Select 2: Your survival guideBy Chris Williams. Published: 14th Oct 2002, 22:10:26 | Permalink | Printable
We take a look at the best of the RISC OS 4.32 feature list. For your eyes only. As previously reported on drobe.co.uk, RISCOS Ltd., the desktop developers of drobe.co.uk's favourite ARM powered OS, said we could expect the next major release of RISC OS in October this year and, oh joy, it's all finished and polished off in the form of RISC OS 4.32 under the proud banner of Select 2. Everyone by now should be aware of RISC OS Select, which allows RISCOS Ltd. to distribute the latest versions of RISC OS to users in the form of bundled applications, developer and user documentation and softloadable ROM images. What's more exciting is the length of the changelog, which describes what's new in Select 2 over Select 1. While all the changes, detailed technically and also in summary form, are available to Select 2 users, below is your drobe.co.uk survival guide to Select 2. Enjoy.
One of the key feature areas in Select 1 was the significant number of networking updates and features, which included a DHCP client and more friendlier networking configuration tools. Select 2 is similar in picking a specific area and fleshing it out appropiately, this time it's graphics that's stumbled into the Select developers' trained sights.
"Much of the focus of the Select 2 development has been focused around the enhancement of the graphical facilities of the operating system", explains the Select 2 release notes. The main enhancements to the graphics system are aimed at 3rd party software programmers wishing to improve their software by taking advantage of internal OS developments made available through publically documented APIs. Here's the major enhancements:
- CMYK sprites are now supported natively by the OS, allowing CMYK sprites to be created, editted and plotted. Plus, current software that doesn't try to manipulate sprites directly will be able to automatically handle CMYK sprites.
- Sprites can be rendered translucently by the OS now, this is primarily used by the Drag-a-Sprite module to give icons being dragged about the desktop a more transparent feel. Of course, normal applications can take advantage and easily plot their sprites at various levels (256 to be precise) of translucency.
- A new module called ImageFileRender provides a plugin interface for plotting graphics. This simplifies a programmer's task of handling various image file formats as ImageFileRender provides a quick and easy API to plot any supported image.
- The system that renders JPEG image files has been improved, giving better handling to progressive JPEGs and a wider range of recognised sampling ratios.
- JPEG and Sprite image files and Drawfiles now benefit from a new colour mapping technology, when being rendered by the OS.
- Sprite generation from PNG graphics files is now covered by the ConvertPNG module.
- Another new module, this time BlendTable, which generates the tables required to blend two different colours.
Of Mice and Wheels
Wheel mice, the computer mice with little scroll wheels that are very common now on the Windows platform, are now supported by the OS. The wheel can be used in all sorts of useful ways, including scrolling windows simply by sliding the wheel up and down. PS2 and quadrature wheel mice are supported, an STD PS2 mouse interface is required to fit a PS2 mouse to your RiscPC mouse port. Numerous OS components are already wheel-mouse-aware, such as the Colourpicker (the standard dialog box with a palette that you pick colours from) and the Toolbox Slider gadget. Wheel mouse support in RISC OS is one of drobe.co.uk's favourite Select 2 features.
Casting a better net
As a follow up to the flurry of networking updates incorporated into Select 1, Select 2 has enjoyed a few but still important improvements in this area.
- Authentication is now used by ShareFS when sharing objects over a network. This is a fix from Select 1 where this feature was issued incorrectly.
- Econet support is back after popular demand as part of an AUN update, allowing econet over ethernet. This is provided by the NetI module, which basically does Econet over IP. New configuration tools have also been developed to allow easy control over your AUN network. Access has been renamed back to ShareFS too.
- Support for what's called "Automatic configuration of network interfaces". This enables you to configure your first ethernet interface from a
*configure command or a related GUI based configuration option.
- Support has been added for network based applications that need to monitor network connections for activity. Instead of having to constantly check open sockets for changes, or to rely on shared code to do the job for them, they can now opt to sit back and wait for the OS inform them, via the pollword system, when something happens on a particular connection.
Polishing those windows
Select 2 boasts a number of enhancements to the Window Manager, the system that provides the RISC OS desktop:
- Here's an interesting and amusing feature, the new wimp tool order system. This allows you to configure the location of the window furniture (that's the icons like back, close and toggle that sit around the edges of a window). The tool ordering affects all windows on the desktop and allows you to experiment with the desktop design.
- Disabled icons, the ones that are greyed out by applications, fade toward the background window colour now creating a much nicer effect. Sprites with 32,000 colours or more (refered to as deep sprites) now fade correctly too.
- Italic desktop fonts are now better supported by the Window manager. The proper width of the text is now used putting an end to the previous problem of text being truncated.
Also, concerning the desktop as a whole, there have been a number of funky improvements.
- The pinboard can now use drawfiles for your desktop backdrop.
- Dragging a large group of files has been made more memory efficient, compared to earlier versions which would attempt to use a lot of memory for the task.
- Various fixes including an update to the filer so it now correctly calculates the length of text for filenames.
- Draw, the vector graphics application bundled with RISC OS, now uses the Control-D keystroke to duplicated the current selection. Control-C copies the selection to the clipboard, Control-V pastes the current clipboard contents.
Sharpest tools in the box
Toolbox modules aid desktop software programmers by allowing them to use pre-designed gadgets. Using gadgets saves on time and space as well as ensuring consistency across the desktop. The Scroll list gadget is the teacher's pet for this release, being the subject of the following improvements:
- Scroll lists can now have column headings, with the possibility of grouping lists of relating elements.
- Scroll lists now fade correctly when disabled, resize correctly when switching between display formats and now also provide interactive help.
- The Slider gadget can also be manipulated using a wheel mouse.
Being able to easily configure a system is a major strength of an OS and the Select developers have been busy improving the Configure application to give as much control as possible back to the user. Notable updates include:
- New Time and Date configuration tool enables the user to set the system clock without having to run Alarm, it in fact replaces the Set Clock function of Alarm. There's also support for requesting the latest time and date from the internet to synchronise the clock with the world time plus an option to fetch and set the time in this way on every boot up.
- New Input configuration tool to manage input devices, such as a wheel mouse (if fitted). The Sound configure tool has also been updated to accomodate the new RateTracker module, which monitors the sound system to ensure old applications don't inconsiderately alter the audio playback system.
- The multi-user logon system allows a default user to auto-logon without a password prompt.
- The Boot configuration tools, which allow you to control what software gets booted and run during your machine's startup, have been made more flexible.
Will Paint for bandwidth
Paint, the bitmap graphics editor bundled with RISC OS, gets a special mention due to its number of updates. After a good spring clean out and bug fixing, Paint now features the following lovely features:
- Paint can now fill locally with the mask colour. On earlier versions, you could only flood globally, gone now are those dark days.
- Updated window design and the snapshot dialog box is static, it no longer disappears whilst fiddling with other parts of the desktop prior to taking a snapshot. There's also a new choices dialog window to set up Paint just how you want it and a wheel mouse can be used to zoom in and out of the image.
- New Grab Window/Menu tool to grab desktop objects.
- Paint can now create CMYK sprites.
- Better support for unfriendly JPEGs.
- New Crop tool to replace the Scissors export tool.
- Tons more, more than we have time for.
Nuts about RISC OS
The RISC OS kernel is the central core of your computer. From the start of Select, it's been RISCOS Ltd.'s aim to minimalise the kernel by stripping out and exporting functions that don't belong at the heart of OS. Every release so far has seen updates to the kernel and Select 2 is no different.
- Functions provided by the kernel are now signed by name to allow greater debugging by programmers, who will now be able to identify and pinpoint fault locations. Also, module operations that once could only be invoked using the command line, notably
*rminsert, can now be performed using the standard
- A fault concerning operations on 1 bit per pixel sprite masks has been fixed.
- RiscStation hardware is now finally supported, as reported here, with RiscStation users now being able to softload Select ROM images.
- And a number of under-the-hood updates to the OS core.
RISCOS Ltd.'s summary of what's new can be read by all here. As far as drobe.co.uk's opinion goes, we give this release a clear thumbs up as well as recognise the hard work and effort required by the Select team to continually develop and release RISC OS in this manner. Here's to RISC OS 4.32.
See some of RISC OS 4.32 in action, right here. Right now.
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