Select previewBy Chris Williams. Published: 31st Oct 2001, 02:06:37 | Permalink | Printable
Every feature in Select 1 covered, what's in, what's out, what's it look like and what do we think of it?
- operating system (comp.);
- A collection of system programs that control the activities of the computer system such as job control, input/output and processing. (Wordsworth dictionary of Science and Technology)
As an operating system RISC OS gets to sit alongside the other great names of the computing world. Unix, NetBSD, MacOS, Windows, RISC OS, they each act as a software backbone to whatever computer they are installed on. Granted each of them might do things slightly differently and some get used for different purposes but essentially they all work towards the same goal, acting as the glue between the user and the tangled electronics inside the computer. As I type, RISC OS is dealing with keypresses, multi-tasking the twenty applications running, providing any software routines requested by said applications, keeping the sound system ticking over for my entertainment, telling StrongEd to redraw its display and processing any other interrupts, vector routines or call backs. It's all software, one big party dancing to the beat of the StrongARM processor's clock. As users, you should expect RISC OS to provide ample and friendly access to hardware and software. It's your best friend.
It was something that turned the market on its head. Right before the Wakefield show earlier this year, RISCOS Ltd., the company with the exclusive license to develop RISC OS for desktop machines, announced to the world its plans to release the next versions of RISC OS. By subscribing to the RISC OS Select scheme, you receive the latest editions of RISC OS on up to three CDs, each released over the course of 12 months under the banner of RISC OS 4+ and sporting a funky new green cog logo. On each of the CDs will be a selection of components for you to install as well as a ROM image that is softloaded after powering up your computer -more on this later. You need a copy of the RISC OS 4 ROMs installed in your machine before you can use RISC OS Select. The first year of Select will cost £105 for those with RISC OS 4 or £179 for those who need a set of RISC OS 4 ROMs. Earlier this year, one day after the drobe editors' received their A level results, drobe.co.uk was invited to the Pace Micro Technology offices in Cambridge to be demonstrated RISC OS Select by RISCOS Ltd.'s managing director and one of the RISC OS Select programmers. This article has been written from information learned at this meeting and any further developments passed onto us thereafter.
Why all the fuss?
Indeed, why all the fuss. Well there's a number of points about RISC OS Select that made some poeple sit up:
- RISC OS is a software program, one used by all RISC OS users. RISCOS Ltd. felt it was time that RISC OS was treated to a healthy update of features and utilities. If you thought RISC OS 4.00 had enough features, RISC OS Select has more.
Unfortunately, some people were looking forward to RISC OS being 32 bit'ed in the next version of RISC OS so it can break away from the 26 bit address mode and use the newer and faster 32 bit addressing mode processors. Now while the drobe editors would love to use RISC OS on a 600 Mhz machine, we -unlike some people- are aware of the fact that 90% of existing software and add on hardware would at the moment simply not work in a 32 bit addressing mode.
Paul Middleton, managing director of RISCOS Ltd. explained to drobe.co.uk in an article published earlier this month about his company's decision to opt for a software realised update rather than a hardware based update.
Also, some people were quick to assume that becuase RISC OS Select isn't going to be 32 bit, RISC OS never will be 32 bit. This is definiately not the case as RISC OS will always have the potential to go 32 bit and RISCOS Ltd. for one would love to see this realised.
- The bundling of RISC OS Internet suite and the web browser Fresco 2.13 with RISC OS Select. After accquiring the ANT suite, RISCOS Ltd. have brought it up to scratch and bundled a few new 'net utilities with it. This means using the new Internet suite launcher, you can connect to the internet, browse the web and check your email and usenet all out of the box with RISC OS Select, as all good modern OSes allow. What about software companies already developing browsers and dial up solutions? As a punter, it means we hopefully benifit from the increased competition. As an online organisation it means we get more potential readers. Seriously though, RISCOS Ltd. have said that the RISC OS Internet suite is by no means the definitive internet package, there's no pressur to use it and users will be able to easily to replace the default components with their own software. Don't like Marcel? Feel free to stick MessengerPro in. Had enough of Fresco? Plug Oregano in.
- Finally, we've kissed goodbye to ROMs. By all means have RISC OS 4.02 ROMs installed to fall back onto if your hard disc goes kaput but some people just don't see the advantages of getting updates every 4 months on a CD and via a secure website.
OK so how do you update a ROM from a CD? Firstly a ROM image is like a ROM chip in a file and this is copied onto your hard disc when you install RISC OS Select. This ROM image will be softloaded every time you switch your machine on. This means the ROM image is copied from your hard disc into memory (RAM) and this takes over from the ROMs on the computer's motherboard. That is, the RISC OS in RAM becomes the current OS and the one in ROM is left alone. There are two side effects of this: Firstly, while this means RISC OS is slightly faster because RAM access is faster than ROM access, it does mean 6 Mb of your computer's RAM is taken up to hold the ROM image. So a 48 Mb machine is effectively reduced to 42 Mb with a softloaded OS. RISCOS Ltd. did comment to drobe that for a RISC OS desktop machine, you'll need at least 16 Mb of memory to do anything serious anyway. Secondly your boot sequence is extended by about an extra 12 seconds to copy the ROM image in RAM. The sequence of softloading goes like this:
- Turn your computer on. The RISC OS in ROM (lets say 4.02) self tests the computer, starts up any drives you have and displays the pre-desktop screen.
- The RISC OS Select Boot sequence is run and RISC OS Select is softloaded into memory.
- The computer is automatically reset so the new RISC OS Select can take over.
- The self test is performed and the computer checked for attached hardware.
- The pre-desktop RISC OS Select splash screen displayed and the Boot sequence run as per normal.
- RISC OS Select enters the desktop.
During booting up, you may hold down the shift key to halt the booting process and display a friendly boot options menu. This menu will allow you to boot off a network, some other media attached to your computer, boot off a CD, boot using the version of RISC OS that you have in ROM, enter the desktop with no booting or drop into supervisor mode (stay outside the desktop with a * comannd prompt). Also from the new !Configure with RISC OS Select you can select which ROM image you'd like to use if you (for some reason) are not happy with the latest ROM image and wish to use a previous release. If you want to fall back onto your RISC OS in ROM with your pre-RISC OS Select !Boot then that can be easily done too. The key words here are flexibility and functionality and it's one the RISC OS Select developers have followed closely throughout the RISC OS Select product.
Why the release?
RISC OS Select is a scheme that will deliver developments in RISC OS to the public in an easy and accessible form and distribution on CD seems like an excellent way of maximising turnaround. RISCOS Ltd. hope to use the Select scheme as a way of distributing the many internal developments that have gone on since the lastest major release. Also RISCOS Ltd. wants RISC OS to become attractive to technology companies from outside the desktop market and in order to do this, RISC OS needs a change in structure and fresh wave of developments. It's a form of evolution for the OS. RISC OS Select is also designed to allow others to take much more advantge of the OS, a great deal of framework has been engineered for third party developers.
All documentation relating to the new version of RISC OS is currently being prepared for release and drobe was strongly assured that all new APIs and related documentation will be made available for subscribers on the Select CDs and online at riscos.com. RISCOS Ltd. is also looking forward to people volunteering to help in the release of documentation.
All major software packages and hardware solutions have been checked to ensure they work; from Artworks to the Aleph1 PC card software to legacy software such as Impression. In fact there is no reason why any properly written software that works on RISC OS 4.0x shouldn't work on RISC OS Select because the RISC OS Select team have been very careful in ensuring that existing software doesn't break. If a piece of software breaks programming guidelines then it faces the penalty.
They are also aware of the problem of embedding features into the OS that are already available in the form of freeware patches. They have felt that they have struck a balance by including features that RISC OS would naturally demand (JPEG export in !Paint for example) and not stepping on the toes of freeware authors who have developed add ons (such as being able to alt+tab switch between open windows).
Using an installer application, you can pick and choose which components to install or remove. Components will be shipped on a CD with a ROM image and as components are improved and updated they will appear online for Select users to download using their usernames and passwords. Select users also get access to a mailing list where they can contact the RISC OS Select developers. Remember also that RISC OS Select also includes all the features from RISC OS 4.0x.
RISC OS Select, orginally codenamed RISC OS 4.5, is the start of a system wide tidy up and modularisation. For example, the kernel, (the core section of the OS), has been split into separate modules to make the system more interchangeable and streamlined in the future. Think of lego bricks, where each brick is a separate component of the OS, think how easy it is to change and swap around bricks. Now put that in terms of RISC OS: individual components of RISC OS can more easily be interchanged, removed or installed, updated or sublicensed to third parties from RISCOS Ltd. These internal system changes relate to how RISC OS works and handles things and are described here: (unless specifically stated, all these features will appear working on the first Select CD)
- The boot sequence The Choices directories have been moved to accomodate for multiple users and hardware set ups. A selector system is scheduled for a later Select CD so we wait in anticipation. The Library directory has been redesigned to support different types of library programs. Finally all support for RISC OS versions prior to RISC OS 4 has been dropped entirely and not just from the new !Boot.
- Clipboard magic Cut and paste data, text or pictures between the major OS applications. Other applications can join in the cut and paste fun using 2 simple SWIs, (an SWI is like a telephone number inside the OS. If an application wants RISC OS to do something for it, it 'dials' into RISC OS using a SWI).
The boot sequence is also now logged by Syslog (see below).
- Syslog You want to know what's going on in your system? Syslog it! Syslog is a much welcomed new component based on its Unix cousin and DoggySoft's SysLog module. You can remotely log what another networked machine is doing or locally log what your computer is doing such as logging what goes on during the boot sequence.
- A whole lot of Networking If there's one area RISC OS Select specifically focuses on, it's networking. Everything is now integrated and supports a softloadable Internet module. The Internet module has been treated to a 25 percent speed increase and it's hoped that a much improved internet stack will be released during the Select scheme. LanMan, which allows networking with PCs, has been made more friendlier. What about software?
- For a start you have the aforementioned Internet suite (with news and email and web access amongst other utilites namely Ping+, Traceroute, Finger, FTP and a 'net Time reader)
- Then you have firewalling that's based on the Unix system which, on a network, allows you to block other machines from making connections with your machine. This is especially useful as drobe was surprised to learn that any RISC OS machine connected to the internet with ShareFS running can be accessed by someone with knowledge on how ShareFS internally works.
- BootP and DHCP support. BootP will allow your machine to be booted from a network server with the essential IP address, resolvers, hostname and LanMan settings being automatically dealt with. DHCP is a popular protocol that also allows a server to dynamically allocate an IP address and other network settings to a machine connected to the network. High speed cable modems and Windows based networks employ DHCP as a way of slotting a machine onto the network. Sadly however, support for DHCP will not be on the first CD due to licencing delays. It is hoped that it will make the second CD.
- Next ShareFS has been split into two parts: the first deals with file sharing across filesystems and the second half deals with host management. This means if you don't want to use ShareFS to share files, you can still use the hosts service. Also transfering files from a remote computer is now more reliable.
- Although this feature has been present for some time, RISC OS Select opens up the ability for the resolver module to act as a DNS server. Therefore you can now set up your own small LAN using just RISC OS Select and it's hoped this facility will later be extened to enable a RISC OS machine to become a true IP gateway.
- Last but not least is the MimeMap module which deals with filenames from non-RISC OS systems. It has been greatly enhanced speed wise as well as now coping with special wildcarded MINE types, allowing the module to embrace the XML standard from internet overlords, w3c.org.
- Spin those CDs CDFS, the module that does all the dirty work to allow you to access CD-ROMs, has been upated to support RockRidge, Joliet, and DVD format CDs (with suitable CD drivers). The internal CDFS driver has also been improved to support a wider range of CD-ROM drives.
- The filer The filer is now more resilient from internal disruptions and has lot's of goodies thrown in:
- Filenames in ALL CAPS are displayed in lowercase.
- The ADFS filer can now optionally do a quick format of floppy discs. This takes a few seconds to perform and is ideal when you're limited for time and a full format is unacceptable.
- The CDFS filer has been rewritten. It now sports its own Audio CD player program.
- Improved access to ShareFS through filer window menus. Shared directories are also now shown in filer windows.
- When dragging files, the filename of the file is shown with the dragged file's icon. If you're dragging a number of files, the number of files being dragged is shown instead.
- Can sort files numerically as well as alphabetically.
- A funky new way of selecting files: see as you select. As you drag a box over files in a filer window, they are selected as the drag box boundary passes over them rather than after you've finished dragging the box.
The filer action window (the little window that shows the progress of files being counted, copied, deleted etc.) can now be overrided by other similar programs. For example, another application can instead push the filer action window aside and show files being counted or deleted by showing a little animation in its own window etc.
- Those funky dynamic areas A dynamic area is just that, it's an area of memory that can be allocated to programs for any purpose and can be protected or extended as required. They've been around since RISC OS 3.5 but with the advent of RISC OS Select, the system's components can now use dynamic areas to store and process information. Dynamic areas are generally more resistant to problems than previously used areas which enhances the system's stability and reliability.
- Task manager Commonly known as 'the window that displays what applications you're using' has been visually tweaked to display memory in a tidier form (12,340 Kb instead of 12340 Kb for example). It also allows you to restart the machine instead of chosing to shutdown.
- Window manager Applications can now have tinted icons. Software also can now be made aware of when the pointer is moved to the edges of the screen. This could be used by, say, an application launcher to pop up a control window or whatever.
- Lord Taskwindow Taskwindow (press Control + F12 to open one) has been fixed to use 1% of CPU time instead of 60 percent when idle. Other minor problems, such as long command lines (256+ bytes), have been fixed.
- The stretchy SpriteExtend SpriteExtend provides JPEG handling to the rest of the system and can now cope with many new exotic JPEG image formats such as the Exif format used by digital cameras.
- The pinboard Here's something that we found to be rather cool: you can now configure the backdrop to graduate between two colours at the top and bottom of the screen. You can also configure the icons on the pinboard to prevent them from disappearing if double-clicked on using Adjust.
- Cached Obey files Obey files, (RISC OS command scripts such as the !Boot and !Run files you see inside applications), are now cached which delivers a x4 speed up for internal media and x15+ speed up for remote filesystems.
- Developers' goodies A few problems with the BASIC assembler have been fixed. A module called PathUtils has been added which provides a more safe way of defining file paths and the FontManager already uses this to enhance its control of paths. Fileswitch has been minorly improved and bug fixed. System variables defined as code varibles by modules can be given workspace pointers. PipeFS supports OS_GBPB and uses a dynamic area to store it's data, all of which adds up to a much, much faster PipeFS. A shared library is provided that allows applications to use the ZLib compression system and a zipper module is also included that allows applications to create and malnipulate ZIP files through a set of SWIs. A service call is now issued when a system beep is generated for any interested applications. The sound system can also now cope if subsections of the sound system are replaced whilst in use.
The software bundled with RISC OS has not gone unnoticed. Below is a list of updates and new features.
A vector based graphics program that is arguably the most powerful application bundled with RISC OS.
- Updated menus to be more style-guide compliant.
- Supports the new clipboard cut and paste system.
- Can export simple SVG files. SVG files are vector graphic files again from w3c.org. This means any web browser with a SVG plugin can display your drawfiles.
Useful for drawing icons and simple bitmaps or repositioning larger artwork, Paint is the standard bitmap application bundled with RISC OS.
- Updated menus to be more style-guide compliant as well as numerous bug fixes.
- Supports the new clipboard cut and paste system
- Uses dynamic areas to hold it's data. This means larger files can be loaded by Paint.
- Can export and import JPEG images as well as importing unmasked PNG graphic files.
Sets up and configures all aspects of your system.
- Improved user interface with the boot settings, discs settings, font settings, screen settings and the networking options.
- More filer options added, namely controls for active filer selection, lower case naming and the Windows style double-click rename feature.
- Can set Num Lock to on or off when turning on the computer. This is useful only really for infra-red keyboard users.
- A Softload selector, allowing you to pick and choose which ROM image you want to use.
- A couple of new screensavers, notably an intriguingly colourful and mathematical looking one called Galaxy and another called ROSpace that flys various RISC OS Select logos at you.
Compresses and decompresses files to save on disc space.
- Can now compress and decompress GZip files, a popular format commonly used by Unix.
An image processor: it can scale, smooth, gamma correct and more.
- Supports the new clipboard cut and paste system.
- Decodes progressive JPEGs much faster than before.
- Can now import unmasked PNG files and export via the clipboard system.
- When reprocessing an image, the ChangeFSI window is no longer forced to the front.
- When it creates a sprite file from a processed image, the sprite's name is no longer a string of random numbers.
Puzzle has been treated to a complete makeover. You'll have to see for yourself, it's the ultimate savior for writers' block (unless of course you're playing aardvark's NetHack port).
Developing RISC OS is a challenging task, it takes, for example, 3 hours to make a clean build of ROM image. While Pace Micro own RISC OS and are rumored to be using it for their set top box market, RISCOS Ltd. isn't exactly spoonfed source from Pace. Instead the RISC OS Select developers tend to observe what Pace do and produce their own implementation for the desktop market. RISCOS Ltd. believe RISC OS Select to be one of the most stable releases of RISC OS. RISC OS Select also sees the start of preparing the OS for a future 32 bit conversion. RISCOS Ltd. have been toying with the idea of implementing a hardware abstraction layer, such as separating the pointer from the VIDC chip, however this work is purely experimental and completely separate from RISC OS Select.
The Replay FMV system is also included too. Development in Printers (version 1.90) is moving steadily but still in beta due to the fact that the RISC OS Select team want to test it more before releasing it as a working component. RISCOS Ltd.'s life has actually been made more easier now that the major printer manufacturers are opening up their sources to their printer hardware. Plugin'n'play, 24 bit printing and remote printer control are all on the cards.
Also, it appears that the softloading system used by Castle Kinetic cards does not favour too well with the RISC OS Select softloader. A solution is currently being worked on and will be available as soon as possible online if the RISC OS Select softloader isn't fixed in time for the first Select CD, due out early October.
Official word from the RISC OS Select developers is that Kinetic users can just softload normally; the only thing that won't happen is that they won't get the memory on the Kinetic card available for use; only the system memory will be recognised. This merely requires an update to the softload tool which is being worked on at present.
Finally, bundled with RISC OS Select is Bugz. This is a friendly application that will allow you to report a fault, or bug, with RISC OS or another software you might be using to either RISCOS Ltd. or any software developer of your choosing. Bugz can email the bug report for you and will also include a description of your current hardware setup too.
This above list of features is by no means complete, just what we see as the highlights of RISC OS Select. You can find more detailed information, official screenshots and ordering details from the RISCOS Ltd. Select website.
For Select subscribers, the majority of the first release of Select is online for them to download, install and test while a final build is produced to be distributed via CD. The Select mailing list is very active, with the Select developers posting to the groups to try and clear up any confusions or queries.
Now to address the tricky question, "So is Select a good thing?". When drobe.co.uk announced its support for RISCOS Ltd. we were unfortunately branded by a few individuals as being biased. Well unlike these out spoken folk, we've actually seen and used RISC OS Select. We've spoken to the people who developed it and were impressed with the amount of work they've poured in. So we've thought it over and here's our personal conclusion: we think RISC OS Select is good.
So it isn't 32 bit and it doesn't work out where Lord Lucan went but that's not the point. RISC OS Select is a software product, designed to provide as much as possible to the end user. Frankly there is not much more we can say other than have another read through of this article and please decide for yourself.
Taken on drobe.co.uk's software development StrongArm RiscPC running RISC OS 4.24 that is affectionately called wardrobe, below is a set of screenshots highlighting a few key areas of Select that interested this editor the most. Please note that the window backgrounds, furniture, desktop font and the desktop icons are drobe.co.uk's internal desktop theme and not in any way part of RISC OS Select. Just concentrate on the features and enjoy :)
Official RISC OS Select Site
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