South East 2006 show reportPublished: 21st Oct 2006, 19:41:07 | Permalink | Printable
News, presentations, new mags, photos, gossip and moreThis weekend's South East show in Guildford, Surrey, was surprisingly upbeat: no negative bombshells have been dropped recently, and a number of companies have been pumping out positive announcements in the past few days. Over 200 punters passed through the door, exceeding the organisers' break even point. Below is a round up of what happened, or you could skip straight to the photos.
Castle and RISC OS Open
Castle's Jack Lillingston and RISC OS Open's Steve Revill ran through the announcement of open source(ish) RISC OS 5, and explained how it was all going to work. There was nothing further ventured from either of them beyond what is published on the RISC OS Open website. A build of RISC OS 5 for RiscPC users will be posible, in theory, punters were told.
Jack also stunned the audience when he said Castle were no longer doing RISC OS 5 development. CTL's John Ballance later clarified that while Castle aren't directly involved anymore, licensees such as RISC OS Open and Iyonix Ltd will continue to work away at RISC OS 5 - as seen with the appearance of RISC OS 5.12. Iyonix Ltd is run by Jack and John from Castle at the same registered address of Castle, and the company took over Iyonix sales to dodge the RoHS regulations earlier this year.
John said while we wait for the RISC OS Open project to gradually manifest into something tangible, he needed to see a return on the current on-going development work. It is clear that we could be at least twelve months away from seeing enough source code published to allow people to build what resembles a working RISC OS 5 ROM image, and in the meantime, John has further plans for OS 5. Quoting standard Castle policy of no pre-announcements, he wouldn't comment or hint at what was to come, going as far as saying he couldn't confirm if there would be a RISC OS 5.13 after 5.12.
RISC OS Open continues to be staffed by programmers working on a part-time basis, and the 5.12 updates will be eventually fed into the published source. We could therefore see the open source(ish) version of RISC OS 5 lag by, say, six months behind the paid-for closed source version. The team hope to release as much as of RISC OS 5 as possible within the next year, although they admitted that a small amount will probably remain closed due to conditions placed on the components during the Acorn era.
|A mini-interview with Annraoi McShane
Better known as AMS to Drobe regular readers, Annraoi has posted over 540 comments and forum posts, and is a familiar name on the website - his comments often spark concerned emails and phone calls from companies to Drobe HQ. Annraoi, 40, who lives in Dublin and works for an insurance software company, flew all the way from Ireland to make it to the show. He said: "I'm not pro-Castle or anti-ROL, I just have a lot of passion for RISC OS. I've been using it for many, many years. I don't think emulation is the right route to go down for the future, especially when there're new XScale processors coming fron Intel. I would be very sad if we moved away from that. It still feels like a big community, and I'm here for the show and here for the weekend." He joked: "I can talk some s*** sometimes." He also said he'd give being a Drobe columnist a go, if the position were to open.
John confirmed that sales of 5.12 were going well, and said the initial hiccup where users couldn't buy the upgrade online was caused by a typo in a script on the web server.
On the subject of Castle, Oregano publisher Richard Brown was on the company's stand with a copy of version 3 of the unreleased web browser. Resizing the browser window, causing it re-layout the web page and redraw it, seemed slightly faster than previous beta versions; the software is, we're told, more or less complete. Richard said he was waiting for a polished version to be finished which can be released as a full product. Any major bugs or problems found after it's released will require a lot of user support and developer time to address, and this will therefore eat up cash raised from sales. The Oregano 3 information box showed a build date of late August 2006, and we're told the software has been updated and tweaked to the point where it crashes a lot less than Oregano 2. We understand someone along the line needs to pay Oregan's accounts department the (not insignificant) amount of moola required to fund the estimated two or three week's development time needed to finish the RISC OS browser port.
The RISCOS Ltd stand at the show had a lot of computers running Select 4, and the printed Select technical documentation in a large ring binder - but it was missing one vital thing: an actual released version of Select 4. ROL's Paul Middleton complained bitterly he was being dogged by vocal Select opponents, reportedly deliberately bent on destroying ROL, who claim that RISCOS Ltd have not worked on RISC OS for months. To combat this, he announced RISC OS 6, the new version number for ROL's stream of the operating system to be included in Select 4, but with no actual release to place in the hands of eager punters. Changing the version number before a product is launched is irrelevant, and it showed - people expecting to pick up a copy were glumly turned away with Paul promising a free preview release in time for the November 25 show in Wolverhampton. He told users there were bugs to iron out, but hoped to have the preview version online for download by the end of next month.
Normally, Castle is famed for repeating their previous presentations by demonstrating again and again how to unpack Iyonix cases and use USB photo printing. Despite a strong theatre presentation of the latest Select 4 features at this year's Wakefield event, Paul appears to have taken a leaf out of Jack Lillingston's book and gone back to showing off older fuctionality.
During his presentation on Saturday, Paul showed off Select's ability to reorder window tool furniture; the Configure plugin system; the AIF executable integrity checking system; the GIF decoder for the ImageFileConvert system; Filer thumbnailing; Paint import and export of image formats supported by the ImageFileConvert system; and other features either seen in Select 3 or shown off ages ago in previous Select 4 presentations and leaflet hand outs at shows. The functionality he displayed is undoubtedly useful and welcome, but it did little to support ROL's position that work was being done - especially as punters were warned by Paul that if they didn't resubscribe to Select, ROL will scale back development. Earlier in the week, ROL published its internal changelogs, and instead of explaining what the top headline updates meant in a clear and straight forward manner, Paul instead chose to focus on the IFR system - a Select 3 development - raising concerns that Paul may not understand the features in his own product.
Paul also talked about the hardware abstraction in RISC OS 4/6, and added that it includes a video driver module for Viewfinder users with acceleration for some operations. A similar module exists for the SM501 graphics chip in the A9home. He also mentioned that not every feature planned for Select 4 will be in the first version as they'll roll out new features gradually over future releases. There was no word on the Filer toolbar system, and the plan to use drawfiles instead of spritefiles was played down too.
The company is too busy pushing for a Select 4 release to consider what to do with the RISC OS Open project, so no cooperation is immediately on the cards, according to Paul. Paul said it was ROL's intention to release RISC OS for all suitable hardware, but they don't have the time and resources to work on an Iyonix port while they strive to finish Select 4. Another sticking point is that ROL don't know how the Iyonix hardware is powered up and initialised before RISC OS begins, according to Paul, and without that information, developing a full port will be difficult.
In a recent interview, Castle's Jack Lillingston said: "I certainly hope [that there is an Iyonix port of Select], but you'd need to speak to RISCOS Ltd about that. They're the ones who produce Select." ROL's line can be summed up as: 'We'd certainly hope to do an Iyonix port, but you'd need to speak to Castle. They're the ones who have to pay for it, like AdvantageSix paid for the A9home port.'
There will also be no 32bit build of RISC OS 6 for RiscPC-class machines as this would force users to either run a 26bit mode emulator or pay for 32bit upgrades for their software. ROS 6 will be released as a softload as seen in previous versions of Select. No ROM build is planned right now, although a FlashROM image will be available to A9home users. Punters will be unable to buy RISC OS 6 on its own as they will have to subscribe to Select to get it. Paul added that VirtualAcorn would be welcome to produce a release of their emulator that includes ROS 6.
Unveiling RISC OS 6 appears to have backfired for RISCOS Ltd in a spectacular manner, with the announcement rushed out barely days before the show. ROL's management could have avoided this entire situation by being more open and keeping their paying customers up-to-date each fortnight or month with the progress of development.
Now that Richard Hallas has left Foundation, Paul is said to be taking over the CD magazine as editor. No one envies Paul's job, but having being at the helm of ROL since 1999, perhaps it is time for Paul to gracefully stand down and hand over the reins to fresher blood.
VirtualRiscPC has been bug fixed and a free update uploaded to the VirtualAcorn website. Support for setting up printer definitions is now more user friendly, and a new version of HostFS is included, which addresses a fault that occurs when software is run on a multi-core processor PC. The HostFS extensions file was also tweaked to allow RISC OS to open .PDF and .zip files. New copies of VRPC posted to punters since the start of September have included this update. Development of VRPC for Apple Macs has also moved on with a number of bugs fixed, but the port is still not ready for release. We understand a PowerPC version will be made available first, and a MacIntelitosh release second.
RISC OS Now
The first issue of bi-monthly magazine RISC OS Now was on sale at the show, complete with printer errors and screw ups: 22-year-old maths teacher and editor Louie Smith, pictured left, was understandably livid. The front cover is supposed to be in full colour, and not black and white as printed, for instance. First, the down sides: There are grammatical errors and 'Camel Capitals' in prominent places; letters go missing thanks to a mix up with colours; text is poorly justified in places or simply runs right off the page as if scared away by some hidden monster; random punctuation appears while some paragraphs are completely devoid of any; the huge body text font size is several points too large; the page design over-uses rectangular frames with curved corners; and one or two articles are written like an email sent to a pal rather than a finely crafted piece you'd pay to read in a printed magazine.
But, the up sides: The magazine is printed on thick glossy paper with very bold colours and is nicely held together with staples; the ArtWorks tutorial for beginners is quite fun and easy to read; the tutorial articles have a rating system to indicate how taxing each piece is; the BASIC programming feature is very gentle and has lots of examples for budding programmers to play with; Gavin Wraith and Paul Vigay make healthy stabs at explaining how computers and hexadecimal numbers work; the magazine has two enthusiastic youngsters who are new to writing about RISC OS; and Louie interviews Castle's Jack Lillingston.
In the fawning interview piece, Louie noted: "Jack is a surprisingly easy person to talk to - I had expected him to be a hard-nosed businessman, but he is friendly and welcoming... The reality of the busy office breaks the conversation as Jack takes a call from a customer. The conversation has been good and fluent. The atmosphere surrounding him is one of knowledge and confidence, I find this attitude is rubbing off on me, something makes me feel, personally as the editor of a new magazine targeting a potentially small market, very confident too."
That aside, she did press him on the RoHS issue, that there are now fewer updates to the developers' section of the Iyonix website (Jack: "It just means there are less things to sort out."), the stand off between CTL and ROL (Jack: "We have tried on a number of occasions to work with each other, sometimes successfully but more recently less successfully. However my door is always open."), and the RISC OS Open project. Problems with the page design, sub-editing and printers aside, punters seemed to welcome the new magazine's debut issue. With a keen sub-editor who has a sharp-eye for design, RISC OS Now could quite easily become a jewel in the platform's crown.
Louie's boyfriend and crop circle chaser, Paul Vigay, is also building a new website for the magazine; he was, presumably, behind sneaking the anti-ID card adverts into the back of the magazine. Louie told punters she is aiming to get her magazine stocked in newsagents, and left a suggestions form for people to fill out.
And on the other side of the exhibition hall, Qercus editor John Cartmell was happily handing over the 'relaunch' issue of his magazine - a good year after the previous edition landed on people's doormats. The front cover is an unedited photo of a river with a tree reflecting in the surface ripples. The page design is now very neat and respectable with a good sized font. The news section runs to a page and half, leaving plenty of space for what a monthly magazine should be good at - its features, and a few of which were on drobe.co.uk earlier.
However besides that, there's an interesting poster art tutorial using just !Draw, part six of an AppBasic guide, RiscCAD author David Buck demonstrating his software, a report of Wakefield 2006, an EasiWriter tutorial, an eBay guide by eBay Advisor's Dave Bradforth, the final part to a BASIC programming series, and a regular column written by a RISC OS-powered local government councillor. Dave also helped get Qercus back onto the straight and narrow. It took him two weeks with Adobe Distiller on an Apple Mac to get it right for the printers. It turned out that the wide range of unique fonts used in a typeface feature article series were causing the delays with the postscript generation.
A little paragraph buried on page six of Qercus issue 277 reads: "Future issues of Qercus are likely to be at two monthly intervals (maybe slightly less)", with the next issue due out at the end of November - the former piece of news is perhaps a bit of a shock for the publication's subscribers, who signed up for a monthly magazine. The front cover of the next issue is a vector art picture of an Egyptian pharoah's wife, and the issue includes a guide to writing interactive fiction, programming in Lua, using CAD, and a StarInfo tutorial on writing a desktop silly that pretends to turn windows transparent.
R-Comp's staff and helpers made it to the show while Allan Rawnsley recovers from his heart attack, and launched UniScan - this allows users with Microsoft Windows to use scanners plugged into their PCs from their networked RISC OS computers. The software is available standalone or as a UniPrint upgrade. Allan was moved by the kind words and well wishes sent his way by drobe.co.uk readers... CJE Micros are putting together the finishing touches to their A9home software bundle. It should include versions of Writer, Messenger and other applications but CJE had problems sourcing a 32bit compatible PPP driver for A9home users who still use dial up Internet. CJE's Chris Evans said he has finally got through to someone who can help, and expects to be able to complete the package soon...
AppBasic author Joe Taylor revealed that his programming aid is slowly turning into a fully fledged IDE, allowing people to design an application graphically and have AppBasic generate all the skeleton source code needed to get the project running. The developer only has to then fill in the various empty functions linked with the user interface to respond to user requests...
A new version of Martin Hansen's ArtGraph was released earlier in the week, and includes many more example images created by mathematical equations now arranged in a slideshow format... A new ArtWorks release is planned for the next Wakefield 2007 show which might include multi-page support. Developer Martin Wuerther said he was still interested in working on postscript generation and printer drivers for RISC OS. He also mentioned that he wouldn't be against introducing support for Select's ImageFileConvert system to ArtWorks...
Graham Shaw is also toying with extending Simtec's threading library and developing an open source alternative to the RISC OS Window Manager module... The NetSurf developers are working their way closer to a stable version 1.0 release... The Electronic Font Foundation had several new font families for sale, including a gospel font and some Cyrillic typefaces...
WORLD EXCLUSIVES: Cybervillage's Dave Bradforth has stopped dying his hair red +++ Ad6's Stuart Tyrrell has an old school style briefcase +++ Martin Wuerther was nearly unrecognisable when not wearing his suit and bowtie (that's him in a green t-shirt) +++ NetSurf developer John-Mark Bell 'no regrets' over user-agent HSBC scandal...
Many other companies and organisations were exhibiting - see the show website for the list.
Click here for the next page with photos
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