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Microdigital parades Alpha online

By Chris Williams. Published: 14th May 2003, 17:40:11 | Permalink | Printable

They have a website, didn't you know? [Updated 01:12 15/5/2003]

Microdigital have this afternoon finally published details and pricings of their new Celeron based Alpha portable, launched at the Wakefield 2003 show last weekend.

When ever we get thanked for running drobe.co.uk, our usual reply is that, really, you should be thanking the people who we report on. However, we obviously rely on said people giving us information and announcements otherwise we have to start burrowing for facts and things often turn ugly. And it's probably no surprise to you that we were growing concerned that our pals at Microdigital hadn't begun cranking the publicity machine and at least sticking to their promise that they'd put details of the Alpha on their website.

Up and until now, all we had to go on was Scottish dealer Liquid Silicon's humble piece on the laptop, but this didn't seem concrete enough. There's also Dutch dealer Desk, but we'll come to that in a bit.

Anyway, one phone call later to Microdigital followed by a brief twiddling of thumbs and ta da, we have a result. The Alpha portable is in actual fact a PC laptop that runs WindowsXP Home and employs VirtualAcorn's VirtualRPC emulator software to run RISC OS 4. We gather Microdigital are aiming at RISC OS users who wish to be mobile and Windows users wanting to try out RISC OS for the first time. The supplied RISC OS 4 is locked down to the portable on a per customer basis and RISC OS Select can be installed and softloaded as per normal.

"The Alpha Notebook, a go anywhere computer", states the Microdigital front page, "that on one hand is a fully featured RISC OS portable with StrongArm performance whilst on the other, it's a fully featured PC notebook powered by a 2GHz Celeron processor running Windows XP a two computers in one solution".

Dave Atkins at Microdigital confirmed to us that any Alpha orders placed now will have at least a four week shipping delay. We were told at Saturday's show that the first batch of ordered Alpha are being posted this week.

Before we got through to Microdigital, we initially made a hasty retreat to the Desk website, Desk being Microdigitaal's European partners. There we found details about the Alpha portable and this newsletter, all in Dutch though. However, one translation later (thanks Systran), it all becomes slightly clearer.

Before the Microdigital site was updated, we were busily reading through Desk's take on the portable, where they scold RiscStation and their doomed laptop mailing list. Desk and Microdigital also appear to be after RiscStation laptop customers still waiting on RiscStation to deliver their mythical ARM based laptop.

Both Desk and Microdigital stress that the portable machine is a 'soft computer', that is the hardware can be updated by being reprogrammed at a later date. Or in this case, the emulated hardware can be updated by upgrading your copy of VirtualRPC. Desk state that VirtualRPC uses a 'just in time' compiler to achieve emulation, which matches the speed of a StrongARM RiscPC. Desk also disclose that the laptop is a rebadged computer which is quite the opposite of what Microdigital told us on Saturday, claiming they designed the product themselves from scratch. Sure.

And of course, all this is in no way a distraction from Microdigital's still late StrongARM powered Omega desktop computer. You might know that the alpha and omega are at opposite ends of the Greek alphabet but we're not cynical enough to predict that the two machines are the beginning and the end of Microdigital. Desk is looking forward to taking many orders for the new portable and Microdigital happily told us the Wakefield event went very well indeed.

You're invited to email Microdigital if you have any comments on their website or products, which we're sure you'll all enjoy doing.


And "in response to public demand", Microdigital's weblog is back after an almost six month break. Monday's entry covers the Wakefield show and features some photos of the Microdigital stand with a mention of their Omega computer and Alpha portable. Microdigital's weblogger defiantly dimisses claims that they couldn't handle the "competition" (read Iyonix) and they have the racing bikes and women to prove it. Which is all you need when selling computers, of course.


Alpha portable details

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To quote (directly) from MD's link (above) "For completely new users, or those users who are only conversant with PC technology - who probably haven't heard of the RISC OS operating system of it's ledgendary reliability or the amazing range of easy to use software titles."

I'd like to know how RISC OS run on a software simulation which runs on an MS Operating system is going to still retain it's "legendary reliability" - surely the reliability will be the sum of the bugs in RO Apps+RO, VA and XP respectively - in short worse than RO run on *real* RISC OS hardware !

But then maybe I am getting too old for all of this.....

-- Annraoi McShane,

 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 14/5/03 6:50PM
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Would it be too much to ask Castle to put an Iyonix in a laptop? That would be amazing, probably the first laptop to natively run RISC OS on an XScale and have 1GBit networking!. How about it Castle? ----------- Smiler - :D Alex Melhuish

 is a RISC OS UserSmiler on 14/5/03 6:55PM
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Did it say that the product was reliable? No. It said RISC OS is. Which is quite correct. Keep to the facts.

I still reckon they'd sell a whole heap more units if this was a simple software product for a PC rather than a crummy spec laptop. I won't be buying it as I don't need a crummy spec laptop, but I would have bought the software to run on my nice laptop. :-)

 is a RISC OS Userimj on 14/5/03 6:57PM
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imj> I said nothing about the reliability or otherwise of the product.

MD (Not me) asserted that people would be impressed by RISC OS'es "legendary reliability".

But that RISC OS Is running streight on an ARM in a real RISC PC or whatever.

It follows that IF you run RISC OS (a fallable piece of software) on VA (Another fallable piece of software) and have THAT run all on top of WindowsXP (a very fallable piece of software) that the *overall reliability will be LESS*.

That's just simple logic (try it - it's nice ;)

What's more when the machine crashes (if it does) will the user say "RISC OS is a truly reliable piece of software" or not.

A Blue screen of death is that - and I'd like to see the ultrareliable RISC OS staying running on a Windows PC where XP has gone south for the winter.....if you manage to do that please let us know how you managed it ;)


-- Annraoi McShane,

 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 14/5/03 7:28PM
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Remember that when you're using RISC OS, you won't be using anywhere near all of the unstable nasties in XP - running one application exclusively, and not really "using" Windows that much at all, and therefor it'll hopefully be more stable.

Of course, the Alpha laptop is also outstandingly bad value (You can get similar specced laptops without the VA stuff for less than 600 quid - which leaves a lot of dosh left over to pay for RISC OS, VA, and MD's slice.)

 is a RISC OS Usernunfetishist on 14/5/03 7:41PM
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My thoughts on this are very simple. I have need for at least one laptop. I would like to run Windows things on it, and I'd like to run RISC OS things too. Probably 50:50 at the moment. This seems to me to be a perfect solution.

Those who slag off Windows XP (which is just 2000 + fancy bits, is it not?) in terms of reliability obviously don't use it. I do. Every day. It's very solid compared to my RiscPC. Yes, software can fall over (rarely) but it has never taken out the whole machine. Not true of crashes on my RiscPC. -- Andrew Harmsworth, Cambridge. www.gcse.com owner and author

 is a RISC OS Userharmsy on 14/5/03 7:42PM
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Didn't RISC OS become legendary for it's reliability when they stopped CALL &-4 from working? :) -- Ian Hawkins (g0tai)

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 14/5/03 7:47PM
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I think my original point was that the reliability would not be the same (it has to be worse) than RISC OS run natively).

We could go round the houses about XP's reliability or otherwise (I don't use it, but have used 2000 and some versions of that were (in my experience) *very* flakey).

Still if you find your set up stable - cherish it (!).

-- Annraoi McShane,

 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 14/5/03 7:51PM
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I've found 2000 rock solid. XP slightly less so. Also remember that Acorn's hardware engineering wasn't wonderful, and many crashes and instabilities could be blamed on the hardware (timing issues, anybody?). PC hardware, especially laptops, tend to be engineered somewhat better these days, so that problem simply disappears.

 is a RISC OS Usernunfetishist on 14/5/03 8:55PM
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yea, i will be buying one of them, no really, i might buy one to feed it to my dog.

 is a RISC OS Usernex on 14/5/03 10:07PM
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I should imagine they'll lose more sales of VA/RO4 than they'll make of crappy laptop + VA/RO4.

I for one would snap up VARPC today if it was just JIT RedSquirrel, or even if I had to pay for another copy of RO4.

Even if I was looking for a [-nother] laptop (and another copy of XP and RO4 and Select....) I certainly wouldn't buy that piece of crap, and looks suspiciously like a Samsung to me - yuk!

Sell it separately or be damned!

-- #include "sig.h"

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 14/5/03 10:12PM
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P.S. I find 2000 Pro to be much more stable/faster than XP Pro, I wouldn't touch a "Home" edition of Windows, might as well buy WinME.

-- #include "sig.h"

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 14/5/03 10:14PM
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I've found little difference in stability between 2000 and RISC OS. The differences is 2000 is supposed to have better protection than RO. All it takes is the network going down or a dodgy floppy disk to stuff it.

I find the license conditions on XP unacceptable (You agree that M$ can monitor and modify the system.... NO WAY I'd sooner use Win 3.11). DO they offer alternate OSes? -- Jess

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 14/5/03 10:14PM
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There is another option if you are really unhappy with the Alpha hardware. Setup a company, negotiate a deal with RISC OS Ltd and the VRPC people then bundle up your own machine and sell it!

NOTE:I suspect this will be far easier said than done... -- Steve Knutson

 is a RISC OS Userknutson on 14/5/03 11:01PM
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I'm not sure about the 'legendary reliability', my RiscPC has certainly crashed a lot more than my Mac at work, and my other computers at home. Even loading the Oregano 2 demo twice crashes the machine hard every time, probably the modules that come with it doing that.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 14/5/03 11:25PM
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Yes, I think RISC OS' stability advantage has long since disappeared, probably as a lot of the software is getting long in the tooth now (longer than the OS) and we're getting hardware/OS diversity too.

XP is flakier than 2000 (probably as it puts a larger load on the system) but I don't think I've ever had either of them actually take down a machine to the level that you have to reset (as RO4 does) and haven't seen a BSOD since '98.

The same goes for Linux these days - it's pretty darn stable (certainly without X) but some of the apps aren't.

Friends say MacOS X is stable, albeit slow and only the Aqua-ised apps are stable, the Classic apps are very flaky under it apparently (to the point where people dual boot OS9 and 10).

-- #include "sig.h"

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 15/5/03 12:11AM
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One RISC OS stability factor is that it is stored in Flash ROM. Once its disc based, its slower and can be corrupted.

Smiler: I often wonder why Castle don't build a laptop or PDA or something. Even if they resurrected one of their 56Mhz portables, or something.

Simo: Windows ME is more unstable than XP, or so I've found. ME has a LOT of bugs within the OS, and I often find myself doing hard resets for no particular reason.

Cheers! :)

 is a RISC OS Usertimephoenix on 15/5/03 6:12AM
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I think it's fairer to say that RISC OS doesn't have many bugs. However it's *very* easy to crash it or hang it with a slightly buggy application. I think gOtai made the best point on this issue above. It's a very good implementation of a very bad philosophy. Windows XP is, on the other hand a very average implementation of a good design.

 is a RISC OS Userrob on 15/5/03 9:03AM
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Yes, but this is 2003 and many people are using XP and OS X. Both of which passed RISC OS in terms of being more stable a few years ago.

Also, show me *proper* memory protection in RISC OS, and *proper* process OR filesystem security. RISC OS has none of these, but XP and OS X have it implemented.

I'm not even going to go near the *proper* multitasking area. -- Ian Hawkins (g0tai)

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 15/5/03 9:08AM
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Just to confirm what a few others have said - I've been using XP Pro on a PC laptop for over year for software development and internet and it has been rock solid - certainly more solid than RISC OS 4.03 on my RiscStation. The main difference between the two is, as has been pointed out, a single app can trash RISC OS whereas they can't trash XP. Mind you, I've not seen many app crashes on XP either.

I note that the Alpha is a complete product. I'm not prepared to buy another laptop but would be seriously interested in buying the software for my current laptop (with RISC OS 4, I'm not interested in the ROS 3.1 version of VirtualAcorn) at the right price. I wonder what the chances of that happening are...

 is a RISC OS Userjohnstlr on 15/5/03 9:37AM
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gOtai: I think you misunderstood my last post... I agree with you 100%. I simply think that RISC OS is a good implementation for an OS of it's type. By type I mean single process model, no memory protection etc. I guess it's from the days when it was overkill to have a UNIX type OS (I mean Windows NT, OS X, Linux etc.) on the desktop. Of course it's not overkill anymore.

 is a RISC OS Userrob on 15/5/03 10:03AM
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Queue Jonix... -- Ian Hawkins (g0tai)

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 15/5/03 10:50AM
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This is disgusting. They're selling PC hardware, it is immoral. Why sell PC hardware when the 7500FE is a REAL chip with BLISTERING FP PERFORMANCE! Castle should be ashamed of themselves. Can't they be sewed?

 is a RISC OS UserSmileySmile on 15/5/03 1:18PM
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The Alpha was a disappointment but not a surprise. If I am going to run a Windows laptop then I might as well just use Windows natively and not b****r about with emulation, which loses the extra raw power that a 2GHz x86 process offers. It is a bit ironic that whilst officially RISC OS is a ROM based OS running on ARM processors, all that the RO Ltd/MD camp can offer for the future is either a) a disc based OS running on ARM processors (Select). or b) a disc based OS running via emulation on x86 processors (Alpha etc).

I suspect that in leu of a 'real' RISC OS portable ever appearing I'll end up with a Psion Netbook and my partner a portable Mac of some description.

Shame really as a portable Iyonix would be a fantastic thing to have. Cheers -- S Williams,

 is a RISC OS Userblahsnr on 15/5/03 2:07PM
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SmileySmile: 7500FE, blistering performance, compared to a processor without an FPU yes, anything else made in the last 5 years, no.

Why should Castle sued, do you mean MD?

blahsnr: I quite agree, if you prefer RISC OS, go ahead and use it, but it's hard tom imagine someone shelling out for (say) Oregano 2, when XP comes with a vastly superior web browser as part of the package.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 15/5/03 3:00PM
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Bad Xargle. Norty. -- Ian Hawkins (g0tai)

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 15/5/03 3:07PM
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thegman: I do believe SmileySmile was in a frenzy of sarcasm.

Chris, drobe.co.uk

 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 15/5/03 4:49PM
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Oh, I feel silly now.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 15/5/03 4:59PM
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I have a 1.6Ghz Xp pro laptop which was great when it was new but has gradually got slower and slower, Word takes 9secs to start. Techwriter starts and opens an average doc in 2 on a RiscStation. Excel takes 5-6 seconds, Eureka 1-2 seconds. Also with XP you still have to download enormous patches for one reason or another. Granted browsing is better with IE but for general business computing (spreadsheets and letters) I'm still amazed what a 7500FE can do

 is a RISC OS Userzito on 15/5/03 9:42PM
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Zito> Yes, totally agree. RISC OS Excels (excuse the pun) with quick startup times for apps (largely due to a combination of small static program sizes and well written, efficient code. (and a pedantic userbase that complains like merry hell if it isn't quick and easy to use ;-)

Linux, OS X, and Windows could learn a thing or two from it, similarly, RISC OS can learn from Linux/OS X ;-) -- Ian Hawkins (g0tai)

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 15/5/03 10:29PM
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RISC OS is learning from Linux ;-) (slowly, anyway)

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 15/05/03 11:43PM
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Such as how to be the underdog? ;)

 is a RISC OS UserDougal on 16/05/03 7:34PM
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No, that's implied. It's British.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 16/05/03 7:50PM
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The top two virtues of being british: disapointment and disillusionment.

Why else do we invent things (sports, industries, etc.)? So the rest of teh world can be better than us!

 is a RISC OS UserDougal on 16/05/03 7:53PM
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