The development of RiscX with author Leo WhiteBy Chris Williams. Published: 23rd Dec 01:33:45 | Permalink | Printable
Recently released RiscX has proved to be very popular amongst RISC OS users who have their RISC OS machines connected to various other computers. Getting these networked computers to co-operate with each is usually made difficult when different OSes are used on each computer. Leo White and Phillip Camp, however have bridged one of those networking gaps by developing an X server application for RISC OS. An updated version of RiscX, which is currently in an alpha -but none the less stable- release, has been published on Leo's website; public feedback in response to the project is said to be positive and the usenet response has backed this up.
An X server is a program that connects to a multiuser server and allows a user's computer to run programs remotely from the server. A number of X client applications are available, such as the Mozilla web browser, and are like everyday desktop applications except they can be used simultaneously with many users. These client programs appear to be running on the user's computer when in actual fact, the X client is running on the remote server with the X server application doing all the hardwork as a middleman shifting information between the server and the user's computer. RiscX is one of those hardworking server applications and thus demands at least 8Mb of memory and RISC OS 3.
All kinds of clients are catered for by the X server protocol, from games to web-browsers to word processing. RiscX can deal with them in multitasking and singletasking form and as Leo puts it, "Its one way of getting Mozilla to run on a RISC OS box."
After noticing the interest generated by just the alpha release of RiscX, we spoke to one of the authors, Leo White.
"RiscX was started by myself and Phillip Camp after we had finished our final exam at university last year. The main inspiration was that we would have liked an X server whilst at University, but Gnome's !X was really too expensive for us students to afford.
"The plan was to port the Open Group's X server. So the next few
months were spent looking through the code and getting it into a
position where it would compile. Then time was spent getting the
display working, and finally input support."
By the start of the year, Leo and Phillip had full time jobs which restricted the developmennt of the project to a snail's pace. In order to make that final push to make RiscX releasable, Leo took time off work last month to get the project into an alpha release.
Using the freeware GCC and the commercial Norcroft CC compiler, RiscX is linked against UnixLib with the frontend written in C using Leo's own WIMP library. Editted using Zap, the majority of the modules were developed in BASIC assembler before being written up in C. The whole project was put together on an A5000, a RISC OS 4 RiscPC and a Kinetic RiscPC also running RISC OS 4. For good measure, Leo and Phillip also had Debian Linux running on a x486 box and Solaris running on a Sparc 1 machine.
The two coders faced a couple of problems, the first being the overwhelming amount of source code to wade through and port to RISC OS. The second was one slightly more interesting if a little less tricky.
"One initial problem was that input wasn't being resolved", Leo recounts. "So at one point we ran Xpilot on the RiscPC, (single tasking), and told XPilot to gets its input information from the X server running on the Sparc."
So far, the project looks very promising indeed, already many users have found RiscX to be useable even with the application in alpha release. If you are still not sure, visit ther site and view the screenshot beside the download link.
RiscX Download page: www.beyondthought.co.uk/RISCOS/ (scroll down to the 'Network section')
Thanks go to Leo White for his help and Peter Naulls for making a few things clearer.
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