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RISC OS interview with Chris Williams

Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:20, 24/12/2018 | ,
 
For your Christmas treat this year, we have an interview with Chris Williams, of Drobe and The Register fame. Enjoy and a very Merry Christmas from Iconbar.

Would you like to introduce yourself?

I'm Chris Williams, former editor of RISC OS news and trouble-making website drobe.co.uk. The site's frozen online right now as an archive because while I used to have a lot of free time to work on it, I graduated university in the mid-2000s, got a real job, and sadly ran out of spare time to maintain it, and so put it in stasis to preserve it. Today, I live and work in San Francisco, editing and writing articles for theregister.co.uk, mostly covering software and chips. I also once upon a time wrote some RISC OS applications, such as EasyGCC to help people build C/C++ projects, and a virtual memory manager that extended the machine's RAM using swap space on disk. If you're using RISC OS SelectInfo or 6, there's some of my code in there, too, during boot up.

How long have you been using RISC OS?

Since 1992 when my parents bought an Acorn A5000. So I guess that's about 26 years ago. We upgraded to a RiscPC as soon as we could. I took a StrongARM RPC crammed with add-ons, like an x86 card, IDE accelerator, Viewfinder graphics card, and Ethernet NIC, to uni, and got to know the OS really well. No other operating system I've used since has come close to the simplicity and ease-of-use of the RISC OS GUI, in my opinion. Apple's macOS came really very close, and then the iGiant lost the plot on code quality.

What does RISC OS look like from the USA viewpoint?

It's kinda like BeOS, in that operating system aficionados will know of it and appreciate it for what it is: an early operating system that had an intuitive user interface but was pushed under the wheels of Intel and Microsoft. Folks who experiment with RaspberryPis may also come across it, as it is one of the operating systems listed on raspberrypi.org. In conversation with Americans, or in writing articles, I normally introduce RISC OS as the OS Acorn made for its Arm desktop computers - y'know, Acorn. Acorn Computers. Britain's Apple. The English Amiga. The ones who formed Arm, the people who make all your smartphone processor cores. And then the light bulb turns on.

What's really interesting is what's going on with Arm, and I think that will help, to some extent, RISC OS appear a little on more people's radars. Anyone who's been using RISC OS since the 1990s knows the pain of seeing their friends and colleagues having fun with their Windows PC games and applications, and their Intel and AMD processors, and graphics cards, and so on. Even though RISC OS had a fine user interface, and a decent enough set of software, and fun games, it just was for the most part, incompatible with the rest of the world and couldn't quite keep up with the pace of competitors. It was hard seeing everything coalesce around the x86-Windows alliance, while Acorn lost its way, and Arm was pushing into embedded engineering markets.

Now, Arm is in every corner of our daily lives. It's in phones, tablets, routers, smartcards, hard drives, Internet of Things, gadgets, servers, and even desktops. Microsoft is pushing hard on Windows 10 Arm-based laptops with multi-day battery life, at a time when Intel has got itself stuck in a quagmire of sorts. It blows my mind to go visit US giants like Qualcomm, and Arm's offices in Texas, and see them focusing on Arm-based desktop CPUs, a technology initiative the Acorn era could really have done with. It's just a little mindboggling, to me me anyway, to see Microsoft, so bent on dominating the desktop world with Windows on x86, to the detriment of RISC OS on Arm, now embracing Windows on Arm. I probably sound bitter, though I'm really not - I'm just astonished. That's how life goes around, I guess.

Anyway, it's perhaps something RISC OS can work with, beyond its ports to various interesting systems, if not targeting new hardware then catching attention as an alternative Arm OS. One sticking point is that Arm is gradually embracing 64-bit more and more. It'll support 32-bit for a long while yet, but its latest high-end cores are 64-bit-only at the kernel level.

What other systems do you use?

I use Debian Linux on the desktop, and on the various servers I look after. I was an Apple macOS user as well for a while, though I recently ditched it. The software experience was getting weird, and the terrible quality of the latest MacBook Pro hardware was the final straw. Over the years, I've used FreeBSD and Debian Linux on various Arm chipsets, AMD and Intel x86 processors, and PowerPC CPUs, and even a MIPS32 system. I just got a quad-core 64-bit RISC-V system. I like checking out all sorts of architectures.

What is your current RISC OS setup?

I have a RaspberryPi 2 for booting RISC OS whenever I need it, though my primary environment is Linux. It's what I use during work.

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

Back in the day, I couldn't work without OvationPro, Photodesk, the terminal app Putty, StrongEd, BASIC for prototyping, GCC for software development, Director for organizing my desktop, Netsurf and Oregano, Grapevine... the list goes on.

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

Many, many more users. People able to access RISC OS more easily, perhaps using a JavaScript-based Arm emulator in a web browser to introduce them to the desktop.

What are your interests beyond RISC OS?

Pretty much making the most of living in California while I'm here, and traveling around the United States to visit tech companies and see what America has to offer. From Hawaii to Utah and Nevada to Texas, Florida and New York, and everything in between. I cycle a lot at the weekends, going over the Golden Gate Bridge and into normal Cali away from the big city, or exploring the East Bay ridge, returning via Berkeley. My apartment is a 15-minute walk from the office, so I tend to cycle a lot to get some exercise. When I was living in the UK, I ran about 48 miles a week, before and after work, which was doable in Essex and London where the streets and paths are flat. That's kinda impossible in San Francisco, where the hills are legendarily steep. I'm happy if I can make it four or five miles.

I also do some programming for fun, mainly using Rust - which is like C/C++ though with a heavy focus on security, speed and multithreading. We really shouldn't be writing application and operating system code in C/C++ any more; Rust, Go, and other languages are far more advanced and secure. C is, after all, assembly with some syntactic sugar. I've also been experimenting with RISC-V, an open-source CPU instruction set architecture that is similar to 64-bit Arm in that they have common roots - the original RISC efforts in the SF Bay Area in the early 1980s. The idea is: the instruction set and associated architecture is available for all to freely use to implement RISC-V-compatible CPU cores in custom chips and processors. Some of these cores are also open-source, meaning engineers can take them and plug them into their own custom chips, and run Linux and other software on them.

Western Digital, Nvidia, and other big names are using or exploring RISC-V as an alternative to Arm, which charges money to license its CPU blueprints and/or architecture. Bringing it all together, I've started writing a small open-source operating system, in my spare time, in Rust for RISC-V called Diosix 2.0 (www.diosix.org). Version 1.0 was a microkernel that ran on x86. The goal is to make a secure Rust-RISC-V hypervisor that can run multiple environments at the same time, each environment or virtual machine in its own hardware-enforced sandbox. That means you can do things like internet banking in one VM sandbox, and emails and Twitter browsing in another, preventing any malicious code or naughty stuff in one VM from affecting whatever's running in another VM.

You can do all this on x86, Arm, and MIPS, of course. But given RISC-V was not bitten by the data-leaking speculative-execution design flaws (aka Meltdown and Spectre) that made life difficult for Intel, AMD, Arm, et al this year, and Rust is a lot safer than C/C++ that today's hypervisors and operating systems are written in, I felt it was worth exploring. Pretty much every Adobe Flash, Windows, iOS, Android, macOS, Chrome, Safari, Internet Explorer, etc security update these days is due to some poor programmer accidentally blundering with their C/C++ code, and allowing memory to be corrupted and exploited to execute malicious code. Google made the language of Go, and Mozilla made the language of No: Rust refuses to build software that potentially suffers from buffer overflows, data races, and so on.

It also all helps me in my day job of editing and writing a lot - keeping up to date with chip design, software, security, and so on.

If someone hired you for a month to develop RISC OS software, what would you create?

To be honest, I'd try to find a way to transplant the RISC OS GUI onto other environments, so I can use the window furniture, contextual menus, filer, pinboard, iconbar, etc, on top of a base that runs on modern hardware. I think that would take longer than a month.

What would you most like Father Christmas to bring you as a present?

A larger apartment: rent is bonkers in San Francisco, so I could do with some extra space.

Any questions we forgot to ask you?

Why do vodka martinis always seem like a good idea 90 minutes before it's too late to realize they were a bad idea?

PS: if anyone wants to get in touch, all my contact details are on diodesign.co.uk

You can read lots of other interviews on Iconbar here
 
2 comments in the forums

RISC OS interview with Jeroen Vermeulen

Posted by Mark Stephens on 05:53, 7/9/2018 |
 
This time, it is our pleasure to interview Jeroen Vermeulen, who has just released a RISC OS remake of the old BBC Micro game Dickie Brickie, which is now free on !Store.

Would you like to introduce yourself?
My name is Jeroen Vermeulen and Iím from The Netherlands. Recently Iíve remade the BBC Micro game Dickie Brickie for RISC OS which is available from the PlingStore.

How long have you been using RISC OS?
Iíve used RISC OS way back in the past and only quite recently came back to it. My experience with RISC OS started when I bought a Acorn A3000 in mid 1990. It was followed up with an A4000 which I used until around 1998. I then left the RISC OS scene. Shortly after the Raspberry Pi was introduced and RISC OS was available for it I started to play around with it again. Nothing too serious until mid last year when I decided to pick up programming again and do programming on RISC OS as well. Before I owned an A3000, me and my brother owned a BBC Micro from around 1985.

What other systems do you use?
Windows 10 PC/laptop, Apple iPad.

What is your current RISC OS setup?
RPI 2B with Pi Zero Desktop and SSD. Next to that I use emulators on Windows 10 like RPCEMU, Arculator, VA5000.

What do you think of the retro scene?
I very much love the RISCOS as well as the BBC Micro retro scene. For RISC OS for example I find it amazing what Jon Abbott has been doing with ADFFS. For the BBC Micro Iím finally able to collect programs I once only could read about and have a play with it. Some of the new software that appears for the BBC Micro is extraordinary and I find it very interesting to follow the stardot.org.uk forums with people like kieranhj, tricky, sarahwalker, robc to name but a few doing some wonderful things with the machine and making it work under emulation as well.

Do you attend any of the shows and what do you think of them?
No (not yet), but I follow the show reports via sites like Iconbar and Riscository. When available I even watch some of the showís videos. I like it the reports/videos are online and they do give some valuable extra/background information if youíve not been there. As well as put some faces with the names you otherwise only read about 😊

What do you use RISC OS for in 2018 and what do you like most about it?
Programming. I very much like the fact that e.g. AMCOG and DragínDrop programs are available and sources are ďopenĒ and thus can be studied to learn from. This and the AMCOG Dev Kit allows you to do things that normally would cost more time othwerwise. Itís is the reason why I decided to distribute the sources with the Dickie Brickie game as well, just in caseÖ

Retro kind of things like running games and other programs. On my PC I have an application called LaunchBox which allows RISC OS and BBC Micro programs to be run with a click of a button under emulation. Software/Games that once I could only read about in the Acorn magazines of the time Iím now able to run. For some reason especially with the BBC Micro it was hard to get any software where we lived and we had to make do with programming some of it ourselves or get it by typing in from magazine listings. The latter leading me many years later to remake Dickie Brickie. Back in the day it was a lot of work to type it in, but when we ran it we finally got a glimpse what the machine was capable of with the sprites, sound and animations on display.

What is your favourite feature/killer program in RISC OS?
StrongED & StrongHelp, BBC Basic, Netsurf, ADFFS, ArcEm, BeebIt, InfoZip, AMCOG Dev Kit

What would you most like to see in RISC OS in the future?
Just ongoing developments in general like RISC OS Open is doing with some of the foundations of the system.

Favourite (vaguely RISC OS-releated) moan?
Things can always be better of course, but sometimes Iím just amazed that RISC OS is still around and actively used and developed for. For what I want to do with RISC OS currently Ė mainly programming Ė and the fact that Iím still (re-)discovering/learning things I donít have any complaints

Can you tell us about what you are working on in the RISC OS market at the moment?
I have been working on a remake of a bbc micro game Dickie Brickie. I started remaking it using my own code, but when I learned about the AMCOG Dev Kit I switched over and rewrote most of the game. There is a really nice article on the game at the Riscository site.

Any surprises you can't or dates to tease us with?
Iím investigating a next game to program. I quite like the idea of making a platform game, but Iíve some learning to do on how to do that so it could be a while.

Apart from iconbar (obviously) what are your favourite websites?
Riscository, RISC OS Open (Forums), RISCOS Blog, DragDrop, Stardot (Forums) and some recently discovered websites on programming and game development.

What are your interests beyond RISC OS?
Programming and IT in general.

If someone hired you for a month to develop RISC OS software, what would you create?
Thatís a tough questionÖ perhaps some updates to Paint.

Any future plans or ideas you can share with us?
I would like to investigate the use of the DDE and C language.

What would you most like Father Christmas to bring you as a present?
Nothing very special comes to mind. But it would be nice if JASPP would be allowed to disctribute some more games and/or games from the past (e.g. 4th Dimension) would be more easily available.

Any questions we forgot to ask you?
No. Thank you very much for the interview!
 
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RISC OS interview with Tim H-Smith

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:28, 16/3/2018 | ,
 
There was recently a very interesting discussion about writing a new RISC OS game on Stardot. Our intrepid reporters have tracked down the prospective author to find out more....

Would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi, Iím Square Mezzmer! Otherwise Iím Tim H-Smith - an Interactive Designer/Developer from near London. Pleased to be interviewed here.

How long have you been using RISC OS?
Since I was bought an A3010 on my 14th birthday! I began creating prototypes in BASIC and pixel-art with !Paint for game graphics.

What other systems do you use?
I absconded to Windows PC in 1999/2000. In some ways that was a shame. Also, I love Nintendo, even though Iím too old for it!

What is your current RISC OS setup?
RISC PC 600 with StrongARM. Currently a big desk helps me run the Windows 10 PC at the same time.

What do you think of the retro scene?
Wonderful. So much, Iím recoding a game - Hero: The Realm for Acorn 32-bit/Raspberry Pi.
Hero: The Realm is a hack n slash adventure game I developed for Windows in 2012. It features intriguing puzzles and many levels with original pixel art graphics and my own created sound FX & music. Sadly I had to halt development half-way due to financial/life issues. However this game will be available for all 32-bit Acorn machines. Now a software developer is "on board" (an incredible ARM graphics programmer) Hero: The Realm will be able to run far more "optimised".

Do you attend any of the shows and what do you think of them?
Attending a ROUGOL next week, where I am the main speaker. It will have a Games flavour.

What do you use RISC OS for in 2018 and what do you like most about it?
For the pure feel. I love having a ROM set as an RISC OS (3.70) and will not switch to RISC OS OPEN. Yet.

What are your interests beyond RISC OS?
Game Design Ė Defined as Design in Games, not just graphics or sound, a nice Design integration is what most games need presently. Itís a very interesting subject.

If someone hired you for a month to develop RISC OS software, what would you create?
Iím not hired, but there is a possible Kickstarter for Hero: The Realm where everyone can order a physical copy of Hero: The Realm. Itís all in the works.

What would you most like Father Christmas to bring you as a present?
I have a list somewhere, from 6 years old (1986). Oh wait, my father /did/ bring me an Electron! *poof*

Rougol website for games evening
 
1 comment in the forums

RISC OS interview with Richard Keefe

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:22, 24/12/2017 |
 
As an early Christmas present, we bring you an interview with Richard Keefe who tests us all about his plans for Impression as well as how he got into RISC OS and his programming experiences.

Would you like to introduce yourself?
Born in 1972 the eldest of three Brothers [middle Philip died in car crash 2012], Mother Physics Teacher [died 2010], Father Electronic Engineer. Attended Presentation College Reading [same school as Michael Bond of Paddington fame], 15 GCSE/O-Levels, 4 A-levels. Graduated from Reading University with a degree in "Cybernetics & Control Engineering with Subsidiary Maths" in 1993. Joined Paknet [division of Vodafone] in May 1994 where I write embedded real-time software for ARM based processor of the Radio-Pad [currently version 15, version 1 [(embedded x86 based) was released February 1990] and Solaris & Linux based IN's (Intelligent Nodes) to provide control. [Details: http://paknet.vodafone.net the world's first Radio X25 network] Married my lovely wife in 2008, I am the father of two beautiful and mischievous daughters aged 3 & 7. At the age of 4 - I got lightbulbs, batteries, wires and switches for Christmas, at the age of 5 got a soldering Iron, and at the age of 6 got an 8085 kit of parts for my birthday like [http://www.glitchwrks.com/images/8085/sdk85/original.jpg] but mine was fuller and put it together - 8085 assembling was done by hand in a special book provided. First high level language was BASIC on a Tandy TRS80 MKI [still got], migrated to BBC B, then Archimedes.

How long have you been using RISC OS?
- I got my first ARM based machine in December 1987 - an Acorn A310M [with PC emulator] with Arthur 1.2 and upgraded to RISC OS 2 as soon as it became available. First came across Impression as Version 0.90 in 1990, and Artworks as 0.8x in 1991 - as my flatmate was an Artworks trialist.

What other systems do you use?
- In my work I use Windows 7, Solaris 9 & 10, and Linux (Various) laptops/desktops/servers
- In my embedded work I use LPC43S67 [M0 & M4], AT91SAM7S [ARM7], AT91SAM7XC512 [ARM7] & ATSAMS70 [M7] based systems running either "bare metal" or "Segger EmbOS" with IAR EWARM compiler
- At home I use Windows XP, 7, Solaris 10, and Ubuntu in addition to RISC OS
- Occasionally I use my BBC Master - With Z80/6502/32016/80186 co-processors - but I'm a bit short of space & time so it's very rare.
What is your current RISC OS setup?
- My main Machines are Iyonix no 2, Windows 7 VRPC, and iMX6
- Still in progress is my Titanium (To Replace the Iyonix sort of but no floppy) - It's in an Iyonix classic Case - but I will still need the Iyonix as its my only modern floppy machine
- As well as these here is my working RISCOS Machine History in order of Purchase, still got all of it in my study & loft:
Archimedes A310M
Archimedes A440/1 - 40Mb - then 21Mb Floptical, then 230Mb MO - Upgraded to ARM 3 25MHz from ARM 2 [1991]
Acorn A4 laptop [battery & disk failed - have replacements need more time]
Risc PC 600 -> UG 700 -> UG StrongARM 200 [failed HDD have replacement] - my brother Philip and I can be seen on one of the Acorn Replay CD's at the RISC PC launch Marble Arch London
Iyonix no1 [Failed motherboard] waited until Aemulor was released before buying
Iyonix no2 [partially failed so DMA disabled]
Panda Board [currently Backup machine for RISC OS Shows)
RiscPC no2 Kinetic [only single height one]
RiscPC no3 StrongARM 233 [Videodesk set-up]
RiscPC no4 700 Hydra [would love to get this working with StrongARMs] + Spare PCB [4x ARM 610s]
Raspberry Pi B - My eldest daughter (7) uses RISC OS on this
A9Home
Iyonix no3 & 4 [in case no2 fails completely]
iMX6 [ARMX6]
Pi Zeros
Titanium Board [have disks & board in Iyonix classic case - wiring incomplete needs about 4hrs to complete]
I also have a complete with EPROMS but without driver software an "Acorn PC ARM 1 Co-Processor"
I also have several of the boards for an A540 [inc CPU & RAM] - but machines even broken sell for too much on ebay for my budget.

What do you think of the retro scene?
I do find it interesting - I'd like to spend more time looking at the changes and reading info on it

Do you attend any of the shows and what do you think of them?
When Acorn world was in London my brother Philip and I attended every year - were seen on TV one year when Blue Peter covered it but no Blue-Peter badge(s) :-(
I attend the London & Wakefield Show as a Stall holder [but the distance of Wakefield makes the economics touch and go].
I attend the South-West Show as a punter - as I haven't usually had enough time after Christmas to make a new Release.

What do you use RISC OS for in 2017 and what do you like most about it?
Apart from developing Impression-X of course.
I use Impression to Produce Posters / Letters / Publicity Information for Me / Impression-X & Reading University SciFi Society [SWAGA]
I use Draw Plus & Artworks for various drawings / tables etc to go inside my Impression objects.

What is your favourite feature/killer program in RISC OS?
Impression with 2nd Artworks and 3rd Draw+

What would you most like to see in RISC OS in the future?
Multi-Processor Support & Floppy Disk Hardware for a modern platform

Favourite (vaguely RISC OS-related) moan?
- I'd love a definitive list of all the software / hardware / games etc ever produced with pictures
- with a backup of all the eproms / firmware / gals etc

Can you tell us about what you are working on in the RISC OS market at the moment?
Impression-X of course as well as more 32bit work & bug fixes:
- Complete Jpeg support (inc Draw Files)
- Ensure all Draw objects render correctly
- Fix colour issues in some Artworks colour types
- Enhance postscript printing (Duplex, Security, Sprite 24bpp rendering even in old PS2 drivers)
- Enhance printing generally to support full 24bit rendering
- Optionally modify rendering so that documentation renders correctly (contains unknown sprite modes)
- Produce pdf documentation for all parts
- Incorporate all 5.13 bug fixes ~300 more to do
- Fully support new (2.xx) artworks rendering interface [currently does not support all the enhancements]

Looking further out:
- PNG,TIFF,GIF, PhotoCD graphics formats support
- update/add/enhance MS Doc & docx load & save support
- Update the dictionary with up-to-date wordlist(s) as well as 32bit
- Produce printed documentation
- Titanium colour support
- Zero page protection check & fix

Apart from iconbar (obviously) what are your favourite websites?
www.google.co.uk, www.ebay.co.uk, chrisacorns.computinghistory.org.uk, https://www.riscosopen.org/, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page, www.stardot.org.uk, http://8bs.com/aumags.htm

What are your interests beyond RISC OS?
I'm the Publicity Officer for Reading University Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Society, a position I have held for almost 25 years.
Photography & Photoshop ... I've always got a camera or two about my person and take ~10000 20+ megapixel photo's per year
Postcards ... I collect photographic postcards of Newbury, Thatcham and Reading University & surrounding roads mostly pre 1950's, but some are as new as the 80's, 80% pre 20's
Also I collect Acorn/riscos/BBC software and hardware from a few sections: : (I could produce a list if it's of interest)
I've got all the BBC Wedges apart from a 286, an A500 & an ARM1 and none of the 68000 based ones
Anything ARM Related - I've got most machines I want except an A540, a RISC PC 600 (not 610) cpu, Duo cpu, a RISC PC 800 cpu, Omega and a Phoebe of course
My STB's are missing some of the boards
Anything CC related:
I've got most of their BBC ROMS (don't have any of the Archimedes version) and none of their games
I've got most of their RISC OS Software
CC or WildVision podules - I'm Missing the FaxPack, ColourCard [1&G], Full width V9, V10, V12 & the scanner HCCS micro podule [but don't have a full list]
Archimedian Magazine (I have all but issue 1 - have a scan)
All SCSI, Audio & Video Podules - I've about 30 different ones I think [it might be 50 if add them up]
I'm also always on the lookout for the Noah Satellite podule and software
I also collect all RISC OS fonts I can find - one thing I am after is an EFF CD2 - if anyone has a spare one
All DTP software and documentation (mainly to see if there are any features I should add)
The other thing I'm always on the lookout for is there was an A6 flatbed scanner and podule I think made by sharp, that you placed on the object, don't know what it was called or who made it.

As an early Christmas present for you, we have a real treat as Richard Keefe tells us about his progamming adventures and his plans for Impression.

If someone hired you for a month to develop RISC OS software, what would you create?
If it was HW too - I'd produce a USB to [Floppy / Podule connector] not sure month is enough though / otherwise I'd 32bit one of the other CC apps [probably compression] / I'd make big strides in one of big Impression-X enhancements

Any future plans or ideas you can share with us?
As far as future plans go Impression is not the only CC product I have the sources for so I would love to fix some of the others (once Impression is complete ...)

What would you most like Father Christmas to bring you as a present?
The missing Impression-X Source-code
eg Hyperview, Tablemate, Equazor

Any questions we forgot to ask you?
I'm sure there are!

I'd like to ask - what features (apart from 32bit) would users most like adding to Impression-X.
 
3 comments in the forums

RISC OS interview with Rob Coleman

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:44, 21/12/2017 |
 
This year we have a double treat for you, with 2 Christmas interviews. We will kick off with Rob Coleman who was doing some very cool hardware at the London Show.

Would you like to introduce yourself?

I'm Rob Coleman, developer of VideoNuLA, an enhanced graphics card for the BBC Micro.

How long have you been using RISC OS?

Pretty much from the beginning. My first Acorn was a BBC B which I got for Christmas in 1983. At some point, I moved on to a BBC Master 128 and then started using RISC OS with an A3000 in 1990. I used a RiscPC for many years and more recently have been using a Pandaboard.

What other systems do you use?

A Windows laptop for work and a Linux box for the odd bit of development. I'm heavily into retro-computing so have a collection of obscure and not so obscure machines from the 80s.

What is your current RISC OS setup?

My main RISC OS machine is the Pandaboard but my original RiscPC is still going strong. Of the various other Acorn machines I've collected over the years, I have an A540 and A4 which get used fairly often.

What do you think of the retro scene?

As I said, I'm very much into retrocomputing, particularly 8-bit Acorns. The StarDot forums (www.stardot.org.uk/forums) were largely responsible for getting me back into using my Acorns. There's a wealth of knowledge on there and the amount of interesting new developments for these old machines is fantastic.

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

I try to attend as many as I can. I've been going to the South West show for years as it's the nearest to me. I've made it to London and Wakefield for the last few years and shared a stand for the first time this year. The shows are really well organised and attendance seems to be rising but it would always be good to see more people come along.

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

Mostly development in BASIC and C. The main attraction for me is that it's still possible to understand how a RISC OS machine works and interact with it at a low level. I guess part of that is familiarity but it's also down to the original ethos of teaching people how computers work.

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

I'm not much of an artist but I like using !Artworks and !Draw for illustrations. I'm also a fan of !Zap for coding.

Can you tell us about what you are working on at the moment?

Apart from VideoNuLA, most recently I've been playing with the Pi co-processor for the Beeb and porting some emulators (PDP-11, ZX81 and Jupiter Ace) to it. It's fun to see Unix running on a BBC Micro even if it is under emulation!

I've been sporadically working on a network podule for the Archimedes/Risc PC for a while now. It's all part of a mad idea to have Ethernet on my A4. And I keep meaning to look at USB for my Omega!

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

StarDot as mentioned above and I spend too much time reading the Guardian online.

What would you most like Father Christmas to bring you as a present?

Firetrack was probably my favourite game on the BBC so a copy of White Light from Retrosoftware!
 
1 comment in the forums

RISC OS Developments

Posted by Mark Stephens on 06:19, 18/8/2017 |
 
Richard Brown also agreed to recap on RISC OS developments as part of our interview.

Who came up with the original idea?
I came up with it over a conversation at a RISC OS show and it took off from there.

What was the reaction to your announcement at Wakefield?
It created a surprise and we received a good response from the Community.

How did you measure the response?
Of the people who we signed up to our NDA, and we spoke to candidly, 90% went on to make an investment in the Company. We were able to revise upwards the scope of the project as a result.

Can you remind us about the financial proposal you made?
Anyone who wanted to make a Ďreasonable' investment could put money into RISC OS developments. This will help to finance our work. The deliverables will be of benefit to the RISC OS community. We have achieved our initial target, but any additional finance we can raise would be put to very good use. People need to talk to talk to us confidentially if they would like to know more.

Progress?
On going and taking up significant time. Like CastleInfo, we will make announcements when apppropriate.

Stay tuned.
 
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RISC OS Interviews - Anthony Vaughan Bartram

Posted by Mark Stephens on 13:24, 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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