RISC World

Iyonix Issues

Mark Rowan with our Iyonix column.


RISC OS 5.08 released

Another issue of RISCWorld, another update to RISC OS 5 by Castle. It's always welcome news. This is, as with RISC OS 5.07, simply a ' minor update' mainly incorporating finalised copies of the previously- released beta printing and DOSFS components.

A welcome update included in RISC OS 5.08 is a new version of EtherK, the module which drives the Iyonix network interface. When resetting my Iyonix after a crash I sometimes find my machine seeming to hang early in bootup when the machine tries to connect to my router's DHCP server in order to obtain an IP address. This isn't actually a hang, as all that happens is that the network interface fails to start up properly on resetting the machine, so RISC OS is waiting and waiting for the router to respond, not realising of course that because the network interface is down, it's never going to get a response. Powering off for a few seconds then restarting the machine usually cured that, and now the updated RISC OS 5.08 has improved the behaviour even more - so much so that I don't recall having any such problems in the two weeks or so since I updated.

Updates were also made to the nVidia graphics card driver module "to address issues with machines stalling a few seconds in to boot up", and although my machine occasionally suffered from this problem it's too early to say whether or not the update has fixed the problem.

One of the most useful updates for most people will be the final inclusion of the beta DOSFS which was released in late October. Not to be confused with David O'Shea's DOSFS2 which, as I wrote in the last issue of RISCWorld, is a complete re-write. The new DOSFS 0.84 now allows much sought-after long filename support for DOS formatted discs and memory cards etc. and also displays them in the correct upper/lower case rather than the horrible looking LONGFI~2.TXT format which we've been stuck with for far too long.

David's DOSFS2 also supports long filenames, although it's currently read only and, as reported previously, has the advantage of being able to read discs/disc images over 2GB in size.

Minor confusion over updates

As Castle promised last September, RISC OS 5.07 has indeed been followed by a number of non-critical disc updates. However these updates have been plagued with varying levels of confusion arising from trying to apply them:

How the automatic update process should look...

Old beta DOSFS

The first confusion came from the update to DOSFS. Some users noticed that in !Boot.Choices.Boot.PreDesk they still had old copies of DOSFS 0. 81, 0.82 etc. These were old beta copies of the software and can safely be removed as with RISC OS 5.08 the latest copy of DOSFS, 0.84, is now in ROM.

This episode brought to light a number of other items in PreDesk which are now also out of date if anyone installed them as beta updates. Castle posted to the Iyonix support mailing list to indicate that " from a quick look back through the updates, not including beta stuff, the following are redundant:"

  • PreDesk.MsgTrans
  • PreDesk.USB
  • PreDesk.!!!!NewUSB
  • PreDesk.~LanMan229
  • PreDesk.~LanMan227
However, apparently these files are harmless as they are, and users are advised not to delete them in case they should want to go back to previous ROMs which don't contain these components in the ROM.

!Printers update failing

A !Printers update to version 1.72 was released with a few added printer definitions and other minor USB-related changes such as non-blocking data transfer when printing to a directly connected USB printer. This should result in a more responsive desktop whilst printing. The update didn't quite go to plan at first though, with all the text files re-typed as UnixEx (&fe6). The update was quickly pulled and re-issued but even then people reported problems with some parts of the update not actually being applied due to one or more of the required applications not being found.

This was eventually put down to the fact that two of the applications which were to be updated - namely !FontPrint and !PrintEdit - don't contain !Boot files to set up system variables and announce their location on disc to the update program. So when some users reorganised their discs, the updater had no way of knowing where to find these apps any more.

Dealing with failed updates

One of the best features about RISC OS in my opinion is the freedom it gives its users over the layout of disc structures and files. On most other systems all executable programs are grouped together in one huge directory (Program Files in Windows, /usr/bin or similar in Linux) but we have, under RISC OS, the luxury of being able to group apps into sets such as DTP, Games, Internet, etc. without any hassle.

Although Castle's recent updates have shown that, in fact, there is potential for a lot of hassle as automatic upgraders start losing track of where we happy-go-lucky users have left applications and files lying around our hard discs.

Is this really desirable as people alter the layouts of their discs more and more commonly?

One simple solution to this problem which has been suggested is to have a slight change to the interface of the updater program which Castle uses. As well as scanning system variables to find the location of apps, instead of simply failing if an application isn't found the updater should ask the user to drag a copy of the application to its window, and update that copy of the program.

What's happened to Merlin?

The birth of Merlin

Some time ago Castle opened a wishlist for users of RISC OS 5 to discuss and ultimately request future features for the OS. After a few weeks' discussion the list was closed and Castle announced that they were shortly to start releasing desktop upgrade packs under the name Merlin. At the time this was seen very much as Castle's answer to Select, as RISC OS 5 users had for a long time been crying out for some of the advanced features RISC OS 4 Select/Adjust users have access to.

Within weeks of the close of the Merlin discussion period RISCOS Ltd and Castle had their historic falling-out, culminating - thankfully - in an announcement that Castle and ROL would now work together on developing a single unified strand of RISC OS, and that RISC OS Developments - the new name for RISCOS Ltd - would concentrate on desktop RISC OS updates.

32-bit RISC OS from RISCOS Ltd

RISCOS Ltd develop Select/Adjust which Iyonix users have been awaiting for a long time

In recent weeks rumours abounded of a 32-bit version of RISC OS Adjust, and this was confirmed with Advantage Six's announcement of the A9 machine running Adjust on a 32-bit-only ARM9 processor. ROL (or ROD, as it will probably now be known) soon followed this up by announcing that they were indeed 32-bitting their version of RISC OS and would be doing so in collaboration with Castle, in effect to produce a single merged stream of RISC OS development.

So if Select/Adjust and RISC OS 5 are to be merged, what is to become of the Merlin update scheme for RISC OS 5? Indeed, many of the requests made on the Merlin list simply echoed features that were already available in the 26-bit-only RISC OS 4 Select/Adjust.

Merged developments

According to Castle the Merlin documentation which they had produced has now been passed to ROL and will most likely prove very useful for them in determining what new features to put into the merged RISC OS 5/Select. Castle will not be releasing the Merlin updates as originally planned, as ROL/RISC OS Developments will deal with the issue of releasing Select-based updates to all users of RISC OS - including, at long last, Iyonix users.

Do It Yourself Iyonix

Seemingly bowing to user pressure, Castle announced a very brief period running from Oct 18th-Oct 31st when users could buy a DIY Iyonix kit consisting of just the motherboard and RISC OS 5, a suitable graphics card, fixing kits and instructions at the very cut-down price of £729 plus postage. This is in order to allow users to save money by buying or re-using their own disc drives, memory, and other accessories. Offers were also limited to just two per customer.

Castle apparently denied rumours that they were clearing old stock to make ready for launch of a new machine... but we know Castle always like to keep quiet about developments they have on the go, and the Iyonix will be reaching the start of its third year this month, so we wait on tenterhooks for the next major announcement which surely must be drawing closer - especially given the arrival of New Kids on the Block for desktop RISC OS development, Advantage Six.

A new generation of competition

Advantage Six recently announced their new A9 range of RISC OS computers. Initially designed for embedded applications there are plans for desktop versions of the machine too.

This has important repercussions for Iyonix users - The A9 is built around a 32-bit only ARM9 processor and runs a 32-bit version of RISC OS from ROL (which will soon be merged with Castle's) and I believe this is the start of a new generation of competition in the RISC OS desktop market.

Whilst the ARM9 processor used in the A9 isn't likely to outperform the Iyonix immediately, the fact that another computer has been shown to run RISC OS well on a post-StrongARM 32-bit-only processor opens the door to a whole new range of possibilities for future machines. Will Castle take the next step and produce an 800MHz Iyonix based on the XScale IOP331? Or perhaps MicroDigital will complete their much-awaited 1GHz XScale 80200 processor upgrade for the Omega before that? Or perhaps Advantage Six will trump the lot and beat both manufacturers with a super-fast native ARM machine before either Castle or MicroDigital can pick themselves off the ground... these are exciting times indeed.

Mark Rowan