Interview with Dave HoldenBy Martin Hansen. Published: 7th Jan 2004, 23:21:13 | Permalink | Printable
Mister APDLInterview David Holden is the proprietor of one of London's top RISC OS computer mail-order outlets, APDL, found in Sydenham on the south side of the Capital. A passionate believer in all aspects of the platform, his involvement in the scene goes right back to its beginnings in the early eighties. Whereas many of the major players from the Acorn days of RISC OS have long since either gone bust or moved on to sing an exclusively MicroSoft scripted song, a significant amount of David's business is still firmly ARM based.
He is currently advertising his company's wares widely in the RISC OS press, the pretty APDL blue and gold eye-catchers capitalising on the recent realisation that there is still money to be made in updating and modifying the old Acorn associated software titles. Recently, APDL have seemed to be on a crusade to make Acorn rooted software relevant to both the spate of hardware advances of the last fifteen months, and the flurry of Windows XP machines now being sold with Virtual RiscPC emulation bundled in.
Under the ProAction banner, much of the software advancements are occurring directly under the steady gaze of David's sharp and experienced eyes. His adverts also flag up the fact that APDL is the point of contact for those wishing to subscribe to RiscWorld, one of the RISC OS platform's CD-zines; a publication for those who still believing that a paperless world is possible.
David Holden is famously known and respected as a man with reasonable but firm views, a jealous guardian of his and his firm's integrity, and a stickler for detail. Perhaps, sometimes deliberately "wound up" because of this he is, none the less, a remarkably friendly guy. As with so many of our platform's dealers, he's a chap who will go out of his way to help the less experienced sort out their RISC OS problems, something I know personally from previous dealings with him. Did he charge me for that 30 minutes worth of advice I received from him three years ago? Of course not. He is a man whose heart is in the right place, as was confirmed for me when I interviewed him by telephone for drobe.co.uk
I was keen to know what David thought about the VirtualAcorn packages. The Virtual Acorn A5000 is, this week, celebrating the second anniversary of its launch, but it is with their latest offering, Virtual RiscPC that the newly VAT-registered VirtualAcorn have definitely jumped into the, relatively speaking, big boy league. I conversed first with David concerning the A5000 emulator.
"It's brought to a welcome halt the long, and somewhat depressing, slow-down that had characterised the RISC OS market since Acorn's collapse in 1998 and up until about a year or so ago", he began. "Sales of the VirtualAcorn A5000 last year were very strong and although I'm not convinced that it will bring in large numbers of completely new users to the platform, it's definitely true that this keenly priced, and extremely good product, has re-energized many of the old guard who had left. They are returning and reliving, via emulation, fond memories from the Acorn hay-days".
"Even better, from the APDL point of view, is the new Virtual RPC emulator with RISC OS 4 and the various ready to run machines now being supplied with it. These are potentially very attractive to people who would not otherwise consider buying a RISC OS computer. To my mind that's where the really exciting possibility of attracting genuinely new users currently exists."
This struck a chord with me. I mentioned that I'd recently been seriously looking into buying a top end Windows machine with, of course, Virtual RiscPC, pre-installed. Feeling slightly defensive, as I don't yet own an Iyonix, I hastily added that it would be for my daughter, a completely new user, whose school is now 95% MicroSoft. "On a 2.6 GHz machine", David assured me, "it will be as good as your Kinetic RiscPC and, in certain situations, as responsive as an Iyonix."
I immediately put him on the spot; "Do you own an Iyonix?" With what I imagined was a smile at the hypocrisy of my question, the voice on the telephone responded, "Naturally; mainly to test ProAction software to ensure 32 bit compatibility."
David is, as you'd expect from a dealer living on the front line, really very
knowledgeable about the Iyonix. "I see it as an extremely fortunate occurrence made possible by Pace deciding to cancel their project to produce a RISC OS successor to the ill fated set-top box sold as the Bush internet TV."
Just in case the readers at the back are new and not keeping up, let me remind you that Pace built around 300,000 of these set top boxes but the initial push sold only around a third. It's a story with a depressing similarity to that of the Acorn Electron fiasco of 1985 that killed off Acorn's chance of computer world domination.
But I digress; back to the Iyonix and its future. David is not dismissive of the possibility of there being further, faster, desktop machines from Castle. In his view, however, the finances of the situation mean that the desktop machines will probably have to be created from the technological feedback from the other embedded projects that Castle are working on.
"Was this viewpoint controversial?", I wondered to myself. I decided that it wasn't for, in my experience, everything tends to feed off everything else, and I did not feel particularly threatened at the thought that the Iyonix is not Castle's one and only priority.
When I telephoned David Holden, he was in the middle of re-jigging the code for the APDL website. [It currently says drobe.co.uk's "probably worth a visit", which I quite liked - Ed].
"It's a large and sprawling site, with bits tacked on in a hurry all over the place", he confided. "All of the code is hand crafted", he explained, "because there are still so many folks out there using Browse, Fresco, and Oregano 1 that my code has got to be optimised to work briskly and efficiently on old browsers on old machines. Of course, the latest Internet Explorer can cope, no problem, but this is a RISC OS flavoured enterprise and people expect the old software on their aging machines to render us correctly and at a brisk pace."
David may call it "re-jigging" but it sounded like he was seriously furrow-browed as he tackled a tricky, fiddly, rewrite to me. I wonder if all those reluctant upgraders still stuck on non StrongARM speed machines running out of date browsers realise how they suck up effort that could, let's face it, be better employed?
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