RISC World

Interview with Gareth Simpson of Simtec

Paul Johnson

In yet another exclusive to MyRISCOS and RISC World Gareth Simpson of Simtec Electronics, the company who manufacture the motherboards for the RiscStation range and ExpLAN SOLO machine (to name but a few), has given over some of his time to give this interview. This interview was conducted by email just prior to the Wakefield show.

PFJ:Gareth, how long have you been involved with the RISC OS market as either Simtec or any other guise?

Since I was a University student in about 1990 when I decided that I could make my own memory upgrades for half the price at which I could buy them. Then I decided it was more interesting to carry on doing this kind of work rather than complete my PhD. At one point, Acorn offered me the opportunity of becoming one of their dealers but I preferred to stay away from that area and concentrate on technical developments. I get more job satisfaction from designing interesting hardware (although I must not take all the credit away from the design team) than from just selling somebody else's wares.

PFJ: In that time, what would you consider to be the most significant change to the RISC OS market?

The exit of Acorn. What more can be said?

PFJ: Given the advances in processor technology, how important would you say it is, that we are able to make use of the likes of the X-Scale, ARM 9s and such as a computing platform?

There are only two processors which are guaranteed to run RO as we currently know it - and they won't be manufactured for ever and ever. If RO is to do anything other than run on vintage silicon or emulated machines, it must be developed to protect itself against the future. As an example of how the availability of hardware could be improved were RO to be developed, we are currently producing ARM9 based systems which give better-than-Kinetic-and-Omega-performance at 7500 prices. It would be good if RO were a viable alternative to Linux or WinCE for these new processors.

PFJ: If you could make one change to the current operating system, what would it be?

A complete ground-up rewrite to include 32-bit compliance and hardware abstraction :-)

PFJ: Would you say that the long term survival of the platform lies in the embedded systems rather than it's current desktop market?

Yes, as it is more and more difficult for RO to compete as a general desktop computer where Windows, MS Office and Explorer are the de facto standard (however irrational that may seem to RO users). At least in the embedded market, the perceived deficiencies of RO are of less importance.

PFJ: Are we likely to see the USB podule with drivers and documentation from Simtec for both the likes of the RPC and RiscStations?


PFJ: When is the expected delivery date?

Not this week.

PFJ: Will there be a working version at Wakefield?

Yes, on a number of stands. And there was also a working version at Epsom 2001.

PFJ: Will the USB card be able to work inside of the Mico or Omega?

We currently have a podule with drivers for RO 3.1 and later and an ISA card with drivers for the RiscStation. Theoretically, the ISA card would fit the Mico, but would require modified drivers ...... possible, but not probable. However, the software has been designed to be completely portable and could be adapted to work on the built-in interfaces of the Mico and the Omega. Again, possible but not probable.

PFJ: What hardware is currently supported by the Simtec USB?

Mouse, keyboard, joystick, hubs, printing and digital cameras - and others that we are not yet able to talk about until our partners are ready.

PFJ: Is there any truth in the talk that there were 3 different companies working on USB, but none could decide on the API? If there is, does this not say a lot for the market as a whole with companies and individuals not being able to work together?

Well, there are at least two companies who will show USB interfaces at Wakefield so obviously working co-operatively is a problem for some. As has been shown by our recent collaborations with RComp, CTA, Stuart Tyrrell Developments, RiscStation, etc we are willing to work with anybody who is willing to work with us.

PFJ: How do you respond to the fair comment that the RISC OS hardware companies (as a whole) do not seem to communicate very often with normal customers?

Couldn't agree more. We must all improve.

PFJ: How damaging has the announcements of the likes of the Evolution and Omega been on the sales of current desktop machines and sales of Simtec consumables (such as memory upgrades)?

Pre-announcements tie in with your previous question of RO hardware companies (as a whole) needing to improve their communications. But to answer your question, it hasn't noticeably damaged Simtec's overall sales - most of which are outside the RO market. However, I'm sure it must be very difficult for those companies who rely solely on the RO market for their livelihood. Many well respected names have left the RO world in the last few months and the market is the worse for it.

PFJ: What software and hardware projects have you got on the back burner at present for the market place?

Quite a few - but I'm sure you'll forgive me if I don't pre-announce them here :-).

Paul Johnson