RISCOS Midlands Show
Aaron's take on the most recent RISC OS show
I had concerns over the RISC OS Midlands 2004 show. I can express these concerns in two ways, will the venue be finished? Will anyone turn up? Let me explain this, firstly there was no show last year after the terrible fire at the National Motorcycle Museum. The museum was being rebuilt and was actually scheduled to open the day before the 2004 show, which is cutting it a bit tight. Secondly since there had been no show in 2003 would anyone remember that the show was on in 2004?
The morning of the show dawned a kind of dull grey with overcast showers, rather like me early on a Saturday morning. I dumped all the show kit in the Shogun and headed off across country to the M40. This took longer than expected due to being stuck behind a Sunday driver who was so slow he had actually had to leave a full day early. Having finally reached the M40 judicious use of the loud pedal recovered a bit of time, that was until the motorway slowed to a standstill. Why? I have no idea. Still eventually I arrived at the Motorcyle Museum with only a few minutes to spare. Luckily I travel fairly light and it only took five minutes to unload and set up the stand.
I delivered a monitor to Martin Wuerthner (it had been in the roof since Wakefield) and had a quick wander round annoying people until the magic hour of 10 o'clock and the show opened with a flurry of inactivity. Were any customers going to come? It looked like no, but the real answer was yes, it was just that they had all secretly decided to turn up 10 minutes after the show had opened to scare exhibitors.
After a few minutes customers started to appear and the show really got going. On the VirtualAcorn stand we had a steady stream of customers all morning and it was nice to see (to see you nice) a number of existing users who came along for a chat. We also picked up a steady stream of new customers over the entire day. Still that's enough about VirtualAcorn what about everyone else?
APDL were doing a very brisk trade in DrawWorks upgrades, Schema upgrades and their countless other products. I noticed a stack of clip art CD's that diminished to almost nothing by the close of the show.
Dave Holden hides behind a customer to avoid getting his picture in RISCWorld
Next door R-Comp's stand was continually busy with eager customers after the latest versions of Messenger Pro 3. CJE Micros had once again bought along almost anything you could possibly want for RISC OS. The ARM club were on hand to recruit more members, and to answer technical queries. ITC had loads of RISC OS spares and Martin Wuerthner was very busy all day showing off the latest killer features in ArtWorks2 as well as explaining the benefits of GimpPrint. In the centre of the show Finnybank were selling subscriptions to Acorn User/Acorn Publisher/Qercus. The charity stall had a selection of software but due to more bloody stupid EEC computer recycling legislation not much hardware. Next door Fortran Friends were showing off their wares to interested punters.
A grinning Mike Glover of Icon Technology was managing to sell out of TechWriter and EasiWriter upgrades with ease and of course Archive Publications were on hand selling subscriptions to Archive and Living with Technology. There were a number of other stands around including OreganoUK Ltd and others, but rather than name checking everyone lets move on and see what was actually new.
ROL were on hand giving out the latest details of Select 4 including the plans to use vector graphics instead of bitmap graphics for icons. Also hidden away were parts of the SIMON graphics acceleration project, including, according to some sources, various RISC OS AGP drivers. ROL were also trying to gauge further interest in Select32 for the Iyonix. ROL also had the Select 4 versions of various apps available for eager subscribers to see.
Geminus is the name for a new bit of software from Neil Spellings, this allows you to connect two graphics cards to an Iyonix and split the RISC OS desktop across two displays. So in theory you can have two 2048 x 1536 displays (assuming you can afford 2 monitors of that resolution). A user could also have one task running on 1 monitor and the rest if the desktop displayed on the other. The API for Geminus will be released to third parties allowing software developers to take advantage of the 2nd monitor. Also on display was a slightly smoother version of CinoDVD, but due to problems with the speed (or lack off) with ADFS on the Iyonix CinoDVD still isn't available. Work is being undertaken on a new ADFS which should hopefully solve the problem.
Which of course finally brings us to Castle Technology...
Castle had previously promised to have on display an MiMagic ARM 9 board running RISC OS, and they were as good as their word. On display was a development board running RISC OS 5 on a MiMagic 5 (around 200Mhz) with a small keyboard and a 320 x 256 LCD touchscreen display. The development board was fitted with 64Mb of RAM and a 32Mb Flash card. A number of RISC OS apps could be used and the machine was also shown playing the old arcade game Zool, which should give some indication as to it's high degree of compatibility with RISC OS software.
The MiMagic board sounds very exciting and there was a lot of interest from RISC OS users, but at the risk of being shot down by the Castle Technology acolytes I think it's only fair to point out a few things.
Firstly from what I have been told this isn't a new product, it's actually an old Pace device. A number of those in the RISC OS community have seen this machine before at Pace's old Cambridge premises. Indeed talking to an ex-Pace engineer a few days after the show I was told that work was actually started on this project in 2000, that's 4 years ago. The board itself is a MiMagic development board, and isn't even a current one. Castle had apparently hoped to have a new processor for the show, but the new MiMagic processors won't fit the old development board. Drobe also reported that half the keyboard didn't work properly. The cynics amongst you might wonder if this was damage caused when the board was thrown in a skip by Pace, or perhaps when Castle pulled it back out? Who can tell.
Although the serial port, keyboard and the touchscreen were working fine there didn't seem to be any support for all the MiMagic's other devices including USB and audio capture.
Having a quick play with the machine would quickly show any user how unsuited the current RISC OS desktop is for small displays. Opening a simple filer window with a few icons in will fill the screen. If Castle are actually serious about this device then the desktop will have to be re-worked to fit the display size. Claims were being made that a "client" had signed up for the device, but what was on show wasn't even a prototype device it was more a technology demonstration and a flawed one at that. Still it would be nice to imagine a whole new raft of portable RISC OS devices in the hands of millions, but I am simply not convinced based on what was shown to the public. Hopefully Castle will have something more akin to a real device for the Wakefield Show.
So that was the ARM Club Midlands 2004 show. It was busier than I expected and was well worth attending both from a financial and a personal point of view. I am looking forward to the next show, RISC OS SouthWest in Feb with keen anticipation.