RISCOS South East Theatre Talks
Guildford Show Talks
This article is written from the notes I scribbled down during the recent South East Show in Guildford. I attended the show primarily to sit in on the theatre talks and to listen to what the various people had to say. This unfortunately means that I didn't have time to look at each of the stalls for long in the main hall and so have not really commented on the show as a whole, but rather only typed up my notes so that others who were not present can get a feel for what the presenters were telling the public.
As is usual at these show talks, there is a presentation talk, followed by a question and answer session. I've summarised the main talk and then paraphrased the question and answer session for each person. I didn't catch the names of questioners even when given, so I have marked each question with "Q -" and each answer with "A -". The notes I took are reproduced and expanded here in good faith, but any mistakes are my own.
Castle Technology Ltd.
The Castle Technology Ltd. talk was split up into three sections:
Jack had a few slides running from a desktop Iyonix X100 which summarised the current range of cases, specifications and prices. This was basically a repeat of previous talks with no significant new announcements. The only thing of note was that Castle are marketing the DIY kit once more after having previously only making it available as a limited time offer. Additionally there were some new graphics cards (requiring an Iyonix ROM update), but I guess this is just the sign that older cards are becoming more difficult to get hold of.
Jack also noted that the RISC OS 5.12 ROM is now available for download (at a cost).
Jack then opened the floor to questions about the products.
Q - Where is the laptop?
A - Iyonix Ltd. was formed to sell the computer products. Castle Technology Ltd. is only interested in Licensing RISC OS. The problem with a laptop is the case. You need a lot of money to get a case. They require large production runs in the order of 10,000s units. The market is not big enough. The other option is to take an existing case but either other manufacturers won't share them or the case is obsolete before the motherboard is ready. (Now where have I heard that before? - SP).
Q - Are Castle Cooperating with RISCOS Ltd. on RISC OS 6?
A - Jack said that he would probably cover that subject in the next part of the talk, but he didn't.
Q - Can you explain the Lead Free Solder issue?
A - It's an EC directive to remove Lead from products. (actually many harmful substances - SP) New products must conform, but there are exceptions. It only affects products manufactured after June, Jack said. He then went on to say that the Lead Free transition is relatively simple, but some products become obsolete and therefore there are no Lead Free replacements for some parts. Jack said that the current Iyonix PCs are not affected by this legislation but any new machine would be Lead Free.
Q - Have Castle considered using the new faster X-Scale processors?
A - Jack gave his normal answer about not commenting on possible future products, but he added that the new CPUs had been noted.
Q - There was a follow-up question from elsewhere in the theatre which asked that, given that the motherboard may have to be redesigned anyway for Lead Free, would it not also be a good time to use a faster CPU?
A - Just one word from Jack... "Possibly".
Q - Now that RISC OS 5.12 is a chargeable update, is that the start of charging for all updates?
A - RISC OS 5.12 is a one off charge for a new ROM build. Beyond that further updates are likely to be free for a while, but any further updates will require RISC OS 5.12 as a baseline.
Q - Will 5.12 with the new graphics card solve the "pyjamas" problem?
A - The New card appears to have resolved it.
At this point Steve Revill arrived and the question session ended. Jack then went on to talk about the direction in which Castle wanted to take RISC OS. Jack stressed that Castle owns RISC OS. He went on to say that Castle wanted to try to get RISC OS used in more places around the world and there were some key issues to be addressed. The following are the things they want to do.
Jack went on to explain that, for commercial developers, the Intellectual Property (IP) is around the edges of a common core and so these are the bits that commercial companies want to protect. In order for companies to make the best use of RISC OS, developers within companies need free access to the sources of the core parts.
Castle don't want a free for all with chaos and unorganised source code changes, but want to set up a central repository that can be managed for the best interests of all using the sources. Castle would license the sources free for personal use, but would charge a small royalty fee (in the order of pence) to commercial users of the sources. The intention is not to use a GPL license, as is used in Linux, but a "Shared Source" one, such that commercial users can protect and keep their IP.
The RISC OS sources will be gradually released over time and Jack suggested that Browse, Shared C Library and Printers would be early releases and a full ROM Build capability would be possible at some point, so that even Iyonix users could build a new ROM set for their machine. Jack also said that the initial release of code would be within weeks.
He then changed tack and went on to explain that Iyonix Ltd make the Iyonix motherboards and want to sell them, so they want to get as many users as possible. It is hoped that a community will develop around the Shared Sources web site so that potential customers would be able to see this and it should therefore make selling RISC OS easier. In summary, Jack finished by clarifying the role of Castle Technology Ltd, Iyonix Ltd. and RISC OS Open Ltd. as follows:
Next was Steve Revill of RISC OS Open Limited.
Steve began by saying that RISC OS Open Ltd. basically had five people, four of whom were ex-Acorn and ex-Pace engineers. RISC OS Open Ltd. is a part-time activity for those involved. The four people at the helm, in addition to Steve are:
Apparently RISC OS Open Ltd. have been talking to Castle Technology Ltd. about opening up the sources to RISC OS for a while, but until recently had not been able to talk publicly about it. RISC OS Open Ltd. had been formed to achieve a number of goals:
To some extent there was an overlap between some of the things said by Steve and points which Jack had touched upon earlier. For example, Steve confirmed that it was the intention to release enough source code for people to be able to build their own versions of a RISC OS ROM. Part of the reason why RISC OS Open Ltd. had been discussing these matters with Castle Technology Ltd. for some time was that release of the sources is quite a big task. There is a lot of code with comments stating that it had been licensed to third parties and so Castle Technology Ltd and RISC OS Open Ltd. have to choose carefully what to release.
One of the areas of source code that Steve said needed to be opened up was the Printer Stack and another was some of the Relocatable Modules which formed part of the Browse web browser because they had much useful value to people independently of Browse itself. Steve stressed that RISC OS Open Ltd. wanted to ensure that there were low barriers to the commercial use of the sources and that they hoped that RISC OS could be widely adopted.
The floor was then opened up to questions and these are summarised from my notes below:
Q - How do you avoid duplication of effort on RISC OS between RISCOS Ltd. and RISC OS Open Ltd.?
A - Steve answered by saying that, although duplication was unfortunate, it all depended on how much benefit the work on the source code would be to others. In some cases duplication might be worth the effort to bring such benefits to others. One example given was that if the RISCOS Ltd. version of !Paint was never to appear for the Iyonix, then opening up the sources could allow someone to improve the RISC OS 5 version. Steve was keen to make it clear that RISCOS Ltd. were more than welcome to contribute to the shared sources effort.
Steve added that there will be a forum for suggestions about changes or new functionality where these could be discussed to decide if something is worth doing.
Q - Given that RISC OS Open Ltd. is part-time, how much time and effort will Castle Technology Ltd be putting into source changes, and is Peter Wild around?
A - Jack was quick to state that "Pete" is on board and that RISC OS will be promoted by everyone. As to whether Castle Technology Ltd will be working on the sources, this is unlikely, but they may do so sometimes. Jack said that there are many markets where RISC OS code might be used, but Castle Technology Ltd can't predict these, so he felt it was better to let others find them.
Q - Have RISC OS Open Ltd. and Castle Technology Ltd thought about a subscription scheme and therefore getting users to vote with their money?
A - RISC OS Open Ltd. do want donations, but are not sure that subscriptions are the right way to go. The feeling is that it is not good to block access to small developers who may not have the cash. Therefore it had been decided just to charge small royalty fees for commercial exploitations which come about as a result of having had access to the code. As an aside, Steve talked about the fact that opening sources should allow the possibility of multiple hardware builds, for example, allowing people to make builds compatible with the Risc PC.
Q - If Castle Technology Ltd are not actively developing code, then where will RISC OS 5.13 come from - will it come from RISC OS Open Ltd.?
A - Any work that Iyonix Ltd. do will eventually feed back into the pool for others. As an example, Jack suggested that if a Firewire driver was created, then Iyonix Ltd. would want to be selling that for say, six months and then may decide to submit it to the pool of available source code. In this way others could further enhance it and Iyonix Ltd. would also benefit from those developments. The most important thing is to develop the RISC OS core.
Qercus - John Cartmell
Firstly John made an apology to subscribers and the RISC OS community as a whole. The latest issue of Qercus (277) had taken a long time to get right, but this has now been achieved.
From the beginning, when John took the magazine over from Mike Williams, there had been a problem. This was because the printing company had changed the method by which they would accept material to be printed. Prior to John taking the magazine on they had accepted printed copy which had been prepared for them, but now they needed material in Postscript and every time, something went wrong.
At one stage, after much of this had been understood, Qercus even ran an article on what was happening in the printing process, but the Printer fixed some of the deliberate mistakes that were supposed to illustrate some of the problems which can occur. Then there was the fact that it was extremely difficult to move to another printer and, coupled with family issues, this caused further delays.
John said that Qercus didn't want to send out a tatty magazine and upset subscribers by delivering something of sub-standard quality - they needed to get it right by ensuring that:
John reassured everyone that issue 278 was on track for the end of November and expected subsequent issues to follow about every six weeks.
John thanked David Bradforth, who was sitting on the front row in the audience, who had been instrumental in fixing the copy problems that John had encountered.
As a result of the new arrangements:
Next John moved on to what's in the magazine and why he does it. He said he produces the magazine because he believes in the RISC OS market and wants to see it survive and flourish and, hopefully, get more people buying hardware and software.
Now that the magazine is being distributed directly by the Qercus team John made an offer to any user groups that he can include a small leaflet which can be targeted to subscribers in the local area of the user group.
In issue 277, which was the much delayed issue of the magazine, there were the following articles:
Qercus intends to celebrate the 25th Birthday of Acorn User and John plans to delve into the archives as part of that celebration. Also John hopes to use the archives to make use of old series and the Qercus web site and will be, in some cases, re-issuing articles and in other cases they will take old articles and update them. Many articles from the archives are still relevant today and John wants to give people who were not around ten years ago a chance to see some of the material (updated where appropriate) that is still of value.
John is also considering taking suggestions from users about old articles that they would like to see made available on the Qercus web site.
In summary, John made it clear that he's not doing this to make money. He wants RISC OS to continue to improve and that this is his contribution to the market. Finally, John reminded people that Qercus pays its contributors. Questions were then invited from the floor.
Q - Are you intending to put whole issues of Qercus online?
A - This has been requested by people in New Zealand, partly due to the time taken to reach them and John is considering what may be possible, but he's not yet had time to fully investigate the possibilities.
Q - Why is Qercus not available in newsagent?
A - John's response was that Qercus is available from newsagents, but only if you order it. Big newsagents charge very large sums of money just to have a magazine on the shelves.
So that people can at least browse the magazine John intends to put snippets up on the web site, but obviously only snippets as he doesn't want to cause actual sales to drop. He added that he will send a free older copy of the magazine to anyone who wants to see what Qercus is like.
Q - What will be in the magazine for Christmas?
A - There will be a freebie, a non-computer board game that you have to play with someone else. There is a series about computer games so that people who might otherwise not play games will have the opportunity to do so at Christmas. John also wants occasionally to have people picked at random to receive a small prize as a way of saying thank you to the subscribers.
Q - Which software packages are used in the production of Qercus?
A - Ovation Pro, Artworks, various Cerilca titles, various titles from David Pilling, but copy is received in all sorts of formats. John had tried to use RiScript 5 but this failed to live up to expectations and was the cause of some of the problems suffered during the last twelve months.
Qercus is now produced using these tools and output as Postscript, then passed to David Bradforth for final preparation using Distiller Press on the Mac. This is a highly configurable piece of software that can produce the PDF output required by professional printers. John added that RISC OS can produce PDFs, as has been shown with previous issues of Qercus, but for it to work you need to be sure that nobody at either end of the process changes anything.
Part of the problem with some issues of Qercus had been the articles on the History of Type. This series means that every single issue of the magazine required a new set of fonts and this was where problems occurred with the output. Issue 277 had three very expensive attempts to get it right and was a major struggle. The magazine's content is quite complex and not straightforward. It is because they are pushing the limits that some of the problems have occurred. After these three failed attempts John enlisted David Bradforth and, after about two weeks of working on the Postscript output, David was able to get the required result.
David interjected at this point to emphasize that the production of PDFs for the professional print industry required some very specific settings and that this amount of control is not available within packages such as RiScript.
John finished with a big thank you to David Bradforth and also said that Qercus was looking for reviews of software. They want these to be from people who actually use the software rather than only using it for the purpose of review.
Advantage 6 Q&A
Matt Edgar from Advantage 6 was next up with a question and answer session. Matt started by saying that he had not prepared a talk, as he had not been informed that he was to be doing one prior to his arrival at the show and that he had even paid to get in!
The question and answer session then began.
Q - When will Flash 3 be out?
A - Matt declined to commit to a date but said merely that it would be released when it is ready.
Matt then expanded his answer and explained that there was a cost to producing a flash update and they needed to be happy that it was right. The cost was not so much monetary, but the time required to fully test the components which would go into the update and then the testing of the update itself. Advantage 6 would have liked to have had the next flash update out before now, but there were other dependencies which until recently could not even have been discussed, such as the now public announcement from RISCOS Ltd. about RISC OS 6.
Q - What version of RISC OS will the final retail version of the A9 have?
A - RISC OS 6 will be the base version on everything, and that will include the A9.
Q - What advantages will Flash 3 have over earlier A9 ROMs?
A - There will be some graphics enhancements, some USB fixes and some Disc Image items.
Q - Any comment on the RISC OS Open Ltd. Shared Source announcement?
A - It means duplicated effort, which is unfortunate, but probably good for RISC OS as a whole.
Q - How much priority is being given to USB Printing Support?
A - The USB Stack under test at the moment addresses some printing issues. !Printers is something that you will need to discuss with RISCOS Ltd.
Q - Are there any known issues with sound? (A user had noticed a minor problem with an odd distortion)
A - The A9 differs in some of the sample rates it supports when compared with a Risc PC and will therefore select the nearest to that requested. With the slower sample rates it is possible that some may not available on the A9.
Q - In certain circumstances sound has crashed and will not function but CTRL+BREAK does not resolve this and instead a full power on reset is required. Why is this?
A - In a specific case that is known about the hardware drivers need a full reset.
Q - There are three types of user who have been purchasing the A9; Beta Testers, Experienced Users, and Retail Users. Is there a standard information channel available to all that Advantage 6 use to communicate issues?
A - The mailing list is available to all, but Beta Testers are giving detailed Technical Feedback, so they get some things earlier than others and therefore it is useful to treat them differently. As an example, there are some Beta testers who have been using USB stuff a lot and they have been able to report on issues and test fixes without affecting other users.
Q - Advantage 6 have shown technology demonstrations of Bluetooth on modified hardware. What are the chances of getting this for A9Home?
A - The A9Home is a basic machine which does not include Bluetooth. There is a problem with hardware updates so it's better to use USB for such things, but it is very costly to be a Bluetooth developer. Advantage 6 would need to justify the numbers before embarking on such work.
What's new at RISCOS Ltd. - Paul Middleton
The obvious answer to anyone around the show or who had been to one of the earlier roadshow events is that RISC OS Six was new. Paul started by saying that RISC OS Six was the latest and most up to date version of RISC OS.
There seems to have been confusion in some quarters, which I have witnessed first hand, so it seemed appropriate that Paul had decided to set the scene by defining the various versions of RISC OS from RISCOS Ltd.
RISC OS Select is a soft loadable version of RISC OS, but is only available for RISC OS 4 or later, so you need to have RISC OS 4.02 or later ROMs in your machine to be able to use Select. When soft loaded, RISC OS Select takes up 6Mb of RAM and loads its ROM Image into that memory, so your machine appears to have 6Mb less memory.
RISC OS Adjust is a ROM version of RISC OS. Currently there is the Adjust-32 on the A9Home - which is RISC OS 4.42, or there is the RISC OS Adjust ROMs for Risc PCs and A7000s. This is RISC OS 4.39 squashed down to fit into 4MB for the Adjust ROM package.
RISC OS Six is to be the new base level operating system from which all future updates will be derived. One of the big differences between previous versions of the operating system and this latest one is that, RISC OS Six is built from the new 26 / 32-bit neutral source code. Paul made it clear that any Risc PC class builds would be built as 26-bit because it didn't make sense to build them as 32-bit and then have software which couldn't run on 26-bit compatible machines.
RISC OS Select will continue the development of the operating system and be based upon RISC OS Six. Select 4 issue 1 will be the current version of RISC OS Six. There will soon be a download available of the RISC OS Six preview for Select subscribers, but those who have subscribed with a CD option will not receive a CD immediately as this will be a short while behind the release of the preview download. Paul also advised people that they should not expect a full release of RISC OS Six under Select 4 immediately. The first issue of Select 4 will be the preview of RISC OS Six and as it is a preview it will not be a full and complete version.
RISCOS Ltd. have recently released their Programmer's Reference Manuals on the Web free to all, and these are available from the RISC OS website at: http://select.riscos.com/prm/index.html.
It is hoped that the RISC OS Six preview, available to previous Select subscribers as well as those who have continued to support RISCOS Ltd., will encourage re-subscriptions from those who have allowed their subscriptions to lapse. Subscribers who have renewed since 31st May 2004 will be eligible for the preview, whereas those who have current subscriptions at the time of release will get the final version. After Select 4 issue 1, Select 4 will continue with further releases.
RISC OS Six may work on the Omega and RiscStation machines, but this is not guaranteed because any problems found may not be easily resolved as the companies involved are no longer around.
Paul ended his talk and invited questions from the audience.
Q - Will RISC OS Six run 26-bit applications correctly?
A - Paul said that everything should be fine and that RISC OS Six has hardware abstraction (quite a lot) and so should be happy on a range of hardware. Paul also added that some of the acceleration within RISC OS Six is using the hardware abstraction and facilities available on, for example, the Viewfinder cards. It is hoped that RISC OS Six will support any combination of Risc PC hardware thrown at it. RISC OS Six does not contain a HAL like RISC OS 5, but is able to abstract hardware.
Q - Will Virtual Risc PC work with RISC OS Six?
A - There is no reason why not. It happily works with RISC OS 4.39.
Q - Is RISC OS Six available now?
A - Not at the moment. It takes a long time to make and test a ROM set. RISC OS Six will be a soft load for current hardware for now. RISC OS Six is not available as a one off payment, as in Adjust. Pricing will be as for subscribing to Select, as this is the way to obtain RISC OS Six.
Select has several advantages to RISCOS Ltd.. It allows us to know how many people are interested in continued developments and also how much money is coming in. This information helps RISCOS Ltd. to know what is worth doing.
Q - What about Select for the Iyonix?
A - RISCOS Ltd. would like Select for all machines, but there are factors to consider, such as time required. Iyonix is on the cards, but the lower levels must be done first. Stand alone Select Relocatable Modules have been shown running on the Iyonix, but some of that was unstable as it was not fully integrated. RISCOS Ltd. would like to be able to get the full package onto the Iyonix.
Q - Does RISC OS Six provide a base such that just drivers would be needed for the Iyonix?
A - Yes, in theory, but it would need to be fully tested. RISCOS Ltd. doesn't have the resources to throw at this.
Q - What are the new features in RISC OS Six?
A - RISC OS Six is just the first release of the next Select version. Select 4 features will be added over further issues. RISCOS Ltd. are not intending to Open Source the code to RISC OS, but they will enable development of RISC OS for all hardware developers (I expect he meant along the lines of what RISCOS Ltd. and Advantage 6 have done for the A9).
As part of his answer, Paul stated that 26-bit processors had continued in production far longer than ARM expected partly due to the demand from Pace for use in their set top box products.
RISCOS Ltd.'s goal is to support RISC OS developers and, in contrast to what some people think, all money has not gone into the A9 development. Advantage 6 paid for that. RISCOS Ltd. will be happy to work with anyone in the same way.
As far as features are concerned:
RISC OS has started to enforce rules from the PRM which were previously specified but unenforced. This has shown that there are lots of applications which have slow, creeping bugs which only cause trouble after the application has been running for a long time. Examples of such things are memory leaks or stack problems. One specific application which has been fixed as a result is StrongEd.
Hopefully over the next six months or so people will be testing many variants of hardware and applications on RISC OS Six. RISCOS Ltd. cannot do all the testing, users also need to provide feedback.
Q - Which machines does RISCOS Ltd. use for testing?
A - Mostly Risc PCs.
Q - Can the graphics converters output to PDF?
A - Not yet, but there is Taborca and RiScript. RISCOS Ltd. may not become involved in PDF export as you need to be quite an expert in PDF for that.
Q - RISCOS Ltd. have previously mentioned a possible move away from Sprites within the Desktop. Has there been any progress on this?
A - No, but RISCOS Ltd. has been looking at further graphics speed ups in hardware cards like the Viewfinder. Martin Wuerthner could probably explain what might be possible. RISCOS Ltd. have previously demonstrated hardware acceleration work done by the Simon team and this is very advantageous.
Q - With the new PRMs on the web will there be a printed copy available?
A - RISCOS Ltd. hope to produce a CD and Printed Manual at some stage, but before this it all needs to be carefully checked. There is no timescale or price set yet. RISCOS Ltd. have also been doing much debugging of the OS and have provided facilities for programmers to get more detailed debugging information too. Paul didn't want to go into detail but said that it's all in the PRMs.
Q - What changes have been done to Networking?
A - Zero configuration, Multicast and Rendezvous support. Querying other nodes on the network. All this has been done with the aim of making it much easier to just plug a RISC OS device into a network and use it. There has also been work on speedups and smoother operation.
Q - RISCOS Ltd. are not opening up the Source Code, but are you working with RISC OS Open Ltd.?
A - Not got around to it yet. Both parties have been busy, so time has not yet allowed it.
Q - Having mentioned customisable window furniture, are there any theme managers?
A - Other people could probably do it with the info that is available. There is already the Cosmetics application by Richard Hallas, which is well documented. Also Richard Goodwin has done a Themes manager.
RISC OS NOW - Louie Smith
Louie began by introducing herself as the Editor of the new magazine and stating that it was on sale now. She said that it was 'hot off the press' that morning and she had collected it from the printers on her way to the show.
RISC OS NOW is for users and programmers and contains tutorials on applications such as Artworks and articles about the relevance of programming. It is a full colour glossy magazine and Louie said that she had tried to go for a particular style, something similar to that of MAC World and other computer magazines. Other articles either in the first issue or planned for future issues were an interview, Techwriter, Basic BASIC, Outside-In (non-computer related) and she wanted it to be a nice general read.
Louie wants the magazine to attract new people to RISC OS. She did, however, admit that there were mistakes in the first issue.
As to the purpose of the magazine, Louie said that she wanted reliable content (ensuring the source of info was accurate) and a high quality magazine, but also wanted it to be what we, the readers, want and to that end had a suggestion sheet on the magazine stand in the main show hall.
Next Louie gave the audience a bit of background about herself. Last year she helped on a stand at the Guildford show. She had used RISC OS when she was about 13 years old at school and then later was forced to use Microsoft Windows for her university dissertation and this went wrong. Paul Vigay re-introduced her to RISC OS and she felt much more comfortable with it. With the peace of mind that using RISC OS gave her, she felt she wanted to produce a magazine. As many of us have found, Louie said that RISC OS allows her to do what she wanted without expecting system crashes. The user should be limited by imagination, not by the computer.
The price of the current issue of the magazine on the day of the show was £4.20, or for a year's subscription £29.95. The magazine is bi-monthly.
Before inviting questions from the audience Louie said that she would welcome any suggestions by email.
Q - What ideas do you have to reach new users?
A - I have contacted W.H.Smith to find out how I might get the magazine onto their shelves. Firstly the magazine needs an ISSN number, then it needs to be printed and submitted to them for review. Issue 1 will not be going to them because of printing errors.
Additionally, Louie intends to "plug" the magazine within schools.
Q - What software is used in the production of the magazine?
A - Ovation Pro, Artworks and Photodesk. The printers require PDF files - which is really awful. RISC OS NOW is output as Encapsulated Postscript with bleed, but there were hundreds of problems and the copy went back and forth to the printers. Anyone who says this stuff is very difficult is not exaggerating. After two months the first issue of RISC OS NOW was done.
Q - It's really good to hear about someone new joining the market with a good positive attitude. How do we stop everyone else arguing?
A - The market is small and doesn't need people arguing. I don't know why this is happening all the time. People just need to chill out and stop being so nasty.
Q - Where are the articles coming from?
A - I just announced that I was starting a new magazine and wanted contributors and got them.
That was it for the RISC OS SouthEast theatre talks. A very interesting experience and I look forward to seeing the results from all those who gave their time.