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Could public cash save our software?

By Paul Stewart. Published: 8th Jul 2006, 17:17:37 | Permalink | Printable

Paul Stewart ponders office suites and hardware costs

Opinion - Recent years have seen the likes of Hyundai and Kia produce cheap high specification small cars. All you have to do is look around you, there seems to be low cost non-European or US cars on most roads. Certainly a lot more than there was a decade ago.

All seem to come with all modern features such as CD radio, air conditioning, split folding rear seats, electric mirrors, and so on. Nor do they fair badly on the miles per gallon tables either. They're affordable and come with a decent equipment specification.

But what about the badge? Wasn't too many years ago when people looked at these car manufactures and turned their noses up at them and purchased a more expensive Ford, Renault, Citroën or from another mainstream western manufacturer? How times have changed.

The same can also be said in the computing industry. Where once you had your respected big named brands, that everyone purchased at astronomic prices. Now you have thousands of clone makers who make what was once IBM compatible computers. These days even IBM no longer manufactures their own desktop computers. The market is just too cut throat leaving the likes of IBM out of pocket and struggling to maintain their market share.

Loadsa moneyWith such a hefty fall in the price of essentially Windows-compatible computers, it's no wonder we now have the VirtualRiscPC range of RISC OS emulators. The price per Mhz-power for a Windows box is significantly cheaper than that of a native RISC OS computer. You easily get more bang for your buck with Intel.

What of the RISC OS profit line? Entry level Windows-compatible computers can now be purchased for the small sum of £209 plus VAT. An entry level RISC OS system will set you back a hefty 499 plus VAT, and that is excluding an optical drive. That's an extra £290 for a native RISC OS computer. Even a Mac Mini will only set you back £339 sans VAT. So, native RISC OS hardware does not fair all that well on cost. However as we are all aware, it is not just the cost of computer system that makes it worth buying.

Operating system wise, Windows XP Home Edition weighs in at a hefty 135 quid, or 68.99 if upgrading. It's cheaper if you buy from PC World or Watford. RISC OS Adjust is £69.00 with a special offer from March 2006.

As far as the cost of the operating system goes, no complaints here from me.

It's not just the operating system that costs money. RISC OS used to be well catered for on the office application front too, both on affordability and product ability. Microsoft Office, standard edition, comes with a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation creation software, personal organiser and email client. All of these products for just £258 plus VAT.

Sadly RISC OS does not have an office suite. This I think is a big gap in the market, but one that could easily be filled. We have the makings of the suite, just not an actual product to sell as a convenient bundle:

  • EasiWriter Pro - £99 (£65.00 student edition)
  • Schema2 - £65
  • Fireworkz32 - £100
  • DataPower2 - £99 (£49 for home edition)
  • OHP - £40.00
  • Organizer - £10

Like I said, we have the makings. They just need updating and pulling together under one banner. And Microsoft are supposedly going to support an open document format now, which could give us a helping hand.

Since the demise of Acorn, in my opinion, the RISC OS platform has just been treading water. This has lead to a fragmented OS versions and the use of applications that are either no longer being maintained or updates arrive few and far between - with not many new and visible features for the upgrade price. This, in my view, has resulted in many users leaving the platform and an inherent inability to attract sufficient users to enable the platform to grow again.

Now we're teetering on the brink of falling into the black hole that has darkened other promising, shining systems.

Show us the money
It's a catch-22 situation I fear. To grow the platform we need to be able to run the same type of software and have access to the same type of online services that Apple Mac and Windows users enjoy. However in order to provide the above, the remaining developers need appropriate level of investment to enable them to hire the necessary programmers. Here you can see the never ending circle. The question is, can this circle be broken before the final nails are banged into the coffin?

Government grants are available in various shapes and sizes. Perhaps it is time for the remaining few RISC OS companies to see what funds, if any, they can obtain from the public purse - here and here.

Another option could be to group together and co-fund new developments, something new in the RISC OS world. Whilst not commercial, NetSurf is a wonderful example of the type of program that can be produced should people choose to work together. Result is a quick browser that supports many web browsing standards.

We have had some really good software on this platform in the past. Indeed we still have some good software. With a little tender loving care, RISC OS and its software could hold its own in many walks of life. However to answer my own question. In my eyes, RISC OS and its software compares quite badly at the moment when it comes to Windows.

RISC OS survives because we want it to survive. But is survival enough?

Agree or disagree with Paul? Is there an issue you want to get off your chest? Email us your opinion article ideas, or any other information.

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I think Paul has outlined the big catch22 we are in at the moment.

We need to keep the software current and able to do things well and that means development but eqully it means we as users need to support that development.

Perhaps the answer is some sort of "Select" for applications with the priority on filling some of the gaps that exist.

At Wakefield this year in addition to the updates to my existing software like Easiwriter, I purchased some additional applications like DataPower.

The old Advance suite was reasonably good in that it gave some basic functions but enabled you to then purchase the full blown application and perhaps something like that would help kick things.

Develps like Icon , RComp etc have the idea in that they have regular updates but some form of greater development fund is required to move things hence the suggestion of a Select type scheme which you contributed to and this helped developers fund the work. Obviously in light of the recent issues with the select scheme this one would need to be clearer on what it's priorities were and what/when it was going deliver.

 is a RISC OS Userbluenose on 8/7/06 5:46PM
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I don't think public money is the answer. What is lacking is a compelling reason to use RISC OS. It's all very well saying that the iconbar works in a particular way, but that's just a question of taste, not a reason to switch. In the old days, Sibelius was a real reason to use RISC OS. Similarly, before Windows 3.1, RISC OS (unlike Windows) printed excellently to dot matrix printers. Sibelius was a compelling reason in the mid-90s. Nowadays, is there one? If RISC OS is worth investing in, private investors will do so. RISC OS companies wanting investment need to devise a strategy that will deliver profits.

The office suite that's really needed is OpenOffice.

 is a RISC OS Useralexsingleton on 8/7/06 5:53PM
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With respect to the operating system prices, XP Home is £47.82 + VAT and XP Pro is £74.21 + VAT for the OEM editions from a retailer I just looked at. Given that if you buy a computer it'll nigh on always come with XP, and if you are building one you can buy the OEM stuff the £135 figure becomes far less for most people.

 is a RISC OS Usernot_ginger_matt on 8/7/06 7:24PM
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four words: Java, Cineroma, The GIMP

 is a RISC OS UserMikeCarter on 8/7/06 10:00PM
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In reply to Mike Carter

Make that 5 words then by taking one from any of these 3

03 , Netsurf, Firefox

In my opinion Firefox has been a lost opportunity and though Netsurf is getting better every day it currently does not offer everything a fully support port of Firefox could have.

 is a RISC OS Userbluenose on 8/7/06 10:55PM
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I've never seen the point of an office suite. If you have a well designed GUI (which RISC OS does) then all applications are equally integrated. You don't need to buy them all from one supplier. The office suite is a clever marketing gimmick dreamt up by Microsoft to get their inferior products, that couldn't compete with rivals on their own, out into the market place so that they would become the defacto standard :-(

 is a RISC OS Userhelpful on 9/7/06 2:48AM
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I've probably said this before, but I think it's time someone co-ordinated the majority of the platform's efforts, namely Castle and ROL. The fragmented development of browsers is a perfect example - while there is now two half-decent browsers, it does not deliver what most people want: a single, high quality browser with Javascript and Flash capability.

It's all very well to say "well, work together guys" but the question is how? The developers of RISC OS itself need to stand up and drive the work which needs to be done. While developing browsers and video players is out of the scope of our two OS companies, there's no reason why they can't be negotiating with software developers, building relationships and brokering successful projects such as Netsurf, but in a commercial context. They should be listening to their customers, and working together with the entire community to deliver what people want.

I like the idea of a "Select for applications" - it's one way of doing this. I would hope that whoever ran it would make a better job than ROL's own Select scheme, however :(

Is there any way to import/export Powerpoint from OHP yet? That, and the departure of EBMS, are probably the biggest gaps in RISC OS Business computing.

 is a RISC OS Usertimephoenix on 9/7/06 4:47AM
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In reply to timephoenix:

The problem with concentrating work on a single browser is that FireFox (on RISC OS) will never be as fast as NetSurf, and NetSurf (realistically) will never be as compatible as FireFox. Unfortunately I think we need them both, and I am very grateful to those involved for bringing us to the point where it is no longer necessary to switch to another operating system for most web browsing needs.

 is a RISC OS Usergdshaw on 9/7/06 7:33AM
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The problem is RISC OS users live with (and defend) the situation perfectly highlighted by gdshaw. Two applications that are both nearly but not quite for different reasons which if you use them both are OK...... Absolutely NOBODY out there in "pcworld" land would touch RISC OS if that's how they had to use a computer.

We do not need "suites" of software. The RISC OS environment is perfectly suited ;-) for applications to work with another. What we need is software that is kept up to date with the latest functionality. If that's something gimmicky then so be it but that's what sells. Think about text messaging on a phone for god's sake !!!!!!

I think a support scheme is a good idea if it is active. Response to users questions is a given. What you need is regular releases of upgrades, fixes etc. As folks have already stated the select scheme was/is very poor in this respect. You cannot extract money under the guise of "support of development" and not give something back in return. I would expect something significant every 6 months minimum. I would certainly expect a newsletter outlining progress every month. It is far better to say "No progress has been made in the last month due to xyz" than to stay silent.

 is a RISC OS Usermripley on 9/7/06 10:21AM
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In reply to mripley:

To clarify, I'm not really defending the current situation: it is, as I said, unfortunate. I do, however, contend that eliminating the fragmentation you referred to (presumably by concentrating effort on one browser) would in this case have made matters worse not better.

 is a RISC OS Usergdshaw on 9/7/06 12:01PM
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First of all. The comparission to the cars is not very suited since the affordmentioned "small US cars" are in essence re-badged cheapo Korean cars. These are build by (a few) underpaid workers under control of one rich bastard and his (literally) robots.

So in that respect "the remaining developers need appropriate level of investment to enable them to hire the necessary programmers" is stupid because these "necessary programmers" want bucks for their efforts. I doubt that UK software developpers are as underpaid as korean factoryworkers.

You simply can't compare this. Besides all the electronic gimmicks don't make up for a bad ride. Japanese cars are still way better than cheapo korean s*** (even after all those years). So the only reason ppl buy these cheap cars and computers is that they simply don't have the money anymore to buy a decent stuff (but still don't want to loosse on so-called luxury). No wonder if you see the wages of ministers and politicians.

As for the office. It'll NEVER work because Windows (because of Microsoft cut-throught mentality towards competition) Office has one tremendous advantage nowadays.... Universal compatibility. The only thing we have that is universally compatible is bitmap-formats and draw-vectorimages. Thanks to AW-viewer AW-vector format is at least viewable by more users than the few Artworks owners but IMHO its still a wrong move. CC should have worked with Acorn to adapt the draw format as basis for Artworks files (and Acorn should have been more open towards CC to assist). Documents are NOT exchangable between RISC OS programs at all. This is a complete dissaster. The same applies to database and spreadsheet formats. And NO I'm not happy with "RTF" as an exchange format, because it's useless. A fact I have mentioned YEARS ago (along with other things).

The problem is that a lot more ppl at the sideline see this too. But they are not in capacity to actually do something about it. In fact those "leading" the RISC OS community should rather pay US, users/customers/whatever, consultancy fees.

What we need is a clear standard way of developing things. To define OWN standards and STICK with them. Make these universally exchangable on RISC OS machines (at least) and THEN we can start building applications around them. THEN and ONLY THEN you can mix match applications and talk about an "suits". Once that is accomplished you can target the outside as a unified platform with an internal universal exchange file format amongst ALL applications. Then at a later stage we can adopt alien file formats to exchange data to alien platforms. Or use these alien formats as basis for our own for all I care. But we URGENTLY should clean up our mess before attracting anyone else!



P.S.: I undoubtly stepped at someones toes. Appoligies for that. This is NOT a personal attack so don't "act" being offended.

 is a RISC OS Userepdm3be on 9/7/06 12:18PM
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In reply to epdm3be:

Microsoft's file formats do not enjoy universal compatibility, even between different versions of Office let alone other platforms.

As for adopting a standard RISC OS document format there is one very obvious candidate: OpenDocument ([link]).

 is a RISC OS Usergdshaw on 9/7/06 12:51PM
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@gdshaw: Exactly what I've been saying for quite a while. Without full support for ODF, RISC OS as a platform does not stand a chance. ODF (ISO 26300) is quickly becoming the new standard file format in many organisations. Micosoft was (and still is) very much opposed to the new standard, but in the end they had no other choice than to give in and support it as well, because they had already lost, or were about to loose, some of their biggest customers. Open Document Format will do for the office world, what email has done for communication and the web has done for publication. Not having office software wich can handle ODF, will be like not having web-browsers and email-software.

 is a RISC OS UserJGZimmerle on 9/7/06 8:25PM
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To JGZimmerle: As for ODF I think there is probably a fair chance that Easi/TechWriter will be upgraded to handle that format too - luckily for this app a good programmer is in charge.

Anyhow if you're into a fully compatble OS then considering the speed of development outside - some new things since they are worth it, some since some company simply does it - you'll probably always be back level with a small OS like RISC OS. Question usually arising is if it matters to the individual user. At work I have to cope with Word documents, in private use where RISC OS is the platform I prefer there is no need for that for me - others might as well send me their stuff as PDF or as simple text file.

But as for email you're right and as for web-browsing well I must admit that I tend not to use RISC OS due to lack of a browser which does the job and is quick. This might change with NetSurf some time though...

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 10/7/06 4:47PM
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how about trying to get a money grant from the EU. I remember reading somwhere that the EU helped sponsor the development of the A5000.

 is a RISC OS UserOliverB on 10/7/06 4:50PM
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