In the UK we think of RISC OS as being a British OS that had some moments of glory in Britain in the 1980s and early 1990s but which failed to 'go global' when it rubbed up against Microsoft and Apple. As such, we often overlook the fact that RISC OS still has loyal bands of active followers in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Carlos Michael Santillán is webmaster of ArcSite, a German RISC OS news portal. He's published a Review of 2011 / Preview of 2012, giving the European perspective on RISC OS. I do not speak German but, undaunted, thought it would be fun to use Google Translate to get the gist of his thoughts. These I edited until I had an understandable text. I then emailed the article to Carlos, who's English is far better than my German, for approval. Carlos made several alterations before giving me a thumbs up to publish. The result is a unique insight into RISC OS, as seen from outside the UK.
RISCOS Ltd and RISC OS 6
Carlos began by observing that we heard very little from RISCOS Ltd in 2011. Securing one of the original key people at Acorn Computers Ltd, Sophie Wilson, to speak at the South West Show, organised by RISCOS Ltd's Paul Middleton, was a promising start. Alas, after that the company seemed to fade from sight. Their other public contribution was the RISC OS Classic ROM Collection CD. On the CD are all versions of RISC OS from Arthur (1987) to 3.71 (1997). Whilst of historical importance, the CD was a look backward rather than forward. The era of the Risc PC has ended and RISCOS Ltd struggled to remain relevant as 2011 progressed. No update to their version of the OS, RISC OS 6, was released.
RISC OS Open Ltd (ROOL) and RISC OS 5
It was the other branch of the RISC OS fork, the open source RISC OS 5, that saw rapid development during 2011. This is where the furture of RISC OS is. The brisk activity on the ROOL forums prompted several former developers to return. In part, this must be due to the purpose and focus provided by the desire to have RISC OS running on Raspberry Pi. At a price of $25 (model A) or $35 (model B) the Raspberry Pi computer, even without RISC OS, is going to be important. Add in RISC OS, and it's very exciting indeed. The RISC OS community ends 2011 by waiting for February 2012, when the Raspberry Pi will be released, to find out if RISC OS 5 will be available with it. The prospect that it might has galvanized many old hands into action. It could result in many new users of RISC OS.
RISC OS FACES 2011
Paul Middleton of RISC OS Ltd got 2011 off to a good start by arranging for Sophie Wilson to speak at the the SouthWest Show, Bristol. John Rickman kept the Midlands Show in Birmingham alive, in spite of low attendance the previous year. Chris Evans with CJE Micros attended all four UK shows in 2011. Steve Revill of RISC OS Open Ltd helped make the London show a success with an innovative USB pen drive from which RISC OS could be run on Microsoft and Apple computers. Chris Hughes once again organised a most successful show in Wakefield, Leeds.
BeagleBoard, Pandora and PandaBoard
In 2011, RISC OS 5 established itself as a credible OS on BeagleBoard-xM. It also became available on the Pandora mini computer (with ARM Cortex-A8) and PandaBoard (with two ARM Cortex-A9 cores). The German company, a4com, offered BeagleBoard in a crate (BIK) and PandaBoard in a crate (PIK). These were boxed versions of the relevant circuit board, set up and ready to use with RISC OS. Support for both computers is not complete but both devices quickly became more and more usable as the year advanced.
In 2012, progress on enhancing the RISC OS experience on BeagleBoard, Pandora and PandaBoard will continue. Work will hopefully begin on making use of the second core in the Cortex-A9. This will involve some deep recoding of the OS and could lead to problems with old programs if not done carefully. It is good that RISC OS Open are overseeing progress, with the bounties for the development of RISC OS only being awarded after careful negotiation and discussion.
Note : In the UK the BIK is essentially sold as the ARMini.
RISC OS SHOWS 2011
The feel of RISC OS shows changed in 2011 as more stands featured uncased electronic circuit boards. At long last the old, grey Risc PCs are being replaced with small, modern devices. In this photograph from the London show, Doug Webb is adjusting the configuration of a BeagleBoard-xM running RISC OS. The BeagleBoard is the heart of the BIK and ARMini computers.
Having talked about the hardware that emerged over 2011, Carlos next considered the software. Here too he felt there were many encouraging developments. More and more programs became available for the BeagleBoard's ARMv7 architecture in 2011; too many to mention. On RISC OS 5 itself, much work was done. Of course, many developments were 'under the hood' but more visible enhancements flowed too. The improvements for the BeagleBoard included networking for the xM board NIC (EtherUSB), a Fat32 filing system, reading and limited writing to the SD card and having the CD filing system brought into a serviceable condition. Major developments are taking place at TBA Software. Of the small but useful changes that have been incorporated into RISC OS 5, a good example is Filer_Action which is improving the functionality of the filing system displays. Iyonix users can look forward to upgrading to take advantage of these updates when the next even numbered stable version of RISC OS, version 5.18, is released. Users of the BeagleBoard (etc) are more addicted to using the current 'bleeding edge' version of the OS and will probably move quickly to downloading the odd numbered development version 5.19. Given the lacklustre year from RISCOS Ltd, it must be said that the release of the RISC OS 5 source code via ROOL has been the saving of RISC OS.
PiRO TALK IN LONDON
The show theatre at the RISC OS London Show quickly filled up for Theo Markettos' talk about the Raspberry Pi running RISC OS. A RISCOScode reporter managed to squeeze in at the back to take this picture (using a zoom lens) of Theo presenting the exciting news.
RISC OS on the internet and in print
On the internet, RISC OS became more of a cohesive whole. RISCOScode started to feature a daily updated news page that linked to items of current interest. A new website, The RISC OS Blog , opened its doors in the middle of the year and The RISC OS News Network emerged as a useful tap into several online forums. In October, Drag 'n Drop announced it would cease publication but editor Paul Stewart was persuaded by Andrew Rawnsley to keep the PDF magazine going. Thus, along with Archive and the German publication GAG News , RISC OS continues to have three proper magazines.
RISC OS FACES 2011
John-Mark Bell, lead developer of the NetSurf team, who brough NetSurf 2.8 out in 2011. Jim Nagel is the editor of Archive, one of three proper RISC OS magazines. Dave Holden established himself as one the the RISC OS USB gurus during the year. Steve Fryatt updated much of his software. Keith Dunlop who launched the Usable Range has big plans for RISC OS audio in 2012.
RISC OS face-to-face
In 2011, the German Arche meeting was resurrected. Carlos hoped this would take place again in 2012. Otherwise, still in Germany, there was the annual meeting of GAG and the meeting at a4com. Both will run again in 2012. In the Netherlands there was the RISC OS eXperience organised by the Big Ben Club, also to be repeated in 2012. These meetings are important; the internet cannot replace direct contact and exchange with other RISC OS users.
Aemulor for BeagleBoard and Raspberry Pi
In his conclusion, Carlos confidently stated that the year 2012 will see big developments with RISC OS 5. Carlos hoped very much that Adrian Lees would bring Aemulor to Raspberry Pi and BeagleBoard. For some, the lack of Aemulor, which allows old 26 bit software to run on newer machines, was, he felt, the last obstacle preventing them moving from the Risc PC and Iyonix to small, modern computers like BeagleBoard and Raspberry Pi.
THE IMAGE OF 2011
This is a photograph of a screen powered by a Raspberry Pi alpha development board running RISC OS at the London show in October. The program in use is Draw, which is built into all versions of RISC OS. An issue with the mouse is evident from the multiple blue mouse pointers on the screen. The USB drivers for mouse and keyboard had yet to be written but, even so, this was stunning progress, and beyond what most visitors to the show had expected to see.
RISCOScode has sketchy details of RISC OS meetings in Austria, France and Italy. We'd welcome further information on these or, indeed, activity in other countries.
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Richard Ashbery writes:
Out of all the European countries Germany is the strongest RISC OS supporter. They were the first to offer a complete ready-to-use cased BeagleBoard, ahead of the ARMini. Martin Würthner's work on ArtWorks and TechWriter is also indicative of their productivity as a country. Having said that, the article makes it clear that there are those in the UK still investing time and effort in RISC OS.
It is a shame that products like A9home didn't take off - the price was too high. At least with BeagleBoard, and more so with Raspberry Pi the cost is not an issue.
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