Paperless life and RISC OSBy Chris Williams. Published: 6th Dec 2004, 00:16:51 | Permalink | Printable
Wouldn't it be nice if everything was digital?An idea that just won't go away is the concept of a 'paperless office'. As computers get smaller and faster and invade every corner of our society, it makes sense for us to attempt to, within reason, digitalise our work and integrate everything into the one tidy space that your computer inhabits - and thus, do away with scrambling through piles of mildly sorted paper and such material.
Many have noticed, though, that as technology has improved and computer use in the UK increases, the amount of information printed out has grown too as people are forced to juggle overwhelming amounts of data. Despite various ludicrous schemes in the past, such as giving policemen laptops to take statements and notes with and an attempt to open a 'paperless schools', there are times when being paperless is a boon.
For example, not everyone works by a desk and for people constantly on the move or working from more than one location, it's more practical to store all your paperwork and such on a computer. Rather than lug files and folders of notes around, all the information you need and more can be safely archived on your machine. With the advent of wireless Internet, you're never far from an access point to pick up and send email and other data. In order to pull this off, you'll need a laptop or some other portable computer, and one that you can rely on too.
Sadly, there's no native portable solution available at the moment for RISC OS, but users can always turn to running VirtualRiscPC on a suitable Windows PC laptop. One such user is John Ward, a councillor for Medway Council in Kent, who is on a mission to become the UK's first 'paperless councillor'.
Initially, John waited for a native RISC OS solution to appear, but after the loss of the Riscstation laptop project, he was forced to buy a 17" laptop from a RISC OS dealer and run VirtualRiscPC on it. John has since attended and survived a full council meeting, and group and planning meetings, with the aid of his laptop: the ability to view maps and plans at different scales at the same time helped him a great deal.
He adds: "I shall be able to do things that no other council member can do, such as immediately access any information - for example, our constitution or planning regulations - if the need should arise, and intend to make full show of this.
"Most of my work is done via OvationPro, Oregano 2, PDF, TechWriter for Word documents, ViewXLS for Excel sheets, plus Organizer for appointments, alerts and reminders of various kinds," says John. "I also have the Electoral Register in an Impact-3 database, with filters for each of our four polling districts."
The key to all of John's efforts to become paperless is to be able to react to any situation, and find the information he needs as and when. He carries all the notes, documents and maps that he needs in order to perform his duties.
John continues: "At a planning meeting earlier this week, where I was to speak on a controversial planning application, I received last-minute advice that meant I needed to change my speech. How much better that was done by editing the OvationPro file, rather than by crossing out and scribbling in the margins of a paper version. I was still making small changes as the item was being introduced to the meeting, fine-tuning my speech in light of what the principal planning officer was saying.
"Meanwhile, I had full-colour site plans (two views at different magnifications) also on the desktop, whereas the others had merely a black-and-white photocopy of the site map at normal size -- no zooming-in is possible on paper, except in a limited way with a magnifying glass."
In the future, John would like to use Artworks 2 to overlay maps and diagrams of local features and properties to build up a better picture of his local area, as required during meetings.
Being paperless has its downsides, of course. If your computer fails for whatever reason then you're somewhat stuck. However John says that he keeps all his work backed up at home, so any data loss can be eventually recovered from, and he argues that if you make the effort to read notes and documents before going into a meeting, then a hard disc failure is less likely to be as embarrassing. There's also the possibility of data theft, in terms of someone nicking your kit or breaking into your system via a network.
"I'm sure there are other potential problems, though at this early stage I am trying to be positive rather than look for difficulties," adds John. "I'm breaking new ground, at least here in Medway. I haven't heard of any similar situations elsewhere, but that doesn't mean there aren't other ground-breakers out there somewhere."
While John knows that you can't easily turn a local council electronic in a short amount of time, he's glad that others are beginning to notice his effort to become paperless and the role that RISC OS plays in this.
As a recycling advocate, John also wants to be paperless for environmental reasons too. In 2003, the UK consumed 12.5 million tonnes of paper, compared to 1993, when it consumed 10.6 million tonnes. In 2003, we also recycled just over 4 million tonnes of paper.
The advice from the CPI is: "The amount of paper used has certainly increased, and this is partly due to developments in technology which have made paper suitable for many more purposes than originally imagined. Paper plays a very important role in everyday life. It can be easy to take it for granted but, like all the world's resources, paper should never be used thoughtlessly or wastefully. Common sense should prevail: don't use more paper than you need for the purpose; whenever possible recycle your paper once you have finished using it."
And a native solution?
Is the future of RISC OS
in a portable form?
So where exactly does RISC OS fit in all of this? The flexible, intuitive nature of the RISC OS desktop could certain aid users trying to navigate mountains of files. The other benefits of embedded RISC OS, such as immediate boot times and the range of friendly software already available for it, spring to mind. Although RISC OS is currently lacking a superior search system like the one Apple have been touting recently for their operating system, there's nothing stopping such a system from being developed. There's also smaller features built into RISC OS to help people find the files they want, such as Select's filer thumbnail mode that uses the ImageFileRender system to display thumbnails of any recognised files - from jpegs to Artworks files.
The small footprint, lightweight nature of RISC OS would suit its use in a PDA or tablet form, enabling a handheld (or slightly bigger) information device. Various processors that are powered by ARM cores, contain a myriad of useful I/O interfaces, such as LCD display and touchscreen support, which are ideal for this kind of product. John complained that his PC laptop is quite heavy and bulky, indicating that a more compact solution is preferable. There is, however, the trade off between the size of the unit and the size of the screen. While you want the display to be as large as possible to allow as much information to be seen at once, not everyone wants to lug around a 20" flat screen in their bag.
Another consideration is storage space. Whatever device is used, RISC OS must be able to support a compact form of high density storage that can deliver relatively fast data transfer speeds, whether it be, say, a small hard disc or Flash memory. The device should also possess wireless networking, for users who need to regularly connect to the Internet. In order to view the actual information, the device will possibly need to employ a PDF viewer (of which we have) and perhaps, a web browser (not a particularly hot topic at the moment) - or, a solution similar to Picsel's technology, which claims to render documents and images in a manner suitable for display on PDAs and such devices.
This could all very well be wishful thinking that amounts to absolutely nothing - just mere speculation waiting to be scolded for dreaming too much. But if Castle and AdvantageSix are serious in what they've been demonstrating to the platform (namely, the MiMagic kit and the A9 range), then the potential is there. Although, as Castle and AdvantageSix appear to be driven mostly by contract work from OEMs, we can only hope they're also considering such applications too.
In praise of clutter - from the Economist
Confederation of paper industries, UK
Using RISC OS in the real world? tell us
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