Ditching desktops for portables: The way forward?By Garry Taylor. Published: 4th Jan 2008, 21:44:24 | Permalink | Printable
Donning a flame-proof suit, Garry Taylor suggests the RISC OS platform swaps desks for palms to secure its futureOpinion - Martin Hansen's article Maudlin over RISC OS reminded me of how I became a RISC OS user all those years ago. Unfortunately, it made me think about what made me abandon the platform a couple of years ago too.
My last RISC OS computer was an A9home, and, putting its little quirks aside, what made me stop using it and finally put my usage of RISC OS to an end, was quite simply that I could not do anything that I wanted to do using it. I could list at length all the things that it could not do, but that's not the point of this article. My goal in this piece is to outline why pushing RISC OS on the desktop computer is largely a waste of time, and why there can be a far brighter future ahead if we simply think about alternatives to the desktop and laptop arenas.
Put simply, RISC OS is totally outclassed on the desktop in every way that matters. Yes, RISC OS has some great user-interface ideas which make it fun and easy to use, but these are dwarfed by its failings. My view is this: if you pulled 100 people off the street, sat them in front of an Iyonix, and then in front of a Mac for half the price, and asked them which they would rather own, I'd concur that around 100 of them would want the Apple computer. Why? Because the Mac can actually do what they want: they can watch movies on YouTube, poke their friends on Facebook, sync their iPod, and do it all using a glossy friendly interface, running on a very pretty computer.
Assuming the above is roughly correct, we can all agree that RISC OS's future on desktop computers is looking limited, particularly as Castle has yet to publicly commit to producing an Iyonix successor, and AdvantageSix is probably going to want to complete the A9home product before even considering making an upgrade.
So, what's the alternative if we cannot compete against modern desktop computers? We compete against something else, and I propose that this should be Windows CE and embedded Linux. And below I outline why.
- Windows CE devices are ARM based, we can run RISC OS on these natively, and not produce new hardware.
- Users have far lower demands of these sorts of devices, so RISC OS's lack of a good JVM, Flash player, iPod synchronization etc. can be overlooked.
- Windows CE is not highly regarded, and RISC OS can compete fairly and squarely on merit, and not with apologetic cries of "but it has a great UI." RISC OS is plainly better than Windows CE, and that's a position against its competitors RISC OS has not been in for a long time.
- We get modern, native, small, laptops.
I, for one, will never buy another RISC OS desktop, I simply cannot make use of it, and frankly don't want a big desktop cluttering up my flat. However, I would leap at the chance to buy a device like one of these running RISC OS:
Click on a thumbnail for details
Maybe even the talked about Celio RedFly.
Now clearly RISC OS is not going to port itself to one of these devices, but I'd warrant that we have the skilled people in the community who would be technically able to do so. I'd also contend that those skilled enough to be able to take on the challenge of porting RISC OS to one of these devices is unlikely to want to do the work for free, so I'd like to propose the setting up of a bounty scheme. That is, those of us interested in seeing RISC OS ported to a portable ARM-powered device put our money where our mouths are and donate money into the project. The money would only be collected and paid on successful completion of the project.
So if we take the hypothetical example that RISC OS Open takes up the challenge and decides to port RISC OS to the Nokia N810, we would first negotiate what would be required for successful completion. For example, in the case of the Nokia N810, we'd say that it's required that the screen, keyboard, pointer, sound, memory cards and wifi all work, but we could also say that support for bluetooth is not required.
Whether the bounty hunter makes the port free, or charges for it (under Castle's licence) is neither here nor there to me. However, I'd suggest that to give the porter an ongoing income is a good way to get ongoing improvements. For example, in the future support for the webcam could be added in a paid-for update.
I do believe that this plan represents a decent path forward for RISC OS. I don't suggest that everyone with an Iyonix or other desktop RISC OS machine should throw them away as they'll make great development workstations for smaller devices. I do however firmly believe that this is the only realistic path to grow the RISC OS user base and stop it dwindling from thousands to hundreds, and finally to nothing.
Who runs the bounty is unimportant but it should be a trustworthy and respected figure in the community, maybe one of the many individuals who are well known in the RISC OS scene. It should also be someone with a facilities to host a website and show running total of the current bounty. If a bounty is set up, I'll be the first to donate, so what do we think?
Do you agree with Garry? Is this the way forward for RISC OS? Get involved in the debate, and email your opinions or post a message below.
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