RISC OS Select 3 in detailBy Chris Williams. Published: 7th May 2003, 16:48:07 | Permalink | Printable
Screenshots Icon cut'n'paste, filer thumbnailing, alpha sprite transparancy tip of the icebergAs developers of the desktop incarnation of RISC OS 4, RISCOS Ltd. have today issued to drobe.co.uk the full RISC OS Select 3 feature list which includes the special secret features they have been saving 'til last. At the start of March this year, we obtained the limited provisional features list to the next public release of the operating system under the Select distribution. At this weekend's Wakefield event RISCOS Ltd. will be demonstrating Select 3 on their stand and also in the show theatre. Originally and admittedly tentatively, they intended to release the new version of everybody's favourite OS around the end of April however we're informed a public release will begin after the Wakefield event as RISC OS 4.36 enters the final stage of testing and packaging up for release. RISC OS Select is usually distributed first online to Select subscribers followed by a mailed CD release.
After teasers of 'RISC OS 4+' towards the end of 2000 (if we recall correctly), it was Wakefield 2001 that saw the first announcement of Select 1, a softloading version of RISC OS that gets released through out the year to subscribers so they can quickly benefit from updates, enhancements and bug fixes made to the OS. The RISC OS Select team's aim is to get a release out about every four months, although like all big products, the actual release timings tend to flutter around the aforementioned estimation like a moth homing in on a light bulb (closer, closer, wait a minute, closer still, closer...) Despite competition from the 32 bit RISC OS 5 (developed by Castle Technology), RISCOS Ltd. has continued its support for 26 bit users and Select 3 is the result of this.
"Building upon the work done in Select 1 and 2, Select 3 improves upon both the significant changes made to both the graphics and networking components as well as adding many new features", the Select 3 feature list welcomes us. "The focus on Select 3 has been mostly based around stablising features from Select 2 and improving the desktop usability of the Operating System."
Below is our run down on the highlights of today's unveiled features. In italics is the descriptions from the Select development team, our chatter in normal type. The above right sidebar contains quick links for the impatient.
Icon cut and paste
Text in writable icons provided by the Window Manager is now able to be selected by keyboard and mouse.
It's a feature users have been crying for and we're glad to see it implemented. Highlight some text in a writable icon, hit control-c to copy to the clipboard, go to another writable icon, hit control-v to paste from the clipboard. You can also highlight some text in a writable icon and hit control-X to delete the highlighted text. You can even select text in your text editor, copy to clipboard and then paste the clipboard into a writable icon. The behaviour of the cut'n'paste system is configurable.
The filer can now display images as thumbnails, allowing photo albums and other image collections to be browsed more easily.
Any graphics file handled by the ImageFileRender system (PNGs, JPEGs, Drawfiles, Artworks, BMPs, full list here), is scaled down into a thumbnail by the Filer when a directory is in Thumbnail view. Thumbnail view is selected like the 'small icons' and 'full info' Filer views and is useful for quickly browsing image and photo collections.
!Paint's internal and external operation has had a major overhaul to cater for some of the new features of Select 3, including alpha-channel sprites.
See below for alpha sprites. The menu layout and user interface to !Paint has been updated with floating toolboxes around the image being edited so each image has its own toolbox much like !Draw documents. There are now shortcuts to zoom and a colour toolbar which displays the RGB value of a colour for people needing such numbers (like web designers). Like the Filer, !Paint calls on the ImageFileRender system to load a range of graphics formats from PNG to ICO to Clear to JEPG to BMP, it can also save out PNGs as well as JPEGs and spritefiles. "A good number" of bug fixes have been included and better clipboard support.
A new class of sprites has been created for alpha-channel sprites... Alpha-channel sprites allow each pixel to have variable translucency, which means that sprites can blend better to their backgrounds.
Currently, in sprites (native RISC OS bitmaps) with a transparent mask, a given pixel is either opaque or transparent. With an alpha channel, pixels can be semi-transparent by having multiple levels of transparency. The OS supports alpha channel sprites whenever it's asked to plot a sprite for user applications. !Paint can create sprites with alpha-channels, add an alpha-channel to an existing sprite, and allow editing of the alpha-channel.
Action buttons, as well as groups and other 3D-style icons have been improved and may be made round or given colours.
Briefly mentioned in the original feature list and given more detail this time. The Window Manager allows separate modules to draw the desktop's icon borders enabling custom icon borders. The supplied iconborder module allows the user to configure icons to have graduated fills, curved outlines and other colour and border effects. These effects can be easily enabled and disabled and example iconborder client code will be provided.
Files deleted by the user can, optionally, be sent to a recycling bin from which they can be retrieved if necessary.
This is the classic desktop waste basket that hooks into the FilerAction system. When a file is deleted, it's moved to the bin. After a certain configured time, the bin expires old deleted files which are permanently removed. Before a file is expired, it can be retrieved and restored if accidentally deleted.
ZeroConf is a means by which an address can be obtained for a machine on a network without any configuration process.
The name 'zero configuration' says it all really and is similar to the configuration used by Access.
- New utility Netlights is included which indicates network traffic from the iconbar. Command windows opened by single tasking apps are now opened in the center of the screen rather than near the bottom left corner of the desktop. Directories starting with a '!' but contain no !Run obey file aren't treated or displayed as applications and instead remain ordinary directories. JPEG handling is much more robust now and can withstand corrupted data thrown at it. The TextArea gadget renders text more quickly than before and supports the clipboard.
- Internet, ShareFS and Freeway have had issues relating to large file transfers addressed. The Internet module can now handle changes in interface addresses more reliably. DHCPClient and ZeroConf client both respond to *ShowStat to provided their statistics, for those who like their stats.
- FileSwitch also no longer leaves streams open if a 'close' fails.
OS_EvaluateExpression-type expressions can now extract directory or leaf names from a string, canonicalise a filename and generate a string from the current time.
- Softload ROM images are now sorted into date order, making selection of ROMs much simpler from the Softload configuration plugin. The Resolver configuration plugin is now able to locate DNS servers on the local network. DNS servers are used to convert textual domain and host names like www.drobe.co.uk or myriscpc.home in IP addresses your computer can understand. The Filer configuration plugin has been re-written and includes configuration settings for the new thumbnail view. The TimeSetup plugin, now used to set the computer time and date, is now capable of setting the timezone - a bug emphasised as the UK entered BST earlier this year.
- Many, many internal tweaks and bug fixes, documented by the Select developers if you wish to check.
This feature list is all on top of the original Select 3 feature list which includes a WIMP priority sprite pool, a key taskwindow bugfix and Appletalk support in ROM so RISC OS computers can contact AppleTalk file and print servers. Screenshots from RISCOS Ltd. that illustrate new aspects of the OS can be found here, with our captions. We hope to do a review of Select 3 when the product begins shipping to end users.
It's clear RISC OS Select 3 is definitely a "sum of all parts" case. Whilst single features like Filer thumbnailing and the much improved !Paint are all very nice, it's when all the separate features come together to form a much more friendlier, productive and cohesive desktop environment that Select 3 truely hopes to outshine its rivals.
Finally, while RISC OS Select was originally designed to run on RiscPCs, A7000s, RiscStations and Micos, it appears the StrongARM powered Microdigital Omega is able to boot and run RISC OS Select with minor glitches.
Select 3 in action (screenshots)
RISC OS Select website
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