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RISC OS here and now

By Mark Stephens. Published: 11th May 2003, 22:29:18 | Permalink | Printable

Wakefield show presentation report

From a user and a personal perspective, Mark Stephens reports on the Wakefield show theatre presentations given by the platform's leading developers. The four companies demonstrated what they've been up to and suggest what's to come, providing an insight into perhaps where RISC OS is now heading. The market has seen much change ever since the passing of the Acorn era, what changes now lie in store?

No RISC OS show would ever be complete without the theatre presentations and this year included the combination of three very different style presentations from Castle Technology, RISCOS Ltd. and Microdigital, making Wakefield a show not to miss. [The Simtec presentation was sadly unobserved by us but I did catch up with Vincent Sanders of Simtec to find out what was presented during the Simtec slot. - Ed]

It was very nice to see that all the presenters wanted to focus on what they were doing and were gracious to their competitors. The audience also tried to avoid the usual questions (Why is it so late? Can I change the processor chip? Will Select run on RISCOS 5?).

One a personal level, I left feeling that it was well worth the 500 mile round trip to attend. All three companies have much to contribute to developing and reviving the market and are going to offer us a lot to choose from over the coming months.

Managing director Jack Lillingstone delivered quite a formal 'slide-style' presentation, going through the features of the Iyonix (its speed, noise levels, connectivity, RISCOS 5) and the current offers. The high end offer includes a free copy of the C/C++ development suite. In response to a question from the audience who already had the suite, he was prepared to discuss an alternative freebie at the show.

One of the slides showed how much you could fit onto your icon bar in its highest screen mode of 2048 by 1536. He produced a screen shot showing how much would fit onto the different resolutions. For those of you with the money, he was also offering a very nice LCD monitor which could handle it at a mere 3000 pounds. For the rest of us, he recommend a 19 inch monitor if you need that resolution and promised that LCD prices should continue to tumble.

Jack emphasised that the aim of the Iyonix was in many ways to provide a 'snapshot' of all the best technologies at the moment in a reliable product which they could get to market. In the Castle tradition, he did not want to disclose details on a product he could not supply but hinted very heavily at a mass storage USB option very soon.

Castle are rightly proud to produce the first XScale desktop and there has been a lot of interest in it as an evaluation and development system for the new processor. Castle see this as a market and are working to put Linux on the system.

In response to audience question on DVD, Jack replied that it was definitely on the agenda but not a top priority.

The audience also asked him about USB and Select features. Jack was complimentary about Simtec's standard and suggested that someone could produce a way to integrate the two - but did not say Castle intended to do this. He explained that Castle had started down the Pace route and had had to continue that due to time and contractual requirements.

With regard to Select, Castle have clearly been talking to RISCOS Ltd. and had even contributed their pop-up printers functionality (which can be used on non-Iyonix computers) back to RISCOS Ltd. for general use. He hoped to see some Select features appear in RISC OS 5, but was making no promises.

Paul Middleton, RISCOS Ltd's managing director, delivered a very hands on demonstration of the new version of Select. He made the development sound a little chaotic but it certainly gave him something to show. He demonstrated the thumbnail view of files (recent thumbnails are cached), the cut and paste in the text icons and the very nice new 'Aqua' look and feel to the desktop.

Paint has had a major overhaul and so the icon has been altered. It now supports alpha transparency and dropping a draw file onto the Paint icon produce a bitmap of the file contents.

One of the aims of Select is to move towards zero configuration as much as possible with the networking. The aim is to plug a RISCOS machine into the network and get it to figure out all the details itself.

Paul did not mention initiatives outside the market but RISCOS Ltd. did have their MP3 player system and some Omegas on their stand.

RISCOS Ltd. had resisted the temptation to call their new baby RISC OS 6, but have stuck to the name Select. They would like to see Select features in RISC OS 5 - it's a question of whether they get the continued funding from their users.

David Atkins, Microdigital's managing director, chose not to use any projections, but gave a very personal talk about the objectives of the Omega and the problems they had encountered in its development. Machines were available on Microdigital's stand to play with.

Microdigital had decided to build a flexible system which (much like the BBC or the RISC PC) could be expanded and developed over the years. Their original plan had fallen foul of the way custom chips are developed (where large orders can constantly gazump smaller orders), so they had designed their product as a set of modules which are implemented using FPGAs.

Microdigital believe the beauty of their approach is that while it has taken two and a half years to design it, they can now build solutions tailored to any role - tick the boxes to tell them which features you would like depending on whether you are building a very high-end solution or a small point of sale system which needs only limited graphics.

Microdigital believe very much in developing and expanding the market and are pleased that there is competition in the market. They believe in partnerships, and have been working with a Japanese company to use their technology in medical imaging. They have a partner who is looking at Linux on their technology, but Microdigital themselves are focused on RISC OS.

David explained in his talk that the delays (since December) on shipping the Omega had been due to sorting out legal issues. He was not prepared to divulge more, other than that before shipping, they had needed to establish the validity of their RISC OS license. This had been an expensive and slow process. They received the answer last week and will start shipping on Monday.

The surprise of the show was that Microdigital had put together a PC laptop which also included Acorn software emulation and used RISC OS 4 - the Microdigital Alpha (obvious pun!). David explained that their aim was to create a Trojan horse - to have a product which they could sell to users who insisted on a Windows laptop, but which also included RISC OS. The hope was that this would help to grow the market, and Microdigital did not rule out a laptop with an ARM chip.

Simtec engineer Vincent Sanders gave a presentation on RISC OS USB which was sponsored by Stuart Tyrrell Developments. STD use Simtec's popular USB podule for all their USB based devices. Vincent's presentation is already online on Simtec's website.

Vincent had 30 minutes in which to talk about USB on RISC OS including 10 minutes for a demonstration of USB based devices and to take questions from the floor. We're told that during the demonstration, Vincent invited a user with a digital camera fitted with a Smartmedia memory card to take a photo, which was then transfered to a RiscPC using a USB based SmartMedia reader and Simtec's USB podule. Too bad the photo was of the actual floor.

As for the presentation, Vincent introduced Simtec as a company before moving onto more information about the USB system and what kind of devices are available. Computer manufacturers these days are phasing out legacy ports like PS/2 and parallel ports, all to be replaced with USB. This will cause non-USB devices to become more expensive the rarer they get plus all the latest devices use USB for interfacing.

Simtec have a large base of drivers under their belt for their podule, provided by themselves and numerous third parties. USB 1.1 is supported by the Simtec podule as the RiscPC podule system can handle the USB 1.1 12MBit interface speed. However USB 2.0 support is possible but the the maximum interface speed of 480MBit is too much for the podule bus. However USB 2.0 devices are backwards compatible with USB 1.1 interfaces.


News? Comments?

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Thanks for the excellent report. It a good to hear a lot of positive news and it sounds like things are quite up beat. Well done to the organisers too! -- Steve Knutson

 is a RISC OS Userknutson on 12/5/03 1:49AM
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Yes, thanks, Drobe.co.uk is more than happy to publish anything you may have.

Just drop Chris or myself an email.

-- Peter, drobe.co.uk

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 12/5/03 7:47AM
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Yes I must add my thanks an excellent summery of the Theater presentations. Due to a prior commitment I was unable to attend the show this report helped me to keep in touch with what is happening. -- Victor Shears, Maidstone

 is a RISC OS Uservshears on 12/5/03 10:10AM
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For me, the theatre presentations are the most interesting part of the after show reports (although I find it all very interesting!) - so it's nice to read the above. Interesting that DVD is apparently on Castle's agenda. Nice also to hear that companies are at least starting to work together :) -- Gavin Smith

 is a RISC OS UserSparkY on 12/5/03 2:02PM
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Thanks for that - i wasn't able to go to the presentations but Wakefield 2003 was really good anyway! :)

 is a RISC OS UserTimothy609 on 12/5/03 6:03PM
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So did ROL say specifically they were looking at supporting the IEFT Zero Conf technology? (AKA Rendezvous if you're a mac head like me)

-- Dougal

 is a RISC OS UserDougal on 13/5/03 6:20PM
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They said that they wanted to get as close to auto-configuring when you plug into a network as possible. They did not mention any protocols or technologies, they just said "like a Mac".

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 13/5/03 8:38PM
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Rendezvous is pretty cool stuff. Zero Conf would be a cool addition to RO.

-- Dougal

 is a RISC OS UserDougal on 14/5/03 11:44AM
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