First Steps in Programming RISC OS Computers
A RISCWorld reprint of the updated second edition
Congratulations on buying your RISC OS computer! By the time you get to this guide, you'll probably have used a variety of software applications which came with the machine, you bought yourself or downloaded from the Internet.
Obviously this software didn't write itself! Somebody sat down at a computer very similar to yours and created it. The major packages would have been written by professional programmers, perhaps working for software houses, but a lot has been created by people who simply write programs for pleasure.
Programming for pleasure? Certainly. There is plenty to be derived from creating something in this way. It costs virtually nothing to do, once you have your computer, as all it needs is your time, electricity to run the machine and some space on your hard disc to store the result. If you don't like what you've written, you can always just delete it and try again.
Think of it as a kind of DIY without having to buy any raw materials. When you have finished you will experience the deep satisfaction of possessing something that you created yourself, especially if you can achieve the 'feel' of a professional product. What you have is unique (unless you've given someone a copy!) and you are the one who understands its inner workings and who could modify it if you wanted to.
This guide introduces you to your machine's built-in programming language called Basic, which makes it easy to write programs. We'll start with simple things like putting some text on the screen and work our way up to writing a complete game and a useful database program.
You're probably aware that one thing which sets your RISC OS computer apart from other types is its excellent desktop which uses the WIMP system. Wimp stands for Windows, Icons, Menus and Pointers and allows you to run several programs at the same time - called multi-tasking - using windows to share the screen. Writing programs which do this is a trifle complicated but you can find out how to do it in another guide, A Beginner's Guide to Wimp Programming.
The first edition of this guide was published under the title First Steps in Programming Acorn RISC OS Computers in 1993 in book form by Sigma Press, Wilmslow, Cheshire. If you have a copy, hang onto it! It could be something of a collector's item now as only 1,000 copies were printed. The world of RISC OS computers has moved on a lot since then, though the Basic programming language has remained largely unchanged. This guide has been revised so that it may be followed from the screen and also to take account of the fact that there is now a wide diversity of RISC OS computers in use with differing capabilities where screen modes are concerned. In addition, all the software is available to you electronically. Although the programs are listed in the guide, you'll probably wish to just follow them from the listings and run them, rather than type them in yourself.
Thanks are due to my brother Robert for help with the Munchie game, especially the design of the sprites, and to Richard Hallas for his work on the conversion of the DTP version of the guide from Impression to Ovation Pro format.