A call to ARMsBy Andrew Weston. Published: 28th Jan 2008, 22:37:43 | Permalink | Printable
Andrew Weston wonders how many brave developers RISC OS has leftOpinion - One of the first novelties of owning a new computer is the speed increase over your previous model and so is the case with this writer's new Aria Cube Iyonix. So far I'm nicely impressed by this computer, including its speed. In fact, one of the reasons that finally convinced me that the RiscPC had given it's full service was that, even with the accumulated upgrades and patching over the years with room for yet more, the performance of the computer was proving frustrating.
It's worth asking what lies behind this frustration. In a PC and Mac dominated world many, if not most, RISC OS users will regularly use faster machines doing routine things with less drag and seeing a more impressive side of computing with multimedia internet capabilities, games and so on.
Leaving aside the subjective matter of ever-rising expectations, the world doesn't stand still and many of these developments are not only useful and productive but becoming more and more an essential part of life.
So when no more performance increases can be seemingly eked out of your web browser of choice on a RiscPC then it's probably worth your while replacing the system. I see in the Iyonix a computer whose noise footprint relative to a RiscPC alone makes it a delight to own and use. There's also the speed increase, especially in NetSurf and Messenger Pro, and the reassuring greater abundance of memory, storage space and modern expandability.
On top of that, the advent of RISC OS Open means the operating system, RISC OS 5, now has a fighting chance to exploit new hardware and to be improved in itself. Thus there's a substantial argument for investing in this way in the future of this independent and distinctive UK-based computer platform. From a personal angle, I can look forward to updating or purchasing as required from the range of capable (and some would say unbeatable in terms of productivity) software, much of which is undergoing active development. This might include EasiWriter, Artworks, Photodesk, Ovation Pro as well as less creative but highly-functional software.
It is probably impossible to over-state the gratitude that RISC OS computer owners have for a piece of software like NetSurf.
However, unlike some users, I'm far from convinced of the wisdom of channeling all our resources into this application at the expense of wider innovation, experimentation and competition.
This is definitely not the kind of risk-taking and adventurous precedent setting that allowed RISC OS and its inextricable historical forefather, Acorn, to achieve spectacular things in the past from epochal games to operating system assets that were for years, arguably eons ahead of other competitors.
A few years ago a RISC OS software author by the name of Peter Naulls showed this kind of verve and man-sized insight in establishing the Unix Porting Project, which paved the way for a conversion of the Firefox web browser.
According to the RISC OS Firefox website, Peter received £1,000 of the £4,000 he wanted for ongoing development. Looking at the impressive spectacle of this globally popular and important piece of software on a platform whose scale is microscopic compared to those who mainly use the browser, it makes me wonder if this is what Peter can achieve on a quarter tank of petrol, what can he do on three-quarters, let alone, full?
And therein is the argument for competition: Firefox raised the bar enormously for RISC OS web browsing which NetSurf would do exceptionally well to surpass in two years, at best. So is this going to be the high-water mark for browsers while NetSurf, for all its value, has an effective monopoly on progress. For a start, RISC OS Open released the Phoenix browser which could constitute a superb test-bed for new developments - risky or not.
The abandonment of Oregano 3 would have been a head-in-hands moment for a community of users not already accustomed to such disappointments. The biggest disgrace of this story however might yet be the failure of the same community to adapt like the Oregano developers did, presumably to survive and find a way to make money. Our user and commercial base, much of which has been around since the early BBC Micro-era, doesn't have a lot to say for itself in the here and now if it has lost the will to survive. Part of that instinct that has looked under threat of late is to take the same kind of initiative that Peter Naulls did, or say, Adrian Lees had in trying to bring DVD movies to bona-fide RISC OS platforms. Back in the old days, this have-a-go-hero mentality was called innovation.
If RISC OS developers have become happy to passively accept the hand-me-downs of the creative fruits of more, as it were, hardy, vigorous breeds of developers and resign RISC OS to a novelty side show on a mass-produced piece of generic kit, then one could wryly think we've sure come a long way.
I hope that possibly somewhere out there, there are still a few in the enthusiast and, of course, in the developer corners who prefer not to die on their knees, who can look back in old age and in the finest spirit of Acorn and say that one of their life-achievements was doing what people said could never be done.
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