From The Cutting Edge
From the Cutting Edge 22
When Acorn announced the replacement for the RiscPC in the winter of 1997 it seemed like there was a bight future ahead as an Acorn / Xemplar dealer. The Acorn World show was going to be at the new Xcel exhibition centre in the East of London and there was a competition running to give a name to the new creation. At the Wakefield Show Acorn had taken a large area to set up a marquee to show off the Risc PC 2 and developers were getting to grips with the new opportunities for video editing, multiple hard drives, video playback, loads of memory and ultra fast networking that was on offer.
At the hardware developers conference in Cambridge there were over 200 companies present. Acorn honcho Peter Bondar presented speaker after speaker who extolled the virtues of the new machine. The hype continued with a dealers conference at the Officers Mess at RAF Duxford, but from friends who worked at Acorn I was hearing the first rumours that all was not well. Was the Phoebe going to work? Could Acorn sell enough to recover the development costs?
Then came that fateful Thursday in September 1998. At about 11.30 a.m I had a call from my brother to say that I should sit down. Acorn were closing down the workstations division, cancelling the Acorn World Show and most importantly cancelling the Phoebe project. Within minutes I was phoning Steve Turnbull who was about to sit down for his first staff meeting at Acorn User magazine, which he had just bought from Redwood Publishing. I said "Steve, you'd better sit down!" The rest is history.
With the 10th anniversary of Acorn's closure rapidly approaching, now is the time for a bit of reorganisation at RISCOS Ltd. The RISC OS Foundation was the first public undertaking by RISCOS Ltd, it was set up at the ARM Club Midlands Show in 1999 to provide a focus for activities to promote the continuation of the Acorn community. At that time we didn't have a deal with Acorn, and many people were still hoping that someone would be able to takeover the manufacture of Phoebe. Richard Hallas was then brought on board - hot from his editorship of Risc User magazine - to produce the new Foundation Risc User CD magazine. He produced 20 editions of the CD, along with 2 compilation DVDs (which were the first RISC OS DVDs), before retiring to go back to university to do a PhD on the History of Acorn computers.
Anyway let's return to 1998. After Acorn's collapse it became clear that regrettably Phoebe was not in a state to go into manufacture, at least not without a considerable amount of cash injection - which no-one had. So the focus was placed on completing the development of RISC OS 4, and getting it to work on as wide a range of machines as possible. Looking back there was no way, all those years ago, to predict the developments that have happened since. Who in 1998 could have imagined the X-Scale based Iyonix or the launch of a software only Virtual RiscPC.
In the intervening years RISCOS Ltd has carried on with it's core goal of developing RISC OS. Initially releases are made as part of the Select scheme, once we are happy with a particular version of RISC OS it is committed to a physical ROM that is plugged into the computer. What possibly needs some explanation is the status of the various versions of RISC OS 4 / 6. RISC OS 4.39 in ROM is the version that we recommend is used for the basis of any softload versions of RISC OS Six. The reasons for this are primarily that RISC OS 4.39 contains valuable features such as built-in DHCP networking for use with broadband internet connections, as well as the Boot configuration system which can be accessed by holding down the Shift key during boot up.
Select versions can be loaded on top of any version of RISC OS 4 (from 4.02 onwards), but without the benefit of the new features being available until the softload has been completed.
In terms of RISCOS Ltd's development a huge amount of effort has been put into the development of RISC OS Six, the preview of which was first shown publically in 2006. At the Wakefield 2007 show we launched the first full version of RISC OS Six, via the Select scheme and also as a Single User, Single computer version. The single user version was aimed at providing a trial version for users who may either have lapsed from the Select scheme and wanted to try out RISC OS Six on their computer before rejoining the full Select scheme, or else for people who hadn't previously been in the scheme and wanted to try it out. The RISC OS 6.06 Single User version is available for £49, but does NOT include future updates or bug fixes. There is not a Single User version of the latest RISC OS 6.10 available at present, but users who previously purchased a Single User version of Select can obtain the latest version by paying an additional £49 to effectively upgrade to a full Select subscription. So I hope you will enjoy the new Foundation Risc World CDs and if you are not a Select subscriber, I hope you will consider joining, especially as it is now fully compatible with the latest Virtual Risc PC products.
The release of Select4i4 has seen many significant new features added to RISC OS Six. As RISC OS Six is very much based on new code, there is still the potential for niggles to occur. This is where the Select subscribers still come in. We can't possibly test RISC OS 6 with every combination of hardware and software and as such we hope that Select subscribers can let us know of any problems that are encountered. The best approach is to use the RISC OS Select Google Group at http://groups.google.com/group/riscosselect.
The Select scheme provides softload versions of RISC OS that are at the cutting edge of development. If you are interested in the latest versions of RISC OS then the Select scheme, offering a years worth of RISC OS upgrades should be worthy of your investigation. You can find out more from http://select.riscos.com.
So what is RISCOS Ltd up to next?
Earlier in this article I said that the aim of RISCOS Ltd was to get RISC OS 4 running on as many machines as possible. This goal still applies to RISC OS Six. Our roadmap is well defined, in the shorter term we intend to release a version of RISC OS 6 for all owners of the A9Home. Following on from this we are still committed to getting RISC OS 6 to run on the Iyonix (which currently uses the 32bit Pace derived RISC OS 5). This is no easy task, despite what some may claim, given that we have a limited budget to work with and a lack of information. The recent announced releases from RISCOS Open may prove useful and provide some of the information that we don't have about the low level operation of the Iyonix hardware. We hope to start making some RISC OS 6 derived components available for Iyonix users later this year. We can use these components as building blocks to add more RISC OS 6 features with the eventual aim of a full RISC OS 6 release at some future date. If this project was easy, or we had huge resources, then we would have done it by now. But we are a small company and we need to ensure that we have a realistic chance of recovering the development budgets on any projects we undertake.
So what else is being worked on? To put it simply I cannot tell you at this time as too much is still in the planning stage. We are not resting on our laurels and are looking years ahead to a bright future for RISC OS.
Since Richard Hallas left as editor of Foundation Risc User we have been quietly looking for a suitably qualified replacement. Regrettably the search has not been successful and it's not been possible for myself, or the others who work for RISCOS Ltd, to have the time to produce the issues required. As such we have decided that the most sensible option is to combine Foundation Risc User and RISCWorld. Both magazines have more similarities than differences and we all feel that this is the best approach. From the 1st of May 2008 all subscriptions to the RISC OS Foundation will be transferred to the new magazine, suitable called Foundation RISCWorld.
As a final present to subscribers from RISCOS Ltd, there will be a DVD and CD, featuring a compilation of Acorn promotional videos and Acorn Replay movies, for all current Foundation subscribers and those whose subscriptions expired after May 2007. (If you are lucky enough to be using RISC OS on a modern PC or Mac based VirtualAcorn product then you will be able to enjoy the original Acorn Replay movies at far better quality than previously possible).
Paul Middleton (Managing Director RISCOS Ltd)