Midlands 2004 show reportBy Chris Williams. Published: 5th Dec 2004, 14:47:51 | Permalink | Printable
What was hot and what was not, plus MiMagic 5 details [Updated] Select32 infoYesterday's Midlands RISC OS show closed early, just before 4pm, putting an end to an otherwise quiet show. The general feeling amongst the dealers and developers present was that the show could have been worse, and thankfully a few punters turned up to buy new and old kit. Castle claimed to have done a roaring trade, apparently selling more Iyonixes than they did at the Guildford show, a claim that astonished a few other dealers. The Midlands isn't the most densely populated area, in terms of the number of RISC OS users.
Having spent the majority of the day wandering around the show, there were a lot of things to see and therefore many details to report - although perhaps not as much to talk about as the Guildford show due to the lack of a show theatre. It's just a shame that many users won't see these developments until next year's more popular shows.
RISC OS 5 on MiMagic hardware demonstrated
As promised, Castle had brought along with them a development board designed and manufactured by NeoMagic, fitted with a 220MHz ARM9 MiMagic 5 processor and running RISC OS 5.06. The development board was fairly large but mostly consisted of interface electronics to connect the processor to the Flash ROM and RAM and the I/O sockets located around the edge of the board. The processor itself includes all the electronics to provide USB, serial, audio, image capture and other interfaces - from the show photos below, you can see just how small the processor chip package is, and therefore the possibilities of making very small embedded RISC OS powered devices using all-in-one devices like the MiMagic 5.
We gather that a third party has created a product that's powered by the MiMagic 5 processor and then licensed RISC OS 5 from Castle to power the hardware. Castle say that they've spent a year working on supporting this device, although the work was postponed for a while as they worked on developing STBs for Pace, which were demonstrated in The Netherlands earlier this year. Castle wouldn't name who they were working with for the MiMagic support and refused to say how RISC OS was being used in the new products.
The development board was connected to a small keyboard and an LCD touchscreen, displaying the familiar RISC OS desktop in 320x256 in 32k colours at 72Hz. The board ws fitted with 64M of RAM and 32M of Flash, which included the operating system and some extra software. The touchscreen and keyboard driver modules were interestingly dated as being built in 2000. We were told that most of the I/O interfaces on the board were not supported by RISC OS 5, although the serial interface and the keyboard and LCD touchscreen interfaces were working - and apparently, this is all Castle's client required. Amusingly, half the keyboard didn't work, due to a fault in the connections leading from the keyboard to the processor. Castle say they received a replacement processor card earlier in the week from NeoMagic, but it was the wrong socket for the board and couldn't be used at the show. The touchscreen, however, worked quite well with RISC OS, and you could play Zool on the kit too.
From the configuration of the development board, the product sounds like an industrial application, and to which the MiMagic processor range probably isn't the most suited. However, a large number of peripheral devices still use a serial based interface: interfaces to the mobile phone network, GPRS, and so on. The possibilities are endless and Castle aren't going to reveal where they are pouring all their time, away from the desktop market.
I had an interesting discussion with one particular exhibitor about the notion of an embedded RISC OS. As much as we love the RISC OS GUI, if you're going to embed it into a phone or a PDA, or some kind of information display system, you'll have to customise the user interface away from the window-icon structure of the desktop to something more suited for simplified, compact use with lots of bright, inviting graphics. If you consider RISC OS to be the desktop GUI and the application software that runs in it, then to take that away leaves us with a piece of embedded software that we couldn't believe was RISC OS. You can't run OvationPro on a 4 inch screen, but perhaps Nettle and FTPc could be squeezed into such a space, though. Although it's exciting to imagine RISC OS running on the next phone-PDA crossover, or an information display for the next museum exhibit, could we, as desktop end users, accept this as a step forward for the operating system? Perhaps, only if these advances into other areas can some how feed back improvements to the desktop arena, could we appreciate the recent work by Castle, RISCOS Ltd. and Advantage Six to get RISC OS onto more platforms. When you watch the National Lottery or Who wants to be a millionaire programmes and muse, "that's RISC OS behind that, that is", you know that at the end of the day, you're still using an OS with minimal memory protection and with it the world's most expensive, and arguably one of the worst, web browsers. Great.
And so, this was apparent at the show: Castle had a fairly hard time demonstrating the board to some end users at the event, most of whom seemed to be expecting a machine that they could sensibly use. The Castle team tried explaining that the hardware on show was a development board, to test and demonstrate RISC OS 5 on the MiMagic processor, which was allegedly being used by an OEM client. As they wouldn't disclose exactly how the OS and processor are being used in the embedded world, users were left wondering exactly how relevant the hardware support is to desktop users. A few exhibitors also quietly wondered what was the point of bringing the mysterious non-desktop hardware to the show, but then, quite a few of them were still a little bitter after Castle spent the summer sending them cease and desist letters.
Castle have yet to decide on a price for the MiMagic development kit, which includes RISC OS 5 and the necessary software and developer support, but seeing as the development board itself starts at about 5,000 quid, it's not going to be a pretty price tag. Presumably, a mass produced product that employs RISC OS 5 and the MiMagic processor will enjoy a much lower retail price.
Desktop RISC OS 5
A few users hassled the Castle staff over concerns regarding their desktop hardware: the buggy audio capture system on the Iyonix, the fact that the Iyonix's on-board USB still doesn't work, the lack of MIDI support on the Iyonix, the few number of supported PCI cards and the state of Oregano. The fault in the audio capture system, whether it's a software or hardware error, is still being investigated. A user had approached Castle and offered to write the software to enable MIDI support on the Iyonix, but has since disappeared, according to Castle - if anyone else is interested, they should get in contact. As for the on-board USB, conflicts between the PCI bridges on the Iyonix motherboard forced Castle to abandon it in favour of using a PCI card to provide the USB interfaces. Plus, the PCI card offers USB2, unlike the USB1 ports on the motherboard. Castle hope to have the USB2 drivers out before Christmas and say they will ask users to pay a small charge for the new drivers.
As for the possibility of the Iyonix 2, Castle's Jack Lillingston said that such a machine would only be possible once there was a sufficient leap forward in compatible technology. He argued that, although the XScale IOP332 is faster and more capable than the Iyonix's IOP321 in terms of bus performance, clock speed and supported PCI interfaces, there would have to be a processor offering a significant increase over the Iyonix in order to produce and market a new desktop system.
New online home for Aemulor, CinoDVD, Geminus, DeskDebug
The new e-shop for Spellings.net software is software.spellings.net. Geminus will cost 25 quid and was demonstrated to show punters, with a release date of "soon". With two monitors connected to two graphics cards, one screen can show a DVD playing in CinoDVD while the other shows a RISC OS desktop, or the two screens can be combined into one wide desktop. The software interface to Geminus will also be made available to other developers, so that, for example, one screen could show the output of a PCI TV card and the other screen showing a desktop. Incidentally, full screen movie playback in CinoDVD is still a little jerky, but the sound no longers breaks up as much - writing the new ADFS is next on the to-do list, which should bring the player up to full speed.
Accelerated drawing on RISC OS and Select
Further to the curious announcement we received before the Guildford show, we discovered during yesterday's event a module on a RISCOS Ltd. RiscPC that appeared to be an AGP driver for Viewfinder cards, authored by the SIMON development team. The RiscPC wasn't fitted with a Viewfinder card, so the drawfile acceleration was disabled. RISCOS Ltd.'s Paul Middleton confirmed that the module was part of the SIMON project, and told users that future releases of Select would use drawfiles for icons, rather than sprites, to improve the visual appearance of the desktop. Another directory on the RiscPC titled 'Select 4' contained updated applications, including Paint, Recyclone and HForm.
A visitor to a show, who had been chatting to RISCOS Ltd.'s Paul Middleton, told us afterwards: "Paul seemd to feel that the Merlin project had been thrown over the wall (my words) to ROL and didn't seem enthusiastic about it, ROL having their own plans for Select. I was left with the feeling that Iyonix owners don't figure highly in ROL's plans because there are so few of them compared to RiscPC users."
RISCOS Ltd. also explained that surveying existing Select subscribers on the future of Select32 was the first phase of a public consultation and that they would be asking more widely for interest after Christmas. The logic of asking existing Select subscribers first, according to ROL, was to understand any effect on ROL's 26-bit business.
The uptake of Select for Iyonix has been lower than expected, ideally RISCOS Ltd. are looking for at least 100 users to sign up initially - however, there's the catch 22 issue where users may not have bought an Iyonix due to the lack of Select32. To receive Select32, ROL is asking current subscribers to stump up an extra 15 quid although cheques won't be cashed until Select32 is available.
Another visitor told us after the show: "I also asked Paul about issues with 3i4 Select and Kinetic cards and he said they think it might be a combination of memory. it seems the 64M Kinetics are more likely to fail and fail with more than 4M of motherboard RAM."
The Linux version of VirtualRiscPC was not on show at the event, but we were told that it is visually still the same as the version demonstrated at the Guildford show, however there are a number of glitches that need ironing out before the product can be released. The software, once heavily reliant on software interfaces to Microsoft Windows, has been converted to use SDL with the hope of making the product truly portable. We asked a RISC OS dealer, known for shipping VirtualRiscPC on Windows PCs, if they would consider selling a range of PCs that come with Linux installed and the Linux version of VRPC. The answer was a firm no, because providing end user support for Linux would be a 'nightmare' - although they wouldn't turn away individual customers that just wanted to buy a 'blank' PC and Linux VirtualRiscPC. Interestingly, the dealer also encourages users to not use Outlook Express, but recommends users stick to Internet Explorer over Firefox, because there are apparently a few sites on the web that are still IE-only and can't be rendered in Firefox.
MW Software was showing off the big list of printers supported by Gimp-Print, with more on the way later this month. MW Software are also still in the process of updating TechWriter and EasiWriter for Icon, but wouldn't be drawn on what specific additions are likely to be developed. Even updating the document software's footnote system took longer than expected, we're told, so we'll have to wait until the new features are finished. Drobe writer Martin Hansen wins the prize for best looking stand, and says he'll be adding drawfile export to his TurtleChalk software soon. As a maths teacher, Martin employs his educational RISC OS software in his school. CJE Micros, rumoured to be the future distributor of AdvantageSix's A9home system, says he hasn't heard any more details from Ad6's Stuart Tyrrell. OreganoUK say they've contacted developers Oregan about future versions of Oregano but hasn't back from them yet. Finally, Graham Shaw, author of the RISC OS toolkit, says he's working on a multi-line writable text field gadget for other applications to use.
|Ceiling of the museum's fancy new interior, rebuilt following last year's fire [View photo]|
|Exhibitors, including Qercus, prepare their stands in the minutes before the show opens [View photo]|
|The final finishing touches are put in place [View photo]|
|A shot of the "crowds" at the show [View photo]|
|CJE find the time to relax [View photo]|
|RISC OS 5.06 running in 320x256 on a small touch screen, powered by a MiMagic ARM9 processor [View photo]|
|Another shot of the RISC OS 5 desktop on the small LCD display. Yes, we know it's blurry, the photographer has been fired [View photo]|
|The touchscreen unit and the NeoMagic development board. Also attached is a small Querty keyboard. The processor, which contains the ARM9 core and all the necessary I/O interface electronics is on the daughter board seen in the lower right hand corner [View photo]|
|A close up of the MiMagic processor. This daughter card can be swapped out and replaced with other processors [View photo]|
|Another overall shot of the development board. The vertical daughter card in the middle of the board carries two Flash chips that include RISC OS 5.06 and some extra software. The development board really only includes ancillary electronics to connect the processor to the I/O ports, located around the edge of the board. All of the main electronics are on the processor die [View photo]|
|A close up of the RISC OS 5 Flash board [View photo]|
|An overhead shot of the development board [View photo] [Larger photo]|
|Overhead shot of the MiMagic processor [View photo]|
|Dual head display driver software Geminus in action [View photo]|
Update at 18:19 5/12/2004
Added extra information and quotes from show visitors to the section on Selet32 news, above.
The ARM Club website - organisers of the Midlands show
Heard something at the show that we didn't? Took some show photos and want to share them?
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