It's been a while since RISCOScode featured a full report from one of the major RISC OS computer shows. With this year's Wakefield show creating more of a stir than normal, it seemed that this was the moment to pull out all the stops and gather all the news, gossip and rumours from one of the biggest shows of the year. Several ordinary punters were asked to keep their eyes and ears open, and report back the who, what, when and why. In other words, "The RISCOScode spies were everywhere!" The result: RISCOScode proudly presents the definitive account of the RISC OS Wakefield show 2011.

Wrath of Hughes

RISCOScode had reporters on the scene right from the start of the day at 8am. In spite of the glorious sunny weather outside, inside the exhibition hall the mood was dark. Chief organiser Chris Hughes was fuming; the diplay panels for several show-stands, ordered months ago, had not arrived. Authoritativly speaking down the phone he informed the company supplying them that they'd better be in the exhibition hall by 10am or else. The way he said "or else" was impressive. We're talking about a "fear of God" inducing utterance here. The panelling appeared before 9am.

Opening surge

To the minute, the doors opened at 10am. The long queue surged forward past posters suggesting that the "ARMini adventure starts here". Within minutes the hall was packed, and an excited buzz filled the air. The RISC OS Open stand was immediately swamped and remained that way for the rest of the day, many folks coming away eating a Bounty chocolate bar. Their 'Bounties' project is an innovative idea where people donate money to have specific parts of RISC OS 5 worked on. It generates RISC OS Open some much needed cash and ensures they are focussing on those parts of the OS that folks most care about being improved.
The sugar theme continued at the Orpheus Internet stand where Richard Brown had his customary large bowl of free boiled sweets. Richard has taken over the part of this business previously run by the late Paul Vigay and the sweets are always accompanied by some friendly banter and inducements to let Orpheus become your internet provider.
The charity stall is a first port of call for many a bargain hunting visitor and there was certainly a lot of old kit on offer along with numerous dusty books and aged software. Sadly, it's not like wine, and mostly does not improve with age. "It looks depressingly like what's in my attic" said one punter. "It looks amazingly like what USED to be in my attic", retorted another. It was indeed his attic's items that filled the charity stall, and he was pleased to be shot of it all. An old A410  was up and running along with its CRT monitor. "I use to use one of these yet never realised how curved the screen is", commented one. "It really is like a goldfish bowl". Various Risc PCs were going for next to nothing. Forget ebay and think Wakefield  if you want old Acorn machines.


Home of the sleep deprived

Many of the exhibitors were clearly either wilting due to a lack of sleep or, perversely, on a high from it. A sleep deprived Alan Wrigley confessed that he'd been adding a final polish to R-Comp's new SafeStore 2 software over the last few days. His boss, Andrew Rawnsley, busy with the ARMini, only tested SafeStore 2 the week before the show. Then, with three days to go, he issued a long list of things that needed bug fixing, changing and/or improving. Unphased by the last minute demands being made upon him, Alan Wrigley calmly cancelled all thought of sleep and purposefully set about actioning the list. An impressive and greatly enhanced piece of software is the result.
It was a similar story at the MathMagical stand. The Users' Guide for the new 'powerpoint' style software, Flicker IV, was written the day before the show, proofread the evening before, and then colour printed at 3am in the morning of the show day itsef, before being couriered up the motorways from Birmingham to Wakefield.
It is certainly true that needing materials ready in time for a show provides a focus and drive for much software development. Without the shows, there would be less.


The lowdown on RISC OS reportage.

These drobe-less days it's not unusal for items of RISC OS news to go unreported. Both new software and new hardware often does not get reviewed. Sadly, one of the sources of RISC OS reportage, Qercus magazine, was not at the show this year. A stand had been booked but then cancelled. It's hard to be cross about this, or the continuing no-show of the magazine itself, once one starts to understand how deeply Mr Qercus, John Cartmell, has felt the loss of his father. Sometimes it's just impossible to keep everything flowing along when powerful emotions that you don't expect or understand have you in their grip. Our kind thoughts are with you, John.
A new issue of the on-line PDF magazine, Drag and Drop was intended to be out for the show. Last minute PDF generation problems scuppered its release. A philosophical Paul Stewart put a brave face on the upset and spent the day promising that it would be out "real soon". It has since emerged and is now available to download as a PDF. For a paltry £3, you could be supporting Paul's endeavour.
As exclusively revealed by RISCOScode some days ago, a new issue of Archive magazine had gone to the printers just three days before the show. One of our spies spotted it exiting editor Jim Nagel's residence at 2.03pm on the Tuesday. An email seen since reveals Jim trying to tell the printer at 2.11pm of a correction to be made on page 48 and the printer saying is was too late as the plates had already been made. Jim cannot complain because how else could the magazine, three and a half days later, be on the Archive stand? Subscribers could sign for and take away their copy. If you are a true RISC OS fan then you should be reading Archive. Yes, you have to pay, but what you get is worth every penny as the new issue makes plain. Highlights include a three page review of the new ARMini machine by Chris Hall, a six page report on the Southwest show 2011 by John Peachey, a five page interview with Jeffrey Lee by Trevor Johnson and a proper three page software review of Funfysics by John Harrison.
The show saw the official launch of the WikiProject for RISC OS . This is "men on a mission" to sort out how Wikipedia presents RISC OS to the outside world and new comers in particular. Most existing pages about RISC OS assume a familiarity with RISC OS history and technicalities that makes them impenetrable to the uninitiated. The team behind this initiative, represented at the show by Trevor Johnson, are certainly enthusiastic about engaging widespread help, and their well produced leaflets were soon being clutched by many as they wandered around the show hall.


Something Cooking

Those who were around during the early days of the 1980s will recall that a strength of the BBC Micro  was its interfacing abilities. All manner of hardware addons could be found in the hobby electronics magazines of the time. Foremost amongst those presenting ingenious projects for home construction was Mike Cook in the magazine, The Micro User . Mike is back, and had a stand at the show to display his latest gadgets. The most curious of these was surely "The Beat Box Harp". This delightful contraption was made from old CD player bits. It played a real harp by striking the strings with wooden rods, these in turn driven by a computer fitted with a midi interface. It's mad, but marvellously inventive.

Software galore.

An impressive amount of new software was released at the show. Version 2.7 of the RISC OS web browser, Netsurf, was announced with 'front end' program code by Steve Fryatt. Steve is an absolute hero for stepping up to do this. For a while, it looked like Netsurf was going to leave RISC OS behind and focus upon the Linux, AmigaOS, Haikua & BeOS due to the lack of a RISC OS enthusiast on the NetSurf team. Given that most visitors to the RISCOScode website use NetSurf, it's a key item of software that the platform needs if it is to remain viable and attractive.
Nigel Willmott proudly unveiled a major upgraded version of Martin Avison's Organizer. This is an electronic file-o-fax for RISC OS. It now has a feature that allows thumbnail pictures to be added to the contacts database. Given that such photos are easily grabbed from friends' FaceBook pages, it's a good practical new feature to have included.
Another Martin, Martin Wurthner, had an important upgrade to announce. Version XI of ArtWorks features a 'style system'. A style is a collection of object properties. So, for example, a line may have properties that include its colour, thickness, and shadow. Select some other objects such as a couple of circles. The ArtWorks Style panel shows all defined styles and allows the user to apply any of them to the selected objects with a single mouse click. So, in my example, I could easily apply the style of the line to the two circles.
Matthew and Hillary Phillips, Sine Nomine Software , released an upgrade to Impact, which they describe as "a relational database system". As software writers they are incredibly prolific and their catalogue of maths puzzles and card games seems to swell with each passing show. This time they had a new package called Wrangler which wrapped together three new types of puzzles, popular in newspapers and puzzle magazines; Kakuro, Cross Sums and Shikaku.


You read it here first

Of course, no show would be complete without rumours of software that's in the pipeline. Stuff that's almost ready for release. RISCOScode can exclusively reveal that Jon Robinson has been working away for months on breathing new life into a fun educational program called QuizMaster. Vince Hudd of Softrock Software upheld his fine tradition of not quite finishing WebChange or its manual. In part, this is because he's enthusiastically working on his new RISC OS news website, RISCOSitory. This had a news post about the Wakefield show online almost before the show had ended. Nice one, Vince. RISC OS Ltd are getting close to a new release of their version Six of the Operating System. Alas, select subscribers hoping for something on the day left empty handed.
Retro software  were showing off an 'about to be released' game 'Repton: The lost realms'. They were also demonstrating a gadget from CJE Micros called Up Scaler  which allows machines such as the thirty year old BBC Micro to be connected to a modern LCD screen.

ARMini is 'good for go'.

The big news of the day was, of course, R-Comp's new RISC OS computer, the ARMini. There was not a single person in the exhibition hall who did not wish them well with this venture. It's such a brave thing to do. To understand why, dwell a little on the market into which they are launching this new machine. Firstly, the electronics geeks will probably already have bought a Beagleboard, the computer inside the ARMini. Secondly, of the hobby computing enthusiasts that remain, how many see the 800MHz ARMini as a significant advance on their 600MHz Iyonix, 400MHz A9 or even 230MHz Risc PC ? Thirdly, the ARMini is up against the RISC OS emulation enthusiasts, which R-Comp themselves have done much to support and promote over the last few years. One such told RISCOScode, "I am a poor customer for hardware like the ARMini because I am totally converted to using Virtual Acorn on a PC. It's so much faster than my old Risc PC. I like the ease of switching between utilities on the PC and Virtual Acorn which makes my workrate very productive".
And yet, the ARMini is exciting, and was definitely the star of this year's show. It was selling well to genuine RISC OS enthusiasts such as Bryan Hogan, ROUGOL Chairman, who was clearly very excited to be the owner of the latest RISC OS dream machine. It's existence shows that some still believe that RISC OS has a future, and are willing to invest time, effort and take a financial risk. R-Comp are masters of adding value to their products, and the software sold with the ARMini could be as alluring as the hardware itself. RISC OS 5 with RISC OS 6 select features would be a most enticing prospect.
When RISCOScode spoke with Andrew Rawnsley, the ARMini mastermind at R-comp, he was thoroughly realistic about ARMini likely sales. In conversation he rather undersells the machine, stressing its limitations. A refreshing change from the hype that has characterised some RISC OS hardware releases over the years, most notoriously, that of the Omega  machine. One source told RISCOScode that, in total, around 740 Iyonix machines were sold. If so, perhaps that is the R-Comp target. It will be interesting to see how the ARMini adventure pans out.

As it began, so did it end.

The day concluded with Chris Hughes once again muttering, twitching and cursing the ineptitude of others. The lift from the 2nd floor exhibition hall to the ground floor exit had broken down and the management did not care. Of those who did care, CJE Micro's was to the fore. They had so much stuff, enough to fill a corner shop, and one member of their staff had doctor's instructions, "not to lift anything". The Wakefield RISC OS Computer Club's moment had come. Cheerfully the ten members who had organised the day's event man-handled CJE Micros' stock down the stairs and to the car park. Amongst his annoyance with the venue's management Chris must have been proud of his team. For RISCOScode, the event finished with a final request for some facts and figures from Chris. He responded, "Attendance was higher than last year. The Charity Stall and Steve Fryatt's stand beween them raised £703.35 for Wakefield Hospice. That's up on last year." Rick Sterry added that the club's Networking Guide had proved popular as had their Wakefield Back Catalogue; a CD of tips and newsletters from years gone by.
So, there you have it, another year, another successful show and a RISC OS that's still optimistically moving forward and taking on the future. 

Photos from the show

These were taken when most of the crowds were in the RISC OS Ltd theatre talk and the exhibition hall was quiet. My favourite is the one of Mike Cook's 'Beat Box Harp'.


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