RISC World

Letters Page

It's been on the treadmill, it's had physiotherapy and it's bound to feel better, so let's see what's in your letter...s

Phew, we have had one heck of a full postbag (by our standards) this issue, so lets see what's been pickling your onions over the last couple of months...

Dear Aaron,
I'm generally pleased with the magazine, but think the navigation could be improved.
When I choose a page from the index page, and then return using the index icon, I return to the top of the index page and have to scroll down to get to where I came from.
I suggest that the index links from indexed pages should return so that the index item you went to them from is at least on the returned index page, and preferably at the golden mean position about 2/3 up.
This could easily be achieved using fragment identifiers. I think you could make some assumptions about how readers view your pages - screen resolutions/window sizes - and even if you got it wrong, it couldn't be worse than the present situation.
On a separate tack, thanks for the 32-bit x-files - very useful to me for accessing old CD-archived material on the Iyonix.
Having bothered to do that, why can't you do a 32-bit ZipEE. The only really non-32-bit thing about it is that it's been absoluted with a 26-bit header provided by an old AppBasic version - the zip and unzip apps are available 32-bitted already.
It would be dead easy to sort out given a bit of motivation!
Best wishes,
John Williams

Thanks for your letter. Dealing with your points in sequence. The links on each page directly reference the relevant page, so, as you have found out this will always load the new page with the view at the top. I think this is the correct behaviour. Lets say that you start at the main index page, then click on the link that takes you to my editorial and then you start reading the editorial. Half way down you decide to go back to the main index. At this point you have two choices. First you could use the "back" button on your browser. Lets assume you do that. This send you back to the main index. You then decide to continue reading the editorial. You now click on the "forward" button, and a well behaved browser will take you back to where you were on the editorial page. This is I think what you want.

Doing this in the HTML itself could be far from trivial, for a number of reasons. Firstly, as you say, we would need to make an assumption about how things are read. This would be a big mistake, you can never make such an assumption. Secondly you suggest that somehow the page should "rememberquot; where it was. We could do this so each article send you back to the main index at point n (where point n is the link to the page you were just looking at). That wouldn't be too bad, but, and this is why it isn't going to be done, someone has to do it. If someone has to do it, and lets face it that would be me, then that's going to take more time/money from the editorial budget. I would rather spend the money on another article, or on research for articles. Time isn't free, which brings me on the comment about !Zipee.

The 32 bit X-Files was done for our own use. We needed it, it didn't exist, so we did it. !Zipee is a great program, and it's hidden in the resources for each issue. However there are 3 2bit Zip applications around. !Zipee is indeed simply "hidden" inside a wrapper, so, why not do it yourself? It's quite easy to extract the BASIC from inside. Dump the wrapper and away you go. Mind you don't forget to get the author's consent before distributing it...

Our article about open sourcing RISC OS generated a number of comments...

Your article on the recent announcement about the open-sourcing of RISC OS was, to say the least of it, fascinating.
So, let's see if I can work out what it is I own. That would seem to be three licences, no, I forgot, sorry, four licences to use: (a) the set of Risc OS 2 ROMs that came out of the A3000; (b) the set of Risc OS 3.1 ROMs that are still in the A3000 (but currently unused because it's 9,500 km away from here); (c) the set of Risc OS 3.60 ROMs that came out of the RiscPC; (d) the set of Risc OS 4.39 ROMs currently installed in the Risc PC.
That's the easy part. What is less easy is to identify the licensors and their rights. I definitely hold (a) and (b) from Acorn Computers Ltd. and their successors and assigns. In the case of (c), the machine was bought second-hand, so I suppose I inherited the original licensee's right to use, itself derived from Acorn Computers Ltd. (something Microsoft are working on scotching in the case of their infamous product, which will thereby become even more infamous). I hold my licence to use (d) from RISCOS Ltd., so, like (a) and (b), that is, from my point of view, clean.
What it seems from your article is highly uncertain is precisely what the respective rights of Acorn Computers Ltd., Pace, Castle Technology and RISCOS Ltd. are to any or all of the products they have been licensing to people. I was aware, due to the large volumes of vitriol I have observed flowing under bridges, that the rights of RISCOS Ltd are somewhat uncertain, at least in some areas.
What I was not aware of is that the rights of Acorn Computers Ltd. and their successors and assignees are also somewhat uncertain.
What a mess!
One thing is clear. It doesn't matter what various people may or may not think and say about open-sourcing RISC OS before such time as the ownership of the product is made clear. Until that is done, no-one really knows where they stand, so no-one can plan anything with any certainty, be it commercial moves or otherwise. Now I think I understand what it is that has been bugging this platform and putting brakes on various attempts to develop it.
All I can say is that if the RISC OS platform is to survive, one prerequisite is for someone, somehow to sort out this unholy mess, difficult as it seems that may be to do.
A pile of badly-written junk it may be (evidenced by the recent discovery of well known bugs still lurking inside Vista, unfixed), but Windows does have one huge advantage over the RISC OS world: Microsoft does at least have ownership of its product.
Michael Poole

Thanks for the letter. Firstly with regard to your copies of RISC OS. As you say, you don't actually own any of them, you have a licence to use them. That licence is conditional on you obeying the terms. If you break the terms, you lose the licence. Your sets of RISC OS 2 and RISC OS 3 ROMS were licenced to you by Acorn. You may own the physical ROM, because tou paid for them, but the use of them is subject to a licence. The second hand machine is still licenced from Acorn as it contains an Acorn version of RISC OS. RISC OS 4.39 is licenced to you by RISCOS Ltd. All these ROMS are for use in an "Acorn" machine. Provided all you do is use them in an Acorn computer then you are within the terms of the licence. You can sell them on to a third party, and pass the licence on, provided you do not keep a copy.

To clarify a point, and it is a point I will keep emphasising, RISCOS Ltd's licence is 100% solid. There is no uncertainty when one has all the paperwork. RISCOS Ltd has full rights to use/develop/sell/whatever RISC OS except for a couple of very minor exclusions. I won't discuss these exclusions as the whole thing is covered by multiple NDAs (Non Disclosure Agreements). My advice, if you see anyone claiming to know what ROLs licence allows and doesn't allow, is to ask if they have a copy, along with the side letters. If the person doesn't, then they are talking out of their hat (arse - HJ).

As you may have noticed, despite a big announcement in September, not one jot of source code has been released by RISCOS Open Ltd. I shall leave you to ruminate on to why this is. In order to assist this I will suggest some purely speculative reasons that might be worth considering.

  • Those involved in RISCOS Open Ltd are too busy at present to sort things out.
  • Castle haven't yet provided the sources to RISCOS Open Ltd.
  • RISCOS Open Ltd didn't have the sources at the time of the announcement, but now they have seen them they can't be made available due to licensing problems.
  • Or...perhaps they daren't open source it, because they know they don't have the right to?

The whole thing may sound like a bit of mess, but in reality it's fairly clear cut. None of these problems effect RISCOS Ltd. With regard to ownership, actually Microsoft doesn't own all of Windows, some of it is licenced from third parties in just the same way that RISCOS Ltd licence some components from third parties.

Finally, with this issue the letters page has been back for a checkup with it's consultant, Dr Vince Hudd...

Hi Aaron,
I was just reading the letters... sorry, why's that plural? I was just reading the letter page in the latest issue, and couldn't help but notice Hugh's comment about the space filling waffle, which jogged a distant memory.
Wasn't there an episode of Star Trek about some kind of space filling waffle, which just kept on growing and growing?
I notice that in his article entitled "Establish an online presence for your business" David Bradforth, while mentioning a number of RISC OS packages, managed to miss out what (in my totally biased opinion) must surely be the best tool RISC OS has when it comes to website design and maintenance: WebChange.
The program is a commercial package, but while work progresses (unfortunately slowly) on a complete rewrite, the last 26-bit release is available to download from with no obligation to purchase - though purchasing brings with it a free upgrade to the new version, when it is eventually released.
Whereas many programs provide exactly what it says on the tin, and some provide a lot less than that, it has often been said of WebChange (by me, obviously, but people often nod their heads in agreement, though I suspect that's just to humour me in the hope I'll then shut up) that it does a lot more than it says on the tin - or would, if it actually came in a tin. This is mainly because I've added features to it over the years and forgot to document them, and only remember when people ask "can it be made to do whatever".
Some of the main facilities provided by the program include search and replace of all text/html files in a directory tree (including conditionally), concatenation of files, insertion of datestamps, file sizes and other files (to create a pseudo SSI facility for those whose hosts don't actually provide SSI facilities), case conversion of html tags, file renaming and case conversion, and much more besides.
The main thinking behind the software and, therefore, it's primary purpose, is to simplify the process of making what would otherwise be repetitive changes to a website - and to that end, the majority of the program's facilities (including many not covered by the front-end) are available via its script language.
One regular user of the software, who happens to be me (well, I'm the only person I can contact at this moment in time - I'm not online where I'm typing this) says of WebChange "It's the dog's danglies, mate!"
...and a little while later... and, yes, I've read the entire issue. Now doesn't that just take the biscuit? (Which could almost be an entry to the caption competition, if it wasn't for the fact it isn't the least bit funny!)

Starting from the end. Actually you should have sent that caption in, that would have doubled Hugh's entries. Now lets start again at the beginning. I think the plural of Letter is Letters, although we don't often have the problem at RISCWorld HQ. There were a couple of StarTrek TOS (The Original Series) episodes that features big space filling thingies' Indeed Star Trek actually won awards for the special effects (stop laughing at the back). I would go and check through the original series box sets, if I could be bothered to go downstairs, but then I might not come back up again and the letters page would just...

Sorry, went downstairs, made a coffee, fed the dogs, and did some faffing about, but I am back now. I'm sorry we neglected to mention WebChange2, we really should have done as it is, hold on, what did your e-mail say? Ah yes, it is an excellent package and well worth the miserly registration fee. Why don't we have a special RISCWorld version so people can try it out? You've done it? It's in the software directory already? Blimey that was quick.

Being serious for a moment, it is a very useful program and we genuinely do have a special version for RISCWorld readers to try out in the software directory on this issue.

Anyway that's all for this issue's letters page. If your letter hasn't been published, don't worry. I will have kept it for next issue so it looks like people write to us on a regular basis.

Aaron Timbrell