RISC World

Editor's Corner

Aaron Timbrell's own bit of the magazine.

Editors Rant of the month

Welcome to the first RISCWorld of 2008. Now that the mince pies have gone in the bin and all the Christmas cliches have been packed away for another year we can all sit down and look forward to 2008. So what might this new year bring? Well if the start of the year is anything to go by a large injection of common sense seems to be arriving in RISC OS land, and it's not before time if you ask me.

Let me explain. Over the Christmas and New Year break I've seen an increasing number of dedicated RISC OS users finally admitting that they actually use other operating systems as well. This is good news. It might not sound like it, but bare with me and see if you agree.

Firstly it's worth saying that the things RISC OS does well it The things it does badly are best done elsewhere. The problem is the things RISC OS can't do (Skype, YouTube, Flash, DVDs, printer drivers, banking etc). The incessant march of technology means that this section keeps growing...and growing. In my view (and in the view of a number of others) it's now reached the point where most people can't do all the things they need to on a computer using RISC OS alone. I accept that there are always going to be some users who feel that RISC OS does everything they need. In some cases this is true, especially if you press the point and discover that "RISC OS does all they need" for the simple reason that they don't really "need to do anything". If you are writing the odd letter and doing a bit of e-mail then pretty much anything will do the job.

(For example, did you know that the Amstrad e-mailer phones have a parallel printer port, pull out keyboard and a colour screen. Plus you can get them for little more than a tenner second hand. If you are feeling really brave you can even get them to run a cut down Linux install, although the built in software will do the job quite well).

So how do you deal with the problem that there are so many things RISC OS can't do? The answer is simple. You have to use something else. Now I know I can hear the sharp intakes of breath, the long pauses whilst people fire up their copies of Messenger Pro and start writing a stiff letter of complaint. However whilst you are waiting for your RiscPC to load something I should point out that I am not suggesting using something else instead of RISC OS. I am suggesting using something else as well as RISC OS. Gosh.

It's not an either or situation, it's an as well situation. I use RISC OS for some jobs (such as writing RISCWorld, designing artwork etc) and I use Windows for some other jobs (handling e-mail, video encoding, writing music etc). I've been working like this for sixteen years. I always have two computers on my desk. One runs RISC OS and one runs Windows (or Mac OS sometimes). I then simply pick the best tool for the job. It would be great if RISC OS was always the best tool, but it simply can't do some of the things I need.

It seems as though this has finally penetrated a few particularly thick RISC OS skulls. This is good news. Why? Because it means that instead of struggling away trying to do something that RISC OS isn't good at the users concerned just fire up something else and do the job. But surely, you say, "once they see Windows and other things they won't use RISC OS anymore". Rubbish. Once you have a choice of tools you see the benefits of both. Trying to use the wrong tool just leaves you frustrated. If you spend hours trying to make RISC OS do something that Windows can do in ten minutes then your view of RISC OS will be so coloured that you are unlikely to ever go back to it. On the other hand if you use RISC OS for the jobs it's good at, you will continue to use it, and be happy with it, and won't bother investigating the alternatives for that particular job.

Recently on the Archive-On-Line subscription e-mail list one of the subscribers said that he was recommending RISC OS to people who had never had a computer before. He got thoroughly told off by the other subscribers because they had reached the same conclusion I had. It's simply no longer possible to use RISC OS in isolation as your only operating system. You need to have something else to fill the gaps. If a new computer user started with RISC OS they would soon run up against it's many limitations and move elsewhere, never to return.

So how do we deal with the problem? I say that we need to accept that we can't. None of the companies involved in RISC OS have the resources needed to plug the gaps. Many more engineers are needed and more money is needed to pay them. So does this mean I think RISC OS has had it? No, not at all. If the community continued to pretend that RISC OS was wonderful and did everything, then that would be the end. However with realism sweeping in things actually look a lot brighter. We can recommend RISC OS in addition to other systems. Having trouble doing that job with Windows? Then do it on RISC OS easily and quickly.

There is just one fly in the ointment. Currently the hardware costs are too expensive. It's difficult to recommend a £500+ machine to do a few jobs to someone who already has a computer. But it is possible to recommend a cheap secondhand machine or a sub £100 emulator. That's one of the reasons I am happy. If the high cost of new RISC OS hardware dropped to a realistic level then I would be twice as happy.

In my last editorial I mentioned the continued arguments on RISC OS newsgroups and how sick I was of it. As en experiment I decided to really lay into one of the main protagonists to see what would happen if he received the same treatment he dishes out. Guess what, it worked. He didn't like it and shut up. As a result I am delighted to say that I have enjoyed the RISC OS newsgroups more in the last few weeks than I have in years.

The following is about the vehicular faith, not specifically about computing.

Once again I have had little chance to do much motoring related nonsense since the last issue. The Porsche still sits unloved on the drive with the engine in bits. The Matiz sits parked outside the house and apart from a slow puncture on one rear tyre continues to do sterling service. That only leaves us with the Monterey.

This doesn't get a great deal of use. This is due to it's considerable consumption of petrol. This is hardly surprising. It has a 3.2 litre 24 valve V6 engine, weights just over 2.6 metric tonnes and goes like the clappers. In fact it will go past anything, except petrol stations. So, unless I need to move something that's either, big, long, heavy or a combination of all three it tends to sit on the drive. If it hasn't moved in a couple of weeks then I use it for a day just to keep everything mobile. Experience has taught me that the bigger the vehicle the less it likes not being used for long periods. Anyway the other day I needed to go and pick up our new dining room table from Tamworth. This is only a few miles away but on the trip back the brake warning light popped on and refused to go out.

I don't like driving vehicles that have warning lights showing, funnily enough neither does my father in law, he removes the bulbs. Anyway before the Monterey could be used again the problem needed to be identified and fixed. Since I had done some work on the rear brakes only a few hundred miles ago for the MOT this looked like a good place to start. I put aside Sunday (only slight drizzle) to take a look. The first thing to check was the handbrake. This has been adjusted for the MOT as it had all the stopping power of an 80 a day smoker in a tobacco factory. Was the handbrake actually coming on very slightly and causing the warning light? I jacked up the back of the vehicle and checked. No the handbrake was fine and the rear brakes themselves weren't binding.

I now turned my attention to the front brakes. Perhaps the front pads had worn down and the wear sensor was coming on? I loosened the front wheel nuts with great care (read past editorials) and jacked the vehicle up and removed the wheels. Then I unbolted the calipers, removed them and checked the pads. They were a little worn, but how much? Luckily I had a spare set and was able to compare them. The result was that the pads that were fitted were only about half worn. In fact they could have been totally worn out and the brake warning light still wouldn't have come on as the pads didn't have a warning sensor.

I then started to get a little worried. Could it be the ABS that's going wrong? By this time I had spent about an hour and half in the dirt under the car and was getting rather wet and cold. Then a remarkable idea struck me. I went into the roof and found my magic brake repairing item. I then applied it's magic formula and whilst holding my breath started the engine. Whoppee, the brake warning light had gone out. A quick trip round the block didn't cause the light to come back on. Job done. So what was the magic ingredient? I'll let you into the secret. It's called brake fluid.

Printing RISC World

The new look of RISC World means that you will no longer get the yellow background when printing articles from RISCWorld. However you will still get the blue border on the left unless you turn off the printing of background images. The example below shows the print dialogue box from Fresco.


As you can see the option "No Background" is ticked. If you want to print out any of the RISCWorld pages and don't want to waste ink on a blue border then make sure you have clicked a similar option in your browser.

Aaron Timbrell