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Article archives

3 key dates for your diary in 2019

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:39, 4/1/2019 | ,
 
While you are still in New Year's resolution mode, there are 3 key dates which should be in your diary for 2019. We are very lucky in the RISC OS World to have 3 Shows spread across the country and they diary. They are where all the big announcements are made, and the chance to meet developers and other RISC OS users. It is worth attending at least one (if not all 3).
 
So get these dates in your dairy now....
 
The South-West show takes place on Saturday 16th February, 2019 takes place at a brand new location in Bristol. The show have been moved to make it much easier to reach by public transport.
 
The Wakefield show is on Saturday, 27th April 2019 at it s regular home at Cedar Court Hotel. This is very easy accessible.
 
The London Show has not published an official date yet, but always happens at the end of October. We will report on any details as soon as we receive them.
 
All the shows happen at Hotels, so you can always arrive the night before and meet up with other RISC OS users around the hotel.
 
Are there any other critical dates for you in the RISC OS Calendar?
 
2 comments in the forums

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

10 RISC OS gift ideas for Christmas

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:04, 15/12/2017 |
 
Here are some thoughts for some RISC OS gifts to treat yourself or your RISC OS loved ones from 2017.
 
1. The latest 5.23 ROM was released. Get a copy the software on Get the latest release on SD card or combined with lots of great software.
2. The BBC BASIC manual, now updated after 25 years.
3. The latest DDE release, complete with a wealth of electronic reference materials.
4. The latest edition of !Artworks, now at 2.X3.
5. Contribute to a bounty to help this happen in RISC OS releases.
6. Relax with some new Arcade games from Amcog games.
7. Organizer 2.28 gives you the ultimate Calendar and Organiser on your RISC OS machine.
8. Get your Fonts back into order with Font Directory Pro.
9. Keep using your old software on new hardware with Aemulor.
10. A RaspberryPi is stocking sized with a price to match and opens up the RISC OS and Linux software world.
 
What would you like to see under the tree?
 
Comment in the forums

Retrospective thoughts on 12 months of Titanium ownership

Posted by Mark Stephens on 06:48, 20/10/2017 |
 
Last year at the London Show, I upgraded my RISC OS system to a Titanium based system (in my case the TiMachine from R-Comp).
 
As the London Show is fast approaching, and other people may have similar thoughts, I felt some retrospective was in order...
 
I have found the machine to be a very stable and fast. I use it as my main RISC OS machine and experience a noticeable feeling of sluggishness if I go back to an older machine. All the software I use (especially !TechWriter and !MPro) work very well. It is a undoubtedly a pricey machine but I have made far more use of RISC OS in the last twelve months. It is a 'proper' machine in the sense you have DVD, SSD and lots of ports.
 
It is has been nice to see steady improvements to the system, especially the update to RISC OS 5.23, and releases to use Dual monitor support. It is also great to see Elesar updating their software and bringing some 'old' friends back to the platform such as Look Systems excellent font tools.
 
The big issue for me is the lack of a decent web browser as I spend a lot of time in web applications such as Jira, Trello and BaseCamp. I tried using my Pi3 with VNC for this, but have reverted to my Mac.
 
As I said, I have made much more use of RISC OS for the 'traditional' uses which it still excels at and very happy at my purchase. What are your thoughts/experiences?
 
4 comments in the forums

In praise of !ShareFS

Posted by Mark Stephens on 06:11, 13/10/2017 |
 
IMHO, this is one of the most powerful (and under-rated) features of RISC OS. !ShareFS allows a RISC OS machine to share the hard drive with another RISC OS machine. There are lots of ways to share filesystems across networks (such as Samba) and cloud solutions (like PCloud, google drive). Some of these are very fiddly or do not work on RISC OS.
 
!ShareFS lacks the sophistication of many of these and features you might want in a multi-user environment such as fine-grained access controls. But for simple file sharing between my various RISC OS machines, it is very simple, reliable and it just works....
 
If you share a file system, then it becomes visible under discs. So I can easily share all my Titanium drives my RaspberryPi. It also works on emulators such as VirtualRPC.
 


 
This opens up some very useful integration because I can use VirtualRPC to access the files on other systems. For example I run it on my Mac and can use it to see the files on the Mac hard drive, including the contents of the shared google drive. This can all be seen on my Titanium thanks for !ShareFS.
 
So as a simple sharing solution or a way to share files between any machines you can run a RISC OS virtual machine on, !ShareFS works really well.
 
What part of RISC OS do you think is under-valued?
 
10 comments in the forums

RISC OS on GitHub

Posted by Mark Stephens on 06:49, 15/9/2017 | , ,
 
In a previous article, we mentioned Git and GitHub.
 
Git is a version control system which software developers use. Once you have used version control is is very hard to go back. In particular it:-
1. Allows you to have a full, documented history of all changes you have made and roll back to any point.
2. Label your official release versions.
3. See what you have changed easily.
4. Work with other developers (even large groups) in an orderly manner, see who has edited which bit of code, merge code changes together and handle conflicts where several people are editing the same code.
5. Have the security of lots of backups.
6. Never lose anything! (if you use it properly)
 
Version control solves a lot of complex problems. When I hire new developers, I always ask them about their experiences with Version control systems....
 
RISC OS itself is available on version control (it uses CVS) and you can explore it online at the ROOL website.
 
Part of the attraction of Git is that it also gives easy access to GitHub (a huge online repository of software source code). And (in theory) it means the source code will never be lost. There are some interesting RISC OS related projects hosted on there. Here is a sample to start your exploration...
 
https://github.com/risc-os-open contains some Ruby and JavaScript projects written by ROOL for their website.
 
https://github.com/TimothyEBaldwin/RO_cvs2git converts RISC OS CVS to git.
 
https://github.com/elesar-uk/titanium-build is the source code for Elesar's Debian Linux build.
 
https://github.com/TimothyEBaldwin/RISC_OS_DevTimothy Baldwin's port of RISC OS to run on Linux.
 
https://github.com/dpt/PrivateEye The source code for Private Eye
 
https://github.com/alanbu/packman Source code for Package manager
 
https://github.com/martenjj/drawview A draw file viewer for Linux.
 
https://github.com/jaylett/zap Source code for !Zap
 
2 comments in the forums

!DualHead in use

Posted by Mark Stephens on 06:20, 8/9/2017 | ,
 
[Update] Please note that this review is based on version one of the software - an update was released this week which we will evaluate in a future article.
 
Now that we have !DualHead installed it is time to experiment with the world of dual head RISC OS desktops.
 


 
You now have one very large desktop and the ability to select screen modes to give you a very workable screen area. I have two 27inch monitors this gives me 3840 x 1200 resolution.
 
With 2 screens, you will have to experiment with how you want to position them. I find that my 27 inch monitors are too wide to put flat side by side without giving neck strain. Most people either tilt the 2 screens together in a V shape (as in the picture above) or have one screen at an angle to the main screen. On my Mac I generally prefer the second option with a 'main' screen directly infront of me and an angled second screen to the left, where I 'park' windows not currently in use.
 


 
R-CompInfo are very clear that dual head display is a work in progress. The !DualHead application is polished and runs well but does impose a number of restrictions on current use.
 
Firstly, I found I could not change the layout. My right hand monitor is always plugged into the second port (right port on the back of the machine looking at it from the back).
 
There are also different ways to handle multiscreens. On my Mac, the screens can also be separate displays (with a separate task bar on each) and you can arrange one screen under the other. On RISC OS, we have a single screen which is extended across multiple monitors. There are pros and cons to both.
 
!DualHead also requires the screens to run at the same resolution. You can run two different sized monitors. I tried replacing one of my 27inch monitors with an old 20inch monitor. This requires both monitors to run at the same resolution of 1600 x 1200. The results look stretched on one screen.
 


 
Different size monitors are an issue with all dual display systems. On my Mac I always use 2 identical 27 inch monitors. Moving screens between different resolutions is not ideal as you have to keep resizing them.
 
Quibbles aside, !DualHead is a really nice release and brings RISC OS firmly into the world of dual screen output. It will also allow developers to start adapting their software to make use of it. I tried !Paint and as expected a screenshot of the whole screen creates a sprite containing both displays.
 
This is an excellent first release (following on the heels of 5.23 RISC OS release) and I look forward to seeing what R-Comp have for us at the London Show...
 
6 comments in the forums

Revisting the old Acorn magazines online

Posted by Mark Stephens on 06:58, 25/8/2017 | ,
 
Over the years, a lot of high quality magazines have been produced. Most of these are no longer actively published but their back catalogue still contains interesting and relevant material.
 
Some companies provide electronic copy. You can buy from R-Comp a CD with the complete Risc User collection and Archive has a compilation CD.
 
Many magazines are now available online if you do not happen to possess a large attic piled high with old editions.
 
There is a nice index of the Acorn User magazines on Acorn User website and a partial collection of PDF scanned copies (they say reproduced with permission) here. If you can add any of the missing editions, they would be very pleased to hear from you.
 
The biggest collection I have been able to find is The Computer Magazine Archives. The site also hosts the waybackwhen archive (which stores snapshots of what website used to look like) and it is not above controversy (it was blocked by the Indian government in 2017). The development of the Internet raises huge questions on what is acceptable use and how copyright should work (in practical and legal terms). So you may still want to stick to your pile in the attic.
 
It includes not just RISC OS machines but everything. So you can also relive your BBC days. I got a bit side-tracked in my researches revisiting Jim Butterfield explaining how the video works on a VIC-20 (my first ever computer). It is also searchable to you can also find items by topic.
 


 
Maybe not as fun as scrambling in the attic, but maybe more practical if you have a browser....
 
4 comments in the forums

RISC OS Interviews - Richard Brown (Orpheus Internet)

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