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Are the RISC OS show dates on your calendar?

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:49, 21/7/2017 | ,
It may seem a long way off with the long summer holidays stretching out to there distant horizon, but September and October will come round all too quickly.

So here is a quick reminder to make sure you have notes the date for your diary...

London RISC OS Show will be on Saturday 28th October 2017 at its usual venue of St Giles Hotel - Feltham, London

It is easily accessible by both car and public transport.

All the major (and many minor players) in the RISC OS world attend (and generally run special offers and have new releases). So it is great place to see them, sample their wares and catch-up with other enthusiasts.

In recent years, we have seen some innovations at the RISC OS show with organisers setting up taxi shares, meet ups or lifts via the RISC OS newsgroups, websites or at the show. The Internet make finding other attending much easier, so don't leave it until the last minute this year. The summer will fly by...

There is a useful RISC OS Calendar page over at RISCOSitory which covers shows and also includes user group meetings if you are looking for (or organising) an event.
5 comments in the forums

How popular are RISC OS sites online?

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:07, 30/6/2017 | ,
Just as in life, there are lots of different ways of measuring and estimating popularity. Online one of the ways you can do this is to use a tool called Alexa. This gives sites a ranking based on how popular Alexa thinks the site is (so number 1 is google.com).

It is not an exact science (and it can be misrepresentative on some sites where Alexa has less data), but it is a useful 'guess'. So I typed in some RISC OS sites (and non-RISC OS sites which you may have heard of as a comparison) to get some numbers. Here is what Alexa reported for global rankings.....

apple.com 65
bbcbasic.co.uk 2,564,449
cjemicros.co.uk 3,463,770
drobe.co.uk 19,898,135
iconbar.com 3,913,170
linuxmint.com 4,450
netsurf-browser.org 1,165,775
osnews.com 114,759
orpheusinternet.co.uk 17,233,044
raspberrypi.org 3,186
riscos.com 2,866,998
riscos.org 9,126,309
riscository.com 11,268,284
riscosopen.org 366,518
stardot.org.uk 827,545 (41,450 in just uK)
ubuntu.com 1,493
xara.com 88,840

It is not a total surprise that ROOL is easily the top RISC OS site I could find. We have some work to do with Iconbar (as do the RISC OS vendors if they want to grow their sales online).

What do you make of the numbers?

Weblink to lookup a website on Alexa.
12 comments in the forums

Disappearing websites

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:38, 9/6/2017 | ,
In the last few weeks some websites of interested to RISC OS users have disappeared.

riscoscode.com used to be great list of interesting snippets from the RISC OS and software world in general selected by Martin Hansen. It now returns a domain expired blank page, although the twitter account is still online. It also looks like piLEARN and Mathmagical have also gone.

Another site which has dropped off the radar is the Pandaboard.org, which was the official home for the Panda. The Panda is still a great RISC OS machine, especially as a compact solution - I use mine at work as my secondary machine to my home Titanium.

Even if these sites are not being updated, this is a loss because they contain lots of useful content is lost and the search links all break.

There are still ways to see these sites (here is an old version of riscoscode). But these version are not always the latest and the links across the internet (and for search are broken).

It does not have to be this way. The old Computer Concepts page has been kept up on there internet by Xara, riscos.org and all its links are still online, APDL has a new home, and we host several sites on iconbar.
Comment in the forums

What development tools do we need ported to RISC OS

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:46, 2/6/2017 |
In a previous article, I talked about software updates we would like to see at the next show.

The critical ingredient for software development (whether you are writing something for your own use, developing free or commercial software for wider distribution, or trying to port something from another platform) is the toolset available.

In some ways, we have been lucky with RISC OS, which from the first release has included its own built-in development language (BBC BASIC). There is additional free software such as Dr Wimp or AppBasic to provide a really nice way to write desktop applications more easily.

For more advanced development have both the free C GCCSDK compiler and ROOL offers the commercial Desktop Development Environment.

But are there still some tools which would make RISC OS a better platform for development, make it easier to port software written using these tools across and possibly encourage developers who use these tools to try RISC OS? In an ideal world (with unlimited time and resources) we would obviously like Java, Mono, Ruby, etc along with Eclipse, Visual Studio and Maven,etc.... But that is not unfortunately where we live.

So here are 2 suggestions of tools I would like us to see on RISC OS which would be viable and make a positive impact.

Git is the leading Version Control system. It has replaced older systems such as CVS (which is all we have on RISC OS natively) for many uses. It also makes it easier to access GitHub, a huge central repository of free software or other systems such as Bitbucket. Some RISC OS code is uploaded to GitHub but it would be much easier to have Git on RISC OS.

Python 3 Python is a highly popular language for starting program development and heavily pushed by the RaspberryPi foundation and others. We have Python on RISC OS but it is only the much older Python 2 release. Python 3 is a significant improvement on the previous version and the one most new programmmers would want to use.

What do you think we need to see on RISC OS?
7 comments in the forums

What software updates would like to see at the next show?

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:44, 19/5/2017 |
One of the most positive things for me about the last round of shows (London, South-West, Wakefield) was the number of new versions of RISC OS packages released which offered new features. This was not just to support new hardware but to add functionality.

With Wakefield now behind us and a long gap until the London Show in October, now might be a good time to ponder/suggest/dream about updates you would like to see in RISC OS software you use?

Most RISC OS software is still fairly well-featured and well-designed. But there are still gaps, especially as the way people use software has changed. Here are my two suggestions to get you thinking...

'Better' IMAP support in !Messenger

IMAP works very well in !Messenger but a lot of the functionality in the actual application is not available. IMAP has become increasingly common with people spreading their email across multiple devices. I can use filters for IMAP mail in the MacOS email clients but it is not an option in !Messenger. It would be really nice to see all the features in !Messenger work on IMAP.

'Improved' Notes in !Organizer

Recent releases of !Organizer have seen some really powerful enhancements to the Diary features in the software, but no change to the Notes features which are still quit limited and clunky. Tools like !Trello now allow you to easily create draggable lists and it would be really nice to see something like this added to !Organizer.

Are these features you would also like to see? What is on your wishlist?
6 comments in the forums

A tale of 2 package managers

Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:39, 8/4/2017 | , ,
In the 'early days' most software had to be 'sourced' from different locations. The only big source of software in one place was Hensa on the University systems if you were lucky enough to have access. You could also connect to Bulletin boards (Arcade BBS) or get floppy disks through the post from Skyfall or APDL).

You can still hunt around (and there are lots of sites with gems we will be looking at in 2017 on IconBar), but in 2017 you have really easy access to huge sources of software straight from your RISC OS desktop. All you need is TWO programs.

PlingStore ( ie !Store) gives you access to a range or both free and commercial software (which you can buy with a credit card via the software). All software includes details of the software, website links, screenshots and you can search and explore the software on offer. You will find lots of favourites from David Pilling, R-CompInfo, Steve Fryatt, Chris Johnson, Sine Nomine and many others.

PlingStore tracks which versions of the software you have downloaded so it can also offer you the option to get free updates or buy commercial ones. If you are using R-Comp software, they provide a service to update the store with your current purchases to you can use it for updates when they release new versions.

When PlingStore runs, it checks on the Internet to update its information, so it can tell you about new software, updates or special offers.

!PackMan has developed out of RiscPkg. This brought dependency manangement based on Linux solutions to RISC OS (software can now describe what other software it works with and what it needs).

Dependency management is a big problem on many platforms (and trying to fix it on the Java platform has been the big issue for the last 2 releases of Java). Simply, the problem is that you download a new piece of software which needs version 4 of another library. So you install that on your machines. You then find that all your other software stops working as it only runs on version 3.... RedHat came up with a good solution to this problem which RiscPkg uses.

!PackMan builds ontop of this with a slick front end. It also includes a list of software and it knows what other software (dependencies) this software has. So it can ensure you have the software or download it for you as well. As with PlingStore it gives you a wide range of software and it can update its details with new releases when you run it. There is no payment options in !PackMan so all the software is free. !PackMan has some nice features to not only install the software, but add to Apps, run on startup, etc.

Both applications need some discipline to get the most from them. They do not look at your system and spot existing software, and PackMan has a standard location for all software. So you may be better off deleting existing software, and downloading a new copy in the new location through the package manager.

I am also pleased to say that there is little overlap and duplication between the software both offer. In general (apologies for slight over-simplification) PlingStore offers both 'original' commercial and free software from well-known RISC OS companies and developers while PackMan gives you access to the conversions to RISC OS platform from riscos.info and other sites (fonts, !Otter, games, tools, etc) which has grown from Peter Naulls' original Unix Porting Project.

Both applications are free and should be on your machine!

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RISC OS Interviews - Anthony Vaughan Bartram

Posted by Mark Stephens on 14:24, 31/3/2017 | , ,
This time round we introduce you to the talented musician, programmer and games maestro Anthony Vaughan Bartram, the person behind AmCoG games.

How long have you been using RISC OS?
Nearly 3 years now. I first booted up RISC OS on my Raspberry Pi in June 2014.

What other systems do you use?
Windows PCs/laptops with various OS versions & occasionally Linux.
I also have my original BBC Micro from 1983 which my 10 year old daughter likes playing on too.

What is your current RISC OS setup?
My main dev. system is an R-CompInfo ARMX6 with Elesar keyboard, plus a plethora of Raspberry Pis (including an Ident Micro one). I've also got various RISC OS systems to test my games on including a borrowed Iyonix, RPCEmu and Virtual Acorn.

Do you attend any of the shows and what do you think of them?
I've been exhibiting at Wakefield, MUG, London and the South West show since 2015.
I really enjoy the social and idea sharing at these shows. For example, at London 2016, someone was running a YouTube video as a teletext stream on a BBC Micro. There was a custom DJ system being shown too. On returning home after catching up with everyone, I always have a list of new ideas to work or collaborate on.

What do you use RISC OS for in 2017 and what do you like most about it?
I use it for being creative as RISC OS is not very distracting when compared to, for example, Windows. There are no pop-ups, forced updates or social media notifications. RISC OS is something that I can take control of (rather than the other way around) and this is what I like most. As a result, I use it for developing original computer games, original synthesiser technology amongst other things.

Whilst I might port some titles from RISC OS to Windows or Android, RISC OS is my main creative platform.

What is your favourite feature/killer program in RISC OS?
The GUI itself, StrongEd, BBC BASIC and possibly RDSP.

What would you most like to see in RISC OS in the future?
Multi-core thread support and some use of native GPU acceleration.

Favourite (vaguely RISC OS-releated) moan?
I'm afraid I suffer from chronic optimism - so don't like to moan much at all. Apparently sometimes this can be quite annoying :-)
I accept RISC OS for what it is including any rough edges. I hope to try and help fix/smooth out those edges going forward.

Can you tell us about what you are working on in the RISC OS market at the moment?
Iíve released 4 games in a little under 2 years and am working on more titles as well as updates to existing games at the moment. Further, Iím going to release a development kit geared towards, but not exclusively for, games. This kit will contain the library which I use for my own titles, together with AMCOGís new RDSP virtual sound chip which I recently previewed (n.b. The RDSP sound module will remain free).

Any surprises you can't or dates to tease us with?
Keep coming to the RISC OS shows to find out any surprises. I align release dates with shows. Whatever I have finished gets released then.

Apart from iconbar (obviously) what are your favourite websites?
Riscository, riscosblog and ROOL.

Any questions we forgot to ask you?
I also write songs, prose and have an interest in graphic design. I find that computer games let me combine all of these hobbies with programming.

I also sell music CDs at shows that comprise original songs that Iíve either written or co-written.

AmCoG games website.
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RISC OS Interviews - Vince Hudd

Posted by Mark Stephens on 08:05, 18/3/2017 | ,
This time round we interview Vince Price Hudd. He talks to us very candidly (maybe we might tell people in future that it is on the record and being recorded) about his experiences with running Soft Rock Software, relaunching the Bristol RISC OS User group with Trevor Johnson, and what it is like to run the second best RISC OS news site on the planet.

How long have you been using RISC OS?

A few hours.

Oh, you didn't just mean today? In that case, I've been using it 27 or so years - ever since I purchased an A3000. Acorn launched the A3000 in 1989, but I'm not sure if I bought mine later that year, or early the next.

I've probably still got the invoice somewhere - I'm sure I found it when I had a clear out of old paperwork a few years ago, and decided to keep it.

My first experience of an Acorn computer was being taught to program in BBC BASIC at school, from around 1982/3, but I didn't own one until I bought an Acorn Electron in December 1986 - and a BBC Model B+ a couple of years later.

What other systems do you use?

I have a PC running Linux Mint on my desk, and a laptop running Windows 7 which I use at clients, and sometimes at home when I need to and can find the space for it.

(I don't like laptop keyboards and touchpads, so I'd much rather set it up on a desk and use a proper monitor, keyboard and mouse. Alternatively, I should probably just get on and set up the Windows 7 PC that is still boxed from when I bought it!)

I suppose I should also mention the ancient XP laptop that accompanies me to shows - it runs VRPC, so is a handy second machine to go on my stand to run my old games. That's the *only* thing it gets used for.

I have a few other computers, mainly laptops, but they're just gathering dust.

What is your current RISC OS setup?

The two computers on my desk are an ARMX6 and a Raspberry Pi Model B (the original version).

The ARMX6 is my main RISC OS computer, and the Pi is for convenience. Its tiny size makes it easy to disconnect and move - handy for taking out and about, such as to shows.

Unsurprisingly, though, I do have "one or two" other RISC OS computers that I can set up (space permitting) if the need arises - and I *do* need to try and get the A3000 up and running at some point!

Do you attend any of the shows and what do you think of them?

Although I never used to, I attend all of the UK shows as an exhibitor. I enjoy them a lot, both from the point of view of getting feedback about what I'm doing (or what I've not yet done but should have!) and from the social aspect.

I think the shows are important, especially with the size of the RISC OS community these days, and they need to be supported - whether that's as an exhibitor or as a visitor. I really can't stress that enough.

One of the problems we have with the shows is a reflection of that; with the numbers we have attending, it limits what can be done in terms of how they are run and presented. More visitors would mean more entry fees for the organisers, and more turnover at the shows for exhibitors - which in turn means they could afford to pay more for their space to the organisers.

And if the organisers have a bigger pot to play with, they could improve the shows themselves.

What do you use RISC OS for in 2017 and what do you like most about it?

Answering the latter part of that question first - what I've always liked most about RISC OS is the clean, logical, consistent user interface. It's not without faults (try using a RISC OS computer without a mouse) but it's so much better than anything else I've used.

And going back to the first part, I use it for various things - but the two most obvious are programming and looking after my websites.

I'm not doing as much as I'd like, but I'm doing some!

My most recent bits of programming have been purely internal; I wrote some code to generate the RISC OS Awards voting form and back-end recently - something I'd intended to do since the start, but have only just done. Before that was a program to process data from a client's cloud-based accounts package and produce reports from it that the accounts package didn't.

My current work in progress is a rewrite of Escape from Exeria - a game I originally released back in 1990, and rewrote in 1994. Not much programming is being done on it at the moment because I'm concentrating on the screen designs and ideas - for which I'm using a slightly hacked copy of the 1994 version as a test bed.

Websites: I mostly look after my websites on RISC OS because there's a tool for the platform that I find invaluable: WebChange. I may, however, be a little biased. :)

Unfortunately, there are exceptions - the most notable of which is RISC OSitory. I use WordPress for that, and I can't do anything with it from RISC OS. In the long run, I'd like to migrate it into something else - I'm thinking something home brewed, and I have loose ideas about how to go about it, but it'll be quite a big job so it'll need time.

What is your favourite feature/killer program in RISC OS?

Some years ago, I'd have said Pluto - but Pluto doesn't talk IMAP, so I'm now using Messenger Pro and I'm not familiar enough with it to be able to call it a killer app.

I could, of course, fall back on a bit of bias and say WebChange - but I won't (not least because of the lack of a manual).

So instead I'm going to mention NetSurf and StrongED. I've yet to find a text editor on another platform as good as StrongED. There are some very good ones out there, but none are *that* good. And NetSurf should go without saying - it may not have complete implementations of various standards, but it's still an impressive piece of work.

What would you most like to see in RISC OS in the future?

What RISC OS really needs more than anything else is a stupendously rich benefactor, who could fund development of anything we need without batting an eyelid. But that's unlikely to happen, so I've had to think about this more seriously.

There are a few things I'd like to see - but whittling it down, I think the answer for me has to be wireless networking support built into the OS. I know there are external solutions we can use, but I really would like to see it built in.

It wouldn't be a selling point for the OS as such, because it would just be catching up with other platforms - but it removes it as something we *don't* have. When talking about RISC OS with people who aren't familiar, if the subject comes up and I have to say "No, it doesn't have it but you can do such and such as a work around" then that's a bad thing. They don't want to hear geek speak or mumbo jumbo - they just want to hear that wireless networking is there as standard, and setting it up is just a matter of clicking the relevant network and entering the passphrase.

What's the opposite of a selling point? That's what the lack of WiFi support is.

But then, if we had it the next question would be "Can I access Facebook/YouTube/Whatever?" - so meh!

Favourite (vaguely RISC OS-releated) moan?

Again, I have a few things I could choose from, but I've settled on user groups - both publicity and attendance.

Not enough people attend their local user groups. It's understandable for some, because their nearest group is a little too far - but that's in part caused by not enough people attending their local user groups when there were more of them, so there *was* a closer, more convenient group.

With a community as small as the RISC OS one, that makes attendance of these groups all the more important - just as attendance of shows is important. (And to some extent, users might find attending local groups could make attending shows a little easier, because in a social environment they might find it easier to discuss travel arrangements with others coming from the same area, and be able to arrange lifts and so on.)

Some of the user groups themselves are not helping with this. They all need to be announcing their meetings, by posting to their mailing lists or forums if they have them (and if they have neither, get one set up!), as well as to comp.sys.acorn.announce, and copying in
news@riscository.com - in particular, they should check
www.riscository.com/calendar/ and if there is incomplete or missing information there, let me know so I can fix it.

If a user group doesn't advertise its existence, people won't know it's there so won't attend. As a result, its membership will go down, and eventually it won't be there at all.

I have to put my hands up here and say guilty: I only ever once went along to the old Bristol user group - BARUG. They were quite sizeable once, but eventually diminishing numbers brought the group to a close.

Since then, a few of us have formed a new group, which meets in a pub every couple of months - and I've now started attending the Midlands User Group and (less often) the Wessex one; both a fair old drive for me, but that's how important I consider them to be.

Can you tell us about what you are working on in the RISC OS market at the moment?

I've mentioned above that I'm working on a rewrite of Escape from Exeria - that's just step one of a longer plan that's been on the back burner for some time. That plan is to do two things with each of the old budget games from Soft Rock Software.

Firstly, I want to make the old versions available again as a free download from my website, as well as from !Store. Where practical, I may do a little tidying of the code before uploading each one - and I also want to write a potted history of some of them, which will appear on the Soft Rock Software website.

Secondly, I'd like to rewrite them all - much as I'm doing now with Escape from Exeria - to give them much better graphics than before, as well as more levels and new challenges for the player.

And games aside, I have various things on my to-do list for WebChange (most notably including writing a manual!) and its younger sibling Seek'n'Link.

Any surprises you can't or dates to tease us with?

Some people might say it'd come as a surprise if I actually wrote that manual! :)

But no, I've no secret works in progress that I'm going to pull out of a hat in the near future - though with luck, as my use of RISC OS increases, maybe ideas will come to me, and I'll start working on things that I can't think of now.

Apart from iconbar (obviously) what are your favourite websites?

Iconbar? Is that still around? :p

But seriously: If I'm allowed to be biased, then RISC OSitory.

If not, I should think the RISC OS site I look at most is probably ROOL's - though refer to what I said above about keeping up with forums and such like.

The site I read most that's not RISC OS related is The Register.

What made you set up the RISC OS Awards website?

At the time I started, no site had run an awards poll for a couple of years, and I felt a poll was necessary because it's another way for users to offer feedback to developers, and show support for their products. So I decided I'd pick up the baton.

When I sat down organise it, I started thinking about how different people (sites, and before that magazines) had carried out the polls over the years - and here I was, the latest in a long line, so I decided to give it its own home.

At some point I'd like to go back over the polls that have been done previously by the likes of Icon Bar and Drobe - and even further back, to the magazines - and archive the results on the RISC OS Awards site.

Any questions we forgot to ask you?

You've sort of asked one with "What would you most like to see in RISC OS in the future?" - which I answered on the basis that you meant in the OS itself.

I considered answering it along the lines of what I'd like to see written *for* RISC OS.

The answer to that would be a decent accounts package, because that's the field in which I work - so it's arguably something I should think about writing myself, since I know exactly what features I'd need. However, getting something up to the level I'd want would take a great deal of time - much more than I can spare unless I could give up my day job and concentrate just on that, full time, for I should think at least a year.

But, of course, if I could do that, I wouldn't need the package in the first place.
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RISC OS Interviews - Andy Marks (RiscOSBits)

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What are you hoping to see at South-West Show

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R-Comp support scheme

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Keeping up with RISC OS in 2017

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What would you like/hope to see in 2017

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