RISC World

Letters Page

Yes, its the barren wasteland of the letters page.

It's been a quiet time on the RISC World letters front. I guess it's because everyone has been occupied over Christmas, either that or no one want to write to us anymore....still the mail bag wasn't completely empty.

First off John Crane comments on our case for hardware/emulation feature from last issue.

Well Aaron invites comment,so I thought I'd add a point or two to the 'debate'. I say debate in inverted commas, as there seems generally to be more of a for / or against type situation with a bit of 'my dad's bigger than your dad' type squabbling thrown in for good measure. Although there has been more reasoned discussion on the newsgroups of late, so perhaps things are changing a bit.
Personally I can see both sides of the argument but I don't think it necessarily has to be as clear cut as many would like it to be.
Speaking for myself I have a Castle Strongarm (233) Storm (SCSI) Risc PC which I have upgraded over the years so it now has a RISC OS 4.02, CD Writer, two floppy drives a scanner, PC Card (Acorn 586 - 100 with Cyrix processor). I haven't won either of the Iyonixes which were up for grabs (1 given away last year and another recently given away to celebrate the 1st birthday) so I'm saving up for one. If only I could get one on interest free credit (I know technically you can, but I want a fully specced one for 1400 not 1600).
When I originally got the RPC I used to do windows bits on the PC card and occasionally wrote say a Word Doc in Easiwriter and then checked it in Word on the PC card (I do sometimes still do this but see further down.......) Also my eldest son used to practice at home using some of the same software he used at School, but then over a period of time, the School(s) moved over to Windows......
I also (as most people do I imagine) use Windows extensively at work. So there came a time when I needed to be able to do Windows stuff and frankly compared to modern Windows hardware the PC card even with W98 SE just didn't cut the mustard, so a Windows PC at home became inevitable.
Thus I have had a Windows XP machine since just about the time XP came out which sits at the side of my RPC. This has also been upgraded a bit with DVD writer and video capture box.
If all this was available on RISC OS and I was able to satisfactorily work on e.g Excel spreadsheets on RISC OS, then obviously I wouldn't need a Windows machine, but that's not to be at present.
Anyway when VA5000 came out I bought it and stuck it on the XP box, to see what it was like, bit disappointed at first, but once the bug fixes and later upgrades came out it matured very nicely and I am looking forward to getting VirtualRPC-SE when suitable funds have been found. I suppose this must be quite unusual as most people seem to put emulation on Laptops rather than Desktops (or desktops if no RISC OS hardware) but I do find it useful and use RISC OS both via emulation on Windows and on a real RISC OS computer and find uses for both 'flavours'.
For Example imagefiles. I find RISC OS apps seem to be able to display and convert many different image files quite easily. Somebody sends me a disc or whatever with an MSword file on and some dodgy embedded images that Easiwriter doesn't like. Bosh it into the XP box, open the file in Word, extract the images from it and save them back to the Hard Drive in VAs storage area. Start up VA retreive the images, fire up a nice friendly RISC OS app, resave the images back in a more friendly format.Close VA revert back to Windows, copy the images back into the document and resave it.
I can then view the file back on my RISC PC in Easiwriter and usually by resaving it in Easiwriter the file becomes significantly smaller (even if saving as a MSword file). If I then need to send it on somewhere I can zip it up with SparkFS (and make it smaller still) and email it using my preferred RISC OS email software.
I guess with the new network aware RPC emulation this could now all be done on the Windows box, but I'm merely giving an example, there are others and I could go on at length but I guess my overall point is that it doesn't have to be either emulation or real hardware, a combination of the two works well too.
John Crane

I have to say that I agree, I don't think anyone has to have one or the other, if both a real machine and an emulated machine are useful then why not have both. Running VPRC-SE on a desktop isn't that unusual, see my editorial, but yes a lot of people do use it on laptops. Indeed we have a surprising number of customers who use an Iyonix as a desktop machine, and VirtualRPC-SE on a portable device. I have never really understood the all or nothing mentality. Having access to both Window and RISC OS is seen by many to be pretty essential these days, especially if you get sent files in some obscure format. You can get Windows to decode them, then use a decent OS to do something with them.

Phil Spiegelhalter also had something to say about our feature from last time...

I was glad to see Aaron's postscript after the 2 pieces on emulation v native. I must admit to agreeing with him.
I must concede that I am biased: biased in that I am a long-term user of RISC OS, and a user by necessity of PCs, both by nature of my work, which pays the bills and buys the machines.
I teach, but not in a school classroom. I teach operations and maintenance of various broadcast products, and as a result, I have a need for a means of presenting, and modifying, notes and diagrams on-site.
Until recently, I used A4-sized coloured overheads for each product to give 'high-definition'/resolution projection of diagrams.
In '89 I joined the training department, of a large company, and we all used Archimedes computers (and the Publications department next door used Macs) I bought my own A440/1, and an A4 when it was launched.
The A4 allowed me to write, or adapt, notes and monochrome drawings on-site, to meet the student's needs, in a wide variety of countries. I could usually print to any on-site printer they had.
My colleagues pressured the company to buy portables - which meant PCs. The Archimedes disappeared from their desks, replaced by Windows 95/98. I continued using RISC OS, and by buying Adobe's Acrobat Distiller at home, I was able to convert any of my RISC OS output to Acrobat format.
When Phoebe was being promoted, I warned them that a portable was needed to retain the business user. Simply; if you could not use the output of the RISC OS computer away from the desk, then the material would be created on another platform which could be used on-site.
Since '99 I have been working independently, and my RISC PC is still my main machine, but joined by several PCs (for Video Editing) in a network.
Recently I had had to resort to taking Lin's old Portable PC with me to connect to equipment on-site. In the continuing absence of a new portable, I built my 'interim portable' and used it in place of overhead transparencies - saving/recovering about 300ukp over the next 2 courses!
Now I have a Microdigital Alpha Pro, with 1Gbyte of memory to cope with future windows software, and a 60Gbyte HD to cope with simple video editing. This allows me to take a single portable on-site, along with my lightweight projector, and continue to use my preferred RISC OS software, as well as any PC software I need. ( I use Open Office Org's software - its free and compatible )
Naturally I would prefer the power saving/ battery life of a small ARM portable, but I need to earn money NOW (and back when I built the interim presenter 8-) ).
I do not have an Iyonix: until the portable was released, I could not justify spending any more money on RISC OS (apart from Select).
Since its release, I have added Viewfinder to my Risc PC (which shares a 19inch LCD monitor with an editing PC, via a Stuart Tyrell KVM), and upgraded my Artworks and Photodesk apps, at the end of the SE Show - Rcomp upgrades still need to be sorted out, but Uniprint is in regular use when I don't want to power up my networked postscript colour laser printer which is also on the RiscPC parallel port).
Through ITC-uk, after the show, I now have a 2nd RISCOS Select RiscPC made from the firmware of the interim portable (itself from ITC-uk), a RISCPC Mk3 motherboard, the VideoRAM displaced by Viewfinder, and my 'emergency standby' RiscPC power supply, and other 'spares' (previously I couldn't risk not having a working Risc PC!).
At this time, although software compatibility has been resolved with the Iyonix, I cannot afford, or otherwise justify adding that to the family, but only because my RiscPCs /viewfinder already offer what I need, I think?
So, for me, the availability of a VA-portable has allowed me to remain in the RISC OS marketplace, whilst still having acceptable compatibility with the companies paying my wages!
The case for the 'desktop' emulated machines is slightly different. Even in these environmentally-PC (politically correct) days, the energy saving of the ARM processor versus CISC debate fails because the periferals are common to both, and surplus heat, in winter, reduces the heating bill by other means. (Not many uk schools are equipped with air-conditioning).
Governors and others controlling the finance may be insisting on 'industry standard' PCs; possibly in the vain hope that the students will then be able to overcome the shortcomings of the office PCs when they eventually get there??
Software purchase may remain more under staff control, and therefore permit the learning of a 'second computer language' on the same hardware installation, in the same way that a language laboratory does not only teach French! Once a viable level is attained, this may lead to more native RISC OS units being bought.
Looking at other product ranges, note how it is portability that creates the market.. and ARM processors are already in many of them! Its a shame that Acorn didn't realise that before Phoebe. A small machine can ALWAYS be put into a larger case, at minimal cost, but not the other way round.
VA sells RISC OS 4, and in turn Select - which could then provide a 'viewfinder' like solution using the PC inbuilt graphics ability with the 16M internal design of RISC OS for graphics previously unavailable to us.
Phil Spiegelhalter

I have to agree with a lot of your comments. In the end people mainly buy things to do a job o some sort. If I buy a pen, it's to write with. If I need RISC OS on the move, and I often do, then VRPC-SE on a portable does the job. I have explained my rational behind VitualAcorn in a forthcoming issue.

Now Andrew Pinder with a genuine problem....

Hi Aaron
A few things:
1 Yes, I do read your editorials. How about "If company x do y and launch/upgrade product z then I will seriously consider buying it"?
2 When I load the CD I get the error message "Module X-files is not 32 bit compatible". I'm not sure what I'm missing as a result - the pages all open in Oregano2. Any chance of an upgrade on the next CD?
3 Your hardware v emulation debate: I agree they were two badly thought out rants. I think you should have sent them back for rewriting or at least published the authors' names.
4 In your round up item you raised the issue of plugging an Iyonix into a work network as opposed to installing VRPC. I'm pretty certain that our IT department would sooner plug a standalone machine in to the network. Obviously it would need to conform to network protocols, security issues etc. To get non-standard PC software installed and maintained can be somewhat involved - they have to do impact testing etc. I'm think the idea of expecting them to support a machine with an emulator on top of Windows would give them too many concerns about not understanding it, and potential hardware and software conflicts. You probably know IT managers who are somewhat more flexible but I suspect our lot are not unusual.
Andrew Pinder

It's nice to know that people do read the editorials, that will stop me recycling an old one and hoping no one notices. The error message from X-Files is a bit more worrying, having had a quick look X-Files doesn't seem to be 32bit safe, which means it won't work on the Iyonix. Having done a quick Internet trawl I can't find a 32bit version either. This leaves me with a problem, I put stuff that gets sent in by authors into X-Files archives for the software section of RISC World, and I have done this for some time. This means that anyone with an Iyonix can't open the archive and get the software. I use X-Files because it's fast and you can run stuff directly from CD. Does anyone have a 32bit safe X-Files I can use, or can anyone suggest a good alternative? And why haven't any of the Iyonix owners told me before? I have removed X-Files and will try not to use it in future.

Both articles were badly thought out, but in the end I decided to keep the names off, both authors were suitably embarrassed after I chewed their ears off. The example of plugging a machine into a network was based on a number of issues, as you quite rightly say any such machine would have to "conform to network protocols, security issues etc", an existing PC already would. I do have quite a lot of experience in selling RISC OS into schools, and in many schools you would regretfully have no chance of getting any real RISC OS machine in the door, let alone plugged into the network. At least from one point of view, a VirtualAcorn is just a bit of software, that's the rationale that many of our school customers use to get the OS they want back into use. The point is that a lot of schools want to use RISC OS, but are forbidden from buying a "real" RISC OS machine, at least with VirtualAcorn they are still using RISC OS, without it they wouldn't.

As for "impact-testing", do they hit it with a hammer? That's what we used to do with impact testing when dealing with plastics.

Well that's all we have this time. If you have any comments do send us an e-mail, especially if you have spotted a mistake as we haven't had any reported recently.

Aaron Timbrell