market. However it has been suggested to Insider that these "restrictions" only apply for a fixed period, after which RISC OS Ltd is free to do what it likes. The expiry of the "restrictions" could well be after three years. Which roughly speaking would coincide with the announcement of "embedded RISC OS", by RISC OS Ltd. This is a version of RISC OS that could be used for desktop machines, for example Castle Technology's Slym, but could also be used for embedded devices of some sort. Lets take a wild stab in the dark and suggest that the Neuron board from Castle Technology, coupled with a copy of "embedded" RISC OS, could be used for a set top box.

At no point is Insider suggesting that this is the case, just that it could be possible. If the above hypothosis is true then that would put RISC OS Ltd into direct competition with Pace, the company that owns RISC OS, and the company that will need to renew RISC OS Ltds licence when it expires.

If the above is correct, then ask yourself a simple question, if you were Pace and could see that a small company which has a licence for a version of a product you own could be a possible competitor would you "want any 32-bit RISC OS stuff released at all"?