Plain sailing for a new desktop machine?By Ian Chamberlain. Published: 26th Mar 2005, 21:53:30 | Permalink | Printable
Ian Chamberlain offers his view on how the time is right for a new desktop machineOpinion There's still very little word on our platform's next exciting hardware buzzword, the A9 and specifically, the A9home. It's safe to say, however, that all things considered, this new piece of kit (shock horror, a real hardware RISC OS machine) could be quite a success and might even attract some new users to the platform. I'll explain why.
There are several reasons to be excited; mainly, the backdrop's perfect. Advantage Six's proposed computer platform has the luxury of adopting all the major RISC OS software titles that have already been future-proofed to work on 32bit versions of the OS. Users will be able to upgrade without first having to wait for developers to do the necessary work. They can be thankful for the Iyonix which paved the way.
A further thing to say about software is that our catalogue of high-quality software is in relatively fine health. The platform's popular e-mail client Messenger Pro has recently seen some important development. ArtWorks2 and TechWriter are in able hands and deliver impressive capabilities to compete with graphics and word processing software on other operating systems. And remember just a couple of years back when users would complain of not being able to print to the new models of photo-quality printers? This has largely been resolved by the excellent GimpPrint software. The fact that this last title is open source is significant. In my estimation it will be a further open source project that will deliver the resolution to our current crisis (the lack of an up-to-date browser) and other gaps. The fact that RISC OS versions of well-known software are starting to appear on our platform adds to our credibility. I call on users to support this effort.
But perhaps Advantage Six's real success will lie in their approach of co-operating with others. Castle decided to go it alone with their own version of RISC OS. In fact Castle developed a very unhealthy relationship with many of the market's companies when they threatened them with legal action. Instead Ad6, better known as STD to RISC OS desktop users, has worked with RISC OS Ltd. to create a new version of the OS suitable for running on their new hardware. This is a massive benefit. Many users are crying out for a version of Select (the most feature-rich version of RISC OS) for the Iyonix. And it is significant that we will probably see this version running on the A9 platform before (and if) we ever see it on the Iyonix.
Remember when I criticised STD for developing technologies that would benefit very few RISC OS users (more specifically, their VVRAM technology)? Well, they listened to a user's concern and made it available to all Virtual RiscPC users. In fact, I have to state explicitly that I'm impressed with the way that STD seems to have developed good relationships with almost everyone in the RISC OS community. Perhaps it was this spirit which allowed them to develop a thermal dye printer driver to support Simtec's, and their main rival's, USB implementation. To use a cliché, STD has managed to win the hearts and minds of the market and this is a good indicator of how successful they have been and will be in the future.
Also key to the A9home's success will be its ability to plug a gap in the market. Apple realised the need to deliver an attractive, feature-full version of a Mac to a low-budget market. Their Mac mini filled the criteria and is creating a whole new generation of Mac users. Before, the technology was attractive, in fact fashionable, but many users were barred from the exclusive world of Apple because of the price tag. I think the same applies for RISC OS. Okay, we're not so fashionable, but we do have an operating system that people like the look of. Many a time I have demonstrated RISC OS to friends - where they've been interested enough to ask about buying a machine - only to have them laugh in my face when they're shown the price of an Iyonix, our only bit of new hardware.
Obviously we need to remove this stumbling block. New users need an easy route into the platform. This is why one of the A9home's key features must be to have affordable price.
And if it doesn't attract new users? The A9home will be the perfect upgrade for the significant number of users still using RiscPCs. In fact, it will be this group who will find the option most appealing. These users have held back from upgrading to new hardware because they don't want to compromise between fast hardware and the most feature-rich version of the operating system. The A9home will be able to deliver on both these fronts.
STD have said the specifications and the future of the A9home, of which nothing has been officially announced, is down to the dealer who commissions the desktop project, currently rumoured to be CJE Micros.
Advantage Six and STD will both be exhibiting at this May's Wakefield show. On the what we can expect at the event, Ad6's Matt Edgar told us earlier this week: "Advantage 6 will have some items which should be interesting and relevant to show-goers, but are not current STD offerings.
"These things will show some of the directions that Advantage 6 are taking with familiar technology - but not intended for the retail market, and also how some of our OEM work feeds back into the retail and enthusiast arena (either through STD or third parties)."
He added: "Some of this will start to be visible over the coming weeks."
So to sum up: If STD and friends listen to what users want, the contemplated A9home will deliver, on a background of active software development, and very soon an up-to-date open source browser, the best version of the operating system, the most popular USB implementation, fast hardware, and most importantly, at an affordable price. And if we're lucky, and someone's got some savvy, a nice sleek case-design like the Mac mini. Oh, and one last thing. Please get rid of the A9home name. It's horrible.
Am I asking too much? Personally I think it's plain sailing.
A9home in public
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