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Business and RISC OS

By Peter Naulls. Published: 22nd May 2003, 12:17:19 | Permalink | Printable

Why RISC OS is the way it is

Disclaimer: I am not a business expert. Nor an expert in finance, management or related activities. There are people who may be able to convey what I've said here much better, with more realism than I have. Add a pinch of salt where you feel fit. Additionally, any situations raised here are hypothetical (at least in outcome), and I don't presume to speak for the companies involved except where stated.


The Business of being in Business

Every activity taken by a company must be tempered by business realities. And I don't just mean it should make money - although of course this is an important part. Activities must make financial, technical and political sense. In other words, business must create more business, whether that's to sustain or grow.

I know this sounds kind of dumb, even blatantly obvious. But it doesn't always seem to be at the fore-front of people's minds when they are making suggestions about what "must" or "should" happen. Naturally, this isn't really that surprising - the RISC OS market is dominated by hobbyists, whose first interest is often technical or practical. Fair enough, but that's what this article is about. With this in mind, let's examine some situations with our shiny new business hat on.


The RISC OS Laptop

This old chestnut. Many have tried, and many have failed (and for the purposes of this, I'll ignore the Alpha). And it's fair to say that the reasons have very little to do with technical issues. There's a number of skilled electronics engineers out there who could assemble a (insert ARM chip of your choice) based board with very little effort, and make it small enough to fit inside a suitable case.

The issue here (surprise) is a business one - getting hold of a case of any kind is very difficult. Pop into your local PC World - all the cases are different - production runs may only last a few months for a million cases. Most of these manufacturers wouldn't be in the slightest bit interested in parting with a thousand or so cases for the peanuts (no pun intended) it would bring in relative to their own business interests. And indeed - how many might a RISC OS company sell - not many, I'll bet. Oh, I'm sure there's vocal minority who'd be very keen to buy such a machine, but it needs to make sense to the RISC OS company involved.


Selling Machines

Let's consider a generic RISC OS desktop machine (RiscStation, Iyonix, Omega). Most of the parts are standard PC ones, which are produced in massive quantities. Gone are the Acorn days where machines had a large mark up (and a larger market), and Acorn had plenty of money to spend on blue sky research, or developing fantastic cases. Add in the cost of development, an OS license, marketing, etc., and the room for maneuveur of the mark up so that the end price has some semblance of competitiveness gets pretty small.

Basically, the income from a single machine isn't that great. This is why we find that Castle and MicroDigital tell us they are seeking markets outside of RISC OS - the number of units they might potentially sell to RISC OS users just isn't enough to justify a creation of a whole new computer.


Iyonix Select

This is very much a current topic with the recent Select 3 release. We won't rehash those issues here - at least, not without our business hat on. Castle was quoted at the Wakefield show that "Select would not sell any more Iyonixes". Castle tell me that this is an out of context misquote, and in any case, with a strict interpretation it's obviously not true. But from an objective perspective, an outside observer might be justified in making this statement or a variation.

Why? Well, consider the number of Select subscribers as a proportion of RISC OS users as a whole (or even as a proportion of RISC OS 4 purchasers). Also consider that many Iyonix owners already have a Select license, and might not be obliged to pay for any Iyonix Select. From that, consider the number of people who are putting off an Iyonix purchase for the sole reason it doesn't run Select. Obviously there are some - and many of those are very vocal, and it's certainly not true that Iyonix Select wouldn't be worthwhile. But let's pit it against an alternative:

The market for ARM chips next year is slated to be one billion. That's an awfully big number. There's going to be lots of companies wanting development boards for ARM chips to try out their designs. It's like the search for life on other planets - no matter what numbers you plug into the equation, the resulting value comes up very favourably when starting with such a large number. Now imagine that Castle/Microdigital (and indeed Simtec who are doing precisely this) target their ARM boards at such a market (probably running Linux/BSD), and consider the relative sales compared to Select.

That's not to say that these companies aren't committed to RISC OS - of course they are, otherwise they'd be off doing other things. But the numbers game must apply.

Another example - what if, to meet the requirements of a given vertical market, a RISC OS machine had to meet various video-on-demand requirements. And what if that market was 2000 machines? (As a purely arbitrary number). How might that compare to sales within the RISC OS market with regard to effect put towards VOD vs Select? I hope that puts things a little in perspective.


RISC OS and RISCOS Ltd.

There's an event in business sometimes known as "the butterfly effect". This has little to do with Chaos Theory, and rather more to do Catastrophe Theory (both of which are immensely complex topics, and won't be discussed here).

It goes a bit like this: A company becomes so specialised at what it does, either in terms of its skillset or its target market for its product that a minute shift in market conditions - e.g. the flap of a butterfly's wings - makes the company's services redundant. This has happened in various degrees to many, many companies - Acorn, Marconi, IBM. I'm sure you can name others. We can also name others who done precisely the opposite, and expanded their market massively. Two obvious examples should be ARM and Microsoft.

So why do I mention RISCOS Ltd.? Because an objective observer might come to the conclusion that it also applies to them. Now, obviously I have no idea of RISCOS Ltd's future plans, nor its markets outside the enthusiast base, and I don't claim at all that this applies to them. However, look at their product line: RISC OS 4, RISC OS Select, Select Gold. Each has (arguably) a smaller and smaller audience. I'll let you draw your own conclusions from this.


Conclusion

There's an awful lot more I could say here. I could mention the cost of developing software, even effort for conversion of various "free" software items. I could certainly mention PR activities. Finally I could mention the relative merits (not many) of an Open Source RISC OS from a business perspective, although it doesn't quite fit into this topic.

I won't however, in order to keep this short and digestible. Just remember next time you go out of your way to be vocal or critical of a company's activities some of what I've said here. I certainly don't envy the positions held by Paul Middleton, Jack Lillington and David Atkins, and I expect that the majority of readers don't either.




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Discussion

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Ooh, lucid explanation which is nice to major RISC OS people... yay...

 is a RISC OS Userhutchies on 22/5/03 12:40PM
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What this article makes no mention of is the notion of actually expanding the RISC OS market. To do this, it would be necessary to counter the fact that most people are totally oblivious to the very existance of RISC OS. Indeed, many never even heard of the existence of Acorn.

There's another old business adage:

"It pays to advertise."

Martyn

 is a RISC OS UserMartyn Fox on 22/5/03 1:02PM
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To expand the market, we're going to have to give new users a reason to buy a RISC OS box (at considerable expense), apart from 'it's cool'. Is there a good, solid, reason to buy RISC OS these days?

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 22/5/03 1:18PM
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Our killer apps always seem to get ported to the windows. We aint got any now have we?

-- Paul Stewart, Bletchley, Milton Keynes

 is a RISC OS Usersa110 on 22/5/03 1:55PM
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It looks like the only real way forward is for the various market factions to all pull together and form a RISC OS Alliance to develop and market new and existing products. The more the current main players are allowed to pull in different directions the less coherence we have. We really should have one OS base for all hardware with appropriate HALs provided by the hardware producer that enable the same OS to 'see' an identical hardware interface.

Can't see it happening, though...(sigh).

Cheers, Grahame (Aylesbury, Bucks)

 is a RISC OS UserGrahameP on 22/5/03 3:04PM
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I agree totally about the HALs, particularly if it got RISC OS onto netbooks/PocketPCs/netwinders/ and other ARM devices. It might mean eventually that there are no 'dedicated' RISC OS machines, but that would be a small price if RISC OS could run on a wide range of devices.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 22/5/03 3:07PM
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What a condescending article.

 is a RISC OS Userrobert79 on 22/5/03 3:22PM
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Get used to it.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 22/5/03 3:25PM
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"It looks like the only real way forward is for the various market factions to all pull together and form a RISC OS Alliance to develop and market new and existing products."

We could also do with an individual to head this alliance and act as a powerful spokesman for the platform if the opportunity to promote it should arise in the press or broadcasting.

Does anybody have any suggestions of who might best do this?

Martyn

 is a RISC OS UserMartyn Fox on 22/5/03 3:26PM
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I agree "thegman". Rather than everbody developing new hardware, a truely hardware independed OS with a HAL for the different ARM based machines already available would surely be good business sence for ROL. It would give RO a broader range of hardware to run on and perhaps could even begin a renaisence of RO.

-- Paul Stewart, Bletchley, Milton Keynes

 is a RISC OS Usersa110 on 22/5/03 3:30PM
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"What a condescending article". If you're going to make critical comments, then at least bother to explain why.

Some of you have drawn some odd conclusions from the article. The relality of the situation is that all the RISC OS companies have different business focusses - saying everything should have a HAL is all very nice - but it doesn't really address the issues of the situation.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 22/5/03 3:36PM
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I can't see how we can expand the RISC OS market unfortunately, personally I'm using it less and less, as are others (Pluto/Zap keeps me here) so how can we expect "outsiders" to adopt it?

Windows users won't switch due to the fact that they have more software available than we do, and we no longer have killer apps that don't have Windows equivalents.

Linux users won't switch as it's not open source, and RISC OS is pretty dated in comparison.

Plus there's the considerable expense of buying a RISC OS machine.

Of course, VARiscPC is a way to at least get PC owners to run RISC OS, but ROL or whomever in all their wisdom has stopped that being possible by locking it to the Alpha, that no Win/Lin user would buy....

-- #include "sig.h"

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 22/5/03 4:10PM
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RISC OS might be able to become a second computer for a lot of people, but it'll need to be cheaper. The Amiga is in a similar situation to RISC OS, except that it might have a slightly larger user base. The AmigaOne (new PowerPC machine), or Pegasos (PowerPC Amiga-ish machine) are very affordable as a second computer, a Pegasos ready to go is <600, if a RISC OS computer maker can get *near* a price like that or even 999, the market could be expanded. The Iyonix may be great, it may be worth the money, but I think I'm like most people here, in that I use RISC OS out of enthusiasm rather than any kind of necessity. This means that I can't justify the cost of an Iyonix (or indeed Omega, if it appears), if it were a bit cheaper then I think I could.

RISC OS cannot compete with the bigger platforms, but at the right price it *can* succeed. I know the Iyonix price issue has been done a million times, but it *is* very important, RISC OS boxes are getting more expensive as PC and Mac prices are crashing to ground. I also know that Castle need to make a profit, and maybe even at the price it is, maybe Castle does not make much money on a sale, but those reasons don't put an extra 1000 in the pocket of Johnny Newuser.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 22/5/03 4:28PM
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Blue stilton smells of udders.

 is a RISC OS Usernunfetishist on 22/5/03 4:49PM
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nunfetishist: I find that not to be the case, I bet you can't even provide a scrap of evidence to prove this. You're a liar nunfetishist, A LIAR!

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 22/5/03 5:20PM
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Martyn Fox, thegman, SA110: The long term future of the RISC OS desktop market depends upon the availability of tools (applications) people wish to use, and a viable platform hardware/OS upon which to run them. The current problem is attracting new appliation developers to the platform is dependent - realistically this is never going to happen as long as the user base is so small. The only real chance of increasing the size of the user base is to expand into new markets (e.g. - PDA/WinCE) where Microsoft's domination hs not yet been assured. If RISC OS were able to establish itself in new markets, then developments within that market would 'trickle' back to us desptop users. A top-notch PIM would be nice for example! GrahameP: Not wishing to 'ave - a - go', but I do wish people would stop suggesting that the various players "need to work together", or that the "competition is good for the market". No tey shouldn't, and no it isn't! Companies are not going to work together unless there is a good reason for them to do so. If they have different objectives and / or visions of the future, and they see no benefit in collaborating then this is NEVER going to happen. But the future of RISC OS is at stake I hear you cry. Well, we ALL need to do something about it then. From my perspective that means supporting those companies that have a realistic vision for RISC OS and dump those that do not.

Neil

 is a RISC OS UserNeilWB on 22/5/03 5:24PM
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"RISC OS cannot compete with the bigger platforms, but at the right price it *can* succeed."

Does everyone agree, though, that it's very frustrating telling people about RISC OS and realising that they haven't a clue what you're talking about?

Martyn

 is a RISC OS UserMartyn Fox on 22/5/03 5:39PM
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Until recently i think it certainly seems to the user base that the main players simply were not talking to each other and just doing their own thing.

Now however it would appear that ROL and VA have kissed and made up and MD are firmly in bed with ROL.

Riscstation seem to be on some kinda sabatical

Castle seemed to be doing their own thing but also seem to be talking to RO, which is a good thing.

So I think in term of working together and cooperating, the RO main players do seem to be started to get their act together.

-- Paul Stewart, Bletchley, Milton Keynes

 is a RISC OS Usersa110 on 22/5/03 6:03PM
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Well as I'm now (by necessity) having to develop with Apache/PHP/MySQL, Linux is my obvious choice so that's what I've done. ;-( However, I spoke to Castle about their proposed Linux 'Distro' and IMHO I think this could be ONE IMPORTANT route to keeping RISC OS alive (and even growing it!) - RISC OS being a sort of 'Trojan Horse' OS. ARM themselves OUGHT to be interested in *desktop/laptop* hardware (i.e NOT PDA's) that run Linux considering the potential growth in the market - especially as desktops still dominate. After all, Linus T recently intimated that x86 does not necessarily have to be the hardware of choice for the OS. I'm convinced there is real substance in a RISC OS / Linux / ARM box - but Castle need their distro fast!

P.S. Fits in nicely with Peter's Unix Porting Project!

Just my thoughts? -- Steve W,

 is a RISC OS UserCASW1 on 22/5/03 6:16PM
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Another good thought provoking article by Mr Naulls !

Much of what he says does make sense, but I am a little concerned about some of the conclusions drawn.

Although having a Linux/BSD based ARM board (or even desktop machine) may gain sales - I am not convinced it will necessarily help RISC OS.

After all the World and their dog probably have Linux (or some variant of Unix) on ARM already - so what is to distinguish a Castle/MD board from the rest ?

As a trojan horse (as CASW1 suggests) perhaps RISC OS might make some headway, but if a firm is producing hundreds or even thousands of development boards - and a RISC OS license fee is due for each and there's no such license required for Linux what odds (at some point) the company involved will simply drop RISC OS (and save a little per board) and simply become a "me too" Linux/ARM board manufacturer.

I think having Linux or BSD on board is no harm - but it of itself while perhaps granting a company some sort of reliable income will not put *any* money into RISC OS or into software development on RISC OS.

Oddly having RISC OS on board *may* add an extra feature bullet point (along with Linux or BSD) that might distinguish such a development board. Trouble is will the manufacturers involved see it as a sufficient enough feature to pay for (and on that may hinge the future of RISC OS itself)

-- Annraoi McShane,

 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 22/5/03 6:49PM
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Actually, my article draws no real conclusions - the situations are meant to thought provoking rather than factual statements.

But to answer one question: As a dev board, the Iyonix is much cheaper than comparable XScale systems. It's also the only desktop XScale system - a "real" machine has obvious advantages over a board for development.

-- Peter, drobe.co.uk

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 22/5/03 7:02PM
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Peter I probably should have said implications rather than "Conclusions".

Good article and thanks for the clarification.

Given that Iyonix is "cheaper" than full development board set ups, what is need to get it "out there" ? No doubt the availability of a Unix OS and ROS will help (as will the price)... so what else is needed ?

-- Annraoi McShane,

 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 22/5/03 7:37PM
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The problem with RISC OS is the user base is too small and IMHO the OS is becoming less of an option for new purchasers. What was not stated in the article was something I heard of a few years ago. Acorn sold MORE machines for non desktop use. Have a look at some of the railway monirotrs telling you what train is at what platform. you might see acorn or risc os mentioned in the bottom left corner. WE also had 2 machines dedicated to cell biology apps written in assembler and basic and I think BIORAD protein-purification units run on riscpc's. The reason is simple; for a system that is purifying something over days, not crashing is crucial. :-)

There is one large field that windows is used almost exclusively (OK some thnigs are on solaris) But I can't say what or why I cant say (sorry). These generally run a custom interface and only use windows as a conduit. A custom OS on ROMs would be usefull since little data is saved to the HD. Most data is saved on MO or floppy. MO is big in Japan. This market is huge.

cheers bob, sadly now developing on windows. Well not me, my 4 programmers are. :-))

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 22/5/03 8:54PM
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What was NOT stated in the article was a great deal - as noted in the conclusion. It would make the article very lengthy.

But I did clearly refer to machines sold outside the user base being an important (read, crucial) source of income.

-- Peter, drobe.co.uk

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 22/5/03 9:08PM
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Iyonix is approximately 5 times more expensive than the XScale boards we use, and those don't have a sane amount of expansion and development connectors. I can't see any market for an Iyonix as a linux devboard.

 is a RISC OS Userimj on 22/5/03 9:45PM
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I mean _DO_ have a sane amount... :-)

 is a RISC OS Userimj on 22/5/03 9:48PM
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What boards do you use?

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 22/5/03 10:05PM
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Not a bad article.

To survive in business, you have to be either the cheapest or the best or have something which people are prepared to pay over the odds for or something which fills a niche.

Acorn was neither the cheapest or the best. Sure they were bloody innovative, but when it came to business and business models, they blew it by limiting themselves to basically education (which in turn generated the enthusiast market) and not licensing either the hardware or OS out. At one time, IBM were after various bits of Acorn kit, but for some reason, Acorn turned them down. Had RISC OS been licenced to IBM (and the RISC chips) guess which OS would probably be the one used by 90-odd percent of the world?

Acorn died the death. Why? Well they had a machine which was dragging it down in the Pheobe. Sure, it was a brilliant machine in terms of what it was and at the time, would have been a pretty much high-end machine.

After Acorn went A/T we had the mire of not knowing. I would estimate that this would have been one of the largest drop off points in terms of users.

RISCOS Ltd was formed. As they are the sole player (or so it seemed), they had all 4 of the "ors" above to succeed. They also had no competition. Actually, that's crap. They did have competition; they had those who had archaic machines unable to use their product and those who did not see the advantages of the shift up. As Martyn Fox has pointed out, a hell of a lot of publicity here would have helped them out.

Then we have the 3 AMSs. Leaving aside the RPC, all three were targeting the same market. The Mico was the cheapest and arguably the RiscStation was the best of the ARM7500FE based machines. However, in 1999/2000 who wanted to pay between 4 and 600 quid for a machine when a PC for the same price had tonnes of software and bloody fast processors. They were working for a niche market, an ever decreasing niche. Due to FUD and very bad publicity, folks kept their aging ARM 250 or ARM 3 based machines, which had a knock on effect to the AMSes and RISCOS Ltd. The fastest on the block was the SA RPC (or if you had an ARM710 or was using maths intensive stuff, the R7500). Castle did a few tweaks but not much else. However, they lagged behind technology wise and so more deserted.

We now have the situation of having 2 versions of the OS, having to pay (IMO) way over the odds for the hardware (for 1600UKP you can get a half decent Mac or extremely high spec'd PC with a DVD burner et al) and a very limited userbase. I'm excluding RiscStation here as they're still only on the ARM7500FE based chipset (publically at least).

Who will stay around? Castle has it's advantages on the Iyonix in the new version of the OS and having a ready supply of chips (guarenteed 26/32 bit chips are getting hard to obtain). MD has it's advantage that anything written on a RPC will work on the Omega (I've have this independantly verified - and not from someone @ MD), so there is no real need for the recompile etc.

In the end, it will boil down to being either the cheapest or the best. Much as it will probably annoy, if MD get the ARMTwister and XScale stuff done in a very short amount of time, it wouldn't suprise me if they wipe the floor with Castle.

One factor which will probably win it is not the actual machines, but the add ons. Whoever gets DVD-RAM, USB Cameras and proper PCI support (as well as AGP video cards!) first will be the winner.

I make no apologies for such a long post - Scribus, Gideon and the kernel are taking a while to compile, so I need to fill in my time somehow ;-p

(Yes, I know Chocky will probably have a go at me for re-appearing again...)

 is a RISC OS UserNodoid on 22/5/03 11:44PM
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To survive, you need to have a Unique Selling Points which appeals to a large enough audience. This can be price, quality of some other key ingredients.

Do we still have those?

IMHO of them must be to see new hardware and software so that the market can go forward.

MArk

 is a RISC OS Usermarkee174 on 23/5/03 8:04AM
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There is very little now in RISC OS which is unique. Once we could claim to have the stability, even though RISC OS (through Select admittedly) has become far more stable than it ever has, it is still lacking as there is no real memory protection (other than page 0). The UI no longer holds the same level of ease as all three of the other main OSes now have this level.

Even the claim of OS size being held on ROM doesn't hold much water. Remove kudzu from a Linux box or have a correct install of 2000/XP and they will boot quicker than RISC OS to the desktop. Yes, it's a big advantage to have the OS in ROM (not going to be corrupted), but it's not a big enough advantage.

Other than Impression, there is very little to recommend survival and survival based on a handful of applications is not enough[1]

There are probably two ways to get folks back. One would be a *massive* reduction in prices - I mean an Iyonix/Omega sub 700 UKP and a *massive* investment into writing software with *all* developers pulling together, irrespective of personal grudges.

The second is VARPC. AIUI though, only MD will be able to do this on a laptop which is frankly overpriced and not particulary well spec'd.

The third (which I've just thought of) would be to target those with OS 3.1 machines and offer them a large discount to change to OS 4 (say one of the ARM7500FE based machines for 250UKP + their old box). Unfortunately, that's been tried and failed.

[1] I'm excluding porting efforts here - this is down to the uniqueness being referred to. A port, while really good (don't get me wrong) is not going to draw people either back or in. The likes of Vantage is the sort of unique software I'm on about.

 is a RISC OS UserNodoid on 23/5/03 9:22AM
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I think Nodoid is correct in pretty much everything he says in this thread. Getting those on machines < A7000 to move to something better should make the active base a bit bigger, but a trade-in programme I think is unlikely to work, as anything under an A7000 is worthless. We could give the old machines to schools and so forth, but this will only prevent purchase of newer machines and also give RISC OS a bad name amongst those who use them as they will seem hopelessly outdated compared to even Win95.

The price of RO machines is the biggie, sure you can get a 7500FE machine very inexpensivly, but let's be honest, they are useless for modern computing tasks, unless you are very undemanding. You can get a S/H RPC cheap enought, but this will not put money into the hands of hardware developers if we just recycle S/H machines. So that leaves us with the Iyonix as the only moden RO box which you can actually buy, and this really is hideously expensive compared to it's peers. I'm not just talking about hardware, but also the lack of added value, with a new Mac you can edit movies and burn them to DVD with fancy menus and everything with nothing more than comes in the box. Those of us who like RISC OS will tolerate the lack of decent software, but newcomers will not give it a second look.

Another big one is the development situation, this has been a favourite ranting topic of mine recently, so I'll keep it short. The fact is that the development environment on RISC OS is chronically out of date and thoroughly awful, in fact it was out of date when Acorn was around. If you have a big market, but a bad development environment, developers will put up with it, if you have a small market, but a good development environment, then developers will work out of enthusiasm. If you have a small market, and bad development environment, you're up sh*t creek.

I apologise for the 'angry-young-man' quality of the post, but if we want to grow the market, these issues have to be addressed.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 23/05/03 10:07AM
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"One factor which will probably win it is not the actual machines, but the add ons. Whoever gets DVD-RAM, USB Cameras and proper PCI support (as well as AGP video cards!) first will be the winner."

Much has been said about Castle and RO Ltd. talking to each other and there are hints that it's now happening.

It would seem to be in the best interests of both of them.

People are buying Iyonix pcs, representing potential loss of Select subscriptions to RO Ltd. unless Select can be merged with RO 5.

Castle now, it seems, have competition from the Omega which can be seen as a more "mainstream" machine, capable of running Select and using all the goodies now coming out for the Simtec USB card. There is a danger of the Iyonix being seen as a "non-standard" machine by comparison.

It's clearly in everybody's interests to talk to each other and make RISC OS once again a single standard.

Martyn

 is a RISC OS UserMartyn Fox on 23/05/03 11:00AM
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Yes, RISC OS does have to become one entity again, but even if it were, the userbase and machine sales are still far too small to get new software development.

I'm not sure whether the Omega is more mainstream than the Iyonix, after all you can actually buy an Iyonix! ;-) However I do think that the Omega has greater potential to expand the market for various reasons, most importantly processor upgradeability, and I also get the feeling that the Omega might get more third party development. Software and hardware development for the Iyonix seems to be exclusively at Castle, whereas the Omega uses the Simtec USB stack, and could maybe even use third-party CPU upgrades from the likes of Simtec.

Of course this is all academic until MD release the Omega, but it seems all the talk at Wakefield of the machine shipping soon were simply not true.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 23/05/03 11:22AM
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Martyn : Good points. It's encouraging to see that ROS Ltd is talking to Castle over Select. The problem here though is setting the single standard.

RISCOS Ltd are here purely for the OS and are happy to take what people fling at them (at the RONWUG meeting when Select was first being shown around, standards were discussed with the outcome being that whoever submitted their code first would have the standard). Should it be up to the AMSes? Not going on past performance. Should it be put in the hands of an independant (such as Archive)? Well, that would be the best idea. I personally feel that the divergence between Select/OS 4 and Castle's OS is one of the most harmful developments we've had in years. I would have prefered it if Castle had invested the development money in RISCOS Ltd to produce the neutral 26/32 bit OS and then developed the extras for their HAL. At least that way, we would still have a unified OS.

gman : must agree on the development enviroment. While a text editor and compiler is fine, having an IDE would really help things along (such as Gideon, KDevelop or Anjuita under Linux - but with the blobs for WIMP editing and/or toolbox facilities and a safe [read protected] memory area to test the code). Just about everything I write now is on the linux box and then either cross compiled (if it's C++, it's then tested under VA) or copied back onto my RPC and compiled there. It cuts development time down significantly. Something which would really handy would be the likes of the gnome/gtk, KDE, wxWindows and Qt libs being freely available under RISC OS (or if Peter made them a separate entity on the subscription scheme or even made the unsupported as is the case with SDL - this is not a poke at his sterling work in the field either, or a gripe, moan or anything like that, it would just promote activity without hassle)

Anyway, I've got work to do. Bloody day off, I'm busier than if I was in work!!!!!

 is a RISC OS UserNodoid on 23/05/03 11:28AM
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I run what may well now be the premier RiscOS school ICT system. I have 40 Kinetics and 80 other OS4/64MB RiscPCs. All these are beginning to age. I could not justify buying 120 Iyonixes at twice the price of PC white boxes. It looks as though unless there is a desktop VA_RiscPC available within the next 12 months this site will be lost to RiscOS.

 is a RISC OS Useranon/212.104.154.134 on 23/05/03 12:05AM
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Martin, Those are expensive white boxes! I agree that Iyonixes are not appropriate when the education system is so cash strapped, but maybe Network Computers combined with powerful servers could give a good combo of UNIX and RISC OS (and Windows if you must!). I've always wondered why the NCs don't get much attention, they probably have more potential to get RISC OS back into schools than any other products, they're like Sun's superb SunRay system without the licensing or complication.

Paul: For me it's not the IDE I need, it's decent toolbox widgets, basically in RISC OS you get buttons,writables,radio boxes,check boxes,listboxes (basic) and a basic TextArea. This just is'nt enough, we need stuff like Rich text areas,better list boxes and canvases, maybe something to automate redraw would be good too. Rovlib took my fancy a lot, as Jason Tribbeck has done some pretty cool stuff with it, but we need something endorsed by ROL/Castle so we're all pulling in the same direction. QT is brilliant, and would turn around development on RISC OS.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 23/05/03 12:23AM
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Martin: I am sure that Castle would probably offer some sort of discount if you went to them with a proposal to ask for 120 Iyonix's ! (ask them you never know). Whether it would make up the difference in price full I wouldn't know, that's down to you and them....

As to VA RPC that currently is only available on the Microdigital Alpha box (which price wise is not that much cheaper than Iyonix - and still is dearer than your hypothetical PC white boxes). In performance terms it would certainly be slower than your existing Kinetics (in effect from an RO performance viewpoint you'd be *worse off* than you are at the moment).

The final part is that if you opt for PC's they *do* cost less to buy, but there is an often unmeasured *cost of ownership* (in which PC's can fair badly, particularly when running Windows - which no doubt those white boxes would).

 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 23/05/03 1:44PM
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I agree that TCO of PCs may often be higher than RISC OS, but you've also got to take into account that the PCs will probably come with an Office package, email, etc. whereas on RISC OS this will further add to the cost so the TCO argument would have to be very compelling. You can easily get a PC suitable for educational use (i.e. not too high end) for 350, so you could break two, buy another and still come in cheaper than an Iyonix.

OTOH second user NCs are dirt cheap, get a big Sun box to serve them with X and RISC OS apps, and you've got low initial spend *AND* very low TCO, i.e. only one computer to admin, the NCs have no moving parts and will pretty much look after themselves.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 23/05/03 2:17PM
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AMS: I'm sure Castle would give me a discount, but I'm not certain that's the whole answer. I'm not actually short of cash here and the TCO question is only part. What is the best answer in the overall educational picture?

I've ordered an Alpha for appraisal. At a guess it will lead to at least a dozen orders over the summer from those who would otherwise have bought ordinary laptops.

I've looked at Citrix, but the Acorn client end is simply not up to scratch.

The rot set in when Acorn declined to port Macromedia Director, so the CDROM scene left Acorn behind. We were able to bypass that problem by showing that equal or better resources were available free on the internet, and the era of CDROM education is really past now, but we are still being stymied, at this time by the lack of a really competent browser.

On the other hand, I know no other school with GCSE results anywhere near ours, which can be directly attributed to the _reasoned_ use of RiscOS applications like O-Pro, DataPower and Artworks - a situation which I should be mad to abandon without very good cause.

Even if I bought a complete of Iyonixes or Omegas, we're still short of (1) a proper browser (2) Word input/output for O-Pro (I know all about Techwriter and we use it as a transfer medium, within quite severe constraints) (3) Excel 7 input/output for any spreadsheet.

In A Level ICT we teach: What is the job? What class of software do I need? What is the best software in its class? what hardware do I need to run the software? The choice of hardware is the 4th element. What chance is there of getting the software right, before we even consider hardware at all?

In fact one of the greatest advantages of the RiscPC platform is hardly mentioned now, which is the ability to lock everything up solid, a bit like a thin client. That's what really makes all the difference to support costs.

The more I think about it, the only way to retain any foothold in education is for all the parties to work together, solve the problems in the above order, and make the OS platform-independent (and also lockable). Then produce a modular hardware platform with a wide choice of customised elements.

Thinking heretically, does the underlying processor actually matter? In ordinary use, can you tell Debian Linux on Intel from (Debian) ARMLinux - or on anything else?

Which is close to where this thread started.

 is a RISC OS Useranon/212.104.154.134 on 23/05/03 4:05PM
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Nodoid wrote "The UI no longer holds the same level of ease as all three of the other main OSes now have this level.": Are you being serious? For me the UI is THE reason to stay with the platform! I think that RISC OS has far and away the most elegant, consistent, intuitive interface of all the OSs. Would you care to expand on your statement?

Rgds,

Neil

 is a RISC OS UserNeilWB on 23/05/03 4:46PM
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I agree, the interface is the reason to stick with RISC OS, not because it's easy, some things are still very arcane in RISC OS (setting filetypes, for one), but because it's very usable. Easiness and Usability are two very different things IMHO, a UNIX console is not very easy for the beginner, but very usable in the hands of an expert.

The only other (mainstream) interface which can rival RISC OS is the Mac, in many ways (probably most) it's easier to use than RISC OS, and you can practically get arrested for making a app on the Mac which does not follow the style guide, and have predictable keyboard shortcuts. The big but is that that it's frustratingly slow and unresponsive.

Can't comment on Windows, have not used it for years, but presumably the other main OS is Linux/UNIX, I like my UNIX as much as the next man, but it's very far from easy.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 23/05/03 6:04PM
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Neil & tgm : when was the last time you sat down and used a Gnome2 desktop environment? You'd find it simpler to use that the RISC OS one. My son has had an A5K (and now my RiscStation) since day 1 and in the last year his own linux box. He gets around apps and the UI faster on the linux machine than the RISC OS ones.

I guess it's a case of what you like.

As for the argument of the console under Linux - it's all GUI now. You use the console for specific tasks, but frequently, can totally avoid touching it.

 is a RISC OS UserNodoid on 23/05/03 11:12PM
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I have used GNOME2 and KDE3, IMHO they could both suck the paint off an iron gate. I agree though that some UNIX/Linux apps are pretty decent, 'specially OpenOffice. I've used Linux on a few different platforms, and a few UNIX flavours, and I've always had to use the CLI for something. You can get away with just using GUI if you don't do much, but if you need to get an app as source, you're using the command line, particularly if you need to get libs and stuff.

I think the reason why some people may find Linux easier to get around than RISC OS is because both KDE and GNOME clone the Windows environment as studiously as Windows attempted to clone the Mac.

I don't think there's anything wrong with using the terminal, or that it should be avoided, but a beginner is going to barf at the prospect.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 23/05/03 11:49PM
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Nodoid: I agree with tgm both Gnome and KDE suck. RISC OS is the only desktop-centric UI (as opposed to an application-centric UI). Just about all of the key elements in the RISC OS UI have been replicated in other UIs, but it is the UI philosophy, AND the fact that the key econcepts are intelligently and consistently applied, that makes the RISC OS UI so special.

Rgds,

Neil

 is a RISC OS UserNeilWB on 24/05/03 09:16AM
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Neil/tgm : the point is though, is the UI seriously enough to be selling a machine on which is around 16K? I don't think it is. Sure it's easy to use, but (as we've kind of agreed) so is MacOS, Linux and Windows - the advantage is greatly diluted.

So, what is left? The hardware is neither the cheapest or the best and there is a massive void (which is growing) in terms of software. Unfortunate as it is, this is what is going on and unless there is a radical drop in prices and those who still use OS 3.1 are given a large enough poke by the AMSes to drop their old boxes, then the deepening problems we've been suffering for a fair while now, will just continue.

 is a RISC OS Useranon/217.135.141.154 via 195.92.168.169 on 24/05/03 3:21PM
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A RISC OS port of OpenOffice would be good. It's an excellent office app, as THEGMAN mentions. So long as it could import the major file formats properly, then all the RO manufacturers could bundle it with new machines. Some PC manufacturers bundle StarOffice (the commercial version of OpenOffice) with their machines.

About the education debate. A local school here was using RISC OS for years. They spend thousands getting a ethernet network up and running, connected to SA RPCs and A7000s. Unfortunately, they just abandoned using it a few months ago, for one main reason: no decent internet browser. They had exisiting software that was OK, but the increasing amount of internet-based lessons meant the Acorns had to go. ROs education market is fading.

Anybody know if the ROZILLA project is still operating?

 is a RISC OS Usertimephoenix on 26/05/03 05:47AM
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May I ask, why is nobody porting KHTML to RISC OS? This operating system: [link] with fewer than 1000 users, has its own browser (ported by 1 person no less) of a similar quality to Safari.

Btw, I agree KDE & Gnome are ghastly. Linux is not for the desktop, I haven't got any doubt of this.

 is a RISC OS Useranon/203.118.161.129 via 203.109.254.50 on 26/05/03 09:41AM
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Probably a) no-one wants to do these things for free (I know I dont') b) RISC OS has a very limited toolkit to work with, particularly under C++, which I expect KHTML is based on (could be wrong here), and c) lots of RISC OS coders have gone elsewhere, it's not the platform it was for attracting programmers.

Nodoid, agree with what you're saying, but do you mean 1.6K? ;-)

But it's true, RISC OS does not have a monopoly on good UI, and certainly not on good software. The price drop is crucial, because RISC OS does not have the means to be a person's only computer any more, and the user is more likely to have an Acorn and something else, and therefore cannot afford (say) 700 for a PC, and 1300 for an Iyonix.

That would be a good poll actually, who *only* uses RISC OS?

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 26/05/03 1:15PM
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Me!!!!

OK I am forced to use windows @ work but until I get WINE working properly with some horrifically 16bit windows apps - the work 'puter is not allowed to boot @ home... :-)

Actually I was seriously considering a dual set up @ work - 1 RISC OS machine for me to live in and a x86 box to be VNC'd into as circumstances required.

Unfortunately we run M$ exchange - dont think that RISC OS email clients and !orginizer will like that one... :(

so in the words of the finest quotes from Star Wars:

"almost there"

&

"stay on target"

:-)

 is a RISC OS Userepistaxsis_RISC OS on 26/05/03 7:30PM
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"Linux is not for the desktop, I haven't got any doubt of this."

What do you think of the idea of making it so, then?

[link]

"almost there" & "stay on target"

Didn't he get killed? :-)

 is a RISC OS UserStoppers on 27/05/03 1:22PM
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Not much. Linux is a vast, massive, bloat bin. It'll never boot up as fast as RISC OS, no matter what you do setting up drivers and handling libraries will cause problems, it'll never fit in a 4mb rom, and chopping awful X-Windows means there'd be no software for it. Basically, no matter what is done to it, it'd still be a rickity advanced-user-only bloated Linux install with a clone of the RISC OS gui and no software. I just don't see any Acorn computing experience being reproduced with Linux.

The ideal would be to have a small, lightweight, well-designed OS clone of RISC OS for ARM and x86 processors, much like what AROS is to AmigaOS. Something that could be used with both Acorns and one of those ARM dev boards and would flawlessly run native RISC OS software, and would be transparently identical to RISC OS for the user in all except the cog/acorn logo. This would mean people could effectively continue using 'RISC OS' without any further hardware and OS development from the likes of Microdigital and RISCOS Ltd, should they exit, for there will continue to be a supply of ARM dev boards for a while yet.

 is a RISC OS Useranon/203.173.210.39 via 203.109.254.50 on 01/06/03 03:56AM
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I agree about getting RO onto other ARM based devices, very important to offer more choice.

Linux could be made to boot as fast as RISC OS, simply because it can run on much faster hardware. My Sun boots (Solaris) slower than my RPC boots RISC OS, but not much, and it's pretty slow by modern standards.

Mac OS X is a front end on UNIX, and that worked out pretty well for them, obviously they have billions of dollars and brilliant programmers though.

I honestly don't get why people get so worked up about it being on ROM, it's so expensise in such low quantities, and although it can be more reliable, if you have disk failure you've lost access to all your files/apps anyway, so you're not much better off than if the OS is on disk.

Practically all (non-embedded) computers hold the OS on disk, including the most reliable computers on earth like mainframe,UNIX,non-stop,VMS etc. If we have more problems than everyone else with disks, then we should look at fixing it.

Not sure why X is so awful, it's certainly much faster than RISC OS with a decent graphics card, and there are loads of good toolkits, all of which open a can of whoopass on the RISC OS WIMP.

If we are serious about getting RISC OS onto other hardware, and seriously improving it, we should talk to Castle/ROL first as they (well at least one of them) has access to the RISC OS source, and of course have loads of experience with RISC OS. We should make it clear that RISC OS should be made to run on other ARM machines, and ROL cannot go on developing for ancient hardware.

Reproducing the Acorn experience: I suppose you'd need to define what that was first. Although we'd certainly have to make sure no good web browsers ran on it! ;-)

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 01/06/03 11:55AM
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Garry Taylor (thegman) wrote:

"Probably a) no-one wants to do these things for free (I know I dont') b) RISC OS has a very limited toolkit to work with, particularly under C++, which I expect KHTML is based on (could be wrong here), and c) lots of RISC OS coders have gone elsewhere, it's not the platform it was for attracting programmers."

a) You could always Badger the Unix Porting Tsar to do it, if he's prepared to grant you an audience... ;-) b) C++ under RISC OS never seems to have taken off, possibly because of entrenched attitudes towards languages other than BASIC, ARM assembly and (on a good day) C. c) Was RISC OS really that good for attracting programmers? As someone recently pointed out in an IconBar discussion there's not much to be gained from the development experience on RISC OS, especially as the userbase evaporates.

 is a RISC OS Useranon/81.131.198.240 on 01/06/03 8:41PM
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Simon Willcocks wrote this:

""" What do you think of the idea of making it so, then?

[link] """

That thread didn't last very long, did it? :-(

 is a RISC OS Userdavidb on 01/06/03 8:55PM
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I'm sure Chocky has given his consideration to porting some decent toolkits to RISC OS, if he or someone else does it, fantastic, but I think to port QT would be a colossal task.

You're right about the languages thing, you always get people banging on about how great BASIC is, and don't mention the enormous advantages of langs like Java.

I think RISC OS could attract coders a while ago, say Sibelius, for the size of userbase, RISC OS has had some good software written for it. But these products have either been discontinued or fallen behind comparable products on other platforms. I used to write for RISC OS, but now I have savoured the delights of other platforms, I doubt I'll ever code for it again, RISC OS is nice to use, horrid to program.

Like you say, as the userbase diminishes, there is less money to invest in development, less money == less good products, and products have to get more expensive, further reducing the user base, and it's attraction to outsiders. It's a vicious circle which will not be escaped with the current activities of major RO companies.

If you say that all serious users are on RISC OS 4 or above, then I think puts the userbase at under 5000, which can't sustain any serious software development unless you're extremely keen to support the platform regardless of earnings.

It's sad, I had personally hoped that RON may provide new users, but it looks like that is not to be.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 02/06/03 12:37AM
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