RISC OS going down, down underBy dgs . Published: 28th Apr 2004, 15:06:43 | Permalink | Printable
Users on the other side of the worldOne of the responsibilities of the Association of Acorn User Groups (AAUG) is to provide information about Acorn and RISC OS user groups to anyone interested. This is done via the AAUG website, with printed handouts or face to face discussions at shows, or more occasionally by direct email contact.
Along the way, someone needs to receive the many emails from club representatives (sometimes there is more than one representative claiming to be authoritative for the same club), and feed the relevant information into the AAUG printed and online directories. Eagle-eyed observers will have noticed that the AAUG hasn't been doing very well at all on this front, but please bear with us because we're about to make progress. Honestly.
Losing one user group is careless, but losing four is disastrous
After I took over from Neil Spellings as Chairman of the Association of Acorn User Groups, one of the most worrying times was when I started receiving responses to my emails to user groups in Australia and New Zealand. I'd asked user groups for whom we had contact details, to update me with their current information, for inclusion in the website and printed directory.
I appreciated that things might have changed since last the AAUG records were updated, but the response was far more negative than I had expected. Almost all RISC OS user groups in Australia and New Zealand were no longer running.
The most notable exception was Acorn Users Auckland, who had scaled down to abolish their annual subscription fee, but had swapped their previous venue for the generosity of their secretary hosting meetings at his house. Meetings are only scheduled when speakers and topics are available, but a membership of about forty are still receiving notifications by email, so this group sounds just as healthy as some UK groups - perhaps more so because of the lack of hefty room booking fees.
A number of the other groups said they were still happy to talk to potential new members (or returning old members) if anyone was interested. So if you fancy waking up a nearby RISC OS user group even temporarily for an informal discussion, check out the contact details at the end of this article. Sadly, most of the groups that had closed down didn't hold out much hope of a resurgence of interest, even with additional publicity. Prove them wrong!
If you have problems contacting any of the user groups listed, please let us know, and we will investigate further.
The Antipodes really do exist
Several groups wrote back saying that the main reason for the demise of their group had been the absence of any RISC OS dealer in their country in recent times.
This came as a surprise to me, as I knew that both RiscStation and Castle had appointed dealers on that side of the world in relatively recent years. (Indeed, I was once party to a minor conspiracy planning to release entirely truthful headlines - with supporting photos - along the lines of "RISCSTATION AUSTRALIA BUY CASTLE" to selected news outlets).
A little further investigation revealed that actually the concerns of these user groups were misplaced. Although not located especially close to any centres of population, Robert Werry Computer Services became a reseller of both Castle and RiscStation products in 1999.
Robert describes himself as a "true believer", and told me: "I will sell, support and promote RISC OS machines while ever Castle are willing to supply me and while ever there is breath in my body." That's the spirit. As an Acorn qualified technician, he is happy to carry out all types of repair, maintenance and support for both hardware and software.
Robert Werry Computer Services itself uses RISC OS computers exclusively, and Robert says "my customers are well aware that these are the only machines and operating system I endorse or recommend". Maybe he tones that down a bit when talking to the local Windows and Mac press - he does sell lots of Windows computers too.
Robert might be able to make it to Brisbane, Sydney, or points in between (such as Newcastle or the Gold Coast) to talk to user groups and demonstrate RISC OS products. Even these locations involve up to an eight hour drive for him - rather different from the fairly closely spaced user groups in the UK and Europe.
Likewise in New Zealand, Educational Software Distributors, run by Sharon Hayes, is still selling the Iyonix. Unfortunately we haven't been able to get in touch with Sharon to establish her views on the current RISC OS situation in New Zealand.
It's easy for people in any part of the world to get the idea that there simply aren't any (or many) RISC OS users anywhere near them. After all, even the most enthusiastic RISC OS users don't tend to walk down their local high street wearing Clan Acorn T-shirts, so how would you know who they were?
Australia and New Zealand suffer from this lack of communication just as much as any other country, but that doesn't mean there aren't still plenty of RISC OS computers in use. One user told me of a school in Australia that still had over three hundred RISC OS systems in regular use, albeit running Windows applications via Citrix for some of the time.
Very long lines of supply
Another issue that several groups said had contributed to their demise, was the cost of shipping RISC OS machines from the manufacturers in the UK, to the end users on the other side of the world.
We suspect that RiscStation still build some systems locally in Australia, but at present it's the Iyonix that most users are interested in. The combination of substantial shipping costs, the current exchange rate between the English pound and the Australian dollar, and local sales tax on top of it all, has put off many potential purchasers. Stuck with ageing Risc PC systems, users increasingly lost enthusiasm.
There is now a scheme to get round these problems in Australia, which is already very well advanced. (Watch this space). In New Zealand, ESD do already manufacture Iyonixes locally using parts shipped separately by Castle.
Robert Werry Computer Services, or call +61 (0)2 664 643 77
Educational Software Distributors
Acorn Users Auckland
Acorn User Group Sydney
Canberra BBC User Group
Acorn Users Waikato
Victoria BBC Users' Group
dgs is the chairman of the AAUG, as well as writing as a drobe.co.uk correspondent
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