RISC World

The RISC OS Software conundrum

Aaron investigates an increasingly common problem...

Lets suppose that a RISC OS developer has released a new version of the program. Lets call it !SuperDuper2. It's freeware, you can go and download it from the author's website free of charge. It's a great package, you have seen people raving about it on the newsgroups. There has been an article about it on one of the RISC OS news sites and it's just what you want. So you point your browser along to the authors site and grab yourself a copy.

Picture this...

Having downloaded it, without reading the instructions properly, you run it. However it won't run as it complains that it needs version something or other of some other strange thing (lets call it !ObscureBootThingy) that you don't have. Hmmm. So you go back to the authors website and read the text properly. Then you spot a link to the extra bit thats needed. Of course this extra bit was written by someone else and so you get a link to click on to go and get the !ObscureBootThingy. You click on the link, your browser chunks away for a bit, then suddenly you get a "Page not found" error. can you use !SuperDuper2 without !ObscureBootThingy. Obviously other people have this thing because they have been raving about !SuperDuper2. How have they got hold of a copy...

Does this scenario sound familiar? It should, it's certainly happened to me on more than one occasion. So lets have a logical think about it and see what the problem is and how we can solve it. How do we get hold of !ObscureBootThingy when the link that goes to it doesn't work.

Lets roll back the the early 1990's for a moment. At that time the internet was just starring out,and if you wanted a program you went to a PD library and bought a disc for a pound or so. If you were feeling especially flushed then you might buy a CD with lots of things on. The key point is that there was one place you could go to and get the thing you were after. These days you have to go hoping all over the internet to find anything.


So, lets go back to !OnscureBootThingy. The best idea is to start searching on Google. My tip here is to always include either the word Acorn, or the word RISC OS. This can make a huge difference to the search results. Try looking for "Ovation", then try looking for "RISC OS Ovation" and you will see what I mean. Using Google you have a good chance of finding a link that works. After all you already know which link doesn't work so you can rule out any references to that straight away.

There are other ways of finding what you want, one of which is databases of links. There are a number available for RISC OS and some of them are very good. The ones I use on a regular basis are:

Comprehensive collection of links maintained by Paul Vigay.

A large list of links with both commercial and freeware entries.

Google Directory for RISC OS.

However, the links database is just that, a collection of links. If the links don't work you are no better off. The only solution left is to go and ask someone on the Acorn newsgroups, if you haven't given up by now.

So what can we do?

Here is the problem, there is no 'one stop' website where you can go and download anything and everything you might want. If you were running Windows or Mac OS you could go to a site like Softpedia or tucows and no doubt find what you were after quickly and fairly easily. However we don't have such a resource for RISC OS. There is no single site you can go to and find software, or even just browse to see what new software has been released.Instead we have a fragmented mess, with authors putting stuff up on their own sites, often with rather obscure links. Now, of course, the design of a website is the preserve of the person who created it and I have no right to complain about what they do, or to criticise. Don't forget that these authors put their time in for no reward except perhaps the pleasure of having people use their software. However this does not promote RISC OS in the way it should be promoted. What we need is a single RISC OS website that, instead of linking to authors individual sites, stores the information and the files locally, so everything can be found in one place and should an author's website disappear the software doesn't vanish with it.

I think this is very important. Do you know what freeware and shareware is available for RISC OS? I bet you might know a small amount of it but only a tiny fraction of what has actually been written over the years. Some has now been lost for good, unless a copy turns up on someone's harddisc. When you delete the utility that you no longer use, remember it could be the last copy in existence. So what can be done?

I think the someone must bite the bullet and set up a single website with enough storage and enough bandwith for all. It's going to cost, it's going to take a lot of time and effort but I think it must be done. If RISC OS users can't find the applications they need, then they are going to give up with RISC OS and move to another OS that does what they need. Forget any supposed fork in OS development, this is the big problem facing RISC OS. If we don't solve this one and make it quick and painless for people to find what they need then, in my opinion, we might as well pack up and go home.