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Profile for RichardHallas

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Username: RichardHallas
Realname: Richard Hallas
About me:Things of significance I've done in the RISC OS world: 1. Editor of RISC User magazine, volumes 9 to 11; 2. Producer of the RISC User ...in a Nutshell CD-ROM; 3. Winner of the RISC OS '99 Award for Editorial Excellence (for RISC User); 4. Founding editor of Foundation RISC User (CD magazine, 20 issues plus 2 DVDs); 5. Producer of the first ever RISC OS DVD-ROM (Foundation RISC User DVD Edition); 6. Author of the DTP Principles guide; 7. Designer of the RISC OS 5 desktop icon set; 8. Designer of the RISC OS cogwheel logo; 9. Programmer of various small applications (Flag Day, OmniDesk, KeyWindow, Charges etc.).
Homepage: http://www.hallas.net/
Comments posted:69 (show all)

All comments

On Science Museum hosts 'fathers of Beeb' reunion:

ninja: Yes, I know about the A3000. In fact, you're mistaken about the A300 series: those machines also had the owl and the nominal BBC link (top-right of the keyboard, where it said 'Acorn' on the A400 series).

It's true that those machines were still linked with the BBC and officially recognised as the successors to the previous generation of 8-bit BBC Micros (and, of course, came with the 65Host and 65Tube software to allow them to run more BBC software than BBC Basic would allow on its own). So I agree that Dr Blyth's book should certainly acknowledge them.

However, my point is that the BBC Computer Literacy Project as such was really over by then. The good relationship that had been established between the BBC and Acorn allowed the tie-in to continue into Acorn's next generation of machines, probably in acknowledgement that they were the logical successors and capable of a high level of compatibility with existing BBC computers. But the Computer Literacy Project had run its course before the 32-bit range arrived. In terms of looking at the story from the Acorn perspective, clearly the launch of the 32-bit range was massively important and the ability to continue to use the BBC name on the new machines, for a few years at least, would have been very valuable to Acorn in terms of helping its users to make the transition from the 8-bit generation to the new 32-bit one.

But from the opposite perspective, that of the BBC Computer Literacy Project (which is what Dr Blyth's book is about), all the interesting stuff happened long before then, and it was all pretty much over by 1987, so there's not a lot of reason for the 32-bit machines to be much more than an appendix to the meat of the story. Of course, they are very important in terms of the lasting ramifications of the Computer Literacy Project, and I don't know to what extent her book will consider those. But the Computer Literacy Project was all about teaching people about computers in general, not tying them to the Acorn platform. The undoubted success of the project didn't actually do all that much long-term good for Acorn's 32-bit platform, sadly, as we all know. It would have been a major factor contributing to the use of Archimedes machines in schools, but it certainly didn't get them into private homes in the way that it had done with the earlier (and much cheaper) 8-bit BBC Micros. The world had moved on by the late 80s, and there were lots of cheaper machines with better games to attract the kids.

NB I should make clear that I don't know anything about the contents of Dr Blyth's book. She may want to discuss the 32-bit legacy in some detail; who knows? All I can say for certain is that it's a book about the Computer Literacy Project rather than a book about Acorn, so I'd fully expect it to concentrate on the 8-bit micros and what happened in the early to mid-1980s rather than anything later than that.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 26/3/08 7:53PM
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On Click right on with RISC OS:

thesnark: That behaviour was first invented by BackIcon (the application), I believe. I've found it immensely useful for years. It first appeared 'officially' in an early release of RISC OS 5 (but not the very first release).

I think you can also hold down Shift with Select/Adjust to step the window through the stack (unless that's a BackIcon-only refinement; I forget).

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 23/3/08 8:35PM
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On Click right on with RISC OS:

adrianl: (Tip: do not do this to check your memory whilst actually composing this post in a NS window!)


 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 23/3/08 9:22AM
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On Science Museum hosts 'fathers of Beeb' reunion:

Tilly Blythe's book is actually about the BBC Computer Literacy Project, not Acorn as such. (Neither Drobe nor the original BBC story makes this very clear.) There's no reason for her to consider anything much beyond the 8-bit era.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 21/3/08 11:19AM
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On Icon Technology boss Mike Glover retires:

When I did my Open University maths/computing degree in the early 1990s, my tutors were bowled over by the typeset quality of the work I submitted, and one of them commented that my typesetting was better than the course materials that the OU supplied at the time. Thanks for that can largely be credited to TechWriter, which is what I used for setting my assignments.

Icon Technology has always been one of the true stalwarts of the RISC OS scene, with a best-of-class product that was superior to the best equivalents on other platforms. And Mike himself has always been a pleasure to deal with.

So I'm very sorry to see Icon Technology go, but I wish Mike Glover all the best in his retirement. And the products themselves couldn't possibly be in better hands, which must be a great comfort to him.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 1/3/08 11:19AM
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On PhotoFiler handed out in free download:

DrWhich: Did you not read the last comment in the article above? "PhotoFiler can also integrate with ImageFS to provide thumbnails for all of its supported formats."

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 17/2/08 11:32AM
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On PhotoFiler handed out in free download:

A superb piece of software, and one of my favourite things to have installed permanently on my Iyonix.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 11/2/08 11:14AM
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On Wakefield 2007 live news and photos:

SimonC: Ah, really? So they had some coasters made to the same design as the mouse mats... fine. Makes sense. They certainly *look* like coasters in the picture.

So the next question is... how do I get my set of matching ROOL drinks coasters? :-)

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 19/5/07 8:50PM
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On Wakefield 2007 live news and photos:

A couple of points based on the nine quick photos above:

1. This A9home-mini thing, assuming it's genuine and uses the case on display, is actually smaller than the mouse that's right next to it. That gives me a brilliant idea... why not design an A9 mini so that it goes *inside* a mouse! :-)

Just think of the kudos and the Apple-style vibe that you'd get out of that! Forget the latest iMac spin of "the monitor *is* the computer"; with RISC OS we could go one better:

"The mouse *is* the computer! The mouse *is* the computer!"

(Think of the tone of voice for "There's no step 3! There's no step 3!" from the original 'deflated beachball'-style iMac adverts.)

2. There are piles of ROOL mouse mats in some of the pictures, and I'm amazed by the fact that (a) they're so tiny and (b) they're square! In one of the pictures, the mat looks as though it might actually be shorter than the mouse that's supposed to be able to slide around on it!

I thought they were supposed to be mouse mats, not beer mats! RISC OS beer mats might have been an even better idea, actually. People would buy several rather than just one.

Seriously, they look as though they'll make terrific drinks coasters, but as mouse mats they appear to be far too small. Anyway, I'll be interested to see mine when it comes through the post.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 19/5/07 4:01PM
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On May news in brief:

rjek: That's right. I wondered whether to mention Exim in my post above, but decided I'd written enough already! Exim came long after PMS, of course.

Philip also, I believe, wrote the guts of Acorn's MakeModes monitor definition utility.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 14/5/07 5:42PM
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On May news in brief:

Indeed - I've never attempted to claim ownership of PMS, so I don't know where the credit to me in the above article has come from.

For the record, I did design the PMS music fonts (the RISC OS outline ones, that is; the PostScript fonts were done by Philip Hazel). I also produced a few of the support files and ran the source through Castle's C compiler to produce a 32-bit version of the final 26-bit release. But that's the extent of my contribution.

A few points of interest to prospective PMS users:

1. Rhapsody 4 can actually output files in PMS format. Although the results need a fair amount of work afterwards, it may be a preferable shortcut to the text-based input of music, especially if you want to play in via MIDI.

2. SharpEye (RISC OS version 1, rather than Windows version 2) - which is still available from me as a commercial product - also outputs in PMS format, so you can OCR music and then process the results with PMS. Again, as with Rhapsody, the results require work but may save time compared with manual input.

3. Unix users may like to know that a Unix version of PMS, now called PMW, is available from [link] - it's syntax-compatible (in the main) with PMS, though it lacks certain features (such as the nice, integrated front-end: PMW is just a command-line tool).

4. The KeyNote music fonts that were at one time supplied with Sibelius 7 are actually visually compatible versions of my PMS music fonts. I created them to be able to produce similar-looking output from Sibelius on the occasions when I needed to use it instead of my usual choice of PMS. (I don't know if Sibelius 7 still includes these fonts, but I still have them myself.)

5. The PostScript-capable version of PMS, which is the 32-bit version supplied, used to cost 500 quid. (The non-PostScript outline-fonts-only version was 150.) So the fact that it's now free represents a very good deal. :-) (PMW is also free.)

I've made a great deal of use of PMS in the past (and still use it occasionally), often for professional work. Whilst attention needs to be paid to its output, and it's a good idea to know what you're doing musically (it doesn't try to get all the layout right for you like Sibelius does), once you've mastered it it's exceptionally flexible, and capable of extremely impressive results. It's not really directly comparable with Sibelius because it's a very different kind of tool, and aimed at a different class of user, but actually it can achieve things with relative ease that are all but impossible with Sibelius. PMS is my favourite music typesetting tool.

As for future updates... as far as I'm concerned, the program is finished. Frankly, there's not a lot that it won't do, notationally speaking, and for the things that it can't cope with, a great deal of effort would be required to implement them. For 'standard' notation it's exceedingly capable. I'm personally not really of the opinion that it should be developed away from the capabilities of the newer PMW; at present, they're essentially the same thing for two different platforms, which is helpful.

As for the documentation, let's just be clear that the existing docs just fall a bit short in terms of the PDF quality; and the PDFs *do* display correctly on other platforms (such as on my Mac). The graphical shortcomings seem to be related to the RISC OS software, sadly (I've tried both !PDF and RiScript 5, and neither renders them correctly). There's nothing wrong with the way the documentation is actually written; indeed, Philip's PMS manual is one of the clearest and most well-written guides I've seen. It's just bbbiiiggg.

I agree that the documentation is lacking in terms of tutorials, though, and given my long-term use of the software (I first started using it seriously in about 1990) I could probably produce something useful on the subject myself, given the time and inclination. However, are there really enough people in the RISC OS market these days with an interest in typesetting music to make any such tutorial articles worthwhile? I personally rather doubt it (though anyone who disagrees is more than welcome to say so here). The thing about PMS is that, wonderful though it is in many ways, it's an engraving tool, and not something that encourages 'lightweight' use. People who just want to do quick musical arrangements or layouts without too much effort are probably better off using Sibelius.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 14/5/07 5:21PM
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On South West show reports and photos:

[Groan] I thought all the unpleasantness about my cogwheel logo was over and done with five years ago. [Sigh] Let's put it this way: I'm a lot older than 12, I'm satisfied with what I've done here (I think it's a successful logo which fulfils all its purposes and requirements), and I did the work for free and released it in source form for the community to use, in the hopes that doing so would do some good. It's inevitable that some people will loathe what I've done, because it's impossible to satisfy everyone, but (despite what some have said) it's good quality work which was done in good faith for the benefit of everyone. I'd really appreciate it if we could now just let the logo continue to do its job, which is to represent RISC OS in all of its versions (including the forthcoming open one). It's been doing that job for the last six years or so, apparently to most people's satisfaction (if not, perhaps, joy).

For the record, since people seem unsure about what design work I've done for the 'core companies' and what I haven't, here's a quick summary.

RISCOS Ltd: the cogwheel logo (and its associated variations) and a bit of icon work for Select (filetype icons etc.). I'm not a fan of the RISC OS 4 icon style, so I don't generally say much about the RO4 system icons I contributed, but there are several of my icons in Select/Adjust. I also, of course, designed all aspects of Foundation RISC User, and in the early days I also put together a few magazine adverts (the gold-textured ones that usually advertised FRU as well). That's it, though. I've had nothing to do with the wider RISCOS Ltd Web site or its corporate logo. I believe that they were all done by Paul Middleton himself (certainly the RO4 cube was), though I could be wrong. As it happens, I did design a new corporate logo for RISCOS Ltd back when I designed the cogwheel, but Paul mustn't have liked it because it's never been used (except occasionally by me, in more recent issues of FRU). It was basically just the words "RISCOS Ltd" in Gill Sans with the cogwheel replacing the O in the centre of the text. I thought it was clean and well balanced, though probably not terribly exciting.

Castle: for Castle I designed all the RISC OS 5 icons (and Iyonix users will be aware that all the system-level file icons, for filetypes like Obey, Data etc., incorporate a small cogwheel logo, just as they do in RO Select). I did not have anything to do with the Iyonix name or blue jellybean logo (that was presented to me as the branding from the outset), though I did produce a realistic recreation of it in ArtWorks for use in my further design work (as the original was just a hi-res bitmap). I also designed the new Acorn C/C++ icons and the icons that appear on Castle's 32-bit software database pages to categorise applications that appear there. Beyond that, though, I've had nothing to do with Castle's Web site either.

RISC OS Open Ltd: I haven't done anything for ROOL as yet. I'm not responsible for their multicoloured cogwheel-like logo, and I wasn't even consulted about it (which I found slightly regrettable, but never mind). However, I've indicated that I'd be very happy to work with them if they'd like me to. I'm obviously keen, for example, to see them continue to use the work I've done for the RISC OS 5 icons in future versions. I designed the RO5 icons from the outset to be capable of taking advantage of alpha-blending (which is already available in RO4/6, of course) to produce proper soft shadows. (They're also vector-based and hence scalable, if that ever becomes more of an issue.)

In response to a few of the points in this thread:

I've been accused of plagiarising the KDE logo in the past. All I can say is that any similarities are purely coincidental. At the time I designed my cogwheel, I'd never even seen the KDE logo; had anyone pointed it out to me while I was designing the RISC OS cogwheel, I may have made some changes. However, the aims and inspirations for my cogwheel are well documented in articles that are available online, and represent the sum total of the influences. As for being a 'bad copy' of the KDE logo, well, that's personal opinion once again. It's not a copy at all, and actually my cogwheel could be said to be better balanced and more realistic than the partial one that appears in the KDE logo. (The KDE logo also falls into the trap of having letters associated with it, rather than being a stand-alone, purely graphical design.)

Is there a full "RISC OS" logo that includes the cogwheel and the word "RISC OS"? Yes, there is, despite the fact that people here are saying that there isn't. An article from FRU, complete with the ArtWorks versions of all cogwheel variants, used to be hosted on www.riscos.org, but appears to have been removed now, which is a pity. However, the original article, taken from FRU 7, is still online in RISCOS Ltd's FRU Online site. I am no longer able to update this site, and it seems to have become a bit mangled since I last touched it, with the result that some graphics are broken. However, the article is mostly intact, as are the downloads. Here's a direct link:


The various cogwheel logos are available here in Draw and ArtWorks formats, as are some RISC OS Web buttons. (Of course, they're also on FRU CDs and DVDs, including more Web buttons in later editions; I also did an IYONIX Web button.) You'll find not only the single cogwheel logo, but also square and diamond permutation logos, and lots of variants that include the name "RISC OS" in some way.

I guess it would be a good idea to host these archives somewhere more prominent, especially now that the ones on www.riscos.org have vanished. If anyone wants to do this (Drobe staff?), please email me.

There's also a quick summary of what the cogwheel logo is all about on the Select site here:


...but it's just a restatement of some of the stuff in the longer article with the associated graphics archives. Its appearance on the Select site also gave the erroneous early impression that the cogwheel was intended to apply only to Select.

(Sawadee: no, the teeth of the cogwheel do not represent anything individually. However, the fact that there are eight of them is significant, in that putting together four into the square-logo version used in RO Adjust makes 32 in total. '32 bits out of four 8-bit components' is the concept here, though it's a very subtle one. The above article explains all the ideas of this kind that went into the concept.)

Anyway, the bottom line is that the cogwheel is intended to represent RISC OS in all its versions, and it has actually succeeded in becoming established as such. It was designed (at the suggestion of Justin Fletcher, incidentally, who claimed to like the solution I came up with very much) precisely with the intention of devising something universal that could be used instead of logos that were either no longer appropriate (Acorn nut) or OS- or machine-specific. Having finally achieved that aim, the very last thing we need now is to throw it all away and start again, just because a few people don't like it much. Lots of people don't like the Windows logo (I'm not keen myself), but that doesn't mean that Microsoft should discard it.

That's not to say that it can't be tweaked and titivated, though (note how MS has made its flag-logo 'glow' for Windows Vista). That's one good reason why the RISC OS cogwheel is plain and simple: it's *intentionally* a universal, bare bones design, so that it can be used in as many different ways as possible. Basically, it's little more than a shape. People who complain that it's too boring and simple are missing the point. That's what a good, successful logo should be, because that's how you make them as adaptible as possible. Once you've got the basic design established, you can do things with it.

Indeed, I've made it a little more fancy myself at times. In one or more of the old RISCOS Ltd adverts that I designed (they appeared in Acorn User and elsewhere), I had a big version of this cogwheel in the centre of the page, and it was 'shaded' internally by a stripey effect that blended from octagonal in the middle to circular at the outside (ends of the teeth) and made the design look more visually interesting. As a matter of fact, this version of the logo is actually used (at a small size) on the Iyonix, in one specific instance: the high-definition version of the 'switcher' icon (i.e. the logo that appears in the Task Manager's Info window alongside the name RISC OS, and in system error windows). By 'high definition' I mean the 68x68-pixel icon that appears in XEig=0, YEig=0 screen modes. You can't see the stripes in this version (there still isn't enough resolution for that), but it does give the logo a bit of shading and makes it less flat. More could be done, of course.

The only really key thing is to make sure that you *don't* alter the basic shape. This is why I'm a little disappointed with the ROOL logo. It looks pretty, and you can see what inspired it, but it's a new shape which means that it's not actually the RISC OS cogwheel logo. Of course, if they just want to use it as their own corporate logo then that's fine; I just hope that it doesn't get imposed on future versions of RISC OS itself, as then we'd be back to having unhelpful OS-specific variations of the logo, which is the problematic situation that the cogwheel was designed to solve.

As a general point, although I clearly don't share thegman's opinion of my work, I do agree with his basic point about amateurish appearances and RISC OS. For what it's worth, it's precisely this kind of thing I had in mind when I set out to design the RISC OS 5 icon set (as explained in another old article that can be found online if you hunt). I was very conscious of the extremely amateurish look of RISC OS itself (i.e. the RISC OS 4 icons), not to mention many RISC OS sites, and my RISC OS 5 work was carried out with the hope of making RISC OS itself look more serious and professional. (Again, I feel that I achieved my various aims with the RO5 icons, but there are certainly users who disagree, so please let us *not* open up that debate again as well. Apart from anything else, I've suffered enough over all that already.)

Remember, too, that design is not just about achieving a set of aims; it's also about pleasing the client. The RISC OS cogwheel was what RISCOS Ltd wanted at the time (or at least Justin Fletcher; I'm not sure about Paul's opinion). The RISC OS 5 icons were what Castle was looking for (basically; there were quite dramatically opposing viewpoints within the company, but I tried to satisfy everyone as best I could). R-Comp has had various pieces of design work from me in the past (mainly for software user interfaces), and they have ranged from e.g. the very quirky and colourful (some may say gaudy) Grapevine to the very RISC OS 5-like (i.e. standard OS look) Messenger Pro, DataPower, HTMLEdit Studio etc. (latest versions of these). In doing a design, one has to (a) define the requirements and potential uses of the artwork, (b) target the medium and its needs, and (c) take the client's specific requirements into account and try to satisfy them.

Anyway, to get back to the point, I agree that the level of presentation of RISC OS as a whole could be a lot better. I've tried to do my bit to contribute positively to the situation, and I'm willing to do more if asked. I'm happy to continue to design icons for people, and I'm also potentially willing to design Web sites, too. I haven't had all that many approaches, so maybe either people don't generally care for what I've done or there isn't enough money going around to justify expenditure on interface graphics and Web sites. I've actually been quite open to doing things for nothing in the past, but now that I'm a student again I'd be a little more keen to be paid for my time.

Whoever does the job, though (as a general point), I do agree that it's a good idea to employ someone who's at least vaguely professional, and whose work is a known quantity, to come up with new Web site designs and the like, as the RISC OS world could certainly present a more professional image. But, on the other hand, it could certainly be argued that this problem is something that has plagued the RISC OS world for its entire life. I remember lobbying about lack of presentational quality in the young life of RISC OS (early 90s). The design work I did for RISC OS 5 was actually the fulfilment of a long-standing dream that I'd been harbouring for maybe ten years.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 04/03/07 12:43AM
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On The best of the Microdigital Mico manual:

To me, the "Have not got a clue" example is a perfect illustration of the fact that this manual must have been written by someone who was eminently unqualified to write a manual on technical grounds, quite apart from his lack of linguistic skills. Really, it says it all; it's the very definition of profound ineptitude.

The RISC OS desktop boot option has always, since its introduction with RISC OS 3, been considered a somewhat mystical option, and many people seem to have found it incomprehensible (I'm not sure why). I'd contend that it's never been particularly useful, but it's hardly difficult to understand if you explore what it does. The author of this manual presumably neither understood it nor could even be bothered to try to find out about it while writing his guide. He just threw his metaphorical hands up in the air and blurted out to his readers that he had no idea what this aspect of his own new computer system was for.

It seems to me that the manual should have come with a big disclaimer on the front: *Every* *effort* *has* *been* *spared* *in* *the* *production* *of* *this* *guide*.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 7/1/07 11:00AM
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On Acorn professor awarded CBE:

The BBC news page has apparently been updated. It does now show a photo of Andy Hopper, but when I looked at it previously, on the day it was published, the picture was of Ian MacNaught-Davis beside a BBC Micro; a frame-grab from one of the BBC programmes of the 80s (probably Making the Most of the Micro, or Micro Live). I'm aware that a few people on the BBC Micro mailing list noticed this error; presumably one or more of them complained and the BBC updated the picture.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 7/1/07 10:18AM
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On Acorn professor awarded CBE:

It seems somewhat ironic that his 'work address' at Cambridge is based in the William Gates Building.

Anyway, it's nice to see that he's got some long-overdue recognition.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 31/12/06 11:39AM
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On Not enough room for two mags says Qercus ed:

helpful: Thanks very much for your kind words! Much appreciated.

Paul Middleton is intending to edit Foundation RISC User himself in the future.

My own swan-song as an editor in the RISC OS world is actually the second FRU DVD edition, which contains the material from all 20 issues of FRU to date, all indexed, cross-referenced and combined into the standard FRU interface. It's just like the first DVD except that (a) it's obviously got an extra four issues' worth of content in it and (b) the few mistakes that I discovered in previous editions (including both DVD1 and FRU20!) have been corrected. The FRU DVD edition 2 exists, but hasn't yet been advertised by RISCOS Ltd. No doubt it'll become available soon.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 12/10/06 6:12PM
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On R-Comp Dad suffers 'major' heart attack:

I've had a lot of very positive dealings with all of the Rawnsleys over the last decade, so I'm particularly sorry to hear about this, and offer Allan (and the whole family) my very best wishes. I hope that his recovery is swift and complete.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 12/10/06 11:25AM
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On Not enough room for two mags says Qercus ed:

I find this story interesting from a number of points of view in my position as a recently-departed editor in this field. For those who don't know, I became editor of RISC User back in 1994, which was a regular colour magazine of good repute when I stepped in, and after it closed down in 1998 (following the closure of Acorn) I set up Foundation RISC User for RISCOS Ltd.

My memories of that initial, daunting time when I took over the editorship of an already highly regarded magazine are of pleasure at the support I received from the RISC OS community. Certainly there was a 'honeymoon period' while I settled in, but the community was conspicuously friendly, helpful and supportive, and that included my 'competition'. Back then, there were five paper magazines serving the RISC OS world: the big two were Acorn User and Archimedes World, then the subscription-only Acorn Publisher, Archive and my own RISC User. Each had its own individual approach and areas of interest, and there was room for all of them at the time. My fellow editors got along very well, and whilst I don't suppose that we'd expect to share sensitive information with one another, our relationsships were always extremely good in my experience. (For what it's worth, in more recent times I've got on perfectly well with John Cartmell, too.)

Taking over an established and respected magazine was a daunting prospect, and I'm grateful for the friendly support I received, including that from my nominal competitors. Setting up a new magazine from scratch is an even more daunting and ambitious proposition. If what this Drobe article claims is true then I can only sympathise with how Louie must feel and be grateful that it didn't happen to me; but, of course, it would be entirely wrong of me to speculate and comment on what was said in a private phone conversation. We can read and be shocked by this Drobe article, but it's hard to know how representative it is of what was actually said. The question of Drobe's source of information does intrigue me. There are no links to anything that we can follow up, and as for the matter of how Drobe knows what was said in a private phone conversation, where has that information come from?

Of course, I can feel for John, too: at present he's left with the only magazine of its kind in the RISC OS world, and the absence of competition removes a certain pressure from his job. My experience of editing RISC User involved constant worrying about what the rival magazines were likely to be doing, and attempting to be at least as good as them. Competition is a healthy thing, even given that the competitors may not always like the fact.

On the other hand, with all due respect, it has to be said that John has brought this problem on himself. It's about a year since we last saw an issue of Qercus (a supposedly monthly magazine), and if the publication had been coming out regularly and reliably then it would be far less likely that anyone would have felt the need to launch an alternative to it. I'll be most interested to see the next issue of Qercus to find out, for example, if it includes any of the several adverts (in different formats) that I designed for the Wakefield '06 show! I put those together specifically for this magazine (e.g. A3 DPS landscape and A4 portrait) and was told at one point that the issue containing one of them was at the printer. If a future issue appears and contains one of these adverts, then it'll be amusingly out of date, though I'd like to see the advert simply so that my unpaid work in creating it doesn't feel entirely wasted. (Contributors will also feel somewhat aggrieved about the non-publication of their efforts, but at least their work isn't time-critical in the same way as a show advert!)

Anyway, back to the point. I imagine that John is feeling rather threatened by the likely appearance of a new RISC OS magazine as there's every chance, given past history of non-delivery, that he'll lose most of his subscribers to it, and it can be seen as an outcome that he's brought on himself (regardless of whether he wants to continue to blame his printers or take personal responsibility for the problems).

He may have a point that there is no longer room for two RISC OS publications, but I don't really accept it. He may have the only remaining colour A4 magazine, but Archive and Eureka still exist as printed options and Foundation RISC User and RISC World are CD-based alternatives, and many people subscribe to two or more of them. It's certainly true that there's a lot less to write about in the RISC OS market than was the case a decade ago, and there are also fewer good people to do the writing, but the resources haven't dried up. There are still interesting things to cover, particularly in a new publication run by a new editor with a fresh pair of eyes. And there's *certainly* room for two magazines in the market if one of them doesn't actually publish any issues any more.

My own experiences in editing magazines tell me that Louie is taking on a great deal, and has set herself an ambitious task. This is particularly true if she's planning to be a full-time teacher as well. When I was editing RISC User, and trying to keep its standards as high as I could, I found it to be a full-time job that left little room for other things; and it wasn't even a monthly magazine (rather, ten issues per year). But I'll admit that I'm a meticulous rather than quick worker, and could have spent less time on it if I hadn't been so pernickety.

Anyway, I wish Louie Smith good fortune. I do have my reservations about what she's trying to do, and fear that she's attempting something that may prove to be unsustainable, but it's an heroic attempt at this point in history, and if she thinks she can make a success of it, then all the best to her.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 12/10/06 11:13AM
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On How to create a modern desktop theme:

martin: Unfortunately I'm not in a position to make any useful comment about RISCOS Ltd's supposed vector icons idea because I know nothing of it myself, and have not been involved with it in any way. I've heard the odd rumour about this idea, as have others, but I know nothing concrete.

However, what I *can* say on this subject is that, if it were to happen, the RISC OS 5 icons would be in an ideal position to take advantage of it, because they were all designed in ArtWorks from the outset. It would be simplicity itself to derive a new set of vector-based OS icons from my current ArtWorks sources; and alpha-blending would also presumably work, too.

This would also be a far more sensible and realistic proposition than starting from scratch with a new vector set based on, say, the existing RISC OS 4 icons or any other theme. Believe me when I say that the creation of a set of consistent, good-looking, carefully thought out desktop icons is not a trivial process! Even with the advantages of ArtWorks and the benefits it brings (e.g. the ability to use layers to copy and overlay elements and create consistency between icons), the creation of the RO5 icon set took a very considerable amount of time and effort. Obviously it would have taken a lot /more/ time and effort if I'd used a bitmap editor rather than a vector drawing package but, even so, quite a lot of bitmap post-editing was required to create the TV-resolution versions and other things. These tall-pixel sprites do present a bit of a problem with respect to vector rendering, but hopefully not an insurmountable one.

GavinWraith: The window tools proved to be pretty demanding and required a lot of work, but are also vector-based and were created in ArtWorks, though they do make use of bitmaps to create the various textures. I agree in principle that it should be possible to make them scriptable in some way, though in reality the way they're plotted by the Wimp is one of the major problems that would need to be overcome.

People have complained and disagreed about the window tools more than any other aspect of the RISC OS 5 appearance, but leaving aside the issue of whether you like my designs or not, it must be recognised that the designer is very much restricted in terms of what he can do by limitations and shortcomings inherent to the Wimp's handling of window furniture. To improve the situation in any genuinely useful way would require a complete rewrite of this part of the Wimp itself. You can get around some of the issues by some fudging (e.g. the need for there to be a pixel border separating all tools can be circumvented, but only by making ugly compromises in other ways, such as having open-ended title bars that don't look finished off properly - as in those Mac OS X rip-off window tools, which I personally dislike very much). There's plenty of other things that you just can't do, though, like using lots of colours to improve shading etc., and there are bugs that you have to work around too, which cause problems and compromises of their own.

What I'd like to see is a fully customisable way of creating window tools in which the symbols for the tools could be defined independently of the backgrounds, and the backgrounds themselves could be more flexible. If the window tools were to become vector-based, then it should certainly be easier to achieve this.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 5/10/06 10:12AM
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On How to create a modern desktop theme:

lyn: I think I slightly prefer RO4's uniform 'jigsaw' approach to the configure applications, and I'm not sure I'm fully sold on your drive icons.

Interesting that you should mention these two items in particular, because...

1. I was specifically asked to drop the jigsaw-puzzle outlines and do the Configure icons without borders, in the manner you see them. Though, whilst I quite liked the puzzle-piece shapes, I do personally rather like the style without them. As jigsaw pieces they do look somewhat regimented. I don't really have strong feelings either way; my point is just that this was something that Castle specifically asked for.

2. The drive icons caused a great deal of trouble - more than any other element, as I probably mentioned in my long article. That article does show a number of alternatives that were done, and I personally liked the 'bare hard drive' icons that I did first. (A few other people expressed a preference for these too - particularly the icon that looks a bit like a door bell!) Castle insisted that they looked too technical, though (people aren't expected to know what the inside of a hard drive looks like), and asked me to do something simpler. The icons we ended up with were the least objectional to the largest number of people, apparently, but I can't really claim to like them very much myself.

"I presume you're not able to currently distribute your iconset independently of the OS?"

Sadly not; they're the property of Castle. However, for anyone who owns an Iyonix, it's not difficult to copy them across to a RISC OS 4 machine and use them on that; there's a complete set of icons in the RO5 set, including ones that only Select actually uses. You just copy the !+Resource application over from inside !Boot (somewhere in PreDesk, I think) and delete the unwanted modules inside it, leaving just the two that define (a) the Wimp sprite pool and (b) the window tools.

"Finally, I'd noticed the '11Sprites' files in things like NetSurf - I assume these are the high-definition sprites you refer to. How are these currently used? Can RO5 display file icons at double size?"

It certainly can. Just edit the mode definition string for the current screen mode (availble from the Display Manager's icon bar menu) so that the EX and EY parameters are zero and click OK. You'll end up in a new screen mode, the same size and number of colours as before, but with big, double-detail graphics. (Obviously, you can do this for any mode; just edit the mode def string as appropriate.) It's a shame that there isn't a neater interface to this.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 4/10/06 6:59PM
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On How to create a modern desktop theme:

The article of mine that Gavin Wraith refers to above can actually be found online. I put a copy on some personal Web space to show to someone ages ago, and forgot to remove it afterwards, so it isn't part of the official FRU Online site or linked from anywhere else. Anyway, I might as well leave it there for the time being in case anyone wants to read it. It's pretty long, but it does go into a large amount of detail about how I created the RISC OS 5 icon set, and some of the associated challenges, goals and underlying ideas. Here's the link:


lym: "I'm guessing, however, that it's still stuck with granite grey for the windows"

Well, the Iyonix window-background texture is actually 'paper', and it's strictly not grey. (As the above-linked article explains, the paper texture actually uses lots of pale colour-noise to give an impression of 'warmth', rather than the starkness of pure grey-scale pixels.) But the overall effect is of a pale grey of the usual Wimp Grey 1 intensity, yes. (I do think that my texture works a lot better than the RO4 marble effect though.)

"and that irregular-shaped icons can't benefit from the background blending and alpha channel allows."

The RISC OS 5 icons were designed from the outset with alpha blending in mind, and the fact that they don't use that feature at present is simply due to the fact that RISC OS 5 currently doesn't support it. If that support were forthcoming at some future point, it should be relatively easy to regenerate the RO5 icons in alpha-blended versions, which feature 'real' shadows etc., and this is something that I'd very much like to do. It's a feature that I've wanted on the Iyonix ever since its release.

The thing to bear in mind is that RISC OS 5's feature set is very similar to that of RISC OS 4.0x, and so there are things that it can't do that Select /can/ do. It's always struck me as rather ironic that RO5, which doesn't support alpha-blended icons, has an icon set that would benefit hugely from that feature, and could really make good use of it, whereas RO Select *does* support alpha-channel sprites but doesn't have a suitable set of sprites to take advantage of the feature. The only novel icon-related feature of RO5, compared with RO4, is the support for high-definition icons (in EX=0, EY=0 screen modes). RO4 actually supports this feature but has no icons to take advantage of it; my RO5 set includes a full complement of high-definition icons. RO5 also supports high-definition window tools (and, again, includes a set), whereas RO4 doesn't support them at all.

What I'd personally love to see in future is a universal adoption of my RO5 sprites for future versions of RISC OS, suitably updated to take advantage of alpha-blending. I'd be more than happy to do the necessary work to generate the new set. Perhaps this is something that could happen via RISC OS Open (but that's just speculation; no-one has approached me about it yet, and it would have to be done with Castle's agreement).

I'm personally not a fan of rounded and/or graduated-filled button icons. I'm not against them in principle, but I've yet to see any under RISC OS that look anything other than appalling. What I'd like to see is some way for more sophisticated button icons to be drawn out of alpha-blended graphical components. The current shading options in Select just don't cut it, and the rounded-edged buttons, which lack even basic anti-aliasing, look dreadfully amateurish.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 4/10/06 5:04PM
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On Hallas to study history of Acorn PhD:

Jwoody: '"Americans have a very American-centric view of things" they also have all the large IT firms'

That's an excellent reason for writing a book to set the historical record straight, though, isn't it? (Not that I'll be writing for the American market as such, obviously.) The alternative would be /not/ to write the book, but instead allow history to record only the endeavours of all those successful American companies, rather than the frequently much more innovative, but sadly less commercially successful, activities of the little British companies like Acorn. The saying is that history is always written by the victors, but I don't see why it need be a universal rule.

It seems to me that there has been a lot of argument here about what is meant by "influential", and it's actually a pretty vague term when you come to think about it. It can mean as little as that Acorn computers were the first computers to be used by several generations of school children (even if they grew up to do something unrelated to computing). It can mean as much as that Acorn, in the form of its ARM chip, was largely responsible for the growth of the embedded market. Either way, I'd say that Acorn exerted a fair amount of influence, even if it was often in a rather indirect way.

I'm not honestly sure what point Jwoody is trying to make. His presence here suggests an interest in Acorn, yet his comments indicate a believe that it achieved nothing of historical importance and doesn't deserve a book. If that's his opinion, fair enough; he's entitled to it, though obviously I don't agree.

Cogs: "What were Intel or Apple or Oracle thinking of when courting a firm as small as Acorn for its technology?" Let's not forget, indeed, that Acorn and Apple were both competing for the Oracle NC contract (Apple with Pippin-based technology, I believe), and that Acorn won for the simple reason that its underlying technology was superior.

Druck, Cogs, dgs and others: I'm pleased to see that there are clearly some people who understand *exactly* why I want to write this book.

Jwoody: "pages neigh reams" Why are you whinnying? Is your throat a little hoarse? ;-) (Sorry, couldn't resist...! You meant "nay". I don't normally pick people up for typos, but this example just struck me as funny.)

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 13/09/06 9:27PM
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On Hallas to study history of Acorn PhD:

Very many thanks for all the positive comments so far on this article, and to those people who have emailed me privately with offers of help. I've had a couple of very useful offers already, though more would of course be most welcome. I'd like to make a few comments in response to things people have said here so far.

markee174: I agree that TechWriter is a splendid piece of software, and I've used it in the past (for my OU maths degree, actually!). However, I'm much more likely to use Ovation Pro (RISC OS version; I won't be moving to Windows under any circumstances), as it's the better page-layout package. All the work for the book will of course be done under RISC OS, though; it would be hypocritical to use any other platform to produce the book, even if I wanted to!

druck: I'm in complete agreement with what you say, and your description of recent BBC coverage is the sort of thing that's provided me with a strong motivation for this project. Sadly, I wasn't in the least bit surprised by the PC-idolising attitude that was apparent in its coverage of the PC's 25th anniversary. It reflects my own experiences when I approached the BBC about a book that would help commemorate its achievements with the Computer Literacy Project. Sadly, the BBC is no longer the organisation it was a quarter of a century ago.

torbenm: Clearly it will be appropriate and necessary for me to talk to some extent about other non-Acorn computers, and also to cover some important third party companies (Eidos and Sibelius spring to mind as being particularly noteworthy ones), plus of course the Acorn spin-offs like ARM and Online Media etc. But at this stage I'm not expecting to devote a vast amount of coverage to such things; my intention is to focus primarily on the Acorn story and the factors that influenced it, or were influenced by it. I do agree that what you mention is important, and I certainly won't ignore such aspects, but it would be all too easy to let matters run away and end up with a book that was unmanageable and ineffective if I tried to cover too much. The Acorn story is a big, multifaceted topic, and I fear that my book will turn out to be huge even without considering the competition. Of course, that's not to say that there isn't room for a separate book covering the UK computer industry of the 1980s in more general terms; I'm firmly of the opinion that there's another good project there, should the opportunity present itself.

pscheele: I've got a copy of Digital Retro, and I agree that it's a nice book, but it's not at all what I have in mind to produce myself. Digital Retro is a coffee-table book: big page-area, vast numbers of pictures, surprisingly little text, and the sort of thing that you can dip into, read a nugget and put down again. It's a useful pictorial overview of computers of the 1980s, with brief summaries and anecdotes. It is not, however, a detailed history. What I'm expecting to produce is a 'reading book' with lots of text and relatively few pictures: something that will provide ample detail about all important aspects of Acorn's history in a comprehensive and accurate way. I'm not saying that it'll be a dense mass of facts and figures; it needs to be an interesting read and to tell a good story, so that people will want to keep on reading it and won't be bored by it. But it will be the sort of book that you pick up and read for lengthy periods, rather than a picture-book that you glance at for a few minutes.

Final recap: I'd be most grateful to hear from anyone who may be able to help me in any way, and I'm particularly interested in (a) personal recollections from people who worked at Acorn, or were involved with it directly in some way, and (b) obscure documentation, such as the internal Acorn newsletters (someone scanned a few of these recently, but I'd like a full set), old press releases, internal technical documentation and suchlike. I can be contacted via email at Richard@Hallas.net or by phone on 01484 460280.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 5/9/06 12:34PM
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On Dual core 1.2GHz Xscale touted by Intel:

For handling the second core, I wonder if the API for Simtec's Hydra card could be adapted/adopted. The Hydra multi-processor card for the Risc PC did go into production a decade or so ago, though the StrongARM came along soon afterwards and pretty much eclipsed it in terms of potential performance gains. I'm not sure how much (if any) software was actually updated to take advantage of the Hydra.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 23/8/06 10:10AM
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On Beginner's guide to manipulating stock photos:

Not bad, but it's a shame that whoever produced this article (why isn't it credited?) failed to turn on the 'Group' switch when applying transparency to the cogwheel. It definitely needs it; without it, you can see 'stringy bits' around the 3D edge of the cogwheel where the objects overlap, which the Group option would have removed.

Also, the cogwheel isn't in the correct orientation, with teeth pointing in the compass directions. The green cogwheel was the right way up (relative to the pig), but the red one isn't. I can see what's happened: the red logo has been taken directly out of the group of four interlocking cogwheels and used without being rotated back to the upright.

I know I'm nitpicking. The overall image is quite effective, and the perspective in particular has been applied well.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 7/8/06 6:09PM
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On 'Why we love drag and drop on RISC OS':

hEgelia: I'm not quoted directly as saying that RISC OS pulled off drag and drop first; the article just refers to this as apparently being my opinion. Whilst it's too long since my opinions were sought for me to remember exactly what I said, I am of course well aware that RISC OS didn't do drag and drop first. After all, the Apple Mac had been around for a couple of years before RISC OS was launched, and of course the Mac OS featured drag and drop from the outset.

I *think* the point I was making was that RISC OS pulled off drag and drop long before Windows tried to do it (and made a pig's ear of the attempt). Unfortunately, the article has lost that context and made a global assertion that isn't accurate. But never mind; RISC OS was still the first to do it *well*, and still features the most well-designed and logically consistent implementation.

By the way, ROX-Filer was modelled on RISC OS, so it's hardly surprisingly that it's RISC OS-like in its implementation of drag-saving! However, I'm not aware of any other OS that implements this RISC OS innovation, and yet it's one of the most obvious, logical and helpful of all GUI concepts. It's just part of the flow of data, which goes into applications and out again, and which may theoretically pass through several applications before returning to a saved state on disc (if it ever does; for a quick one-off job, you can go through a whole process from design to print without ever actually saving your file).

Mac OS X is very much like RISC OS in its support for drag-and-drop installation of applications (in fact, its Finder is quite like the RISC OS filer in some ways; though not in others). It too allows applications to be stored inside applications (though in its case this is mainly for nested resources; the user isn't supposed to do it).

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 7/8/06 3:59PM
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On Ex-Pace staff back RISC OS Open Ltd:

maikl: "the question is what failed: the OS or the hardware"

Psion is a frustrating example; another Acorn in a way. They created/defined a new market, ruled it for a while, and then collapsed in the face of a wide range of much inferior products. In the mid-90s, the Psion Series 3 and Series 5 machines were absolutely fantastic. I loved them, with their neat little keyboards and handy size.

I reckon that Psion's big mistake was to refuse to adopt colour screens. All the customers wanted them, but Psion claimed that they'd shorten battery life too much. Unfortunately, they shortened the company's life even more... If Psion had made some Series 5s with nice colour screens, people would have bought them, and probably wouldn't have cared much about the reduction in battery life compared with mono versions. Instead, Palm OS and Pocket PC devices came along with nice colour screens and killed off Psion's otherwise superior products.

The Psion Series 7 and NetBook showed that Psion could put colour screens in its computers if it really wanted to. Unfortunately, the Series 7 didn't fit too easily in the average jacket pocket. There was nothing wrong with either the OS or the hardware; it was a question of marketing strategy and a failure to give customers a whizzy feature that they repeatedly said that they very much wanted. I dare say there's more to it than that, but the screen must have been a big factor.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 12/07/06 5:37PM
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On Ex-Pace staff back RISC OS Open Ltd:

hubersn: "overall, I agree with most of what you said. But remember: the things that you described as 'high end applications' are bog-standard stuff on other systems. So the 'new, modern software' you demand needs either a lot more developers than RISC OS ever had in the past, or it needs at least the same hardware performance as the competition to be able to take advantage of ported software."

Oh, yes; I agree entirely. My point was just that it's rather futile to keep going on about the need for much faster new hardware when there's currently no software that would really take advantage of it.

Of course, it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation: if you don't have the newer, faster hardware, there's no incentive for the more demanding software to be written for RISC OS either. Nevertheless, I think that, given the RISC OS market's unique situation, the primary concern is lack of software and lack of active developers. We need more of both before the need for new hardware becomes remotely pressing.

"Without significantly faster hardware, we have lost the battle for the new, modern software before we even start to write the first line of code."

That's absolutely true, but my other point about hardware is that there simply aren't any ARM-based processors that would deliver a massive performance leap in a new machine based around them. One hopes that some such multi-GHz ARM may come along eventually, but the chances are that it won't because that kind of performance level isn't needed for the ARM's target markets. The ARM may have started life as a processor for desktop computers, but it certainly isn't aimed at them now. All that can happen for now is for new machines to be based on the latest ARM cores that are available. And, as we've seen with the A9home, which is the only new native-hardware computer to appear since the Iyonix, it's actually considerably slower than its four-year-old predecessor.

As time has gone on, the performance gap between ARMs and Intel processors has widened hugely. I think it's true that the rate of speed increases on the PC side has been slowing a great deal in recent years, but they're now going routinely dual-core, and will be multi-core in a couple of years, probably. (Some Macs are already quad-core, and perhaps PCs as well.) RISC OS isn't designed to be able to take advantage of multiple processors, notwithstanding the Hyrda card we had a decade or so ago.

"Both the hardware and the software gap are widening fast."

Absolutely right. My point is just that the only thing that could theoretically be addressed right now is the software gap. We can't conjure up fantastic new native hardware when there's no suitable processor to bring it up to Intel-level performance. But we can continue to work on new software and better features until some such mythical new ARM arrives.

The alternatives would be either to use some form of emulation or virtualisation (if there were a suitable processor to support the latter), or to rewrite RISC OS from scratch for a new processor family, which is what some people have been saying above.

The first alternative is the only viable one, and plenty of people are already using it today in the form of Virtual Risc PC. But it's very much a solution for existing users; it's hardly likely to draw in the crowds from the mainstream computer market. Even if a few current PC users buy into VRPC in order to run some specific RISC OS software (what?), they're only ever likely to use it as a sidekick to their Windows installation. Besides, emulation has significant overheads.

As for rewriting RISC OS, yes, it could be done... but why bother? The whole point of using RISC OS is having access to some of the excellent software from the past, which works within its superb GUI. You could recreate that GUI in a new OS, but the old software would never run on it. At least, not unless you write another ARM-based RISC OS emulator for the new OS, and then you're back into emulation again. Besides, if we can't even support relatively simple new applications these days, where will all the money and programmers come from to write the new RISC OS-like OS and all the new applications to run on it? And once it's all finished, in five years' time or more, how will it compare with PCs and Macs in that point in the future? And will we still want to run (under emulation) all those old RISC OS applications that have been stagnating in the meantime?

No, a new OS isn't worth considering unless you're willing to throw away the entire history of RISC OS software and start with an entirely new system, tabula rasa, for a new market. Sure, it may look superficially like RISC OS and behave in a similar way (hopefully with many important enhancements), but it won't actually /be/ RISC OS and it won't run any RISC OS software.

Besides, in a sense, this has already been done in the form of ROX-Filer. I haven't used ROX-Filer myself, but I'm led to believe that it has a lot to commend it. Whilst it has its advocates, with many RISC OS (and ex-RISC OS) users among them, I don't see the RISC OS market migrating en masse to use it instead of RISC OS. Why should the situation be any different with some theoretical new RISC OS-like OS?

I'm sorry, but I don't see a sensible solution to our situation. The best that we can hope for, really, is that developers continue plugging away to keep the platform and its software up to date. It still has unique advantages over Macs and PCs that make it well worth using. RISC OS remains my primary OS and my favourite OS, and I'd hate to be without it. But sadly, I can't see any realistic situation in which it can really compete against Macs and PCs and draw in the numbers of new users that it needs. The gap has just widened too much. If, when Acorn collapsed, everyone had worked together really hard and had a serious development plan in mind, there would still have been a chance for the platform to have widespread appeal. But sadly, the political infighting of recent years has squandered that opportunity, wasted vast amounts of time, and driven away most of the userbase that remained back then.

I suppose that it's actually quite amazing that the situation isn't much worse, when you consider the age of the OS that we're all still using. Despite continuing progress and relatively small-scale rewrites, RISC OS is still basically the same OS that Acorn first released in 1988, and which maintained a few roots in the BBC Micro (BBC Basic, for example). Over a similar period, Windows has changed beyond all recognition and Apple has thrown away Mac OS (after many major rewrites) and produced a brand-new Unix-based OS. The fact that RISC OS can still compete at all, and consider itself superior to Windows XP and Mac OS X in various ways, is actually quite incredible.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 12/07/06 11:20AM
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On Ex-Pace staff back RISC OS Open Ltd:

The iMac, to a degree, is one of the reasons why Phoebe didn't make it out of the door; or, at least, it's an excuse for the fact. I remember someone at Acorn (Stan Boland, I think) saying that the iMac was a real "conviction launch" and that Acorn couldn't hope to match it.

This was true in terms of marketing clout; Apple was able to afford the kind of huge-scale marketing campaign that Acorn could only ever have dreamed of staging, even at the height of its fortunes, let alone in the late 1990s. But the fact is that the original iMac was actually /not/ a particularly good or innovative machine. It still came with the stable-as-a-stack-of-jelly Mac OS 8, and there wasn't anything functionally spectacular about it. About the only genuinely innovative things about it were that it helped to kill off the floppy drive and that it marked the widespread introduction of USB.

The success of the iMac launch was thanks to (a) the radical styling of the machine (I always thought it looked like a half-deflated beach ball, and not very attractive at all, but most people seemed to like it and it was certainly eye-catching) and (b) the appeal of the marketing. "I think therefore iMac" was a brilliant slogan, and so was the "there's no step 3!" idea: plug it in, turn it on and you're ready to go.

The RISC OS platform would have to catch up with several years' progress, now, for it ever to be in a position to appeal to the mass market. And sadly, especially with Acorn gone, we can't depend on any kind of brand loyalty either. That was something that really worked to Apple's benefit: when the iMac was launched, everyone knew the Apple name, even if they'd never used an Apple computer.

RISC OS users seem to spend a lot of time these days bemoaning the lack of fast new hardware and an Iyonix successor, but I really don't see this as an issue; at least, not with the software catalogue we've got today. The Iyonix in particular is *very* comfortably fast, and runs all current RISC OS software extremely well. Now, if we had high-end applications for video editing, DVD playback and that sort of demanding task, it would struggle to cope, so in a Brave New World with a greatly expanded catalogue of high-end RISC OS software, I'd agree that new, faster hardware would be a big benefit. But there's no real prospect of any such new software appearing, and with the current range of RISC OS applications that we've got, there's really no pressing need for newer, faster hardware. I'm not saying it wouldn't be good to have it, but there are higher and more affordable priorities, and a good modern Web browser is only one of many important things that we need.

I reckon that there are two absolutely essential prerequisites, if the RISC OS platform is to have any long-term future at all, and they are:

1. New, modern software to fill holes and deliver the current-day standard functionality of other platforms; and

2. Cooperation and coordination between those responsible for the development of this software and the OS itself.

The second of those things is the more important, and is what we need *right* *now*. Absolutely the worst possible scenario that a platform that's fighting for its life could face is for all those involved with its future to spend their time fighting amongst themselves, pulling in lots of different directions, bad-mouthing each other, duplicating each others' efforts, wasting time on trivialities when there are important things to do, and generally disenchanting the few users they have left. Unfortunately... need I say more?

For there to be any kind of a future at all, we need an end to this exasperating, pointless, self-destructive political infighting. Not only that; we need the opposing parties to put their differences behind them and work together. The arguments are all long past their sell-by dates, and the only thing the politics can ever possibly achieve is the destruction of whatever slim hopes may exist for the future of the platform.

hEglia: I wrote the above before seeing your post, but the points you make seem absolutely right to me.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 11/7/06 2:36PM
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On Resisting change is short-sighted:

The ideal time for AIF checking to have been added was when Acorn itself was working on RISC OS 4, so that it was in place when RISC OS 4 was actually released. This would have been the best *theoretical* time to introduce it.

Given that that didn't happen, the other good time to introduce it would have been with RISC OS 5 on the Iyonix, and it is indeed a pity that it didn't happen then. It was the ideal *practical* time for its introduction, given the 32-bit nature of the new machine and the fact that lots of developers were updating their software for 32-bit compatibility anyway.

Its arrival now is effectively 'third time lucky' for the feature. Unfortunately, the timing is particularly bad; so bad, in fact, that it probably creates more problems than it solves. In theory, having it present is still a good idea. In reality, given that we're faced with the current situation (RISCOS Ltd and Castle apparently at perpetual loggerheads, and many users and developers similarly taking sides with their favoured company), the arrival of AIF checking now merely serves to perpetuate the rift between camps. Some developers will doubtless take an entrenched position and refuse to update their code, for political reasons if nothing else. Many will feel aggrieved and disenchanted with the whole platform because of all the political infighting we've seen. That wasn't the case in 2002, when the Iyonix represented a fresh and exciting opportunity for the platform. All the ill-feeling has been created by foolish short-sightedness, and could so easily have been avoided by a bit of simple cooperation and deflation of egos.

As for the idea of an opt-in or opt-out, it seems that there is one already, in the form of the compatibility plug-in. On the positive side, this could at least be a useful debugging aid for end-users: they could turn its features on before trying out applications, to see whether they load or fail or exhibit specific problems (as detailed in the screenshot above), so users could choose to have 'clean systems' and only use software that loads without problems with the checking turned on. But on the negative side, though, the ability to turn the checks off means that (a) having them there in the first place serves little purpose, and (b) developers have even less incentive to update their software. But of course, given that the vast majority of RISC OS software is rarely if ever updated these days, /not/ having the checks is likely to be the only way of running many applications.

Overall, this sort of compatibility feature is the kind of thing that demands an active developer community, if its introduction is to be successful. And that's precisely why there couldn't really have been a worse time to introduce this new checking. It merely puts a new burden on the few developers we have left (effectively, it demands that they must update their *entire* portfolio again), and theoretically rules out the use of older software; at least, without use of Aemulor or the 'subersive' WrapAIF tool. Incidentally, I can't see that WrapAIF is any more subversive than A6's own compatibility tool. If the AIF checking itself can be turned off by the user, why is it 'subersive' to provide a tool that creates compatibility for software that will never gain it otherwise?

(NB Please excuse any technical errors in the above. I write without the benefit of an A9; I neither own one nor have ever used one, so I'm going merely by what I've read.)

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 3/7/06 11:26AM
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On Don't rely on Drobe, says R-Comp:

Slow news day, is it?

I honestly can't see any point behind this story at all; at least, not with the slant that seems to be being put on it. Drobe seems to be making out that the underlined sections of Andrew's email are outrageous and deliberately designed to denigrate the news portals (and Drobe in particular), but the comments don't read that way to me at all. It was perhaps unnecessary for Andrew to make that comment (he could just have said that announcements were put on c.s.a.announce), but I don't suppose it occurred to him that an innocent remark might provoke an entire news story on Drobe.

What Andrew is saying here appears to me to be nothing other than factual. Developers announce their products primarily on c.s.a.announce, which is where you should normally look for such announcements. You can't rely on the portals like Drobe and the Icon Bar to cover every last single announcement that appears there, because they'll make stories out of the announcements that they consider to be the most interesting, and can't possibly be expected to cover every last item. Exactly the same comment could be aimed at the magazines, and I see nothing in the least bit wrong with it. Another, perhaps better, way of putting Andrew's point across would be to say:

1. The primary source of information is c.s.a.announce, because that's where all the press releases appear initially.

2. If you don't have convenient Internet access, and/or prefer getting news from magazines, then Archive is the magazine most likely to quote R-Comp press releases.

And beyond that, other magazines and online portals may or may not choose to cover the release of any new piece of software, depending on how interesting they consider it to be.

What's the problem with that? Andrew clearly isn't singling out Drobe as a target to attack (he mentions the Icon Bar too), and what he says is perfectly accurate and reasonable.

By the way, if one searches Drobe's pages for references to Messenger Pro 4, it's actually not that easy to find any announcement of the launch of this version, which rather backs up the point that Andrew was making.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 6/6/06 9:33AM
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On RISC OS found on Pocket PC PDA:

I'd like to see someone porting something to Palm OS. The Palm TX, for instance, has a 300MHz XScale and a nice 480x320 screen. (Tiny for RISC OS, but...) And the Palm LifeDrive (the current top-end Palm PDA) has a 416MHz XScale and a 4GB hard drive.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 30/5/06 10:53AM
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On News in brief:

I'm very sorry to hear about Neil Raine. Although I never encountered him personally, I was aware of his name as one of the leading lights of font manager developments in the early days of RISC OS. The font manager, of course, was a truly cutting-edge piece of technology when it appeared (in fact, it still leaves much of its competition in the dust from various points of view), and one of the most important original benefits of RISC OS. Neil also wrote Magic Mushrooms, which was one of the more popular Acornsoft games for the BBC Micro, and Iota Software's Image Outliner, which was the best quality bitmap-to-vector conversion application available to RISC OS for several years. He was clearly an extremely talented programmer.

What a waste of a life, to die like that.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 22/3/06 5:11PM
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On Middleton battles 'misinformation':

Final comment, as a response to SimonC and hzn:

I think we've descended here into arguing semantics, and talking in circles around a point that we're probably not even in disagreement about. I don't want to argue for the sake of arguing, especially when I don't think there are even any clearly opposing viewpoints.

Let me say: I am not trying to justify/argue/apologise for RISCOS Ltd's approach. I'm not here to speak for RISCOS Ltd in any way, except in terms of the content of Foundation RISC User (which is totally irrelevant to this thread). If you're expecting me to counter what you say with arguments from an opposing viewpoint, then you'll be disappointed because I don't necessarily disagree with much of what's being said here. (And, as I've tried to make clear, RISCOS Ltd's approach to PR has nothing to do with me anyway.)

My only reason for posting in the first place was just to point out that the information was sent to a wider audience than purely Select members. I wasn't trying to say anything beyond that, so all the further arguments do seem a bit futile!

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 8/3/06 6:04PM
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On Middleton battles 'misinformation':

hEgelia: "active interest in RISCOS Ltd's products" was supposed to mean (without expending /quite/ so many words on it) "those who are supporting RISCOS Ltd's development efforts financially by subscribing to one or the other of its two current ongoing/evolving products: namely, RISC OS Select developments and the Foundation." Clearly it's possible to be interested in RISC OS, and to have at least a passing interest in what RISCOS Ltd is doing, without actually subscribing to either of RISCOS Ltd's current ongoing schemes: that's so obvious as to be not worth even stating, which is why I thought that my meaning was pretty transparent. The information went out to those people who are contributing in some way to RISCOS Ltd's finances (and who are hence taking an active, as opposed to a passive, interest in RISCOS Ltd's activities). Those are the people who (a) are paying for something already, and (b) are potentially most likely to pay for something else in the future. I surmise that RISCOS Ltd took the view that information about future Select developments would be of greatest interest, and should be sent with the highest priority, to current Select and Foundation subscribers, as they're the ones who've put their money where their mouths are. (Joke: as opposed to others who put their mouths where their money should be...?)

Whether or not the information should have been issued as a public press release is an entirely separate question, and one which I was not attempting to answer previously. Perhaps a formally-worded press release would have been better in this instance, but then you could say that about virtually any information coming out of RISCOS Ltd, and if they published everything in the form of press releases then (a) you'd lose the personal slant that appears in Paul's newsletters (which gives a human face to the company, even if you don't happen to agree with what he's saying) and (b) you'd potentially remove the need for any non-public newsletter (and thus lose one of the minor perks of Select/Foundation membership).

So, was what I wrote naive? No. Are we now splitting hairs to a ridiculous extent? Yes, I'd say so.

As for your comments about FRU: it's always nice to hear that my efforts in producing a high-quality publication are so appreciated... :-( You seem to be working under the assumption that FRU is a publicity organ for RISCOS Ltd, which isn't the case. It's a largely independent magazine which just happens to be distributed by RISCOS Ltd and to have a certain amount of RISCOS Ltd-related material in it (though that's only a very minor component). However, the money that it generates will contribute, if only to a small extent, towards RISCOS Ltd's ongoing existence. If you think that the Foundation is bad value, then fair enough; that's your opinion, and I can't comment because I have nothing to do with the setting of prices. All I can say is that I try to make the magazine component of the Foundation subscription as good value and high quality as I possibly can within the constraints that I face. I'd hope that most Foundation subscribers feel that they're helping in some way to support the continued existence of the platform; that was one of the reasons for the foundation of the Foundation, after all. And with that in mind, I hope that the subscribers also feel that FRU is a good quality magazine and a valuable resource.

(Note: again, I am /not/ commenting here about the matter of the design of RISCOS Ltd's Web site or the wisdom of having a separate person deal with PR. I'm not in a position to comment on such matters even if I wanted to.)

A final disclaimer, before I withdraw from this thread: I am a freelance individual and I am not speaking for RISCOS Ltd, or for anyone else other than myself. Yes, I edit FRU, which is published by RISCOS Ltd, and hence I'm being slightly guarded in some of my comments; but then, I did some work on RISC OS 5 for Castle too (thus I was working on both sides of the RISC OS 4/5 divide at the same time; one result of this is that I now produce FRU on an Iyonix). I have no axe to grind. I was trying to post a helpful clarification above; nothing more. Other than the mild sense of futility I get when I read of people having "absolutely no interest" in reading my magazine, there's no hidden agenda in what I've been saying, and no attempt to incite people to subscribe to the Foundation. (I don't benefit personally from subscriptions in any case.)

Well, that's more than enough time expended on a non-issue. Wish I'd never brought it up, now...!

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 8/3/06 4:15PM
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On Middleton battles 'misinformation':

diomus: I'm sure that's true, and I'm not trying to argue or to imply that your article is wrong. (We seem to be getting a lot of mileage out of a very minor point here!) My clarification was intended /only/ to make the point that the comments are also published in the latest Foundation newsletter, which was released last Friday (3rd March). Whether that was before or after it appeared on the Select list I can't say (without looking it up), and it really doesn't matter anyway. The only reason I made the comment was that people seemed to be assuming that the information had gone out only to Select subscribers, and that isn't the case; it went out to Foundation members as well: to everyone with some form of active interest in RISCOS Ltd's products, in other words.

I also want to make the point that my comments weren't intended as a plug for the Foundation: they were just intended as a clarification and nothing more. Although I edit Foundation RISC User magazine (which is entirely my responsibility), I have nothing to do with the Foundation newsletters, which are entirely the responsibility of Paul Middleton. They're his means of communicating directly with the RISC OS public in a way that isn't tied to the release of periodical CDs. The same is true of press releases, of course; PR and newsletter issues are included on Foundation RISC User for historical/archival purposes, but beyond that they're unrelated.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 8/3/06 11:28AM
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On Middleton battles 'misinformation':

jmb: Thanks for the sarcastic response. My comment was a clarification and correction of a minor error in the reporting of the story, nothing more. You'll note that I made no attempt to disagree with Herbert's point. Nor do I disagree with yours; I could just have wished for it without the sarcasm.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 7/3/06 1:51PM
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On Middleton battles 'misinformation':

hzn: To clarify, the extract published by Drobe is actually taken from Paul Middleton's latest Foundation newsletter, number 33 (which is entirely separate from Foundation RISC User, of course, though FRU archives the newsletters). So it wasn't a mailing specifically to Select subscribers; it was emailed to Foundation members (not all of whom are Select subscribers).

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 7/3/06 10:25AM
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On News in brief:

I'm pleased to see some more reasonable attitudes being expressed now!

I have to say, though, that I'm rather intrigued by the behaviour of the moderation figures in this thread. After I'd posted my long spiel above, I noted that, within 20 minutes or so, it had been moderated down to -1.3, which seemed not only unreasonable but also strikingly swift. Could over a dozen people really have read my long bit in those few minutes, and all marked it down for being bad/off-topic (which I was sure it wasn't)? I note now that it's been moderated right up to +5.1, which is very pleasing and feels a lot better!

But it does surprise me that it managed to go so negative so quickly in the first place. I note that if I moderate someone's comment myself (on the rare occasions that I do), the rating only seems to alter by 0.1 (if at all), so to get to a large positive or negative figure must take quite a lot of votes. Do more regular posters on Drobe (such as the ones with blue and gold stars afer their names) have greater weightings in the moderation system? (I tend to post only when I have something that I really want to say, so I haven't got any stars.) If so, it would help to account for the sudden negative shift on my own post.

I'm also interested to find that the exceptionally rude entry, to which I alluded in my long post, has vanished. Last time I saw it, it had reached a moderation figure approaching -20 (and deservedly so). Are posts deleted automatically if they fall below a certain rating, or will someone have removed it manually?

Sorry if this seems irrelevant, but I've looked for, and failed to find, an explanation of how this moderation system actually works, and I'd be interested to know.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 27/1/06 11:35AM
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On News in brief:

fylfot: I'm by no means a humourless individual in general, and perhaps I'm being dense and missing something on this occasion. But if so, I'd love to know what it is because, in all honesty, I can't see anything the remotest bit funny here. I admit it; maybe my sense of humour has crashed.

I do know that I've blown up a very minor incident and made it sound a lot more serious than it is, but it's a matter of principle. Besides, having suffered a similar (but worse) incident myself, I know how extremely annoying it can be.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 26/1/06 7:05PM
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On News in brief:

caliston2: Yes, it ought to work like that, but regardless of how you word it ("embargoed until such-and-such a date" or a more informal wording such as Chris's), it's not a fat lot of good if one or more of your recipients (a) totally ignores your request and (b) attempts to humiliate you in public for making it.

Anyway, in my case, if you're referring to my FRU DVD release, I hadn't put out any information of any kind myself. My press release was written but hadn't been sent anywhere. Drobe got hold of some private information via RISCOS Ltd about my DVD and chose to go public with it, without even considering the implications or attempting to ask my permission. That kind of behaviour doesn't do a lot to enhance Drobe's reputation.

I note that my comment above has already, a mere few minutes after I posted it, been moderated down to -1.3. This is despite the fact that it's entirely relevant to an important point that's been made on this threat, wholly polite and wholly constructive. What's negative or off-topic about it, that should cause it to be marked down?

I suppose this is just another example of why I said that my stand for common courtesy was futile. Clearly it is.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 26/1/06 6:55PM
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On News in brief:

Regarding the Wakefield whinge above, am I alone in finding Chris' request, and his following response to its being ignored (and indeed almost mocked by being quoted directly in the article), perfectly reasonable?

Yes, he posted a polite public response to a public question on a public forum, and therefore cannot, in a sense, complain if it is quoted elsewhere, because the information has entered the public domain. But he also included a polite request for portals not to quote his reply, and to have that request itself quoted, along with all the other information that it asks should not be quoted, seems to me to be deliberately provocative. It's as though Drobe is intentionally putting the request up for public ridicule: "look how we'll treat anyone who dares to ask us not to print what we want to print!"

It's not as if the information is particularly enlightening or even worth printing. Chris' posting says next to nothing, except that there's the possibility of a show, that there'll be a proper announcement in due course, and that he'd like "the media" (for want of a better term) to wait for any such announcement before publishing anything. What's so unreasonable about that? I know that there's no sensitive information here, and superficially it really doesn't matter that this information has appeared, but that isn't really the point; Chris has a perfect right to feel aggrieved even so, after having his request not just ignored but actually highlighted. Besides, what, precisely, has Drobe achieved by preannouncing Chris's plans?

On the negative side, Drobe has clearly infuriated Chris Hughes, which isn't the best thing to do for a man who's been organising the most regular and consistently good quality show in this country (under difficult conditions) for the last decade. And why are people, in the responses to Chris' negative reaction, trying to pillory him for his perfectly natural and human annoyance? This isn't a matter of the letter of the law (yes, strictly speaking it's Chris' fault for being so rash as to open his mouth at all); it's a matter of simple courtesy.

On the positive side, what has this announcement achieved? It's let people know that there's a possibility of a Wakefield Show this year... but they presumably knew that anyway, and beyond that it says almost nothing; it doesn't confirm that a show is going to happen.

In other words, the only thing that the announcement has really achieved is to annoy the one person that we're relying on to organise the show in question. Worse still, there's been some pretty nasty follow-ups to Chris' negative reaction; one person has been tastelessly rude whilst another, worse still, has said outright that Chris is stupid (and has been excessively patronising as well). Charming. Persumably that person isn't doing a whole lot to help in the organisation of the show.

So has this really been a very constructive and helpful exercise? What would have been wrong with, say, honouring Chris' request and waiting for a few days, refraining from pre-empting any official announcement, and then actually printing something useful once there's something worth printing?

Chris' reaction strikes a personal chord with me, because Drobe pre-announced my Foundation RISC User DVD edition last year, a day or two before I was ready to announce it to the public. I'd written the public announcement but was waiting to release it for some very specific and important reasons, and I was /exceedingly/ irritated when Drobe jumped the gun (with private information, not obtained from me) and took the entire wind out of my proper announcement (which came only a day or so later).

It seems to me that with the immediacy of Internet-based communications these days, there's a deplorable absence of basic politeness and decency, which is a totally separate issue from the question of whether doing a thing is right or wrong in terms of the letter of the law.

That's all I'm going to say on the matter. I just thought I'd make a futile stand for common courtesy.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 26/1/06 5:35PM
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On Best of 2005 awards results:

First of all, my sincerest congratulations to Martin Wuerthner, who is a most deserving winner of two categories.

Secondly, I'd like to agree in principle with what Herbert's just said. Whilst giving a truly free vote might prove difficult, I felt that some of the choices were a bit arbitrary or restricted this time. In particular, I was very surprised that Geminus wasn't listed under 'Best show of ingenuity'; I think it's the most ingenious product of the year, and I'd certainly have voted for it if it had been there.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 1/1/06 1:19PM
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On Acorn User rock on sale:

I'm envious of that big stick! I didn't know that whole sticks of rock were made available at the show. What I got (and still have!) was a pair of individually-wrapped slices, about 1cm thick. Same rock as that pictured here (with 'ACORN USER' written down it in two colours), but in pieces.

I've also got a packet of Acorn-branded mints. They're in a silver-foil tube, wrapped round with a white piece of paper with the Acorn logo on it. I can't remember where they came from, unless it was the Clan goodie-bag.

Oh, and I've also got an Xemplar gingerbread man (1st anniversary celebration issue) in a preservative plastic box, complete with commemorative card, which I photographed for RISC User magazine in 1997 (see news pages, issue 10:6). Bet that's worth a mint! (Pardon the pun...)

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 24/7/05 1:12PM
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On The RISC OS dispute: 12 months on:

John Cartmell: I think it's very dangerous to play the blame game in any kind of public forum. All it achieves is to perpetuate unpleasantness and make you look biased (which is never a good idea for a magazine editor). Besides, unless you are absolutely, positively, beyond a shadow of a doubt, 100% certain of every last supposed fact and contributing factor, you might not be being fair. Is every last one of your sources completely unbiased and unimpeachable? Are you absolutely certain that you have equal knowledge about what has gone on, from the points of view of *all* parties involved and including appropriate background information? Unless you can answer yes to both of those questions, then I really don't think that you should be heaping opprobrium on any individual company in public, regardless of your opinions in private. I have no intention, myself, of laying blame at anyone's door in any public forum - despite the fact that I suspect that my sources may be as good as yours.

Please don't take those comments negatively; I offer them with the best and most constructive intentions, because it seems to me that you're making yourself appear more biased than I would personally consider advisable. I just want to make the point that few things in life are black and white, and it's easy to present an unfairly slanted opinion, however good one's intentions may be.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 19/06/05 9:25PM
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On The RISC OS dispute: 12 months on:

AMS: Looking back again at what you wrote, I think I probably misinterpreted what you were saying. Apologies if so. I took your comment about the FRU DVD to be a statement of your own opinion, whereas - looking at it again, in context - I think you were intending it as an example of people slanting stories and finding 'evidence' that doesn't actually exist. If that is indeed what you meant, then my previous defensive response was inappropriate, and I was arguing where no argument was necesssary. (Actually, my slightly misdirected response was rather a good illustration of the very point you were making!)

Anyway, regarding your follow-up comment, I was, shall we say, less than overjoyed about the negative political slant that Drobe chose to put on the FRU DVD story's headline in particular. But this kind of slant - which the youngsters today call 'attitude', I believe ;-) - is a long-established part of Drobe's reporting, so I wasn't too surprised. To be fair, it may well have been more to do with trying to make the story individual and attention-grabbing than to make it overtly political. I'm giving Drobe the benefit of the doubt here, of course, but to describe the story as being a blatant example of RISC OS 5-bashing may be overstating the point somewhat. In Drobe's favour, the story is at least factually accurate, and also links to a copy of my original press release for anyone who's interested. Chris took the trouble to phone me up and ask me about the DVD, and the body of the story makes it very clear that the DVD's contents are indeed Iyonix-compatible, so really it's only the headline that's at fault. It /is/ a pretty irritating and unfair headline (and now out of date), but at least the story following it is fair and accurate.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 19/06/05 9:00PM
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On The RISC OS dispute: 12 months on:

AMS: "Once you start asking the right questions then things begin to make sense, obvious patterns emerge, the DVD that ROL produced that plays on Select but specifically not on Iyonix (as mentioned in Drobe here by Chris)."


I've tried to make the whole business of the Foundation RISC User DVD (which is clearly what you must be referring to) as abundently clear and transparent as possible, to try to avoid this kind of apparently wilful misunderstanding, or the reading into the situation of politics that simply aren't there. However, it seems that people will insist on jumping to conclusions even in the face of all evidence to the contrary. Nevertheless, anyone who takes the trouble to read my original announcement about the DVD - which is available via a link from the Drobe article - will see that there can really be no misunderstanding about the ability to use the FRU DVD on an Iyonix.

Whilst I want to keep well out of this whole RISCOS Ltd vs Castle debate, the FRU DVD is *my* product and I do /not/ want to see it tarnished with a political brush. (Nor do I wish to be so tarnished personally, by association.) So, for the record - and I said this at the time of the DVD's launch - the *only* reason why it was announced that the FRU DVD would run on Select machines and not on Iyonix machines was that it was true, given the Iyonix hardware at the time. The situation was a product of *fact*, not of *design*. No Iyonix PCs (other than perhaps occasional user-upgraded ones) had DVD drives at the time, and even if you fitted one, RISC OS 5 did not permit you to read DVDs with it. Ergo, my DVD didn't work on the Iyonix. If I could have done anything to make it work, I would have done. However, I also made if very clear that, in software terms, the contents of the DVD were fully compatible, and indeed that the DVD itself *was* *created* *on* *an* *Iyonix!*

I believed it to be true that the FRU DVD would work on an Iyonix if (a) the machine was fitted with a DVD drive and (b) the user was running CDROMFS, and I said as much on Drobe. However, I couldn't say this as part of the official announcement because I hadn't been able to test it myself, and therefore couldn't say for certain that it would work. (Alternatively, you could use the DVD on an Iyonix via a network, which I also said in the announcement.)

Now that Iyonix machines are being fitted with DVD drives as standard, have DVD drives available as an upgrade and have a version of RISC OS 5 that's capable of reading DVDs, the FRU DVD will work. No change; no reissue; no U-turn in policy or position from RISCOS Ltd. The product that you could have bought last February now works on the Iyonix, as I always intended that it should.

If AMS or anyone else cares to actually look at a copy of the DVD, rather than just assuming it's a politically-driven mouthpiece preaching a pro-RISCOS Ltd and anti-Castle gospel, they will find that:

1. There is a prominent badge on the Welcome page saying that "this magazine was produced entirely on an IYONIX pc".

2. The articles within go out of their way to be as fair and impartial as possible at all times, and there is a very deliberate absence of any kind of politics.

3. Issue 11 of the magazine (which, of course, forms part of the DVD) was an Iyonix Special Edition, and contains the best and most comprehensive coverage of the Iyonix (from very shortly after its launch) that was published by *any* RISC OS publication. There's lots of detailed, exclusive info here. This in itself doesn't imply pro-Iyonix bias either, by the way; the Iyonix was far and away the most important development on the RISC OS scene when it was launched, and hence I felt that it was FRU's duty to give it the best coverage that I could arrange. (But FRU certainly isn't anti-Iyonix either, and the magazine was made to work with the Iyonix at the earliest possible opportunity.)

FRU may officially be published by RISCOS Ltd, but it's 100% produced by me, and I have complete control over the contents of its articles. And bear in mind that I'm an independent freelancer who has managed the unusual feat of working for both Castle and RISCOS Ltd simultaneously. FRU is not a political organ; nor is it the mouthpiece of one company. Because of the very fact that it is published by RISCOS Ltd, I have done my utmost, throughout its life, to make it as fair and impartial as possible. (That's why it doesn't publish reviews of RISC OS software; it mustn't be accused of representing endorsement by RISCOS Ltd.)

So please don't assume that the FRU DVD was specifically designed not to be compatible with the Iyonix. It's not true, not matter how much anyone may want it to be in order to back up a political point, and the very idea is utterly against the principles under which I operate. Besides, now that Iyonix machines support DVD drives, the FRU DVD is fully compatible with them. That pleases me no end, as I'm an Iyonix user myself.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 19/06/05 12:33AM
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On Select for Iyonix spotted in public:

It seems to me that RISC OS 6 should not be contemplated unless and until the separate developments of RISC OS 4 and RISC OS 5 come together into a single, unified tree (however feasible that is). If there is one new OS that can work on any modern hardware (Iyonix, A9, Virtual RPC and whatever else might emerge), and we don't have different people developing the OS in multiple opposing directions, then that's the time to call it RISC OS 6 (and to rejoice at the new-found unity it brings); not before.

Even if it were to happen, though, developers would still be faced with support issues for existing RISC OS 4 (whatever flavour) and 5 users. It would take a long time for there to be widespread adoption of any hypothetical RISC OS 6, and existing software would still have to cater for the machine it's running on, so introducing RISC OS 6 would add just one more combination to cope with, regardless of how good a move it might be for the future.

Anyway, practically, I would imagine that there would be some significant technical differences between Iyonix Select and RISC OS 4.4 as seen on the A9, even if the APIs are compatible and the actual 'bullet-point features' turn out to be much the same.

(Disclaimer: I'm speaking entirely for myself, not on behalf of RISCOS Ltd, Castle or anyone else. I can't comment on what they're doing; if I could, I wouldn't be posting this! ;-))

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 9/6/05 3:45PM
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On RiscCAD demo available:

wuerthne: Thanks, Martin, but there's no need to apologise; I wasn't in any way offended by your comments, and I do understand the frustration you must have felt in the past because of support queries etc. caused by SpecialFX. The content of your post (and others), though, made me feel that I should say something positive in favour of SpecialFX! I acknowledge that it can cause problems, but it /is/ very useful.

Anyway, I'm delighted to hear that you've found a way of fixing the underlying problem, and will be incorporating background blending 'properly' in ArtWorks, because a native solution is obviouly far preferable to one imposed by other software, and background blending is something I've wanted in ArtWorks for a long time.

demondb: In fact, SpecialFX is supplied not just on the Iyonix, but also with RISC OS Select/Adjust. However, in both cases it is (as Martin says) supplied as an optional extra for you to install yourself if you want to use it. I guess it would be helpful for my online HTML document about SpecialFX to be bundled with the software itself... the only reason it hasn't been included to date is that I produced it relatively recently (i.e. the bundled versions with RISC OS 4 and 5 predate the online downloadable version). I'll probably send a new, updated archive to RISCOS Ltd and Castle soon, for use with subsequent issues. However, the HTML document is only really a 'friendlier' version of the text-based documentation that's provided already.

blahsnr: a widget in window furniture would, I suspect, be hideously complicated to implement, assuming it's possible at all. Something could possibly be done via the nested Wimp (though that would break compatibility with RISC OS 3), but I don't think it's possible to put a new tool up in the title bar area (unless my memory is failing me, it'd have to be associated with the horizontal scroll bar). So it'd be a rather ugly solution, and it would add clutter to lots of windows and interfere with the standard appearance of window furniture, almost certainly creating more confusion than it would remove. So no, I don't see that as a practical answer.

However, your other idea, of a simple icon bar icon, is not only feasible but already possible! SpecialFX comprises two components: the module itself (SpecialFX, written by David Pilling) and the setup utility that controls it (SFXSetup, which I wrote). SFXSetup is actually slightly unusual in that it's designed to be used both as a plug-in for Configure and as a stand-alone utility. It's particularly useful to have it as a stand-alone utility on RISC OS 3 systems, because of course the plug-in based Configure isn't available on those machines. Anyway, if run directly with a double-click on its icon (or via an application launcher or whatever), SFXSetup installs an icon on the icon bar and behaves exactly like any other regular desktop utility. If run through Configure, it behaves slightly differently (observing certain Configure behavioural guidelines and refraining from installing an icon on the icon bar).

So, if you want to have some visible indication that SpecialFX is present, all you have to do is to run SFXSetup manually, or indeed add it to your boot sequence. You'll then get an icon on the icon bar, which has the added benefit of giving you quick and easy access to the setup window without having to go through Configure.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 08/03/05 4:19PM
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On RiscCAD demo available:

wuerthne: Martin, we've had all this before, both in public and in private, and I have no desire to have another argument about it. I do understand the frustration you must have felt in having to field a lot of support questions relating to a piece of software that, from your point of view, 'breaks' your own software, and I'm sorry for that - really. Similarly, I understand that from the point of view of purists, SpecialFX is not really a good idea because it's hack which, in effect, produce results that no-one ever envisaged. It makes software do what it was never designed to do, and when you're into that kind of business, you're almost bound to fall foul of problems here and there.

However, I'd like to make the following points:

1. In the documentation accompanying SpecialFX I make it abundantly clear that it *IS* a hack and that it *CAN* theoretically cause problems. I explain (in significant detail) what the likely problems are, and what to do about them. Anyone who installs SpecialFX should really familiarise themselves with the sorts of problems that the software can potentially cause, and try turning it off in the first instance rather than firing off a complaint. (That's easily said, I know; it's human nature to complain first and think later.)

2. For the *vast* majority of software, it provides a tremendously valuable improvement in on-screen display quality, and often bitmap output to files, too. It only upsets a very small proportion of applications, and so - for me at least - the benefits outweigh the disadvanges by a very large margin indeed. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that I really wouldn't be without it; it makes a tremendous, positive difference to my own way of working.

3. To say that it's "abusing" GDraw really strikes me as putting things a bit too strongly. It's using it in a way for which it was not originally designed, certainly, but CC never had any objection to this in days gone by (yes, I did ask). And as I say, for many people the benefits will outweigh the disadvantages.

4. It's unfortunate that ArtWorks and EasiWriter (both Martin's projects) have rather suffered at the hands of SpecialFX; Martin has had a much more negative experience with SpecialFX than anyone else in the RISC OS market, I'm sure, and that's regrettable. However, I have to say that I am personally not in the least bit keen about Martin's own solution relating to ArtWorks, which just turns SpecialFX's text-blending feature off for ArtWorks, because it introduces deficiencies that are - for me - far worse than the problem that SpecialFX creates.

That is, if SpecialFX is loaded, it makes some text in ArtWorks go invisible (text which does not appear over another object). That's a nuisance, but if you know about it, you can work around it easily enough. But if that's happening, then SpecialFX is delivering two *very* useful benefits which are lost if it's turned off:

(a) it's making all text in the ArtWorks window use background blending, which really does give a *huge* improvement in many situations, such as if you're designing a poster with lots of text in it in ArtWorks;

(b) it allows the BMExport module to export images with anti-aliased text in them. This seems not to happen normally; if I want bitmap exports with anti-aliased text in them, I have to turn on SpecialFX (maybe it depends on the font size). This was *very* important when I was creating the RISC OS 5 filetype icons, with their text banners at the bottom: it looks awful if you have non-anti-aliased text there.

So I've disabled Martin's blanket fix in the !Run file of my own copy of ArtWorks; I'd much rather have the very minor problem that SpecialFX creates than to lose its benefits.

For other software, it's rare for there to be a problem, and if there is, then either SpecialFX can be turned off or the software can be adapted to cater for the situation.

demondb: I have no intention of suggesting that your code is at fault; I'm sure it isn't, and I'm sorry that SpecialFX causes a problem with your software. You're actually quite right: this problem /is/ nothing to do with you, and your software /is/ working perfectly well as it stands. But if you're able to work around it without just turning SpecialFX off, then you do get the benefit of a vast improvement to the quality of the output displayed in the window of your program. I'd have thought that this would be seen as a very useful improvement overall. It's a pity that you're having to do a bit of extra work, but at least you get a tangible benefit from it. (And, as I say, the majority of software is not adversely affected by SpecialFX.)

In general terms, I'm pretty much against having individual programs turn off SpecialFX by themselves. It has a set of user-editable defaults and settings that can be used to turn aspects on and off without individual applications needing to employ rather heavy-handed tactics like that. In the case of ArtWorks, my own feeling is that the fix is worse than the problem, in that it removes some very useful benefits in favour of fixing a problem that isn't particularly serious. I know that Martin feels strongly about this (with justification, I'm sure, especially from the point of view of providing support), but in general I'd prefer the few applications that suffer from this kind of problem to have a note in their documentation about SpecialFX, telling users to disable it themselves if they find the particular known problem to be a concern. It's one thing if there is no loss of benefits if you turn it off, but in the case of ArtWorks you do lose some benefits, so I'd prefer it to be up to users to choose the least worst solution themselves.

Finally, I also think it's worth pointing out that I've had emails from developers in the past who were delighted with the improvements that SpecialFX delivered for their software, and even adapted their code to take better advantage of it. (I'm thinking here in particular of a major RISC OS application, not just a little freeware program.) Horses for courses, but it would be wrong to suggest that all the feedback has been negative.

Anyway, these are my personal opinions for what they're worth. I'm putting them here just to state my perspective on the issue; I'm not trying to start a big argument or even pretend that everyone should agree with me.

The bottom line is just that people really ought to read the SpecialFX documentation before installing it. It's a really useful utility, and one of my own personal favourite RISC OS enhancements (I didn't write the module myself, so I can say that!), but yes, there are certain 'gotchas' related to having it installed, and people ought to be aware of them before using it.

 is a RISC OS UserRichardHallas on 07/03/05 3:57PM
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