Archive booklets review part oneBy Chris Williams. Published: 12th Dec 2005, 00:42:49 | Permalink | Printable
MessengerPro, VirtualRPC, simple networking and programming guidesIn time for Christmas and this week's RISC OS roadshow, Archive magazine have published a number of booklets covering a range of software and topics. The first four mini-tomes, which contain articles previously published in the pint sized publication, are available now and a few more are coming hot off the printers. Booklets one to four introduce a few of the core issues surrounding the platform: VirtualRiscPC, networking, email and writing desktop software.
The printed guides are A5 in size, stapled, and run to 48 or 44 pages of black and white. They are designed pretty much in Archive magazine's house style: two wide columns per page, with the text broken up by bold headings and images. This format is down to earth, being the very antithesis of today's glossy IT magazines. If you like your information presented in a straightforward and informal manner then it's likely you will see past the lack of colour and the plain layout design, and enjoy the compilations for what they are. As the titles are made up of content previously published in the magazine, the books will probably appeal most to people who haven't subscribed to Archive or have lost or missed particular issues and want to complete a series of topics. Below are a few scans of the booklets to show some typical spread layouts and to illustrate the density of knowledge contained within them.
RISC OS and networking booklet
Here's how each of the booklets fared.
'MessengerPro in action'
Written by Paul Beverley and other contributors, this title runs through versions 2.50 to 3.29 of R-Comp's application package MessengerPro. Each part aims to build up the user's confidence in the email and usenet client and gradually reveal the software's features. The booklet begins with an introduction on how the bits and pieces of R-Comp's Internet suite fit together, and how to use Dialup. Together with screenshots and a visual tour of the application, the guide explains how to configure filtering and set up kill files to block undesirable content; shows how to migrate from ANT's Marcel and Microsoft's Outlook to MessengerPro; follows an email as it moves from being written and edited to the outgoing queue to it actually being sent; shows how to manage and archive databases of messages; explains headers and how they can be used; demonstrates how information can be sorted; walks through how the display of archives and discussion threads can be customised; how attachments are handled; and many more hints, tips and pointers besides.
The sections aren't arranged in any logical order other than a gradual increase in complexity. For example, a section about kill files is followed by tips on dealing with identical emails and how to add addresses to the CC field once you've begun writing an email. On the one hand, this would make diving in the booklet quite fun as you can find any kind of tidbit while leafing through it. Whereas on the other hand, if you're after something specific, you'll need to have read through the guide in order to remember where it was mentioned. It's not a major problem - this treasure trove of detail just deserves a full topic index.
Paul is a heavy user of MessengerPro and writes from the perspective of informing others of his successes and losses during his adventures with R-Comp's application. The guide is seemingly aimed at people who are relatively new to Messenger Pro or want to see if there are any hidden power tricks that they may have missed.
This booklet is particularly aimed at users who use computers other than RISC OS powered ones and want to network their machines together. Windows 95/98, Windows XP and Mac OS X are covered, along with an article on how to network RISC OS computers to other RISC OS machines. The pieces are written by a number of authors and they each aim to address the issue of interoperability between platforms, which editor Paul Beverley describes as "something of a black art". The 48 page guide is packed with screenshots, step by step instructions and quotes from configuration files. The booklet describes how to configure IP addresses; how to share printers and files with other computers using ShareFS, Omniclient, LanMan98 and FTP; and the equipment needed to set up a network. Overall, the guides are pretty clear and extremely thorough in catering for users of simple networks. The booklet is a friendly guide for users of versions 4 and 5 of RISC OS, including Select.
The booklet skips over explaining how to set up your network so that a non-RISC OS computer can share an Internet connection with a RISC OS machine. For this level of information, you'll have to turn to one of the many online resources and guides. Also, alarmingly, every guide uses static IP addresses. Pages and pages are used up by explanations that involve running !Configure, opening up various windows, typing in DNS and IP addresses by hand, clicking buttons and resetting machines; meanwhile, desktop RISC OS has included a DHCP client since 2002, and the most you have to do on RISC OS 4 and 5 is select 'Use DHCP' from !Configure and click on ok, and then a few steps in Windows and Mac OS X to turn on the DHCP server or use a broadband router's DHCP server.
If you're struggling with networking and just want your RISC OS machine to work with your PC or Mac and don't care how it's done then this guide will be like a bible to you. If you want to take advantage of things like broadband wireless routers or set up local DNS, proxy and DHCP servers, then there's always Google search to help find the information you're after.
'VirtualRiscPC in use'
Written by an anonymous group of users, this 48 page compilation includes an index although fewer illustrations than the others. This booklet is a complete guide to using VirtualAcorn's RiscPC emulator from VRPC-SE to VRPC-Adjust, covering everything from performance to removable storage devices to hints and tips. Much like the MessengerPro booklet, the booklet is close to what could be best described as a non-fiction story with the lead character wandering through a VirtualRiscPC landscape. If you've just bought the software, particularly after being away from RISC OS for a while, the range of articles within will act as a terrific mentor in getting to grips with the platform. From configuring RAM usage to screen redraw speed to email attachments to UniPrint, there are too numerous topics to list here. The booklet is not so much a manual or tutorial for using VirtualRiscPC, it's more of a casual collection of tales and advice from users of the emulator. Anyone looking for a table top companion should look no further.
'Wimp programming in C'
Complete with screenshots, listings and tables, this booklet tries to be a step-by-step guide to creating a rudimentary multitasking application, designing and creating windows and icons, and writing code that responds to typical user interactions.
While there are books floating around that teach people how to write RISC OS applications in BASIC, and there are many fine publications on explaining the C programming language in general, to the best of my knowledge, no one has yet put together an exhaustive combination of the two: how to write desktop software in C for the RISC OS platform. Paul Johnson's guide, as published by Archive, at least makes an attempt at this. Instead of using existing software libraries, such as Desklib, he presents his own functions and structures that communicate with the operating system to create and control windows and icons. A zipfile of example source code is available for download, which is just as well because the few bugs present in the printed listings aren't in the archive.
The problem with Paul's guide is that the quality of his source code is arguably sub-par to put it politely. Any intermediate to seasoned programmer will flinch at the lack of enums and overuse of magic numbers, the terrifying use of strcpy() and similar functions, the superfluous use of a null-zero at the end of strings, makefiles for 26bit and 32bit systems, and other oddities. You might think this is a case of severe pedantry and all programmers, myself included, will admit that they have at some point written loose code - except not everyone publishes their source code to teach beginners. If you do decide to use Paul's articles, have a stack of good C books and the RISC OS PRMs - the platform's technical sacred scriptures - by your side, ready to swiftly extinguish any bad habits and to double-check API calls.
Each booklet costs a fiver, and, on the whole, if you're looking for a helping hand in any of the covered topics then Archive's offerings should provide you with a useful stocking filler. It's unlikely that you will find any of the covered topics elsewhere so neatly brought together in such a way as Paul Beverley and his writers have managed.
Archive booklets webpage
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