Castle and ROS Open reveal plans for 2007Published: 20th Jan 2007, 13:28:04 | Permalink | Printable
To be fair, ROOL's Steve Revill said he had at least some of the RISC OS 5 blueprints on his Microsoft Windows laptop, neatly and aptly tucked away in an Acorn-badged carry bag. However, he had to scoot to catch his train back to Cambridge before any of it could be revealed as a small gaggle of coders began encircling him at the end of the evening. One even brandished a camera, ready to take snaps of any code like a war time spy taking copies of military plans on microfilm.
Castle's Jack Lillingston opened the presentation with a brief run through of his company's products before outlining the shared source initiative - which is designed to get the source code to RISC OS 5 out into the open for free, and encourage third party developers to improve it. Steve then took over to explain more about how the project will be organised, and how they need donations to keep going.
In short, the following points were raised during the talk.
- RISC OS Open are using the source to RISC OS 5.12 as a base. They said it will take 12 months to get all of it released.
- If you change the source and redistribute your efforts for free, you must make your modifications public, and allow Castle to merge it with their source code. If you redistribute the OS for commercial purposes, you must pay a royalty fee but you don't have to publish your source code to anyone.
- Effectively, work that you do must be made available for all, unless you pay to keep it closed.
- Changes handed to Castle will be fed to RISC OS Open, who will appraise and QA source code updates. If the patches are then accepted into the ROOL repository, it will become part of the next ROM build.
- ROOL said they will produce periodic RISC OS 5 ROM builds for punters to download from the website and use them to upgrade their computers.
- Castle has vetoed non-ARM ports. They said they want to focus development work on ARM-powered systems only, and developers will be banned from porting the operating system to another architecture.
- Developers must equip themselves with the Norcroft C/C++ compiler toolkit, available from Castle, to build the operating system. ROOL said they were not against people using the GCCSDK, but any changes submitted must not be incompatible with Norcy.
Jack spoke briefly about RISC OS 5.12, which punters have to pay for - unlike previous Castle point releases. He also mentioned that Iyonix Ltd, a separate company run by himself and his fellow Castle director John Ballance, now resells Iyonix hardware.
He said: "RISC OS 5.12 is a culmination of four years of RISC OS 5 releases. Unless you have RISC OS 5.12, you won't be able to move on any further. It provides a good bed rock for further development.
"It supports a wide range of GeForce graphics cards, which gives you much higher screen resolutions and refresh rates and the start of access to the DVI output - this isn't supplied right now, but it will come. We've also put USB 2 support into the FlashROM and this speeds up the boot-up sequence."
He also added that RISC OS-powered set top boxes have outsold RISC OS desktop computers over the years. The STB kit has been shipped as far as North America and Asia, according to Jack.
Shopping for an OS
Moving onto the shared source plans, Jack said it is hoped people can download the source code and pay up front for royalties via a website. It removes the administrative burden of having to do deals and sign contracts with firms and individuals - they want to make it as easy, and therefore as cost effective, as possible, just like buying music from iTMS at 79 pence a pop. Plus, a website is open 24/7, which is handy if you're pushing the product to organisations on the other side of the world.
Jack said: "Castle own RISC OS, but RISC OS Open will be responsible for the shared source initiative. RISC OS is going to be made available through the world wide web, rather than doing a deal with people individually.
"Users are to have direct access to all the RISC OS sources, although it's not aimed at just RISC OS users; we want people through out the world to use it, particularly users in the Far East. We hope the community will grow and grow as others find out what RISC OS is all about.
"It will be easier to take RISC OS over to the Far East, and explain all the useful stuff that the operating system can do, and show them the pedigree of the system, answer their questions, and raise the profile of RISC OS. This is one way to get RISC OS more widely used.
"There's some set top box stuff that can never be published under our shared source licence, but there will be enough to build an Iyonix ROM. Modifying it to build a VirtualRiscPC or RiscPC ROM should be possible too."
Fig leaf to ROL
He added: "What we're doing shouldn't impinge on what RISCOS Ltd are doing. They are the experts at developing and moving on desktop RISC OS. We don't want, and are trying to avoid, duplication of their work. We've effectively provided them access to our sources. I have a lot of respect for [ROL boss] Paul Middleton, who has done a lot of good work in a difficult job. We've disagreed about things, but that's usual in business."
Jack avoided answering a query from the floor as to whether or not RISCOS Ltd's licence to redistribute and develop RISC OS is time limited and due to expire. Jack said: "I don't want to discuss other people's licences."
Open source advocates have often asked why Castle didn't opt for an existing and true open source licence for the project. Jack explained that it was essential that Castle retained overall control over their operating system.
He said: "We looked at using the GPL in great deal, and we had to select and modify it a lot to suit us and the situation we are in. We do need to protect our intellectual property, and have a degree of control over it. Our approach is to make the license flexible, and the controls in place can be relaxed if we feel this is necessary in future."
He also acknowledged that RISC OS 5 could somewhat fork into different favours, like GNU/Linux more or less quickly did, but said said he hoped "we can move it as one lump forward, and not have bits and pieces spread out everywhere."
The main road block with their custom licence at the moment is defining, in legal terms, the point when redistribution of RISC OS 5 becomes commercial. This is why, we're told, the licence is being batted back and forth between Castle and its lawyers. For instance, selling a CD with RISC OS 5 on it is clearly a commercial product, but someone could in theory give away said CD for free, but charge people separately for support and documentation - thus avoiding paying a royalty to Castle.
Jack said: "It's very difficult to define. There are grey areas of providing a service and the source code separately. We've had to look at past cases, and that's clearly been the main difficulty in defining what is and what isn't commercial. Basically, if you make money from RISC OS 5, then it's commercial, in my opinion."
Another rule in the licence will be to block coders from porting the operating system to another architecture, such as the Intel x86 compatible world.
Jack said: "There will be a restriction to make development work ARM-only. We also don't have a problem with emulation, provided it's emulating an ARM-powered system. It would take a huge effort to move to a new platform, and we feel it's best if they spent their efforts on something other than porting the OS to another architecture.
"We might change that clause, but not right now."
ROOL's Steve Revill said his organisation was being run by ex-Acorn, ex-Pace and ex-Tematic engineers in their spare time, and required the help of volunteers to help moderate source code submissions and donations from users. He also feared each download of a RISC OS source code batch could cost him up to a quid in bandwidth fees. Jack also mentioned that some of the money from RISC OS 5 royalties will be pumped back into RISC OS Open Ltd.
Steve said: "We rely on public donations to pay for our running costs. We aim to put Castle's sources on our website, and hopefully keep everything together in the same place. The source is specific to the Acorn C/C++ compiler, although we don't have anything against people using the GNU tools provided their changes don't break the source code with Norcroft.
"We want to offer enough source code to allow people to put RISC OS into a new computer. We also want people to use the RISC OS Open website to report faults and bugs into the online fault database, and use the forums to make suggestions, and talk about feature requests.
"There will be a team of moderators who will look at the source code changes submitted by developers, decide if it's good enough to go into our repository, and plug it in.
"The source code is 2GB in size, and it's hard work going through it all to check that it's code we can release, and remove the swear words from it. I did have a top 20 list of swearing in the source, but I don't think I'll be making that publicly available.
"There's only one or two of us doing this on a part-time basis, so volunteers are welcome. It will take us 12 months to release RISC OS 5.12 in full."
We also heard that commercial releases of RISC OS 5 from Castle, such as RISC OS 5.13, are likely to be fed back to RISC OS Open - but the shared source repository is expected to lag behind Castle's commercial releases by several months. Andrew Hodgkinson has also been working away at Browse in his spare time for years, we were told, and the web browser is expected to be released in the first source code batch.
Steve said they would move BSD-licenced code out of the RISC OS 5 tree and into a separate repository. He is on the look out for GPL-licensed code, which would also need to be removed, but admitted that it is difficult to know whether or not code checked in by a developer years ago came from a GPLed project.
He added that he felt that if people want to re-implement features found in RISC OS 4 and 6, they are more than welcome.
He said: "If people want to add RISC OS Adjust features to RISC OS 5, then go for it."
It was pointed out that Apple open sourced parts of its Mac OS X operating system, namely the underlying kernel level, first under a restrictive licence, and later using a more liberal one. However, they failed to see any significant take up from the developer community. As one punter from the floor put it: "RISC OS is a damn sight more healthy than other niche platforms, but with all these controls in place, why should we do Castle's work for free?"
Jack said: "If we were to open source RISC OS 5 under the GPL, the STB manufacturers would walk away. They want to keep their changes secret, and not have to hand it over to competitors. If someone in the Far East wants to do something wizard with RISC OS, we shouldn't stop them."
He also said that people who contribute to the source code could get discounts on royalty payments, as will companies who sell RISC OS-powered units in bulk.
Jack added: "It's a fair and reasonable licence, and encourages people to contribute as much as it can. I don't think Castle can do any more than that."
RISC OS Open website
RISC OS usergroup of London website
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