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A6: It's a Windows PC, dammit

By Ian Chamberlain. Published: 18th Dec 2003, 00:05:51 | Permalink | Printable

Ian Chamberlain weighs up the A6, VVRAM and emulation vs. native

Opinion Last week Stuart Tyrell Developments revealed to the world their Virtual VRAM development, a new software technology that allows users of their A6 Windows XP computer to achieve better screenmodes under an emulated RISC OS.

A6 graphicStuart Tyrell said that "VVRAM allows users access to the enhanced screenmodes available to the A6's Geforce4 graphics controller, giving large true colour RISC OS desktop operation". Resolutions of 1600x1200 in 16 million colours are now possible in the emulated RISC OS.

While this is a welcome enhancement to the A6, it seems a little frustrating that this development will benefit relatively few RISC OS users. RISC OS emulation has been billed as a way to attract more users to our beloved platform, allowing people to buy a relatively inexpensive solution to install RISC OS on their existing MS Windows computers. We must, therefore, assume that most copies of VirtualRPC have been sold to individuals. But will these good people benefit from STD's development? No.[1]

VirtualAcorn, who developed VirtualRiscPC-SE which is used in the A6, has told Drobe that they had nothing to do with the new VVRAM addition. One other RISC OS dealer commented to Drobe that they would prefer to stick to "VirtualAcorn approved add-ons" in order to avoid a VRPC-SE feature split similar to the ongoing USB rift. STD wouldn't reveal how their VVRAM technology works, claiming it was "commercially sensitive".

STD are clearly trying to deliver incentives for buying their hardware and software combinations. This makes good business sense, of course. But we must question their motives.

Emulation, we were told, would mean that users would fall in-love with RISC OS and provide good incentives to buy 'real' native RISC OS hardware.

What has STD done on this front? STD has been responsible for a number of brilliant hardware solutions for older computers, such as the A7000 and RiscPC. They've supported projects to give us fast networking, USB, PS2 mice (on the RPC) and this Drobe writer is very happy with his cute, little MP3 player. For this we must congratulate them.

But what have they delivered for the 'real' new-generation RISC OS computers like the Iyonix pc? Well nothing, apparently.

STD obviously have their own vision for the RISC OS market, and it's no surprise that they market their A6 as a 'RISC OS computer'. And the VVRAM announcement this week, which reveals their intention to develop custom software for their own solution, further entrenches this vision.

Those users who have been lured into buying 'real' hardware after their brilliant experience on an emulated RISC OS solution might be confused by STD's marketing. And if they do realise that the Iyonix and Omega are the only genuine offerings, they might wonder why STD is doing very little support them.

Some may not think this is a bad thing. STD clearly don't. But it's quite upsetting when we hear firsthand from a user who bought a so-called RISC OS computer, from a dealer who shall remain nameless, only to find that it runs Windows. Technical people may laugh, but to those end-users who are simply users, this was a confusion just waiting to happen.[2]

Emulation is not bad. In fact it's very good, for the reasons I have outlined. But all of the main market-players also need to be behind the real hardware that is paving a future for our platform. They must also create a clear distinction between what is emulation and what is real hardware.

And lastly. It is obvious that dedicated RISC OS users are buying the new hardware that is now available. You only need to visit your local usergroup to discover that this is true. No longer is it an excuse to say that there are not enough people using the new hardware when asked, 'why are you not developing hardware and software solutions for the Iyonix and Omega?'.

Stuart Tyrrell Developments have, in response to this article, declined to exercise their Right to Reply but have instead strongly urged us this afternoon to correct one or two things. In our defence, we'd like to add that we publish only what we strongly believe is correct at the time of writing, all presented in good faith and in the public interest. We also do not, as a policy, make editorial changes to articles without letting you know. Here's the update:

[1: STD would like us to stress that it is entirely possible that their VVRAM technology may benefit more users than we originally suggested, because there's always the possibility that the VVRAM technology could be licensed to third parties in the near future.
[2: STD insist that they could not have possibly misled or confused any customer on the PC vs. RPC marketing issue as the nature in which orders for A6 are placed would avoid this. Thank you. - Ed


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Last post!

 is a RISC OS UserPhlamethrower on 18/12/03 12:01AM
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2nd post! oops

 is a RISC OS UserFuzzy on 18/12/03 12:02AM
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If someone bought an A6 thinking it was a native RO machine then that's a rather poor do. I hope they were allowed a refund, if it wasn't clear what they were buying. Depending on ones interpretation of the consumer laws they may even be legally entitled to a refund. However, to get back to the point, when's someone going to buy me an iyonix ;)

 is a RISC OS Userjohn on 18/12/03 12:25AM
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The article doesn't say that the user bought an A6. The article used this example to indicate a general confusion over the whole emulation and real hardware issue.

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 18/12/03 12:32AM
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fylfot: Indeed confusion could easily occur, for example, the A6 website doesn't mention that it runs RISC OS under emulation at all. It mentions that it uses "VirtualRiscPC Technology", but to someone who doesn't know what that is (a newcomer to the platform, say), it could indeed bring confusion.

Personally, I'd still prefer to use a real RISC OS box rather than an emulated one.. emulation just doesn't "feel" right.


 is a RISC OS Userandypoole on 18/12/03 12:49AM
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I think we have to be very wary of marketing Windows PCs with emulators as RISC OS computers. It's very misleading - many people associate RISC OS with ARM *hardware*, and that a RISC OS computer is free from the grasp of complexities and morals of using Microsoft and its operating systems - which is what we pay a premium for these days. I would expect at least to see Virtual-RPC listed in the specifications, which isn't always the case at the moment. I hope Trading Standards never have to get involved with this.

After all, the RISC OS emulator is just another piece of Windows software - could I market an Iyonix as a BBC Micro if it came with !BeebIt preinstalled?

VRPC has an important role to play in the future of RISC OS - as a cuckoo. I'd certainly appreciate using it at work (for a while in my old job I regularly used Draw with Red Squirrel for producing diagrams). But as a RISC OS hobbyist I wouldn't choose an emulator machine, because it loses too many of the benefits the native platform offers. Yes, the GUI is important, but there's much more to the Acorn magic than that, and I just don't get the same exciting feeling when an emulator machine is announced that I did when the Risc PC, the Omega and the Iyonix were announced. Isn't that a big part of why we're still here?

It's also rather dispiriting to rely on another operating system (indeed, one which many RISC OS supporters have been so disparaging of) to deliver the goods that ultimately we /could/ do ourselves. The emulator solution is an easy short term short cut, but (apart from the hard work of Graham) it's not inspiring the same commitment or reflecting the same investment that Castle and Microdigital are putting in.

I see an emulator machine as a meat-and-potatoes offering - it does the job fairly cheaply in the right situation (we are yet to see the long term effects of this - wait until the underlying operating system goes a bit flakey, or for the next major Windows virus to hit the streets) but it doesn't have the same scrumminess that the native hardware has.

 is a RISC OS Usermonkeyson on 18/12/03 12:56AM
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I'd love to know how STD got VVRAM working just out of curiosity, also it's a bit of bad form not to let the VA developers into the secret.

It can't be the old BandLimit hack I'd have thought as that doesn't work on RiscPCs (might have on RO3.7). Maybe STD found a way to make VARPC-SE enable RedSquirrel's ARM7500 emulation.

Other than that I can only think of a hack to RO4. I'd be particularly interested if they've got it to make use of the GF4 acceleration, or just allowed bigger/more colourful modes which the GF4 just happens to support.

The person who bought a PC thinking it was a hardware RISC OS machine - was he actually misled intentionally or just uninformed about things RISC OS?

 is a RISC OS Usersimo on 18/12/03 1:11AM
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RComp are selling a box that contains the word "Risc" in the name. I've already mentioned in another one of these fora that I was concerned about the potential for confusion. And that I am very concerned that this could be construed as misrepresentation.

 is a RISC OS Usermikeg on 18/12/03 7:34AM
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In reply to the article.

"This makes good business sense, of course. But we must question their motives. "

What motives? Develop a bit of software that will enhance your product so you can sell more and then develop more things for the platform and make it more viable. Eh are you serious?

"While this is a welcome enhancement to the A6, it seems a little frustrating that this development will benefit relatively few RISC OS users."

As for the / someone boiught one thinking it was a RISC OS box (note not an A6) is simply inuendo that appears to smear the A6.

Well have you tried to call stuart and ask if you can buy it?

And Simo: "I'd love to know how STD got VVRAM working just out of curiosity, also it's a bit of bad form not to let the VA developers into the secret."

Why should he? Hmmm thinks. OK call Castle then and tell them they should tell RISC OS ltsd how to 32bit the OS.????????

Stuart has made a product and is selling it. Just like ANY other application, he has the right to keep his hard work secret.

cheers bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 18/12/03 8:20AM
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nijinksy: the mechanisms for 32-bitting have been widley published, and are precisely those used by Pace, Castle and many others, including RISCOS Ltd, so I don't really see your point of your "comparison", no matter how many question marks you use.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 18/12/03 8:39AM
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Life will get really interesting in 2004 when a major retailer like PC-World or Dixons decides that RISCOS emulation sells MicroSoft Windows PCs when added on as an essential extra. Virtual Acorn will make a mint, and the RISC OS flag will suddenly be in adverts on National TV. Gentlemen, you may well be sitting on a whole seat but you'll only need the edge ...

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 18/12/03 9:20AM
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This is a good drobe feature. It's obvious emulation is bad for overall RISC OS development. New users are going to suddenyl switch to RISC OS because there's an emulator? VPC is going to wind up splashed across the PC press as an interesting alternative OS? Yes, as if.

The article is right to suggest STD have made loads of important products for the market - as have RCOMP. But let's not basket-weave silly arguments that STD/RCOMP are doing anything other than attacking genuine hardware sales for a potential easy buck.

Likewise, ROS LTD. Yes they stopped (some of) the rot when Acorn got ripped up by Boland, but for the last couple of years they've done their fiar share of underminging the market by denying any need for supporting new ARMs, making new hardware dependent on emulating ancient Acorn chips, and instead adding a few PD-like enhancements to the 26bit Acorn-era OS.

If this is all there was, the market have to like it or lump it, but it's not. Castle, I guess completely frustrated with ROS LTD, have taken the bull by the horns and achieved a lot with the OS in the space of a year. It's also clear PACE did far more with the OS than ROS LTD, even if they weren't targeting desktops. I think it's pretty obvious who is the future of RISC OS and who deserves our support.

 is a RISC OS UserJessFranco on 18/12/03 9:20AM
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Hi Peter.

This was just the first thing that came off the top of my head and aff course you are right on the 32bit. However thinking of another angle:-

Company X makes a product: Eg a 3D dataset graphic analysis program. Say like AMIRA or a graphics package like Adobe Photoshop (both software like VRPC). Along comes another company eg Armbase (well the other company armbase are part of). They develop an orthogonal slicing module for Amira or a single channel chromatic aberation module for Photoshop. They sell the Amira module for 500 dollars or the PS plugin for 200dollars. Should they then contact TGS and Adobe to let them into how this was done? (note correct punctuation) I don't think so. It would be commercial madness. However, if Biorad Amira or Adobe wanted to licence the application as part of their suite of applications then OK. (In fact Biorad did tis with ImagePro+ and sell it with their own name) Many companies licence the AutoQuant module for their application.

Stuart has done the same. He has developed an extension to a product and sells it as part of "his" product. I cannot see why he should let his hard work out in the open.

All the best


 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 18/12/03 9:33AM
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VVRAM is a major development IMHO because it removes one of the main reasons - screen resolution - for buying an Iyonix as opposed to an emulator machine. OK, the latter is also faster, but for how long will that be the case? There must be quite a number of users out there, who, like me, don't have a Windows machine (but could do with one for all the usual reasons) and are looking to upgrade from a RPC. So it's either Iyonix + standalone PC=2000 approx. or an A6 at roughly a third of the cost. Not an easy one!

Castle do have competition now, but it's not the Omega....

 is a RISC OS Userbucksboy on 18/12/03 9:38AM
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Shum mishtake..."OK, the latter is also faster" should of course have read "the FORMER is also faster"

 is a RISC OS Userbucksboy on 18/12/03 9:41AM
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Three points:

a) It's nice to see Ian comment on a machine he has no experience of, nor has he spoken to us directly about it. Nice to see Drobe being accurate with his research.

b) Machines are sold on an individual basis. To suggest that there is a possibility of /our/ customers being misled is scurrilous and wrong. Many of our phone calls are people expressing their pleasure with their machine (not that people ring to complain - the others are sales)

c) We refused to reveal to Chris Williams (Drobe Ed) details of how he could produce copies of VVRAM freely himself. Perhaps this upset him? I'm upset that Chris and Ian think I should give away the engineering time I'm paying others for.

d) We HAVE NOT SAID that VVRAM will not be available to other VRPC machines, nor have we said that VVRAM will not be fed into the VRPC source tree, and we are in negotiations regarding this on several fronts. Chris Willams and I have corresponded regarding licensing, the closest we've got is saying that VVRAM is A6 specific for a short while whilst we work on security and integration. I trust that Drobe would like to take this opportunity to clarify their article early whilst we can still consider their "innacuracies" an "oversight".

Nice to see that accuracy and good research doesn't get in the way of a sensationalised story, guys.

 is a RISC OS Userstdevel on 18/12/03 9:46AM
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bucksboy: far be it from me to argue the pragmatic reasons for getting a PC/other machine. However, I do think we ought to be considering just what we can do to remove these reasons - i.e. improve RISC OS. As always, this is far from an overnight thing, and things like ViewXLS are one of many incremental steps.

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 18/12/03 9:49AM
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Four points ;)

I bet they didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!

 is a RISC OS Userstdevel on 18/12/03 10:01AM
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Stuart: The article is not a review, it is an opinion piece. We didn't specifically point the finger at STD regarding the confused chap, so please calm down. However it is a real case and one that ought to be mentioned as it helped realise the drobe.co.uk editorial opinion that the advertising of some PC-with-VRPC kit is stretching it a little.

I didn't expect you to reveal the full details of your VVRAM development, and you can't blame me for asking: however given that VA and other resellers were in the dark, forgive us for asking. Also, even though I might email or contact a developer, someone else might write the final article and same goes for vice versa.

You're welcome to exercise your Right to Reply by dropping us an informative email as to where we went wrong, otherwise I stand by the article.


 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 18/12/03 10:20AM
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Through a process of deduction (plus my familiarity with programming the NVidia chips and emulation techniques), I've deduced how VVRAM most likely works. It's not trivial, but it's not exactly hard programming either. Should I share? :-)

 is a RISC OS Usermrchocky on 18/12/03 10:47AM
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I'm not really interested. I'm not going to be buying an emulator or writing one any time soon. :P


 is a RISC OS UserSpriteman on 18/12/03 11:12AM
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I must say that the A6, small and black, with its complementary monitor is an exceptionally smart looking machine. Great advert in Acorn User, now on view at www.theA6.com. 1056.33 is a lot of cash, though. I thought Windows PCs were ment to be cheap buy today, chuck away tomorrow things. Granted, as that does include a TFT monitor it is, for what it is, a good price. I'm looking forward to reading some independent reviews of all this new kit.

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 18/12/03 11:13AM
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a) Who told you I hadn't any experience of the A6? Was it just a figment of my imagination, or was there really an A6 next to my stand at the S.E. Show? Well, John Cartmell was very friendly and happy to talk about it. Anyway, as Chris has already pointed out, this was not a review - I didn't make any critisism about the machine - so your point in irrelevent.

b) I'm sure your customers /are/ very happy. But again, you've completely missed the point. The way the A6, and other machines, are promoted fosters the sort of confusion I've discussed. The A6 is NOT a RISC OS machine.

c) I'm not saying that you "should give away the engineering time" for free. I'm saying that you should perhaps concentrate on things that can benefit the whole community. Stuart, the IYONIX pc and Omega do exist.

d) As it stands now, VVRAM is not available to all Virtual RPC users. If, in the future, it does become available, then that's one step in the right direction. Well done.

If you read the whole article, this was not meant to be a "sensationalised story". I have thanked you for your very successful developments on the old hardware. Now I'd like to see something for the new. But, hey, it's your company.

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 18/12/03 12:10PM
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fylfot: "The A6 is NOT a RISC OS machine."

Yes it is. It runs RISC OS, perhaps not directly on the hardware, but it definitely runs RISC OS. Therefore, it is a RISC OS machine. That's what got the unnamed punter confused, wasn't it?

fylfot: "As it stands now, VVRAM is not available to all Virtual RPC users."

A proprietary extension to a proprietary program which runs a proprietary platform. Somehow I think you should have plenty of other things to worry about before getting on Stuart's case for what he does with his business.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 18/12/03 1:24PM
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"It runs RISC OS, perhaps not directly on the hardware, but it definitely runs RISC OS."

It doesn't run RISC OS, it emulates it. It is a Windows machine emulating a RISC OS machine.

This is a significant difference. The PC in my old office emulates BBC Domesday, but it isn't a BBC Domesday computer like the Master sitting next to it. When I get around to it, I'm going to install MAME on my linux box, but it doesn't make it an arcade machine.

One of the best reasons for emulation has to be development. It's quite productive emulating RISC OS on a Linux computer, editing source and cross-compiling with GCC on the native side, and testing/crashing the software on the emulator, since you can carry on coding while RISC OS reboots and you don't lose your development session.

Marketting VRPC as a dev tool, with the ability to peer at low level operations, integrated cross compiler and so on, would be far more beneficial to the platform than migrating users to the dark side. I'd buy it.

 is a RISC OS Usermonkeyson on 18/12/03 1:35PM
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You see, you're one of the 'technical' people who I knew would take issue with that point. The fact is, if you're not very technical it's all very confusing. RISC OS machines run RISC OS natively, the A6 and other PCs don't, the emulate it. We need to make this distinction as clear as possible for people, not blur it.

To your second point. If the /only/ motivation of companies in the RISC OS market was to make money, well, there'd be no RISC OS market. The fact is, because we all exist in a relatively small marker we must all think about the consequences of our actions. For example, if I bring out product b., will it the destroy the prodct a., that someone brought out a few months earlier., and so on.

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 18/12/03 1:50PM
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In reply to Chocky

"I've deduced how VVRAM most likely works. It's not trivial, but it's not exactly hard programming either. Should I share? "

Hmmm. A company develops a comercial product and then you say this. It is enough to put off others from develpoing a comercial product if people are going to "spill the beans" on their technology. Ohh I feel a moderate sense of sensoring.

Cheers Bob

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 18/12/03 2:22PM
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Do Castle think in those terms?

 is a RISC OS UserThe Doctor on 18/12/03 2:30PM
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The Doctor:

Forgive me, but what's your point?

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 18/12/03 3:02PM
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My point is that you are quick to critisize Stuart Tyrell for not developing for the Iyonix and thus the whole community. The 'whole' community does not have an Iyonix or necessarily want one.

Did Castle consider the effect that the releasing of their own, competing USB API might have on the market and in particular those who had spent time and money developing the other one? I merely mention the two diverging Operating Systems we now have.

Your entire article comes across as a very negative moan about Stuart Tyrell Developments and the fact that they haven't developed anything for the wonderfull Iyonix.

 is a RISC OS UserThe Doctor on 18/12/03 4:01PM
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