Insider with more behind the scenes information...
It's been some months since I wrote the last Insider column. I had started on a column for the last issue but Aaron was not happy with it and due to pressure of work it was not possible to re-write it, so you had to do without Insider last issue. As is always the way product development and deal making have continued behind the scenes, so let us see what has transpired over the last few months.
RiscStation announced that they would have a prototype portable on display at Wakefield. However what many customers saw was the PC version of the new RiscStation laptop, running a copy of VirtualAcorn. Those who were around at the correct times would have also seen the "real" prototype, and if they asked nicely would even have been allowed to use it so they could see that it was indeed fully working. An announcement was due regarding delivery of the portable shortly after the show. However it seems that timescales have slipped a little and RISC World decided to ask Roy Heslop a little more about this. He told us that the reason for the delay was due to some components that were in the original design being replaced by newer ones by the component manufacturers. He also told RISC World that they "...had been assured that they would have a fully working demonstration machine, in the production case, at the beginning of August."
Those with long memories may well remember the work that was being done on the RiscStation Evolution some 2 years ago. This was based on the CATS motherboard designed by Simtec, and was scheduled to be a RiscPC replacement. It would seem that this project may well now be continuing in some form. Some of the work that has been done by RISCOS Ltd on the Select version of RISC OS would, it seems, make it easier to port RISC OS to the CATS motherboard. If the RiscStation Evolution does get developed further this would provide a possible competitor for the Omega, although the CATS board is an older design, and doesn't support the X-Scale processor in its current form. RiscStation are not the only hardware company who are interested in the CATS board however, Insider has been told that another hardware manufacturer has recently started expressing interest. Perhaps the Evolution will come to the market, but with a different manufacturer's name on the case.
This years love
One of the most un-likely romances seen in many years is flourishing between two parties, RISCOS Ltd and MicroDigital. In the past the two companies have had a rather stormy relationship. However with the imminent release of the Omega computer it seems the two have patched up their differences. Just to cement the relationship RISCOS Ltd have recently announced a new installer that can be downloaded off the the Select website. This will allow Select to be installed on a Microdigital Mico computer. This is interesting when you take into account this quote from Paul Middleton, the MD of RISCOS Ltd, when interviewed prior to Wakefield "...I believe that there are only three people who have contacted us wanting to know when there will be a RiscStation compatible version of Select, and only one enquiring about a Mico version." Presumably either the one Mico customer was very important or RISCOS Ltd have done the work not to support the Mico, but the large number of potential Omega owners who may well want to run Select as well.
RISC OS Select
Some developers have been reluctant to support RISC OS Select since its release, however it seems that the attitude is beginning to soften in some quarters. APDL recently announced a Select compatible version of DrawWorks, snappily called "DrawWorks Select". However as Aaron is the author of DrawWorks perhaps he should take over the story.
Insider is quite right, I have written a new DrawWorks that now works with the Select version of Draw. APDL had always planned to do it, but only after Select got a real release, and not while it was still being fiddled with. A reasonable amount of work had to be done to get it going but it was fun. Although I have no idea why some of the changes have been made to Draw, indeed they don't make any sense at all. For example there is a key shortcut for copy, but not one for paste!
Talking of Select the RISCOS Ltd web site recently announced that they had signed up the 796th subscriber. Insider finds this quite interesting as it was May 2001 that Select was first announced at the Wakefield show that RISCOS Ltd didn't attend. If one assumes that the 796th subscriber was signed up in mid June that would be 13 months, or let us say 56 weeks which equates to 392 days. This means that on average there are 2.03 new Select subscribers every day (assuming a 7 day week). This is hardly going to get RISC OS back where it belongs. Let us contrast this with sales of VirtualAcorn, which in 6 months (26 weeks) has supplied 1423 copies. That equates to 54.7 copies a week, or 7.81 copies per day. So using these figures almost 4 times as many people are installing RISC OS 3.1 as are installing Select. Another point to bear in mind is that all of those who have bought Select are already RISC OS users, without a copy of RISC OS 4 they could not use Select. Contrast this with VirtualAcorn users, many of whom have never even owned a RiscPC and are still using A5000, A4000 or even earlier machines. A reasonable number of VirtualAcorn users do not even currently own a genuine RISC OS machine and without the presence of VirtualAcorn would not even be running RISC OS. Perhaps this goes some way to explain RISCOS Ltd's continued attitude towards VirtualAcorn. Select is almost exclusively an upgrade for existing users, where as VirtualAcorn can actually bring old users who have departed the platform back. (Witness the interview with Paul Middleton from RISCOS Ltd in this very issue - ED).
Another few RISCOS Ltd oddities appear in the "From the Cutting Edge" article from latest Foundation RISC User. There is a long section about the 32bit version of RISC OS (as developed by Pace Microtechnology), part of this relates to software. The point being that a 32 bit OS running on a 32bit processor will not be able to run most existing software. To support a 32bit OS developers would have to make new 32bit version of their programs. One needs to wonder how likely this would be, would Xara release new 32bit versions of Artwork and Impression? They might be persuaded if the project was funded externally, but it seems unlikely they would do it themselves. So you need a way of running 26 bit software on a 32 bit machine. Paul Middleton suggests the following "Emulating a 26-bit computer on a 32-bit platform may be the answer...". Indeed emulating a 26 bit machine on a 32bit one may well be the answer, but isn't that what VirtualAcorn does already?
The future in black and white
There has been an increasing trend over the last few years in "retro" design, making and building things with deliberate reference to the past. Insider is delighted that TAU Press have embraced this trend with open arms and gone back to the early days of Acorn User by printing the inside of the magazine in black and white. Although this seems fully in keeping with the "retro" feel Insider has been informed that a number of advertisers are none too pleased. Will we see a magazine with black and white articles and colour advertising pages soon? (Yes, so it will be a bit like the Phantasm article in this issue then - ED)
All the companies that promised high speed network cards for the Wakefield show seem to have delivered on their promises. A large number of companies had the cards on their stands at the show, either designed by Simtec or Castle Technology. These 100 Mbit cards should allow faster networking using RISC OS. A report on The Iconbar casts more than a little doubt over this. It seems that in independent tests the Castle card performed rather poorly. Insider has been informed that this is purely a software problem and a fix will be available shortly, however at present those wanting network cards seem to be flocking to the Simtec version. Unless Castle sort the problem our soon it may well be that anyone who wants a card will have gone and bought a Simtec one.
As an endpiece last time I wrote the following "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?" I am delighted to say the answer to this is yes. I am sure those involved will make a full announcement about 32bit RISC OS when the time is right. One should of course remember that a 32 bit OS may well need a new computer to run it on, as well as new software.