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Java and RISC OS

By Nick Brown. Published: 19th Sep 2007, 06:03:44 | Permalink | Printable

Nick Brown explores the state of play and future options

Java logoOpinion - In 1995 Sun Microsystems announced and released a programming language which would, arguably, become one of the most popular languages shaping modern computing. Initially released as Oak in 1995, the next version in 1997 saw the name changed to Java. Since these early creations almost every platform has become supported with millions of programmers creating millions of programs - all of these are portable regardless of which system Java is running on.

With a very large percentage of higher education institutes now teaching their students Java, whether you love it or hate it, the language is here to stay and forms a major cornerstone of computing as we know it. However, having said all this, there is no up to date version for RISC OS - why?

If a RISC OS user wishes to write and run Java programs there is very limited support available on our platform in terms of third-party rewrites. The first port of call is the Unix Porting Project - with the wealth of software available for Unix, porting an existing system should be a possibility. In order to run a Java program you need supporting software called the Runtime Environment, and one of these in the form of Kaffe has been ported by the UPP. There are also two Java compilers available from the project allowing a RISC OS user to develop programs in the language.

Problem solved? Well not really. Unfortunately due to the huge amount of work required, these ports are not kept up to date, are very much unfinished and only support the first version of Java. The rest of the world is currently up to version 6.

Another Java implementation is Taurus JavaVM, again completely developed by a third-party as the author has written this software from scratch. There are versions for Windows, Linux, MS-DOS and, of course, RISC OS allowing for both the execution and development of Java code. The major advantage of this program is that it supports Java version 4, but the code is not complete and there is no support for networking and desktop applications.

Simple Java programA major disadvantage to this software is the performance - on a RISC PC with a StrongARM processor it takes around 90 seconds to load and run a simple Java program, such as the one pictured. In addition, due to the number of files per directory limit in RISC OS 3.7 and below, the program is really only usable on RISC OS 4, 5 or 6. Saying all that, as the implementation is open source and quite simple, it would probably be relatively easy for a programmer to extend and improve it.

In late 1997 there was an Acorn version of Java which supported version 1. Since Acorn's demise in 1998 there has been no further official development and the software is now difficult to find. When Java was initially released Sun announced on their website that they were to release a RISC OS version. Unfortunately this never materialised and, due to the platform's minority nature, they have decided that the work involved is not worth it.

There is one last twist in the story. In 2006 Sun announced that it would release the implementation of its language as open source, and from November 2006 to May 2007 the blueprints which make up Java have been released. This allows anyone to freely view and modify the core of Java, and has been hailed as a great success by many programmers. The fact that the program code is now available means that if a RISC OS programmer was so inclined, they might be able to port Sun's actual implementation. Unfortunately the amount of work required would probably be extensive, and the performance could be a let down.

Properly supported, Java on RISC OS could open the door to many more diverse programs being made available - addressing the software drought we currently face. Being able to both run all these programs and write our own Java code would, without a doubt, make the platform more attractive to potential users.


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Graet article and exposition of the facts; thanks.

 is a RISC OS UserCharlesB on 19/9/07 7:20AM
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What is the status of Acorn java? Who owns it? Would it be of any practical use if it were available? (Either as a starting point if sources were available or would any sites still be compatible with it)

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 19/9/07 9:05AM
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Acorn paid a lot to licence Sun's JVM back before there were open source implementations, around the time they also paid a lot for the Shockwave (nee Flash) licence, but the market conditions were deteriorating and they couldn't justify renewing them. Acorn Java 1.0.2 did work rather well, integrating in to both Browse and Fresco and ran all the Java demo applets I tried, at an acceptable speed. Developers also had a preview of an early version of Java 2.0, which although very slow in debug release, showed promise and was able to run the Swing graphical interface with was the flavour of the day back then.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 19/9/07 9:10AM
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So does that mean that the old version is no longer able to be distributed or just that newer versions weren't licensed?

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 19/9/07 9:21AM
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No licence means no distribution.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 19/9/07 9:27AM
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So presumably, if sun so wished they could make the existing version available from their website?

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 19/9/07 9:33AM
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Sun can't distribute Acorn's code, even if they had it. There is no chance of resurrecting Acorn Java as far as I can see. Not that there would even be any point in a 1.0.2 or unfinished 2.0 JVM, which wont run any modern Java code.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 19/9/07 10:29AM
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These days, Java's use on the desktop, both in applications and web applets, is dwindling. As far as web applets go, it's almost completely dead - Flash won that battle. Where Java is popular now is on servers, rather than clients. I can't remember the last time I needed/wanted to run a Java application on my PC. Come to think of it, I can't remember the last time I *saw* one. Flash is much more important.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 19/9/07 10:35AM
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Since my daytime job is entirely Java-based, I always keep an eye on possible solutions with a potential of getting RISC-OS-ifyed.

The problem of getting Java onto RISC OS is really a three-tier problem:

1) We need a Java Virtual Machine. There are quite a few of them around, and some even have been ported to ARM platforms. SableVM and Kaffe are the obvious candidates. The OpenJDK project talked about porting the Sun Hotspot JVM onto ARM, this would be the best solution, since for client-side code, the Hotspot JVM is generally regarded to be the fastest.

2) We need an implementation of the "native connectors" for the rest of the Java code. Typical areas are AWT, Java2D, Audio, File system, Networking, Printing, process/thread management (intertwined with JVM) etc. - apart from Sun's OpenJDK efforts, there is the GNU Classpath project which aims at a portable solution for different platforms and a complete clean-room reimplementation of the Java API.

3) We need a distribution of the packaged JVM, native code and Java code.

The final problem: an "unofficial" port can't be called "Java" at all, since only Sun can give you a licence to use the name. However, there is currently quite a bit of work done to open up this process (google TCK if you are interested).

So, a minimal solution would be to port SableVM along with the X11 GNU Classpath stuff (with the help of ChoX11) - on other platforms, this is good enough to run Eclipse, so already far beyond an "experimental" state. Then we'll probably find out that everything is horribly slow - for a usable Java environment, I would guess that a lot of work optimizing both the JVM and the graphical libraries would be needed.

Finally, a "proper" solution would require a RISC OS-native AWT implementation, an SWT implementation and a RISC OS Look&Feel for Swing.

To sum it up: it's a lot of work. IMHO - beyond the "minimal solution" which mostly builds on the excellent work done by the GCCSDK developers - much more work than the RISC OS community can realistically do. To get everything into a usable state, it would need a dedicated team and quite a lot of time - think of NetSurf and then add even more.

I'm not sure if it's worth it. Personally, I think this kind of manpower would be more useful if dedicated to projects like NetSurf, GCCSDK/UPP or the Open Source RISC OS.

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 19/9/07 11:13AM
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Considering the whole IT landscape, I don't agree with Rob at all. In corporate environments, Java is extremely popular on the client side, including applets for rich web-based stuff. Many new clients seem to be using the Eclipse RCP. A lot of clients using J2EE stuff on AppServers are written in Java.

However, this is exactly the market where RISC OS is non-existent. So if we narrow our view down to "Current RISC OS", I agree with Rob. A readily available Java for RISC OS, no matter how good it is, would add very little new functionality for the average RISC OS user. There are a few cool Java applications around (like ProjectX and Eclipse of course), but nothing "essential" for RISC OS users.


 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 19/9/07 12:43PM
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BTW, I think the article is a bit confusing regarding the versioning of Java. This is not a surprise, since Java versioning itself is extremely confusing!

Usually, it is best to use the "internal" numbering which is what the JVM itself reports. A quick overview (J2SE only - adding J2EE to the equation makes things incredibly complicated!) including some comments on usage:

1.0.2 - first usable Java - this is what Acorn's Java originally implemented ("Riscafe"). Not used anymore.

1.1.x - this was integrated into Netscape and Internet Explorer and therefore used for a long time in applets. The first implementation of Swing was based on 1.1.x and was distributed as a seperate package. Only seldomly used nowadays.

1.2.x - called "The Java 2 platform" by Sun. Acorn's new Java was planned to be a 1.2.x implementation, but was only nearly finished. Swing is included.

1.3.x - Sun started using the "Hotspot JVM" with this release, a dynamically-recompiling JVM

1.4.x - this is in some way important since 1.4.2 is the first Java where Swing uses "native peers" to draw its elements, to be able to mimik Windows XP Look&Feel. Additionally, assertions were added to the language. This is IMHO still the most-used version and the baseline spec for many targets (later JREs can be used of course to run such 1.4.x compatible software)

1.5.x - now the confusion starts...Sun calls this "Java 5". For the first time, interesting language elements were added like generics, type-safe enumerations and autoboxing. The Sun JVM introduces Class Data Sharing to reduce memory footprint and startup times (two sore points for Java Desktop usage)

1.6.x - consequently called "Java 6". The first version to look sensibly on the Vista Aero GUI

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 19/9/07 1:05PM
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In reply to rjek "These days, Java's use on the desktop, both in applications and web applets, is dwindling".

Not in Biology it isnt. ImageJ which I use daily is probable the mose widespread biology imaging application around. Not the best.. I pay £5-15K for those that render 3D datasets (Amira and Volocity), but for cell tracking, morphology analysis and simple densitometry of westerns etc it is great and free. In addition the speed of startup of RiscOS would be usefull for a scanner machine for blot analysis. I used my RiscPC for this with an epson scanner but then went to ImageJ for analysis back in 1998. An A9 with a CCD camera and ImageJ for analysis would be great in a lab, since we are always short of space in Biology-land. :-)

Cheers Bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 19/9/07 3:35PM
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In the business I work for they use applets for Time Tracking & PDM to name just two.

 is a RISC OS Usertweety on 19/9/07 5:09PM
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All: RISC OS uses in business, as Steffen said, is minuscule. Throwing money to bring Java to RISC OS just for these users is insane. Also, most Java apps people might want to use are pretty memory hungry - I certainly wouldn't want to run Eclipse in 512MB of RAM!

There are always going to be niche areas that need Java. I don't think RISC OS's niche overlaps at all.

I stand by my point that Flash is infinitely more important.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 19/9/07 6:05PM
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For once I'm 100% agreed with rjek.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 20/9/07 9:16AM
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Actually, getting Eclipse running would perhaps be the only possibility of getting a proper IDE on RISC OS. And it runs OK-ish with a heap size of 400 MB, so 512 MB would be enough for most uses.

However, I guess most people (including me) just use their PC for development and compilation anyway...

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 20/9/07 11:14AM
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Forget about development for a moment. If Java apps like ImageJ ran on an A9 ther are bound to be tons of people that would come into contact with a machine. Then they would say...hey this boots quick. And it is Soooo small, I fancy one of those. Then that is another NEW user. RiscOS cant be continuously targetted at the existing user or that user base will dwindle.

Chees Bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 20/9/07 3:01PM
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nijinsky: Unfortunately, most Java applications aren't going to run *anywhere* near as quick on an A9 as a PC costing half the price and only slightly larger. Infact, I imagine most modern Java applications will be painfully slow on either an A9 or an Iyonix. How quickly it boots isn't a problem for most users.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 20/9/07 4:19PM
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@druck: Shockwave <> Flash. They are related but not the same thing. Shockwave does a lot more than Flash.

@rjek: I think your comments mainly reflect profound ignorance of the current application market outside RISC OS. It is /very/ widely used and there are big important desktop apps that are based completely or in part on it. OpenOffice, NeoOffice on Mac OS X & the Eclipse IDE are a few; I also regularly use desktop Java apps.

Java would, IMHO, be one of the biggest possible boons to RISC OS there is.

 is a RISC OS Userlproven on 23/9/07 10:55AM
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lproven: only very few things in OpenOffice actually need Java (see OpenOffice FAQ), the rest is a big heap of C/C++.

However, the important question remains. How much time and effort would it take to bring it to a usable state? Even on the multi-GHz x86 platform, people describe many Java applications as "sluggish". Now think about a minimal Java port using ChoX11 and remember how the Firefox port "feels" on the fastest RISC OS hardware we have. Now extrapolate and think about Eclipse...

 is a RISC OS Userhubersn on 23/9/07 11:09AM
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In reply to nijinsky: I agree with rjek. And as for space just take a laptop which has the screen etc. built in and can even be used offline. And with the odd sleep mode the system can be ready to use pretty quickly.

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 23/9/07 11:42AM
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lproven: I've not seriously used RISC OS in years, I use it as a toy hobby platform. Java is /not/ widely used in applications. OpenOffice's build system depends on it, and a handful of the more rarely-used features do, but in general the runtime does not - and you'd not want to natively build OpenOffice on RISC OS kit anyway - it'd take months. I've already mentioned the Eclipse IDE in this discussion, and suggested that running it along with the build tool chain tools in 512MB is going to be unpleasant - it's not the fastest piece of software on modern PCs. Windows doesn't come with Java by default these days, and most users don't notice. What they would notice missing much more is if Flash wasn't bundled.

Things RISC OS needs to make Java more sensible: An overhaul of the OS, including support for more memory, good solid support for threading, a file system that isn't an embarrassment, and hardware that isn't so slow. Now, I doubt many of those things are going to happen any time soon. Flash doesn't stress the system anywhere near as much, as well as being much more widely used. Without it, web browsing on RISC OS is almost a laughing stock.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 23/9/07 12:10PM
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 is a RISC OS Userdms on 23/9/07 4:57PM
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Ignore previous comment - I guess the 'Show help' button really should read 'Post message'!

rjek - I think I can safely assume you are not an Electronics Engineer. Java is very much the language of choice these days for electronic design tools such as schematic entry, PCB layout and programmable logic design. Indeed, in many cases, vendors are rewriting existing C/C++/Assembler/whatever applications to be Java-based.

 is a RISC OS Userdms on 23/9/07 5:05PM
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Java is not 'widely' used in shrink-wrapped 'consumer' applications but is heavily used in an awful lot of B2B application as well as backends to websites. A lot of 'Macromedia's software (ie ColdFusion, parts of Dreamweaver) are actually written in Java.

And a lot of applications are written in Java using the RCP platform ontop of Eclipse.

As just 1 example in 1 industry, look at the number of Newspaper internet sites published using Escenic, which is written in Java.

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 23/9/07 5:14PM
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dms: I've always used Eagle for small stuff, and Mentor Graphics for complex - both of which are C/C++. (In fact, Mentor's got a bundle of Perl and TCL in there, too) And if you think having access to some ultra-niche electronic design tools that will be unusably slow on any RISC OS box will somehow help the market, I'm not sure what drugs you're on!

markee174: B2B? What's that? Same goes for you, though: all counter-examples people have listed here about why Java is important are ultra-niche. Having them available won't help the platform move on or be more generally useful. I certainly don't see Adobe expending effort porting Dreamweaver or ColdFusion to RISC OS. Do you?

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 23/9/07 6:00PM
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"I've always used Eagle for small stuff, and Mentor Graphics for complex - both of which are C/C++. (In fact, Mentor's got a bundle of Perl and TCL in there, too)"

I've got news for you. The next generation Mentor ECAD system that is supposed to replace the existing Boardstation and Design View/Expedition flows is claimed (by Mentor) to be 100% Java based. I believe it is scheduled for release in about two years.

 is a RISC OS Userdms on 23/9/07 7:16PM
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rjek: "B2B" stands for business-to-business. Of course, the chances of getting one business using RISC OS are pretty slim and the chances of two such businesses needing to interact seem vanishingly small!

 is a RISC OS Useradamr on 23/9/07 7:27PM
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dms: I'll stick with Pinnacle, then. In any case. you'd be mad to run such powerful and CPU-hungry CAD software on any RISC OS box, so it doesn't matter either way. Can anybody actually suggest anything written in Java that the average computer user actually wants, and more importantly, knows they want?

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 23/9/07 7:29PM
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Business to business (ie companies selling to other companies not to consumers). Its actually a major part of the software market along with inhouse internally written software. Software is more than just people buying copies of Word.

Adobe are indeed very unlikely to port Dreamweaver or ColdFusion to RISCOS - they are examples of major applications using Java which you claim does not happen. So you try to switch the argument.....

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 23/9/07 7:51PM
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Markee174: You're missing my point: My point is that use of Java is on the desktop is dwindling - I never said it had ceased to exist or be used. End users, who are pretty much the only market RISC OS has any chance of making any new inroads to, simply don't care about Java. Most don't even know it exists. However, they all use Flash much more and it's a much more serious hole in RISC OS's abilities. I say again, what Java is used for these days on the client is ultra-niche, and not at all useful for or on RISC OS.

Nobody has yet suggested here a way in which having an up-to-date and workable Java VM would help RISC OS is any noticeable way what-so-ever. "This web design application that'd never work on RISC OS anyway", "Oh, this specialist biology application only a handful of academics use" and "The next version of 250,000 quids worth of rampantly memory and CPU hungry electrical CAD software" do not count.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 23/09/07 8:20PM
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I fully agree with you that Java on RISCOS is a waste of time. Javascript, Flash and better multimedia support are far more important. IF we got Java on RISCOS, people would just complain it ran slowly. As someone who works fulltime in Java and sees the market first-hand, its these blanket statements about Java usage I am arguing with....

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 23/09/07 8:50PM
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Java would be most useful as a language, rather than a platform - or perhaps even Groovy now.

I did start playing with a Java-as-a-language-not-a-platform implementation of the Java Language Specification (targetted at the Beeb, but'd work on RISC OS too), but never got beyond the stage of being able to run [link]

The Java language would provide a much easier mechanism for programming applications than any other language - however, it's almost certainly past the point now of being worth attracting new developers, and all the existing ones can obviously develop already! ;-)

 is a RISC OS UserJaffa on 23/09/07 8:52PM
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Sure java support along the lines of what a typical mobile phone has would possible and usable.

(I agree that it would be low priority.)

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 24/09/07 09:16AM
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In reply to rjek.

Yes I agree it is only a "handful" of academics. Oh and the whole biotech sector. oh and companies that may be manufacturing equipment. etc etc. Oh and people in the NHS labs (the biggest employer in the UK. As you say... Only a small market.

Fron the imagej page. "This page has been visited 3,800,862 times".

And I first used that app at a GOOD speed when it was NIH image on a MAcOS8.6 Wallsrtreet 300Mhz machine. And as Scion Image on a Hammamatsu system with A 200Mhx P2 PC. Surely an Iyonix is fast enough.

I'll let it rest now and go back to my work.


 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 24/09/07 2:44PM
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Personally I would love to have a fully functioning Java implementation on ROS- but what I use it for is niche. I think as mentioned performance would be a major issue. One thing I think is regardless of how useful people might find it generally, there is a large amount of Java code out there and having Java available would allow for a relative ROS novice to be able to pick a piece of this code and run it - a viable none Java alternative might not exist for ROS and even though it might be slow, something is generally better than nothing.

 is a RISC OS Userpolas on 24/09/07 4:36PM
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I totally agree.

The real benefit of Java on RISC OS isn't the existence of any particular application, but rather the fact that the applications are platform independent. Obviouslly Flash shares this benefit too, the difference being that there are far fewer serious desktop applications written in Flash (but perhaps I'm wrong about this?).

If I want to run an application to perform a particular task that doesn't exist on RISC OS, I'd have thought my best chance would be to find an open source C/C++ or Java application. The C/C++ version might do the job, but will likely involve a tricky porting process, so Java would be a potentially useful source of applications, even if its use *is* dwinding on the desktop.

Perhaps I'm misrepresenting the number of serious desktop Flash applications there are out there, but it's not clear to me that Flash is really a substitute for this type of thing (and that's not to say that Flash doesn't have its own strengths in other areas).

Obviously, none of this changes the issue of speed or remoteness of any likely java implementation.

 is a RISC OS Userflypig on 24/09/07 10:44PM
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Hmm, Castle probably own the rights to the Acorn Java port (it was transferred to Pace, so I assume Castle got them).

Sun granted me a free non-commercial licence to their parts, when Acorn was dissolved, but I didn't have the time to finish the 1.2 port - to release it, you'd need to pass the JCK, which is a huge test suite.

It was decided not to release 1.0.2 free due to dealers still having Riscafe CDs in stock.

It'd be a huge job to get it up and running, but basing a port on the 1.2 AWT would make a lot of sense, if someone were mad enough to bother.

I'm not quite sure why it keeps getting compared to Flash - yes, in a browser environment, Java's irrelevant these days, but outside browsers, Java's more useful than Flash, IMO.

 is a RISC OS UserPiers on 25/09/07 00:17AM
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So does that mean that the original could be made available legally for free?

Presumably it would be of limited use, (especially to 32 bit machines) but it would be better than nothing, I would assume.

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 25/09/07 10:08AM
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Anyone who thinks that Java is rubbish/outdated/etc either hasn't seen GeoGebra [link] (or isn't a Maths teacher...)

It's cross-platform, works seemlessly either in a browser or as an application and it's even better than Cabriolet :)

 is a RISC OS Usermurkle on 25/09/07 7:18PM
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The debate isn't that Java is rubbish or no use, but rather what the extremely limited resources of RISC OS developers should be aimed at. As Piers, who should know better anyone, says a fully functioning up to date JVM is a huge amount of work, and in return there is only a small number of JAVA applications which are likely to appeal to everyone and run at a usable speed on our platform.

Flash is completely unrelated to Java, but it is something else RISC OS needs, and is a much more obviously beneficial item to majority of RISC OS users, due to its extensive use on the web, which prevents us from making use of many popular websites. If there is any developer time available, then Flash is higher priority, followed by a number of other things, and Java comes very far down the list.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 26/09/07 09:21AM
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Is Silverlight (and the free moonlight implementation) likely to change the landscape?

Is it likely to flop or will Microsoft force it through? Would the free implementation be able to be usefully ported?

Were it a success and the free implementation ported, RISC OS could then be up to speed on browsing.

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 26/09/07 10:39AM
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On the Java thread of thought (but slightly OT) for programming on Linux I use the Eclipse IDE (yes, I realise that even if we did get Java on ROS, it would run horribly slow) and I really like that IDE. For development that I do on my RPC does anyone have any suggestions of a good IDE or editor - I know that Zap and stronged exist, but I would really like an editor that allows me to navigate easily through the files that make up my code. For development on ROS (whether its serious or for fun) what do most people use?

 is a RISC OS Userpolas on 26/09/07 12:19AM
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Java 1.0.2 could be free for non-commercial use, from Sun's point of view. I'm pretty sure Castle own the rights now, so it would be their decision.

Anyway, you want SVG, not Silverlight :-)

 is a RISC OS UserPiers on 26/09/07 12:31AM
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piers: How much use would that version be? (ie is it worth nagging them to release it?)

Silverlight - yes probably true, I tried to view a Microsoft Silverlight presentation after installing the plugin, it didn't work.

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 26/09/07 5:03PM
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I wouldn't nag them. It's not the most useful of apps, nowadays. We concentrated on browser applets, at the time, rather than command-line usage. Nowadays, Java is really the other way round.

And the language support is a bit lacking (1.0 doesn't support child classes, IIRC), and the libraries are rather dated, so I'm not sure how much use it would be for people wanting to learn Java.

But given Sun's Java is now GNU licensed, if Castle were willing to GNU license the Acorn Java code, it would be a sensible starting point for a new port. But I agree with others - the effort should be more usefully put elsewhere.

 is a RISC OS UserPiers on 27/09/07 10:33AM
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hi all, i have downloaded the taurus !JavaVM, but am unable to get it to run the simple code from: ([link]

is there something that i have to install as i am unable to find anything.

What do i need to do as the documentation just says run the !JavaVM

Cheers :@)

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 28/09/07 12:34AM
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    "'Only the truly memorable stunts are worth a write up'. So, what sort of memorable 'stunt' might be worth a write up?"
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