When 32bitting isn't all plain sailingBy Chris Williams. Published: 2nd Aug 2003, 19:29:28 | Permalink | Printable
We hate politicsRISC OS oldies APDL have come under fire this week from Iyonix users asking for 32bit updates for various titles in APDL's extensive software back catalogue. It stems from APDL stating that they don't wish to make their software 32bit compatible due to financial reasons.
Before the 32bit RISC OS 5 was launched with the Iyonix, there was the fear that a 32bit RISC OS wouldn't have enough compatible software to make it viable. In the eight months since the Iyonix launch, we've seen major software titles from OvationPro to Photodesk enjoying 32bit compatible releases and this is on top of Aemulor's sucess in supporting legacy applications. With some developers appropriately charging for 32bit updates and others providing them for free, playing the financial card is a new one for us.
It's been suggested by a few people that the RISC OS 5 userbase is actually quite small compared to the number of RISC OS 3 and 4 users out there and therefore the development cost to support them isn't worth it. Yet, it's this kind of ridiculous attitude that's keeping developers supporting age old RISC OS 3 rather than attracting users into buying the latest hardware, software and operating system versions.
Having said that, financial reasons are understandable in APDL's case. Having acquired a lot of software from Clares last year, that's a lot of source code to wade through and therefore a lot of programmer time to make it all 32bit compatible. However, the case of Composition is a little disturbing and rocks APDL's explainations a little.
The popular graphics package Composition was originally published by Clares and is now in the hands of APDL. Having recently heard from a few people including Composition author Rob Davison, we've learnt that APDL were very much against the release of a 32bit upgrade of Compo even though the original author had developed much of update himself. Having promised Compo users that a 32bit upgrade would be made available, Rob finished off the 32bit update and released a patch freely from his website - Compo users can freely download Compo patches from here.
You know, it's probably just a coincidence that APDL's Dave Holden is a shareholder of RISCOS Ltd., (the developers of 26bit RISC OS 4 although RISCOS Ltd. are now warming to idea of a 32bit Select), and also that APDL are particularly close to MicroDigital, (developers of the 26bit RISC OS 4 powered Omega). The MicroDigital Omega's selling point of being able to run all your favourite 26bit software on newer hardware is eroded every time an application is made 32bit - of course, until MicroDigital launches the Omega's XScale co-processor upgrade, dubbed the Armtwister by MicroDigital's David Prosser.
APDL have denied that they are not interested in producing 32bit versions of their software. APDL's Dave Holden explained that 32 bitting an application is often a lot more involved than just re-compiling the source code as support libraries also need to be found and built 32bit compatible, resulting in the whole process as being rather time consuming. This is contrary to Castle's notes on how to approach the 32bit'ing of software.
Dave also pointed out that it was a struggle building 26 bit versions of the older software. If that's the case, we can only prescribe some digital euthanasia. Another problem is the prioritising of which titles to convert first - many users have selected a large range of applications that needed 32bitting which only increases APDL's workload. APDL also reminded us that they are a "comparatively small company" and would prefer to stay in business and not overspend on development.
"We have an extensive program of development work. To spend a considerable amount of money on converting a single application just to work on the Iyonix does not, in most cases, make financial sense as we would simply not sell enough upgrades to recover our costs. Where we have a new development of a program then any new version will (when feasible) be 32 bit neutral", Dave Holden told us today, illustrating that 32bit'ing software isn't all plain sailing in APDL's case.
"In short, it only makes economic sense to do this work if we can produce an enhanced program that would be attractive to the many thousands of mainstream users as well as the much smaller numbers of Iyonix users. Where it's more than a simple re-compile then just the Iyonix users alone may not make a sufficiently large market to justify the considerable costs that could be entailed with some programs.
"Every pound spent just on a 32 bit neutral conversion for the convenience of Iyonix users is a pound that's not available for us to spend on other things, like enhancements and bug fixes for the many thousands of existing users. Plus it's money not available to rescue still more programs from the skip, and every day that passes the source code to another RISC OS program is lost forever."
Tut tut tut. Iyonix users ought to be ashamed of themselves.
APDL have stressed that they weren't against a 32 bit upgrade of Compo however the author Rob did need to get APDL's permission to release a 32bit upgrade, according to APDL. APDL are also in the process of 32bitting some of their titles, so we'll pass around the patience pills.
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