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Interview with Dave Holden

By Martin Hansen. Published: 7th Jan 2004, 23:21:13 | Permalink | Printable

Mister APDL

Drobe interview motifInterview 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.

APDL article"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.

Castle logoBut 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?


APDL website Wanna be interviewed? Got an article idea?

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Just don't taint all those non SA (or better) users with the same brush mate.

 is a RISC OS Userphilipnet on 8/1/04 1:42AM
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... Some of us don't suck up effort that could be better employed elsewhere.

I for one don't expect Oregano1 et al to fly when rendering web pages - I've got Mozilla for that job.

(and where's the preview button when you need it eh?)

 is a RISC OS Userphilipnet on 8/1/04 1:47AM
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but you can't really run mozilla in 8MB RAM...

OK I'm not sure whether any of the oregano's can.

websterXL may be the last of the browsers that can.

When I first got websterXL the minimum spec was 8MB...

Now you need *lots* of memory - 16 MB perhaps...


 is a RISC OS Userepistaxsis@work on 8/1/04 5:08AM
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Martin is right that Risc PC owners with pre-StrongARM processors should really look at upgrading. But I don't believe there are really a large proportion of users regularly browsing RISC OS websites with such machines.


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 8/1/04 8:29AM
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Just all those Mico owners

 is a RISC OS Userpiemmm on 8/1/04 10:30AM
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In reply to Ed's comment:

The new APDL links page is a bit more complimentary about Drobe. It's been a very long time since it was updated and Drobe has become far more prominent over the last few years

(I'll be looking for the cheque in the post :-)

 is a RISC OS Userapdl on 8/1/04 10:45AM
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"The Icon Bar Probably the best portal in the RISC OS world."

Can't complain with that. :)

 is a RISC OS Usermonkeyson on 8/1/04 11:22AM
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I agree with Martin. APDL are very helpful indeed.

I wanted to upgrade my RiscPC to 256Mb. APDL warned me of the potential incompatability, offered me the 256Mb for a VERY reasonable price (the cheapest I have seen) and told me that I could return it if I ran into problems. Thankfully it worked, but it was nice having someone at the other end of the phone who was both knowledgable and very willing to help.

The fact that APDL are still working hard on updating and maintain their huge catalogue of software is also very impressive. Like R-Comp, and a few others, APDL seem genuinely interested in supporting as many users as possible, regardless of which of the RISC OS platforms they have decided to use.

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 8/1/04 12:32PM
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While it would be nice for everyone with Pre-StrongArm processors to upgrade to a more modern machine that may not always be possible. Should my RiscPC die I know I wouldn't be able to aford to replace it , not even with some of the low prices occasional found on e-bay.

 is a RISC OS UserCol1 on 8/1/04 12:58PM
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Someone obtained a StrongARM RiscPC for around 70 at the WROCC auction last month. Now that's what I call affordable! Although not a typical price, I really don't understand how much cheaper they must get before people upgrade.

Having said that, I've not really a clue as to whether pre-SA users are a significant part of our market. I certainly hope their not.

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 8/1/04 1:52PM
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Before I'm attacked by the pedants. I realize that 'their' should have been 'they're'.

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 8/1/04 1:53PM
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David might want to update this link:

Acorn Cybervillage Once the primary RISC OS site but has now fallen somewhat behind. Still has some interesting stuff and well worth a look.

It takes you somewhere entirely different!

 is a RISC OS Userharmsy on 8/1/04 4:42PM
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To Harmsy:

Yes I put in that redirect on the old Acorn Cybervillage link as I was tired of telling people to use the new link (it got changed in 2001) and they wouldn't bother changing it.

Obviously David hasn't tested the link for a few years. ;-)

 is a RISC OS Userquatermass on 8/1/04 5:01PM
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David must have a nice clean ass now that it's been so thoroughly licked!

 is a RISC OS Userrobert79 on 8/1/04 5:09PM
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That's clean cheeky, robert79.

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 8/1/04 5:22PM
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fylfot. >I really don't understand how much cheaper [SA machines] must get before people upgrade.

Free! Seriously, some people around here have no spare income to spend on RISC OS h/w or s/w so unless SA machines become free you will have to put up with pre-SA machines.

>Having said that, I've not really a clue as to whether pre-SA users are a significant part of our market. I certainly hope they're not.

They could be you know :-) . The greatest RISC OS market is the 3.1 to 3.7 one. Only the later is suitable for the SA but it doesn't require an SA to run.

 is a RISC OS Userphilipnet on 8/1/04 8:12PM
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More machines using RO versions 3.1 through 3.7 may have been sold than of machines using versions 4, Select and 5. That, however, does not mean that they are "the greatest RISC OS market".

I don't deny that there may be many users of the older versions of RO. However, the fact that these users are not upgrading to new versions of RO, thereby suggesting that they are not contributing financially to the market in any significant way, means that they are not really a market at all.

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 8/1/04 9:56PM
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In reply to fylfot: Suppliers of new computers and OS upgrades alone are not 'the market'. It's also made up of lots of other people (like me, for example). I can assure you that people running OS versions from 3.1 to 3.7 *do* buy a significant amount of software and hardware. They might not individually purchase as much as someone who's got all the latest stuff, but there are a lot of them, so collectively they spend quite a bit.

Some people might not consider that as 'contributing to the market' but from where I'm standing their contribution is not to be sneezed at - and perhaps one day they will upgrade their computer. If we stop supporting them, they'll almost certainly be using a PC very soon.

Stop thinking of them as people who have to be abused and ranted at for not upgrading and consider them as potential customers who have yet to be convinced. You don't persuade people by being nasty to/about them.

 is a RISC OS Userapdl on 9/1/04 8:22AM
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I don't mind users using out-dated machines as long as they realise that if something doesn't work it isn't always everybody else's fault. And also, they shouldn't make comparisons between their RiscPC600 and the latest PCs and decide that RISC OS machines are hopelessly behind the times (they should compare the Iyonix with the PC and decide that RISC OS machines are .....)

-- Spriteman

 is a RISC OS UserSpriteman on 9/1/04 10:12AM
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From the article: "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?"

Bearing in mind what 'philipnet' has commented above, would you have these users just "stop"? Seriously Martin H, good article, but not everyone can afford the time (let alone money!) to devote their lives to RISC OS. Reomve your head from your .... Iyonix for a moment, and you'd see that. :-p

 is a RISC OS UserMENTAT on 9/1/04 10:40AM
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You've made some interesting points. In some ways the possibility of there being lots of users on older systems is quite exciting. Clearly these are the people we need to target; perhaps they need to be educated better as to the benefits of upgrading. Perhaps the benefits needs to be defined more clearly or perhaps they are not currently significant enough for these people to be interested.

On your last point:

Forgive me, but you must be confusing me with someone else. I've never suggested that they should be "abused and ranted at" and I've never been "nasty to/about them." In fact, I spend quite a lot of my spare time supporting friends and relations (and a local vicar) on their, in some cases very, old machines.

I could be overly sensitive and ask you to retract your comment, but I'll just ignore it.

 is a RISC OS Userfylfot on 9/1/04 12:44PM
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In reply to MENTAT I don't yet own an Iyonix, nor have I subscribed to RISC OS 4 Select, so I guess I too am not cutting edge. In fact, on the Icon Bar's recent article on "Is RISC OS 4 dead", I publically said that the eight RiscPC 600s in my maths classroom would remain 3.5/3.6/3.7 because the 85 needed to upgrade to RO4 is too expensive. What, actually, annoys me most is that the 85 does not even buy the latest version of RO4. So, don't you stick your tounge out at me, young MENTAT. I guess, it was a bit of a provokative parting comment, but drobe is about reactions. Your's are sharp !

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 9/1/04 4:12PM
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In reply to fylfot:

Sorry, my last point wasn't aimed at you, it was just a general rant as it does happen and it's something I find so frustrating.

People like myself who earn oiur living from RISC OS understand that we need *everyone*, not just the big spenders, and so anything which discourages them, even if they aren't using the latest OS or hardware, is potentially harmful. When people stop to think about this it's obvious (as your reply shows you can see), but all too often they don't bother to think before posting.

 is a RISC OS Userapdl on 9/1/04 5:16PM
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martin: Be glad it was just my tongue! ;-)

 is a RISC OS UserMENTAT on 11/1/04 1:49PM
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