Comments on the Microdigital AlphaBy Chris Williams. Published: 15th Jul 2003, 20:47:42 | Permalink | Printable
Readers comment on their mobile virtual RISC OS machinesTo put it mildly, MicroDigital are being very conservative over the news of Alpha portable units shipping to end users. As you know, the Alpha laptop is powered by an Intel Celeron processor and runs VirtualRiscPC over WindowsXP so users can use RISC OS 4 and RISC OS apps on the mobile Wintel platform.
Bizarre as it may seem, publicity of any kind is not on MicroDigital's agenda, so in the absence of a glittering press release from Shipley, we've got something a little more useful - responses from readers who've emailed us about their new Alpha laptops. Three users stepped up to the mic and spoke of their new computers and we hope you'll find their impressions and opinions useful.
There have been reservations about the use of emulated hardware to run RISC OS on non-ARM platforms from some users. However, for some, emulation is the way forward as their place of work or home environment 'demands' the need for a mainstream OS like Microsoft's Windows.
Martin Devon, ICT Consultant for Stonar School in Wiltshire, writes,
"My Alpha (production model) was delivered here on Friday 3rd July, just in time for Open Day. It had been ordered though Liquid Silicon but as David Atkins knew it was wanted for the Saturday it was sent direct.
Since then I've probably encouraged 3 or 4 pupils to buy one.
It will probably be the saving of RISC OS at this school. Now I need Virtual Acorn for standard desktops."
Martin later added this,
"I think you should also know that after a few days use it seems very satisfactory - about the same speed as a SA RiscPC in most cases and perfectly stable.
There's no direct networking yet, but can be done by making a HostFS mount of the type
hostfs::\<mount><share> so it can connect direct to another RiscPC provided the latter is running !Samba."
John McCulloch, who recently published benchmark results from his Alpha, writes,
"I purchased my MD Alpha, myself, it was ordered via Liquid Silicon, just after Wakefield. I had been on LS's waiting list for an Omega, but decided this was a better buy, for me at the time.
I have so far been very impressed with the MD Alpha, both as a nice piece of kit, well made and well put together. As you will no doubt have realised I am typing this via MS Outlook Express on the MD Alpha. I am still on the learning curve about using Windows, having formerly only used it sparingly at work. My computing history is very much more Acorn based.
The MD Alpha I have was speified with Windows XP Pro and a Combo DVD/CD R/W, otherwise it is a bog standard 2.0Ghz Celeron processored machine. The machine is very easy to use, the keyboard is a little rubbery, but is very useable to type on as you can see from the lack of typo's.
As a Windows machine it comes equipped with all the usual software, allowing one to write cd roms, play dvd movies, log on to the internet, etc etc. Turning to Virtual RiscPC SE. Wow, someone has been very busy, it runs with great aplomb. It is quite a fair bit more responsive than my Acorn RiscPC (SA 202 MHz), with ViewFinder graphics card.
I guess the actual speed increase is of the order of 1.5 to 2 times the speed of the RiscPC. This is an arbitary guestimate, but takes into consideration the very much superior disc access speed. Programs such as Studio24Pro, which grind when loading big images, load in a second or so.
The desktop is very much more useable as a result. The advantages of the machine are that one can share files between both operating systems, transparently, at least Windows to RISC OS. I have not yet figured out how to go the other way, but I am sure it will be possible.
Downsides... Cannot see anyway of addressing the modem card from RISC OS, hence using Outlook Express. Likewise not too sure if any of the high speed interfaces are available to the RISC OS side. But these are minor disadvantages, as far as I am concerned."
A Dutch reader also sent in this,
"You have asked for comments on the rumours that ordinary people such as myself could have come into possession of a MicroDigital machine at the Expo 2003. Well, I can hereby confirm it! And no, I am just a regular customer, not a beta tester or something like that.
Two and a half years ago I ordered the Omega, right off the drawing board. Of course I was disappointed that I had to wait for so long, but remember it is still far better than what happened with Acorn: the promised Phoebe...
And in the meantime I stil have my trusted Risc PC, running RISC OS 4 and a StrongARM processor.
Since I am not adverse to playing a computer game or two RISC OS 4 holds some disappointment for me: many trusted game would not run, not even with Game On or Strong Guard. Trying Virtual A5000 on a regular notebook brought no joy.
And then, all of a sudden Micro Digital announces the Alpha Notebook. Now that was a surprise. Not a new company stepping in at the last moment to rescue the Riscstation Portable but a brand new solution!
I could not get Acorn to understand that it is very difficult for ordinary people to understand why they should go for Acorn and RISC OS; compatibility is a very important issue. At the company I work for practically nobody understands why RISC OS would be so much better. I have tried to convince them many times and brought my Acorn computers with me to show them off, but they still cannot make the switch.
And now came a chance for me from a company after Acorn to understand that it is wise having the same equipment as is standard in the PC world but working on a superior operating system. I ordered one of those as well, thinking it would be great to make presentations on my Risc PC, copy them to my notebook and have far better results in the office.
And yes, it works like a dream. Of course it feels strange seeing WindowsXP on start up, but after the initial shock you just double click and get your favorite operating system. Known applications work just as easy on the Alpha.
One of the few applications I run "native" under Windows XP is a flight simulator for model aircraft; so far I have never found one for Risc computers so that is a real bonus.
Because I already own VirtualA5000 I thought "Why not give it a try?" and installed that as well on the Alpha Notebook; it performs well and I am now able to play the game "Birds of War" again. Imagine that! Sound does not work yet but I will try to wrestle some modules from my old and broken down A5000 to fix that.
So you see, MicroDigital have come through for ordinary customers and now at the office people can see the difference: the hardware stays the same but the results are far better. I think this machine will help to get more and more people accustomed to RISC OS and that will be a turn for the good, not just for the manufacturer but for all of us.
And yes, I still think that in a few weeks I will get the invitation to visit my dealer "Desk" in Rotterdam and receive my Omega as well."
Of course, we're waiting for the big one - news from end users of Omegas arriving at doorstops. No need to be shy, we won't judge you.
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