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Who would want an A9home PDA?

Published: 24th Apr 2008, 23:36:29 | Permalink | Printable

So close yet so far

RISC OS in the palm of your hand with a touchscreen and half-decent embedded processor. Sounds great? Pictured below is, essentially, a Samsung ARM9 processor card, as used in the A9home, attached to a baseboard and a 5.7" LCD touchscreen.

The touchscreen side.

The electronics underneath.
Images from Simtec. Click for larger originals.

Built by the same talented electronic engineers behind the RISC OS-powered AdvantageSix A9home, the kit includes two USB ports, a standard serial port, an SD memory card slot, Ethernet networking, audio out and other sockets - plus movement sensors allowing it to do a digital Etch A Sketch impression. All with a 400MHz processor and 256MB of RAM.

Sadly, it is in reality a technology demonstration, an advanced prototype if you will, to show how such a tablet-like device can be put together and is not generally available nor designed with RISC OS in mind. How ROS applications could ever be used on a screen less than six inches across is another matter entirely, of course.

Still, for those who like to dream we understand such a mini-machine will be present at Saturday's Wakefield 2008 show running NetSurf, albeit the GTK port of the web browser on a little GNU/Linux installation.


Wakefield 2008 show website The A9 website

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Would be great indeed! And a touch screen driver exists already by Thomas Milius, albeit not for this device.

 is a RISC OS Userhzn on 25/4/08 5:18AM
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I've been touting this for the last 7 years as the future of RISC OS.

If you try to sell a desktop to the masses then they will go with a well known system.

If you sell teh small size functionality then the OS doesn't matter.

Take what I'm typing on. An eeePC running xandros full desktop and a 3 hsdpa modem.

cheers bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 25/4/08 8:42AM
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Looks like it's using this display: [link](5.7inch%20TFT).pdf - url may not display correctly, as it uses extended characters.

In which case it's a 320x240 (QVGA) screen. I doubt many RISC OS apps would be usable on such a small work area without serious rewrites.

Also using a touchscreen gets rid of one of the main advantages of RISC OS: Consistent usage of three buttons throughout the OS.

 is a RISC OS Userjymbob on 25/4/08 9:54AM
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Jymbob: It's a 640x480 VGA touch panel manufactured by URT. It's quite usable running GNOME.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 25/4/08 10:03AM
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nijinsky: The problem is that identical hardware will be available with (and fully supported by) another, better known, OS.

At a lower price than a RISC OS version.

Say you could get RO running on a Nokia 810, why would people buy it rather than the standard version from Nokia?

 is a RISC OS UserStoppers on 25/4/08 10:09AM
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If it's ever commercially released, I'll be interested. It's a bit of a bind having to convert files from my Palm PDA to Techwriter format.

 is a RISC OS Usercables on 25/4/08 10:12AM
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cables: Well, having the hardware released is different from you being able to load your TechWriter documents on it - it doesn't run RISC OS. And you'd have to plug in a USB keyboard for it to be useful for word processing.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 25/4/08 10:26AM
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jymbob: My touchscreen drivers emulate all three buttons, including Adjust-double clicking. I'll reinstate the info as my new site develops as there's nothing there just now...

 is a RISC OS Userliquid on 25/4/08 10:38AM
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I've never been able to find the article or pictures recently. However, the chaps at Digital research (I think it was them) had easiwriter running on a compaq ipaq 3630. It was only one app but it was a start. Never heard anything like it since.

And of course RISC OS ltd noted that a netbook or ipaq system was what RISC OS was missing from back in 2001 [link]

And if you want to know what RISC OS would look like on a PDA then have a look at this old drobe article [link] cheers Bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 25/4/08 10:39AM
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liquid: Meant to add - of course the resolution is a problem. Changing the eigen values of the screen mode is a way round it if clarity is not an issue.

 is a RISC OS Userliquid on 25/4/08 10:39AM
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Is resolution really a problem? The standard desktop modes for RISC OS 2 were 640x256 (rectangular pixels), and lets be honest, the desktop hasn't changed all that much since then. The problem would be the size of the window handles which would be something like 2mm square on that screen.

 is a RISC OS Userninja on 25/4/08 1:34PM
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ninja - due to the way RISC OS handled eigen-values (or whatever they're called), the "standard" mode was always essentially 640x512 in terms of usable area (square pixels), even though the pixels were rectangular. Since any modern device would use square pixels (I assume), one has to take this into consideration. This is why 640x480 was rather nasty on RISC OS (in terms of usability) whereas in Win3.1 it was more usable.

 is a RISC OS Userarawnsley on 25/4/08 2:10PM
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Would the pixel doubled modes be of any use here?

 is a RISC OS Userfwibbler on 25/4/08 9:35PM
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Stoppers: "Say you could get RO running on a Nokia 810"

That's being very hypothetical: Nokia run Linux on their tablets and yet there's still a lot of proprietary stuff and secrecy around the hardware. In contrast, you'd have a better chance with the Openmoko (FIC) devices, which have small but relatively high resolution screens, or with Gumstix devices plus screens. Indeed, this Simtec device would compete more with the latter.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 26/4/08 12:12AM
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Of course you wouldn't necessarily use a device like this as a PDA...It has a serial port, 2 USB ports, ethernet and a touch screen. Sounds like a good industrial controller type device. Many CNC cutting machines and other automated factory machines have small controllers running either Linux of Windows CE variants.

Other reasons why RISC OS would be a good solution in the industrial controller market include - fast development using BASIC for prototyping applications, GCC if you need more speed, it is ROM based and low power requirements (PoE might be an option!).

 is a RISC OS Userstevek on 26/4/08 2:17AM
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stevek: "Other reasons why RISC OS would be a good solution in the industrial controller market include - fast development using BASIC for prototyping applications, GCC if you need more speed, it is ROM based and low power requirements"

Unfortunately, Linux and Windows CE already have all of those advantages - and Linux is significantly cheaper!

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 26/4/08 6:52AM
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For the price it would likely be, it would need wifi, the ability to plug into an external screen, and more RAM than the A9, plus the ability to boot into Linux or RISC OS 6. I'd consider buying one.

I suspect a lot of users who have abandoned RISC OS as their main OS would be interested, were the price right.

rjek: The thing Linux lacks and can never have is a single consistant user interface. This problem will only be bypassed if distributions start taking the limelight, rather than generic linux. (Perhaps its time for a Linux distro that adopts as much of the RISC OS style guide as possible)

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 26/4/08 9:30AM
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RISC OS has been used in many industrial situations.

We had an automated protein purification unit that was controlled by a riscpc.

I have a cell biology image measurement application from way back (better using ImageJ these days) and also a colleague had a cell migration app. Source code now lost.

However, take this one scenario. You have a microscope that moves a motorised stage running custom software to take framegrabs and make a timelapse movie. The system costs 40,000gbp. So the cost of an OS is negligible.

Again I have an imaging system that cost a similar amount. te cost of the Mac quad core wth 4Gb RAM etc was nothing to the cost of the software 12,000gbp.

So in essence. OS price in industrial situations in nothing.

cheers Bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 26/4/08 9:59AM
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Jess: Name two industrial control systems from different vendors that have the same GUI, regardless of the OS they run: it simply isn't important. (And in any case, there are only two main "GUIs" for Linux these days, and they're roughly identical across distributions)

nijinsky: IME in the embedded and custom control world, the price of the OS does matter. It's not just the runtime cost, it's the cost of the development and debugging tools, the cost of training your software engineering staff, the cost of porting the OS to your custom hardware, etc. Operating systems that already exist in this market (Linux, QNX, VxWorks, Nucleus, etc) don't suffer these problems to the same extent: they have debugging tools for a start (although the toolchains for some of them are expensive) but your softies almost certainly already know how to write good code for them, and they're trivial to port.

Additionally, I certainly wouldn't trust RISC OS to run something mission-critical, like a power station, distribution systems, monitoring of a jet engine etc!

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 27/4/08 10:22AM
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In reply to rjek:

I don't have a plug-in keyboard for my Palm PDA: it has a small display of a keyboard that I can tap with a stylus. It works surprisingly well, and I would like to see a similar setup on a RISC OS version.

 is a RISC OS Usercables on 28/4/08 9:23AM
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It should be really easy to make a desktop keyboard. I remember an app years ago that I used to make custom buttons for !zap. Cant remember the name but you could just assign an add letter function to that and make a start on one in an hour.

cheers bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 28/4/08 12:20PM
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Sure, a screen keyboard's easy. I think most people (certainly me!) tire from using them after significantly shorter periods of time than you'd expect to be using a word processor for.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 28/4/08 12:47PM
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VKeyboard from Kevsoft provides a screen keyboard for RISC OS:



The app was most likely the very flexible ButtonBar from the Flying Pig:


 is a RISC OS UserStewy on 28/4/08 1:19PM
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In reply to rjek:

It's certainly true that using a screen keyboard is more tiring than using a conventional one, but that wouldn't bother me: my use of a PDA for word processing is almost exclusively short bursts of writing during my dinner hour at work.

 is a RISC OS Usercables on 28/4/08 2:09PM
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