Five tips for ROL over the next five yearsBy Paul Stewart. Published: 10th May 2009, 20:38:49 | Permalink | Printable
Opinion - Drobe man Paul Stewart offers a few suggestions to RISCOS Ltd to ensure the company and its platform survives over the coming years.I believe that RISCOS Ltd has come a long way since its formation in 1999, and has developed RISC OS 6 into a very good product. ROL eventually reworked its branch of the OS to be 32bit neutral, allowing it to be built for newer ARM-compatible processors, and persevered with its RISC OS Select subscription scheme to push OS updates out to paying end users.
That was then. Now we're well into 2009. So what's required from ROL to see us through the next few months and years? I have prepared a few ideas for the company's management to consider, and also for Drobe readers to debate.
1. A roadmap
Wouldn't it be nice if we could be shown a generalised outline stating where ROL expects to be with RISC OS in five years' time, with Select releases and other projects marked on it, plus yearly goals detailing how RISC OS will be improved? This could at the very least let Select subscribers know what to expect and could even entice more users to the scheme. Publishing this roadmap document would also counter those who believe a lack of vision is one of RISCOS Ltd's major failings.
When RISCOS Ltd was a fledgling company, it produced a report at the end of each year detailing in general how the company was progressing. Whatever happened to this? Why was it stopped? How about reviving this practice so the community can see how the company is doing? When the Select scheme was founded, punters could contribute to a wish list - a database of features that subscribers wanted to see in RISC OS. Does this get used when deciding where to go forward and where not to? Does RISCOS Ltd care about what the users want, or is it just what the developers want to do?
Other than the RISC OS Open initiative, ROL has no direct competitors anymore, and it keeps insisted itself and ROOL are cooperating on development, so there's no commercial advantage to be lost by sharing its plans with the close-knit community surrounding it.
In such a small market there are obvious financial constraints that prevent the employment of customer support staff, sales representatives, marketing teams, project managers and full-time teams of software developers. Yet, if someone has a lot of free time and is willing to get involved with ROL's projects there appears to be no open way of doing so - even though ROL says third-party developers are welcome to contribute, the project feels like a closed shop. Compare this to RISC OS Open, which actively relies on user participation.
I would hope ROL appreciates any offers of help from programmers and other suitably-skilled users who can offer a few hours a week of their time, but there is nothing on the website that says this is even considered. I know the business model of RISCOS Ltd is quite different to that of RISC OS Open, but I would still have thought this type of involvement would be welcome.
4. Web presence
It's nice to see after 10 years the ROL site is now starting to get some attention and has dropped its original jigsaw-piece design. RISCOS Ltd should look at other websites, such as Apple's Mac OS X site, for inspiration. If more information was in the public domain about involvement, perhaps this website have been updated a while ago. Not only did the previous design looked dated for some time, there are still out-of-date documents, such as the mission statement and suppliers list. This is certainly not a good advertisement for the company or RISC OS in general.
Although it's taken almost 10 years to discover the power of the internet, finally RISCOS Ltd has opened an sales website. From here both Virtually Free RISC OS and the RISC OS Upgrade CD can both be purchased. What about Select subscriptions and the RISC OS 6 PRM? Why are these not on the sales site and available for punters to buy? These obviously were not in the train of thought when creating the sales site, however I see no reason for them not being there. Perhaps a little extra development work on the sales site could enable this.
5. Select developments
Overall, if we ignore the long gap between Select 3 and Select 4, the Select scheme has been a good success. Both RiscPC and Virtual RiscPC users have enjoyed regular updates to the OS and its ancillary applications. The question is how far should such a scheme go?
I think RISCOS Ltd has missed a trick here - after the fuss over ROL producing a version of Select for the Iyonix, the Select scheme should progress from being all about the operating system to being a product for the platform as a whole.
Would it not be feasible for Select development to be split, say six months on operating system work and six months on applications for the platform - such as finishing off the port of Firefox, porting the Gnash Flash player or an open source Java engine?
These are only examples. I’m sure other people would have their own ideas for general developments that would benefit the platform as whole. Such activity would almost certainly make users of RISC OS 4, 5 and 6 consider subscribing to the scheme and thus channelling additional funds into new developments. Sadly, it's unclear just how much in the way of extra funds this may bring or how effective this split development approach will be - but I'm sure it's worth considering.
Despite the criticism levelled at RISCOS Ltd, rightly or wrongly, I believe the company is certainly relevant in the RISC OS world of today. It is the only company that has constantly developed the operating system over the last decade. It has added extra networking features, improved the desktop experience, updated Paint, Draw and Filer and carried out numerous under-the-hood improvements. It is open to work with partners who wish to exploit the features of RISC OS commercially. Don't forget, RISCOS Ltd is not a large company. It operates on a small budget using a handful of part-time programmers to achieve its goals.
RISCOS Ltd should be about ensuring the continued development and availability of RISC OS, whether it is run on real hardware or via emulation, and the above list should go some way to making sure work is seen to be done and that work is being done to our favourite operating system.
RISCOS Ltd website
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