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Comments on the Microdigital Alpha

By Chris Williams. Published: 15th Jul 2003, 20:47:42 | Permalink | Printable

Readers comment on their mobile virtual RISC OS machines

To 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
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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Still can't help feeling horrified. It's just a Windows machine running an emulator. It's no more a RISC OS machine than it is an Amiga or a Spectrum. This is not the way forward. I will be interested to know how many people actually stop using RISC OS altogether, and start using Windows because of this - emulation is not pretty or convenient and the problems and limitations will show up over time. Flame me if you like, but I feel strongly that this is bad for the long term. -- Gavin Smith

 is a RISC OS UserSparkY on 15/7/03 10:19PM
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Better than people not using RISC OS because there's no portable.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 15/7/03 10:38PM
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SparkY: Rather than simply making general statements, could you explain why you are against emulation and why you think that people will stop using RISC OS because of it?

I've not heard a single argument that makes any sense to me.

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 15/7/03 10:41PM
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Sorry, I'll try to be more specific. Emulation never pushes a platform forward, it only does its best to match what is already there.

Next, you're running Windows XP, *then* RISC OS- how long will it be before the buyers of these laptops just stop booting into RISC OS to (for example) write simple text files? They're already using Windows for email. Perhaps they'll start using Word instead of any of the superior RISC OS offerings? Then what? All this, just because it's more convenient than firing up RISC OS on top of Windows. It's a messy way to do things IMHO.

Finally, it's a huge amount of money that isn't going into the RISC OS market - of course, Microdigital are going to make a profit, but the bulk of the money is going on the Windows license and the PC hardware.

If a similar desktop package had been sold in a bundled way a year or so ago, I wonder if we might not have an Iyonix today. -- Gavin Smith

 is a RISC OS UserSparkY on 15/7/03 10:56PM
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Great stuff! Any news on when we can buy VirtualRPC standalone?

 is a RISC OS UserSnig on 15/7/03 11:32PM
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Why would they use Windows to read emails when it's better on RISC OS?

a) They're stupid b) They don't have RISC OS, maybe they're on a portable c) They're crazy

Why use Windows apps which may cause Windows to be rebooted/reinstalled when you can just reload VRPC?

The bulk of the money for the Iyonix is going to Intel, memory/hd/cd/monitor sellers, etc.

Of course giving MS money is against my religion so I can't buy it.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 15/7/03 11:54PM
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To answer all your questions with one simple answer:




Manu T

 is a RISC OS UserEPDM on 16/7/03 12:05AM
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A few notes: laptops are fashionable in school so better to have one which does RiscOS than one which doesn't. They will use the RiscOS part for all their work because that's what we teach at school. Alpha connects direct to the Linux servers. We are sometimes forced to use a Windows browser for external sites (I try to force Mozilla on them) because RiscOS doesn't have an adequate browser. Internal webmail uses Oregano but I've now having to use legacy templates on our Navaho server. I have 120 OS4 RiscPCs which have to be near the end of their life; a couple of years perhaps. I cannot justify 150k pounds for Iyonixes when they still can't drive interactive whiteboards and so on. OTOH just 50k for white boxes plus emulation would keep RiscOS alive. Speaking heretically I've not convinced that the underlying processor can be detected in use :-) Alpha is not emulation in the strict sense as taught - it uses a real copy of RiscOS.

 is a RISC OS UserMartinD on 16/7/03 8:09AM
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It *is* emulation the real sense, it's just not emulating the OS -- in the same way that Bochs can run a real copy of Windows or Linux or the HURD by emulating a PC.

 is a RISC OS Usermckinlay on 16/7/03 8:17AM
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Whether this will encourage or discourage the use of RISCOS as the preferred platform is all open to debate and no-one really knows. The only way to determine this is to survey the current VRPC userbase and determine :

1 number of non riscos users who now use VRPC 2 number of non riscos users who tried VRPC and then purchased RISCOS hardware. 3 number of original RISCOS users who now use VRPC 4 number of original RISCOS users who no longer use RISCOS hardware after having used VRPC

The survey would have to have at least 30 respondants.



 is a RISC OS Usermripley on 16/7/03 8:19AM
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For those who've used Virtual Acorn emulation software or have an Alpha can vote in the opinion poll here:


Mripley: I tried to incorporate some of your survey questions.

 is a RISC OS Usertimephoenix on 16/7/03 9:44AM
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MartinD is spot on! No-one purchasing large orders under any scrutiny is going to spend large sums of cash on "native" RISC OS hardware when desirable contemporary applications just aren't there.

As for the argument that running an emulator on Windows XP is going to tempt people to switch to Windows XP, I'd suggest that people who actually are interested in switching to other platforms will do so whether one makes emulation software available for those platforms or not. The only difference emulators make in such cases is that the transition between platforms may be eased somewhat.

Should RISC OS emulators be made available to the masses? Does it really "cheapen" the platform? I'd argue that emulators are just tools which can make people's lives easier, and even if some people use them to migrate to another platform, it's not as if emulator developers are helping bad people make nuclear weapons or anything.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 16/7/03 9:45AM
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Hi All.

RISC OS? What is it? RISC=name OS = operating system

Note OS does not = hardware etc etc etc.

The O = "operating" IE a method of using the system.

My only option is a windowsPC. I dont want a seperate computer for RISC OS and I want it on a laptop.

I also have a XP laptop and I dont care whether it runs on JAM but I do need the windows OS for work. Therefore, unless I have an emmulated OS running on windows I wont use RISC OS. IE one up for emmulation. I like the OS, but it is ONLY a computer, only a tool for doing work, and I don't want a couple of desktops or two laptops in the house, ohhh!!! thats!!! right!!!, there is no RISC OS laptop, therefore It is EM or zero.

Now what is better, a user or a former user?

I also know that many people are anti microsoft. Hell I even own the domain micronsoft :-) BUT lets be frank here.

Word can somertimes be anoying but it is really quite good in many respects. EG linking automatically with reference manager, endnote etc; and it does all that I need it for.

excel does all I need it for.

Powerpoint plays movies in the presentation and I "definately" need this.

I use eudora pro for mail and normally mozilla, however, I use IE for banking. It is not my fault that IE is perhaps not the most secure, my bank insist and It works. I have this only for convenience and I do have the alternative of walking up and standing in the cue.

I do use RISC OS for stats, that is about it. I do have some top mac programmes and could always use statview emmulated, but I do like !1st.

At the end of the day it is only a tool.

cheers bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 16/7/03 10:28AM
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So it is a *bit* faster than a boggo RiscPC...

Of course certain things like memory access & Hard discs will be a lot quicker.

But has anyone bothered to see the required spec of PC to achieve this?

1 for the evangelical advocates:

In order to emulate a 200MHz StrongARM machine running RISC OS - you need to add another 0...


 is a RISC OS Userepistaxsis@work on 16/7/03 11:13AM
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Tempers obviously run high concerning 'emulation'. In my case, my son is about to turn his back on RiscOS because he uses Windross at school. But he's dead keen to get an Alpha, as he can then have both (and hopefully easily transfer files between them.) In this case, the so-called 'emulation' will save at least one defection. Also, no-one seems to have commented on the fact that, according to MD's web site, there is also a higher spec Alpha portable available which uses a Pentium instead of the Celeron chip. That'd be the one I'd go for, but would welcome comments as I've no idea at all about Wintel machines! Incidentally, I can't see any way that VA on Windows can possibly lead to the destruction of RiscOS. People will only move to Windows if it's better, not because it's there! Why are some people so affraid of someone comparing the two? Do you not have faith that, side by side, RiscOS will be the chosen favourite? -- Jeremy Brayshaw

 is a RISC OS UserJeremy on 16/7/03 12:06PM
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Jeremy, there is faith, but you wouldn't be comparing like for like. I'm not 100% against RISC OS emulators but I am against selling this machine as a RISC OS solution. Do you think there is such a profit margin on this machine that it will fund future RISC OS developments? I don't. Think of the long term. As I said before, if there had been a similar desktop bundle (PC with an emulator bundled) a year ago, would there be an Iyonix today? -- Gavin Smith

 is a RISC OS UserSparkY on 16/7/03 1:01PM
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Surely VirtualAcorn doesn't need to be written to run in Windows?

Why can't they sell a Linux version? Then we can buy a portable without Windows and save some cash.

Personally, I'd like a Tablet device running RISC OS and Lycoris.


for example.

 is a RISC OS Userquatermass on 16/7/03 1:10PM
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"At the end of the day it is only a tool."

To some, maybe.


 is a RISC OS UserMartyn Fox on 16/7/03 1:32PM
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It's amusing that before the end of last year, there hadn't really been a competitive hardware business in the RISC OS world for a good five years, and yet despite this, the RISC OS high priests still ridiculously claim that emulation is the end of the platform and that only RISC OS on specially designed hardware is "right".

Perhaps, if people had been running RISC OS on emulators five years ago, there wouldn't have been an Iyonix. Then again, there could have been a twofold growth in users in the five subsequent years (as opposed to a steep decline), improvements in the virtualisation of the RISC OS environment, and RISC OS applications running well enough on commodity hardware, for all we know.

I suppose it's a question of what the high priests find most sacred.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 16/7/03 1:44PM
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SparkY: You may be right about hardware development being hit by this, but I don't think so. I don't see us getting any new RISC OS hardware for years, now Iyonix is here, with or without Alpha. But as for software - where there is a real need for investment, surely any sales of RISC OS - be it on an emulated or original hardware base - must be good for that market. If that area begins to grow, then new hardware will follow anyway. IMHO. Not that criticising the theory behind a product is going to change anything anyway, so why speculate (apart from the fact it can be fun!). Let's accept that we're getting some good hardware (both native and 'emulated'), so let's all promote it and be glad these developers are still interested in RISC OS. Given a choice of Alpha or Native RISC OS laptop, I'm sure many of us would choose the latter. But we haven't got that choice. It's Alpha, WITH RISC OS, or Windows without RISC OS. I know which of those I would prefer to see sell well! -- Jeremy Brayshaw, Braintree, Essex

 is a RISC OS UserJeremy on 16/7/03 2:01PM
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Don't forget that RISC OS 4 is used, so that RISCOS LTD gets some licence money, to keep them afloat, as the true hardware sale licence money seems now to be in decline (read stopped!) and Select is the only thing keeping them going. Microdigital get their profit from the sale and so hopfully funds some hardware development (a different argument I know). Castle will now get a licence fee from RISCOS LTD, so funding their growth. None of these companies will care where the money comes from, just that it comes.Most people who read here would like the hardware to sell as well, but in the short term only Castle are probably selling, so spreading the cashflow around a bit can't harm the market.

-- Tank

 is a RISC OS Usertank on 16/7/03 2:03PM
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Sparky, as has been said above there is RISC OS and there is the hardware that it is running on. I get the impression from your posts that you are combining the two.

I think, at the end of the day, people are more interested in RISC OS than the actual hardware it runs on. And to be honest, they probably wouldn't care what it is running on as long as it works.

The reality of the situation is that a lot of people are not going to be willing to fork out over 1000 for a RISC OS/ARM based computer, when you could buy a PC which can do a lot more for half the price.

So, if anything, the emulation route might actually keep more people using RISC OS than loosing them.

I guess RISC OS Ltd gets a bit of money each time an Alpha is sold, so I can't see how it is not going to support future RISC OS developments. It certainly seems to be money they wouldn't get otherwise.

 is a RISC OS UserWalks on 16/7/03 2:08PM
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Okay, I agree that emulation will allow people who want to continue to use RISC OS applications to continue to do so. It'll probably produce some more sales of RISC OS in the short term at least. In the long term - I don't know.

What does worry me is effects on the hardware side of the RISC OS market. Noone in their right mind is going to produce a RISC OS laptop now. It was always going to be a pretty risky venture (as shown by the abortive attempts by Acorn, etc). However, it seems that the Alpha has closed the door pretty firmly on the laptop market.

People are now asking for the VirtualRPC emulator to be made available as a stand alone package so that they can run it on computers of their choosing. Sure, this is a real money saver. Any 2GHz PC + VRPC is enough to replace a tired RiscPC. Make it a 3GHz machine and that'll beat a Kinetic RPC and may be knocking on the door of Omega performance. A crude estimate would suggest a 5GHz PC would be required to match an Iyonix. Of course, this is all at half the price of the equivelant RISC OS hardware.

The other bonus is that you don't have to wait for drivers for the particular peripheral you want to be available for RISC OS. You can use the Windows drivers straight away and swap over to the RISC OS ones if/when they are available (assuming you are willing to pay for them).

The third advantage is that you have a wealth of bonus software available to you. Why not run a Kazaa, eDonkey or Gnutella client in the background while you run VRPC? They are free and arguably more developed than any RISC OS file-sharing software. There is also a selection of web browsers that are free and run rings round Oregano.

So, it's becoming increasingly difficult to recommend a real RISC OS machine over a PC with the emulator. But the OS itself is safe, right? I'd think so as long as people using VRPC don't tire of having to effectively boot two machines in order to use RISC OS programs. As long as they don't become to used to Windows and Windows programs. As long as they find their RISC OS programs more familiar and productive and this out-weighs the speed and convinience of so called 'industry standard' apps.

-- Spriteman.

 is a RISC OS UserSpriteman on 16/7/03 2:55PM
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Most people don't think RISC OS is better though, even if they've used it for years, because they're stupid.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 16/7/03 3:20PM
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"Most people don't think RISC OS is better though, even if they've used it for years, because they're stupid."

I don't think this website would exist if there was a grain of truth in the above and I will treat it with the contempt it deserves.

As I was about to say ...

I bought a 486 card and Windows 3.1 for my Risc PC and never really found a use for them.

Apart from that, I've never owned a Windows/DOS machine or any Microsoft product and have managed without such things up to now.

Perhaps some people are afraid that, if I added a Windows system to my setup, I might succumb to using it and do things on it instead of on RISC OS.

Being used to RISC OS, I'd be surprised if that happened. I use Windows NT at work and know which I prefer!

I can think of two ways in which I might acquire Windows hardware:

1. as an Alpha (or even Alpha Pro) laptop

2. as an add-on so that I can run software such as UniPrint

In the latter case, I assume that a bog-standard PC will do, preferably one of these new small-size ones. On the other hand, I rather hanker after being able to do video editing ...

I've heard that the best laptops are Macs. Now, if only VRPC could be written to run on one ...

I suspect emulation will turn out to be:

1. Bad for RISC OS hardware producers 2. Good for RISC OS software producers


 is a RISC OS UserMartyn Fox on 16/7/03 5:17PM
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MartinD: Running VA might be the answer, but thinking a whitebox clone will give you any level of value even remotely close to that you've had from your RiscPCs is plain stone dead wrong.

 is a RISC OS Usermikeg on 16/7/03 6:25PM
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Let's jump into the fray:

Everything else being equal, I find myself using Windows and RISC OS, given two machines - RISC OS when it can do something, and Windows when it can't, be this playing a game I want to play, or accessing a website I want to access. I'm certainly not going to stop using RO if I've got a Windows machine too, since plenty of stuff I do doesn't need the extra power.

The hardware issue: If the end result of an emulated RISC OS computer is something with the same performance as a native ARM based one, but costs half the price, then there is no logic in not buying the emulated version. However, if there is a native RISC OS machine that is more powerful than an emulator it will, I think, always sell some, even if it costs quite a bit more.

If more money comes into the general RO scene (not just hardware) with an emulator available, then it's not going to hurt. Could it not be the cheap way to get low end RO systems out, at a cheaper price than currently (this is not really looking at the Alpha) with the non emulated machines powering the high end?

 is a RISC OS UserSimonC on 16/7/03 6:38PM
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I would tend to find myself in agreement with Sparky on this one.

In addition I'd point out that the reality is that when you run an emulator you're running an "approximation" of a real machine - not the actual real machine (this can mean some things don't always work as expected).

To be fair I have found VA sound enough, but to say that it would in all circumstances behave like a real RISC PC is another thing (that means for a programmer it would not be good enough to test/develop their software on it and assume it would work on all RISC OS hardware).

Then we have WindowsXP, if it is installed correctly and patched up to the gills it *might* behave correctly - but on the other hand it may not (in which case you have an RO copy (with whatever bugs it has) running on an Emulator (an approximation also with bugs) running on Windows XP (which has bugs) on PC hardware (which hopefully is not too bugged). This suggests it will, overall, be less stable than genuine RO running on genuine RO hardware. And if in the middle of running TechWriter under RO under VA on WindowsXP who do you think will get the blame (I can hear it now RISC OS is rubbish it keeps getting GPF's....)

Then there's the amount of money "leaving" the market with Alpha. I'd much rather see people use their existing PC laptops (ie., no new purchase) and then plonk VARPC on top - if that is their chosen route. At least that way the person *may* have some money left over to buy RO software (or save for an Iyonix or whatever).

Alpha is an inefficient way of supporting our platform. The argument that by buying Alpha you're supporting the platform is errant - the bulk of the purchase pays the hardware manufacturer (some PC portable manufacturer), then Microsoft, then a little left over for MD (firstly), and then VA and RISC OS Ltd.

Then there's the other imponderable, Microsoft, let's face it they change their OS'es with alarming regularity... what if when they go all over to ".NET" and some 67000 Windows API's get whittled down to a few thousands what odds that VA will even work. And before you say it couldn't happen just ask yourself what happened with Windows and DR-DOS (do a search see what you come up with ;), or any of those "problems" that arose with non-MS web browsers....

-- Annraoi McShane,

 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 16/7/03 6:58PM
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I'm interested how one can attract new (and essentially non-techie) users to RISC OS through selling them a laptop with an emulator. Most people who use Windows have no idea how it works, and saying "emulator" to them would mean about as much as saying "syuzhet"*. If it says "Windows" when it starts up and they can use it to word process, scan some photos and browse the web they'll never investigate the alternative operating system on the computer, trusting Windows to perform these for them perfectly adequately, and probably never even suspecting there is another way of interacting with a computer.

I am not a programmer, I'm not even that techie, but I've stuck with RISC OS because the first computers I came across were Acorns. It was a happy accident that they were also very easy to use and at the time pretty powerful machines.

What I'm getting at is that when it comes to selling your product you need to get your message in first. If the first thing you see when you turn on a computer is the Windows logo, that's not good for the alternative OS's you can run on the same machine.

I know that the non-techie market is not who the Alpha is aimed at, but the companies who make the hardware that RISC OS runs on should at some point hope to be attracting those who aren't within the enlightened circle.

I know that most people on this list would love to see a RISC OS native computer, and maybe it's disappointment that they're not that is fuelling some of the negative comments, but that's not the end of the matter. Either way, it's all academic because I can't afford to buy an Alpha laptop and if I could I'd still buy a brand new Mac.

But if there were a RISC OS native laptop the Mac could wait indefinitely. (This may be illogical, but *we're* not computers and logical choices aren't always the ones society endorses.)

Of course, there is a counter argument when it comes to getting your message in first. When I had my first encounter with an Acorn machine it was in primary school. If the Alpha keeps RISC OS in schools, that's good, because as every ad man knows, you've got to snag 'em young. But if the Alpha undermines the quality of the product then RISC OS developers can't afford the PR to sell it quite the way Micro$oft can.

* "syuzhet" (pronounced "seeyoo-jay", at least by the other film grads I know) is a Russian word, used by formalist critics, particularly in reference to films. It is roughly analogous to the English word "plot" and is used in discussions about the difference between a film's story (what it tells) and the order of its narrative (how it is told). Yes, I'm kind of OT, but at least you can't complain that you've not learnt something today.

-- Liam Creighton

 is a RISC OS Userquatermain on 16/7/03 7:49PM
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In the absence of a Risc os laptop I would buy my son the Alpha though the desktop computer would remain ARM/Xscale hardware. Windows+Risc os emulation would the best solution for school use. I prefer Risc os only for a desktop. For my family the above represents the best solution.

 is a RISC OS Userjlavallin on 16/7/03 8:28PM
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OK it is time to nail the flag to the mast...

I abhor the idea of any kind of recent RISC OS as an emulator.

Alpha is not a problem as people are being sold a second rate M$ machine at a stupid price with RO4 - and it isn't perfect.

Which is good.

However now that we have finally made some kind of advance with RISC OS 5 - why are people getting worried?

If you want to do a RISC OS program you'll *have* to test it on a proper RISC OS computer - simple innit?

Oh and for the education market - you are all victims of M$ & T. Blair.

In other words - you're fcuk'd

The future of RISC OS is all about it's efficiency and the fact that it is ultra groovy to use.

Forget the teachers, it is time to make this OS desirable.

 is a RISC OS Userepistaxsis_RISC OS on 16/07/03 9:30PM
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Getting ROS into education means kids grow up using RISC OS. They would get to use the system, learn with it and see the merits of RISC OS. Then when they leave school, they would expect to find RISC OS in their workplace. That would have been the plan.

However, as you point out, Microsoft were extremely keen to see UK children using MS stuff so when the kids leave school, they can work in MS powered offices. It keeps businesses using MS stuff because that's what their future workforce will be skilled in.

So RISC OS being used in education was important not only because it provided lots of user friendly teaching resources, but it also presented an alternative OS to future generations. I wish it was still in education.

Making the OS "desirable" means different things to different people. Who are you aiming for, desktop users? They want a responsive, no hassle platform with /lots/ of software. Server people? They want reliability and stability and probably scalability.

ROS needs to find something it's good and really push that, rather than trying to be a "jack of all trades, master of none".


 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 16/07/03 9:59PM
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RISC OS was in education for *years* and it made damn all difference to the business market. Most school kids berated the 32bit Acorns for being crap because they ran educational software rather than the cool games on their Amigas and STs. My school had Beebs and Masters and they got knocked for being old (which they were). We had Macs as well. Now I wonder why Apple didn't go down the tubes? Instead of floundering as RISC OS is they are flogging G5s with funky OSs. Oh how we used to laugh.

 is a RISC OS UserSpriteman on 17/07/03 00:28AM
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I agree with Spriteman about the education issue. Everyone I know who used Acorns at school thought they were crap - mind you that was back in the days when schools had Masters and A3000's.... Everyone respects BBC BASIC though!

Anyway, I think RS/VA are great, they allow you to test various environments (OK, not 100% correctly) but will not in general replace real hardware, as there's no networking or expansion.

Do you really see non-RISC OS people being attracted to using VA/RS/Alpha - why would they want to use RISC OS, if they didn't already know the benefits from being a current user, there's not enough exposure/marketing for them to see the benefits.

Plus using a new OS under emulation is not the best way to get to know an OS.

I'm not knocking VirtualAcorn, as I find it invaluable, but only because I'm a hardcore Acorner who also uses Windows.

 is a RISC OS Useranon/ on 17/07/03 01:10AM
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Sorry Chris, I'm with Spriteman here - Acorn had the schoolmarket for ages, and it did them no good. And, let's face it, Mac's in education didn't do Apple that much good either. I think there's very little correlation between what people use at school and what they use in work - the vast majority of people who make that transition have absolutely no influence on the company's purchasing decisions. The only people you get by such a policy is those that go and start their own company, and I'm sure that has to by quite a small market.

To those that say the Alpha doesn't bring money into RISC OS hardware development - well, MD do make RISC OS hardware don't they? Surely they must be making some money off this, otherwise why do it? I know it's not exactly what you'd like to see, but given the RS laptop tale, it covers a market segment where there was previously no RISC OS solution at very little development cost to MD (one assumes), and they make money off it.

I'm utterly convinced it's not going to woo over new users though, and that's probably the real problem with the Alpha. Why would a new user take time to learn RISC OS? They can run Office, Internet Explorer, e-mail, games, etc. all under XP - what's the advantage of running in Virtual Acorn? A nicer GUI perhaps, but given that they have the apps they want under Windows already, why fire up that emulator and add an extra level of hassle to getting to doing what they want to be doing?

 is a RISC OS UserDougal on 17/07/03 01:30AM
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Ah well. I'm out gunned it seems. It was just my opinion and impression of the matter.


 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 17/07/03 01:39AM
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Ah, well not to worry Chris. It's just our opinion too :) I'd hate to see the Internet poluted with facts.

 is a RISC OS UserDougal on 17/07/03 01:48AM
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Who in the RISC OS world makes money from the Alpha? - Microdigital obviously - RISC OS Ltd - Virtual Acorn - Providers of bundled software - The "Acorn" dealers who sell them

Who else could make money from an Alpha sale - Software developers / publishers - Magazine publishers

If sales of Alphas help any of these people stay in business then it must be good. I would prefer a "real" RISC OS Laptop too, but no one has managed to get one off the ground (yet??). Yes, there are some negative points but from my list above there are also some positives.

 is a RISC OS Userknutson on 17/07/03 01:49AM
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I don't think MD would have released an Windoze laptop emulating RISC OS if they thought it would damage sales of the Omega.

However, nothing MD does surprises me anymore :)

 is a RISC OS Usertimephoenix on 17/07/03 06:28AM
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I agree with Sparky and several other posters in that I consider emulation to be a negative development. The real problem is that it will likely soon be, if it isn't already, possible to buy an Intel machine that runs VRPC faster (and before too long, much faster) than an Iyonix. My fear is that this will impact sales of RISC OS hardware so badly that it is no longer viable for companies like Castle to produce new RISC OS machines. You may well say 'so what?', but I would argue that development of RISC OS will cease if the only target platform is an emulator - it's simply too risky to develop against a platform that my disappear at the whim of Microsoft. And let's face it development had ceased until Castle launched the Iyonix. No disrespect to those developers who have worked on Select, RISC OS Ltd. has only been providing cosmetic improvements to RISC OS - catering to a dwindling number of users of a dying OS. I recognise that purchasing an Intel machine and running VRPC may well be a good solution for a mumber of individuals / schools right now, but IMHO it is a short term solution. Everyone agrees that it is vital to attract new users, and in turn new developers, to the platform; but I cannot believe that emulation will ever accomplish this - I doubt that VRPC will attract more than a handful of new users to the platform. I have already said that I think the way forward is to target new, high growth markets such as PDAs,and it seems that Castle agree. We might then see developments such as pen input fed back into the RISC OS desktop.


 is a RISC OS UserNeilWB on 17/07/03 08:21AM
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See, lots of people at school used the same Acorns we did, yet can't see their greatness, because they're stupid.

The point about money going out of the market is if you assume people have a finite amount of money to spend on computers and they choose an Alpha over a pure ARM/RISC OS machine, only, say, 10% of the money is going to the RISC OS market opposed to 100% (maybe 60% once they've paid for componants), of course if said person isn't going to spend money on an ARM/RISC OS machine it's an improvement.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 17/07/03 08:25AM
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timephoenix > MD Probably (IMHO) sold the Alpha as a means of raising money (since their Omega wasn't selling at the time). It's also a pretty easy way of raising money. Bear in mind that the vast majority of the cost of the laptop goes to the laptop manufacturer, Microsoft and THEN to MD, VA and ROL.

NeilWB> I wouldn't worry about the PC running VARPC overtaking the Iyonix for quite some time. The next issue of windows will be using ".NET" which will slow the PC down a bit, and also the PC clock would have to be around the 6GHz mark before even current Windows PC's would get a look in.



 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 17/07/03 09:06AM
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An emulator on a PC is just making it easier to switch to windows. People can carry on using their RISC OS apps while they find and get used to windows alternatives. If the Iyonix had a PC emulator new people to the market would still be able to use their windows apps while they got used to RISC OS alternatives. How many people used the PC card in the RiscPC and then converted to windows?

 is a RISC OS Userpaulgrattage on 17/07/03 09:25AM
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Paul Said: If the Iyonix had a PC emulator new people to the market would still be able to use their windows apps while they got used to RISC OS alternatives.

Get a grip, Paul. How many new RISC OS users do you think the PC card on the RPC created? Looking at it the other way round; I bought my RPC with a PC card and it didn't make me switch to Windows. The reason being that it was too slow to run anything useful (486SX). When I did need to run stuff like MS Office, I bought a PC.

 is a RISC OS UserSpriteman on 17/07/03 10:10AM
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Jeremy said: "Also, no-one seems to have commented on the fact that, according to MD's web site, there is also a higher spec Alpha portable available which uses a Pentium instead of the Celeron chip. That'd be the one I'd go for, but would welcome comments as I've no idea at all about Wintel machines!"

It's a *desktop* Pentium 4 (at least I assume it is, it doesn't say anywhere it's a mobile variant, which they would trumpet if it was), which means it will have constant fan usage to stop the chip overheating and low battery life because of its large power consumption, so would be generally useless as a laptop (except as a desktop replacement). You can get a better specification and build for a laptop for a lower price - yes, I realise it wouldn't have RISC OS on it, but that's not enough for me...

Jeremy also said: "Why are some people so affraid of someone comparing the two? Do you not have faith that, side by side, RiscOS will be the chosen favourite?"

Well, my RISC OS computer is sat behind me, while I write this on a P3M Dell laptop... :-/

 is a RISC OS Useranon/ via on 17/07/03 12:22AM
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alpha pro.

shared graphics memory? Isn't VRPC better on a dedicated Gforce card. (Note I know nothing about computer hardware) I know I tried to run Amira on my 32mb machine and it was too slopw. had to use the SGI.

cheers bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 17/07/03 1:06PM
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For me, the point of using RISC OS is the way it all works so intuitively together. Using RISC OS I can complete a task in a far shorter time than the equivalent under Windows because of features such as drag and drop, overlapping windows and overall responsiveness of the desktop. I simply wouldn't consider using XP for every day tasks because the GUI slows me down.

 is a RISC OS Userjonix on 17/07/03 3:23PM
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Jonix: given the lack of networking on the Alpha, you'd have no choice to switch over for certain tasks. Then it becomes a question of how closely integrated you want various tasks to be, and whether dividing your workload between XP and RISC OS provides benefits over the mental switching costs (e.g., you can't mix RISC OS and XP application windows, can you easily cut and paste between the two environments? and so on).

 is a RISC OS UserDougal on 17/07/03 3:51PM
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AMS makes an interesting point about how efficient it is to buy an Alpha when supporting the RISC OS marketplace. However, on the issues of emulators being substandard imitations of "the real thing", it's fair to say that what matters most is the user experience and not the box on or under the desk. Ultimately, people may end up running their applications under emulation because that gives them the best performance for the money, but that doesn't devalue the experience or disqualify the platform just because the experience no longer demands a special bunch of chips in a box made by some small British company (cue picture of Union Jack being raised/lowered).

Of course, the worry about people's exposure to Windows could easily be calmed by working on a Linux version of Red Squirrel/VirtualAcorn or using other Linux-supported emulators and providing a bootable CD environment with various install to disk options. You could even put a nice RISC OS logo on the CD and the average punter might never know the real story.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 17/07/03 3:56PM
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Dougal> have no doubt, I simply wouldn't use anything less than a real machine or an emulation that provided all facilities (networking included).

 is a RISC OS Userjonix on 17/07/03 4:17PM
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guestX: You say that peoples worry about running an emmulator on windows could eb calmed by running it on linux. I dont understand this thought. If there is a worry that people will migrate to windows because the emmulator is running on XP; then why wont they migrate to linux?

Or do you mean linux in its true sense; as a kernel?

cheers bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 17/07/03 5:15PM
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What thiny you could do if VARPC had a Linux port would be make a minimal linux environment so that the user was never exposed to linux - it just auto runs VARPC, the user is none the wiser. This would be a nicer solution, but would also require a complete emulator that exposed all the facilities a user could possibly want (not only network, but things like USB for instance).

This might even make the product cheaper (no microsoft tax to pay), and faster (only put into the linux system what you really need to run VARPC).

 is a RISC OS UserDougal on 17/07/03 6:44PM
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I can't see VirtualAcorn attracting new users. I use it at work simply so I can use some of my favourite RO apps - work only has Windows PCs. (The nice thing about VA is you don't have to be an administrator to install it :-) ).

I've often wondered why, given the energy efficiency of ARM processors (~30 Watts less per computer?) and the resource efficiency of RO (less RAM, longer life for the hard drives etc = more energy savings), there doesn't seem to have been an effort to get backing from the major Green organisations like Greenpeace.

 is a RISC OS Usergazza_fp on 18/07/03 00:38AM
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neilwb said: pda'S are the way forward. that makes two. Also CAstle go for PDA's? Where did you hear this? I would love that. Jack seemed interested in this when I spoke to him about it 18months ago. :-)

What RISC OS hardware manufacturers need is toget into the custom market.

EG ultrasound machines etc etc and then sell a custom desktop analysis product. Or get into other analysis areas. But that requires software and I dont think there is the development teams around anymore in the market. There are individuals and groups of three or four who churn out amazing apps but for custom solutions you need a team of abourt 10 to keep the flow. IMHO. Even our venture here (me and others) only have 4 programmers and another 4-5 and I'd call that miniscule.

PS three on the board from gla.ac.uk?? Do we ever work here. :-)

cheers bob: west medical building

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 18/07/03 11:04AM
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Dougal summarised my point well enough, I think. I wasn't suggesting that the user booted up into KDE (or something like that) and then chose a menu option to start VA. Instead, the idea would be that the Linux kernel and various user-space things would start up, and then VA would run on whatever graphical subsystem one had in mind - it needn't even be XFree86, provided a port had been done to a graphics toolkit that supported other display "targets".

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 18/07/03 3:15PM
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Sad to see yet more money going to Microsoft but I suspect that VARPC won't be coming to Linux anytime soon (if ever).

A lot of the development appears to have been done in Microsoft Visual C using MFC and DirectX, thus suggesting it would not be too easy to get the thing ported to Linux (MS are not renound for the portability of their developer products).

Best chance of a Linux Acorn emulator would be if someone/people wrote one from the ground up.

Perhaps it would allow our Linux friends to realise what they've been missing all these years ;)



 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 18/07/03 7:05PM
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Very little of Virtual Acorn is Windows dependent and those bits that are are very localised.

The only thing delaying a linux port is lack of time.


 is a RISC OS Useranon/ on 18/07/03 7:23PM
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Graeme thanks for that clarification, VA is definately the best emulator I've ever used (I wish you continued success with it)



 is a RISC OS UserAMS on 18/07/03 7:28PM
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I agree with those people who say that for schools, a fast Windows machine with RISC OS emulation is the best solution. The alternatives?

1. RISC OS hardware with slow PC card 2. old RISC OS hardware with little chance of upgrades, and shiny new (separate) PCs...

Fast PC with RISC OS emulated quickly is a decent solution.

 is a RISC OS Userharmsy on 21/07/03 4:29PM
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"I agree with those people who say that for schools, a fast Windows machine with RISC OS emulation is the best solution."

Yes, I always thought that computers needed to be made more confusing for children. This way we can force them to try and get their heads around to interfaces on one machine, the fact that there's a limited degree of operability between applications on the same machine, apps with the blue title bar can use the network and those with the mottled grey can't, and so on.

 is a RISC OS UserDougal on 23/07/03 1:09PM
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How strange, my previous post got deleted. Here it is again:

It's easy to tell them apart, the ones with blue title bars are over complex, slow, and for some reason use modal dialog boxes, have no way of viewing print margins (surely essential in any print based work) and require you to move the mouse to open the menu. The ones with cream title bars just work.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 30/07/03 12:49AM
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Mark, what do you mean about modal dialogs? I don't use Windows at all, but I think RISC OS dialogs are 'more modal' than on Windows, as Windows dialogs are modal to the app, RISC OS dialogs are modal to the entire desktop. But anyway, if MD can sort out the problems with the Alpha, like networking, then I think it could be pretty decent.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 30/07/03 8:47PM
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I think NIJINSKY has hit the nail on the head. If we can get RISC OS machines into the workplace, people will use them everyday and a lot will buy them for at home. Microsoft already has big discounts for businesses buying site licenses for their software.

The custom market remains largely untouched by RISC OS. For example, I sometimes do some professional sound work. However, it's not possible on any current RO machines, because the hardware and software is too limited. Whereas I can go out and buy a reasonably priced PC which has all the nice studio software and a LynxTwo sound card with true 24-bit sound and 32 channels.

It is certainly not an easy task to get into these markets but it would be a better start than trying to sell home PCs.

The Linux idea sounds very nice, but likewise a lot of work.

 is a RISC OS Usertimephoenix on 31/07/03 08:46AM
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Almost forgot. Keep the votes coming at the VA poll!


 is a RISC OS Usertimephoenix on 31/07/03 08:49AM
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Garry - modal dialogues mean that when they are open (for example, a settings window), the other windows in the application are frozen and unusable. Clicking on them produces a familiar sound from Windows. RISC OS apps are typically written to allow the user to open dialogue boxes and still tinker with the application. Sometimes there's nothing more annoying than a modal dialogue box.

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 31/07/03 10:07PM
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Hi Simon, Yes, that's my understanding of a modal dialog box, however a standard RISC OS dialog box, is modal to the whole desktop, and (I think) the rest of the world stops moving too. ;-)

A recent example which I had of this was when using WebJames, I put an executable into CGI-BIN to try it out, but I filetyped it wrong, so when my website ran te executable, WebJames made a dialog to say something like 'There is no application set up to open this filetype' or something like that. When that dialog was up, WebJames would not accept any connections, and the machine was effectively dead until I clicked 'OK'. I know there are other types of box which you can continue to use the app and the rest of the machine, but there are *loads* on RISC OS which do not, like 'Filecore in use', 'Internal exception..', and whatever else an app wants to make. My experience of Windows is limited, but I'm pretty sure that when a dialog box comes up, you can still access it's web server!

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 01/08/03 10:44AM
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That's errors though, I'm talking about normal usage of the application. Eg Open app's config window, for some reason the rest of the windows app is now inaccessable.

Open Save box, same.

You can't open a menu and type at the same time either.

This combined with the no overlapping windows problem makes Windows a joke to do any actual work on.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 02/08/03 11:01AM
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Fair enough, I don't use Windows, so I can't really comment on that. I do find that RISC OS does use far too many modal boxes though. My experience of Windows is that the desktop is horrid, but the apps are generally OK, stuff like Adobe Acrobat does things you just cannot do elsewhere, except the Mac.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 02/08/03 8:02PM
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Single tasking error messages aren't the same thing, but agreed, they shouldn't occur.

Two possibilities: 1. The OS fixes it, of course the app isn't expecting that, so the app will have to be paused until the error is removed, so no interaction with the app, including redraw.

2. Don't use them when writing apps. More work for the programmer of course, which is why this doesn't happen much. See MovieDB for a good example of not using single tasking error boxes.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 02/08/03 8:15PM
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Both of your suggestions are fine by me! I think there is a hack/patch somewhere which can do this.

 is a RISC OS Userthegman on 02/08/03 10:53PM
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There's the NoError module that closes all single tasking error boxes after a 5 second or so delay. ie: if the user doesn't click on Cancel within the time, the NoError modue will close the error window anyway.



 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 03/08/03 00:19AM
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There's an error logging program too, so you can see all the errors after you miss them.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 03/08/03 00:23AM
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It's called syslog, built into Select now.

* syslog errors show 03 Aug 00:18:23 100 ***Error*** 03 Aug 00:18:23 100 Title : Error 03 Aug 00:18:23 100 Task : Unknown task 03 Aug 00:18:23 100 Message : An application that loads a file of this type has not been found by the Filer. Open a directory display containing the required application and try again.



 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 03/08/03 02:47AM
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And for those without Select, [link] WimpLog which works with Doggysoft's Syslog.

 is a RISC OS Usermavhc on 03/08/03 11:53AM
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