RISC OS camps to discuss future developmentBy Chris Williams. Published: 27th Nov 2007, 19:15:50 | Permalink | Printable
Cynical, us?The two opposing corners of RISC OS have apparently agreed to join forces and jointly coordinate development of the OS. RISCOS Ltd, who produce RISC OS 4 and 6, and RISC OS Open, who are overseeing RISC OS 5 development, promised this week to, effectively, chat to each other over a coffee.
Currently the source code to RISC OS is split between two competing camps. ROL are concentrating on building up RISC OS 6 using the source they licensed many moons ago during the break-up of Acorn in 1998. Meanwhile, ROOL are working from the RISC OS 5 source code, which was later handed over to Castle from Pace, another Acorn licencee. Castle used their derivative OS for the XScale-powered Iyonix while ROL produced RISC OS 4 and 6 for RiscPC-class machines and the ARM9-powered A9home. It sounds complex because it is.
Incompatibilities have edged their way into the OS as the two separate teams worked away on the source. There are features present in RISC OS 4 and 6 that are not in 5, and vice-versa. Third party programmers have been forced to use features common to both strands and punters have been unable to decide which version to stump up their hard earned cash for - a conflict that has gone on for years.
However RISCOS Ltd and RISC OS Open pledged today to work together to make sure future developments are jointly coordinated: new features added to one stream should be expected to be compatible with features present in another stream. Programming interfaces are therefore expected to be publicly documented to achieve this.
But no specifics have been revealed as a result of today's announcement, described by one senior application developer as being "entirely content-free".It is still unclear how, say programmers speaking to drobe.co.uk, the following will be resolved: the differences between the graphics abstraction and acceleration interfaces in the two OSes, the RISC OS 5 HAL, RISC OS 4 and 6's ImageFileRender system and the way in which each OS version loads executables.
Nor were there any concrete proposals on how ROL and ROOL will migrate features between the two streams, thus synchronising the feature sets with each other and actually ending the development split.
In the meantime, third party coders continue to spend their hard-pressed free time adding RISC OS Select-only features to RISC OS 5 applications via the shared source scheme. ROL and ROOL also want to help software developers to get their heads around conflicting version numbers and other stumbling blocks presented by the split.
In a joint announcement with ROL boss Paul Middleton, ROOL chief Steve Revill gasped: "RISC OS Open and RISCOS Ltd are committed to ensuring that RISC OS users and developers will see real benefits from this co-operation over the coming months and into the years ahead."
Punters and ROL fan-boys across Interweb message boards today applauded the decision. However Chris Evans of dealer CJE Micros, which sells the RISC OS 4-powered A9home, said this announcement will not mean the two OS versions will be merged.
He said: "This is great and significant news. I would urge though some caution as I suspect it may be easy to jump to a wrong conclusion about this and think that the two stands of the OS will now merge into one."
It is understood RISC OS 5 and 6 have now diverged internally beyond the point where they can be sensibly merged.
Chris added: "I recall Peter Bonder of Acorn telling me around the time of Black Thursday that Acorn had decided it was to much work to reunify the set-top box strand and desktop strand of RISC OS.
"If with the much larger resources they had and with I suspect less divergence to deal with, I think you will see why I make the statement about today's position."
This is not the first time the market has been promised cooperation between warring factions. In 2004, we were told the Castle and ROL camps had kissed and made up - an agreement that fell apart within weeks. ROL have also repeatedly called upon Castle to cooperate with them to produce a port of RISC OS Select to the Iyonix hardware platform. Each corner of the platform has criticised and disparaged the other's development strategies and both camps have coveted their own approaches to moving RISC OS forward.
As always, only time will prove whether or not today's joint announcement holds any weight whatsoever.
• As an interesting aside, the announcement also notes that the two streams were developed for different markets: roughly speaking, RISC OS 5 for the Iyonix and consumer electronics and RISC OS 4 and 6 for traditional desktop users. It confirmed that while RISC OS 5 is gradually being made available under a shared source licence, third party developers have been able to request access to the RISC OS 4 and 6 code provided a confidentially agreement is signed.
Today's joint announcement
RISCOS Ltd and RISC OS Open
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