New Zealand dealer drops DIY IyonixesBy Josh Eilken. Published: 20th Apr 2006, 13:01:57 | Permalink | Printable
Can order direct from CTL, Iyonix price line dips further [Updated]New Zealand's last full-time RISC OS dealer has finishing withdrawing from the market. Auckland-based company Education Software Distributors have been phasing out their RISC OS business over the past year, claiming that the venture is lossmaking.
Company director Sharon Hayes said the company had lost commercial interest in RISC OS. She said: "There's just not enough quantity. When you only service a machine every six months, it's a struggle to even remember how to do it."
The departure of ESD now leaves New Zealand without an Iyonix dealer. Appointed as the country's sole distributor in 2002, the company only managed to sell six machines, with many of these reportedly suffering from reliability problems. The computers were built from Iyonix motherboards shipped from the UK, and used locally sourced hard discs, memory and other commodity parts - as seen in Australia. Early machines however suffered from excessive crashes, mainly due to the compatibility of software and locally-sourced RAM. NZ-built Iyonixes also ended up much more expensive than their British counterparts, due to the unfavourable exchange rate and the high cost of producing machines in small numbers.
Hayes said that the company also had difficulty sourcing software, with many titles no longer available or hard to order from overseas. ESD sold their last Iyonix in early 2005.
The company will now focus on developing web-based solutions for schools, including its eTAP student management system, which has grown from being used in just 22 schools last year to almost 150 across the country.
ESD's withdrawal leaves Webmonster as New Zealand's only RISC OS dealer. Operated part-time by Robert Greenfield and Steven Sykes, the company supplies a full range of complete machines - including the A9home - hardware and software, as well as service and support for existing machines. Webmonster has bases in New Plymouth and Christchurch, with customer contact primarily via e-mail.
History of Acorn New Zealand
|RISC OS in New Zealand
Remaining dealer Robert Greenfield, of Webmonster, said people in NZ use RISC OS simply because it's their platform of choice.
He said: "Some people do seem to forget that we use RISC OS simply because we like it. 'It's nice and I like it' - that's something we should relish. You don't have to justify every reason for liking something.
"Like the UK, fewer and fewer schools use RISC OS. Microsoft have pretty much sewn this up, and RISC OS savvy teachers either leave, retire, or are forced to change to PCs by boards of trustees at schools. A small number of secondary schools use Macs, and some departments in some schools use Macs, but not very many as far as I can gather. The use of Macs at schools tends to be a status symbol rather than for any truely valid reason. Acorn missed that boat.
"Many Mac dealers are selling PCs too, but Webmonster didn't want to do this. We don't like PCs enough to do this."
Robert added that he hoped the launch of the A9 will raise further interest.
He said: "Local user groups have largely stopped due to email mailing lists, Yahoo discussion groups and the Internet. Also, much RISC OS gear can be obtained direct from the UK; NZ has no import duties or taxes on parcels worth less than about NZ$400.
"That is not a bad thing in my opinion. Webmonster only stocks products which we can supply to NZ users with some advantage to them and us. There is little point stocking items which users can purchase cheaper or newer elsewhere. In that sort of case Webmonster acts as a consultant more that a supplier."
Despite being located half-way around the world from the Acorn heartland of Cambridge in the UK, New Zealand had 13 authorised Acorn dealers across the country in 1997 - with 12 of those focusing on supplying the education sector. The last dealer to close was Christchurch company SouthernInfo-Tech (formerly Southern Acorn), in 2002. The country's many usergroups have also all but disappeared.
There is very little data available on current RISC OS usage in New Zealand. From the release of RISC OS 4 up until 2002, some 143 ROMs had been purchased by New Zealand customers. This makes New Zealand the fourth biggest market for RISCOS Ltd, taking some 36% of total sales. The top three countries for RISC OS 4 sales are England, Germany and the Netherlands.
ESD was started ten years ago after the closure of Acorn New Zealand in 1998. Samcor Computers, the Acorn distributor which followed, cutback on the amount of RISC OS products brought into the country while actively trying to move customers to other products. Former Acorn employees Hayes and hardware technician Ainsley Lewis recognised the gap in the market, and formed what would become New Zealand's largest RISC OS dealership.
The company focused largely on education, where the vast majority of Acorn machines were sold. During the 1990s, Acorn firmly held third place in the NZ schools' market. According to the Ministry of Economic Development, the company enjoyed steady growth until 1998, reaching an all-time high of 16% machine share in primary schools and 3% in secondary schools. However, the closure of its NZ distribution office and subsequent collapse of its dealer network ensured that primary school usage dropped to just 5% within a year.
Over the past few years, government licensing contracts have put further pressure on remaining RISC OS schools to change their choice of OS. In 2001, the Ministry of Education signed a NZ$10M (£3.535m) contract with Microsoft to provide free software to schools, in an attempt to essentially standardize the 70,000 machines across the country. A second nationwide contract was signed with Novell last year following pressure from the large number of schools using Netware networks. The contract gives schools discounted access to the company's software portfolio, which includes the popular open source OS SUSE Linux.
The New Zealand government has been accused of fuelling Microsoft's strangle-hold grip on the desktop market, after a report commissioned to investigate open source software was prepared by a company with close links to the Washington company.
It's not quite the end for RISC OS at ESD, however. The company's resident Iyonix and RiscPC will still be used as the main machines for software development.
"The software is really good, you don't need licenses, and the machines are cheap to purchase now," Hayes said.
Webmonster's Robert Greenfield commented that some New Zealanders were unable to buy Iyonixes from ESD and make a saving.
He said: "Some people in the South Island got a DIY Iyonix from Australia at about half the price of an ESD Iyonix, and they're very happy. A recent posting from Australia on the newzealand-riscos Yahoo mailing list reminded us of that avenue.
"Webmonster is currently in negotiations with Advantage 6 about supplying the A9 range in New Zealand. In my opinion, the A9home is an excellent native RISC OS computer for New Zealand, especially due to its size and weight for freighting costs.
"As for what is left in NZ for RISC OS users, pretty much only Webmonster now, and a reasonable number of actual RISC OS users."
• New Zealand users can still build their own Iyonix machines despite the news. To avoid the excessive cost of shipping full machines halfway around the world, users can now order Iyonix DIY motherboard kits from Castle directly. A kit costs £558.39 (sans VAT) plus an estimated £60.00 shipping to New Zealand, and includes the standard GeForce2 MX 440 graphics card, RISC OS 5 ROM and USB 2.0 PCI card. Interested punters should contact Castle for more information. Webmonster are also currently having a software clearance sale, with all software under NZ$15.
Educational Software Distributors
ESD's Iyonix price calculator
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