Preview: RISC OS Select Scheme
This review was originally published in RISCWorld magazine Volume 2 Issue 3.
On the 17th of August RISC OS Ltd held a press day to explain further details of the new Select Scheme. For some strange reason RISC World's esteemed editor didn't get invited, and you know I simply cannot imagine why. Still luckily David Bradforth has the eyes of an eagle (and legs to match) and took the opportunity to invite himself along. RISC OS Ltd presented a large document for press consumption which explains the scheme in much greater detail and so we can now tell you more about the Select Scheme and the first CD that will be produced.
The RISC OS Select Scheme logo.
RISC OS Ltd have said that they expect the Select Scheme to run over a two year period, with subscribers receiving a number of CDs per year, just like a RISC World subscription. As more and more changes are made to RISC OS, so the CDs will get bigger. So Select CD number 2 will include all the contents of CD number 1 as well as new material. So the scheme will run rather like the software resources on the Foundation RISC User CDs.
Unlike previous versions of RISC OS the new versions of RISC OS will not require a new set of ROMS, however users will need to be running RISC OS 4 before they can run the Select CDs. Instead the new OS will be soft loaded when the machine is started. Of course users will still have the option to run the old vanilla favour RISC OS 4 if they want to. RISC OS Ltd has been criticised recently for saying that they will only support RISC OS 4, or later. Effectively dumping RISC OS 3.7 and earlier. They do have good reason for this. In order to standardise machines it makes sense for RISC OS 4 to become the base version of RISC OS. Upgrading and maintaining the OS will be easier, and developer of newer software titles will have a clearly defined base to work from. Not only that of course but RISC OS Ltd don't have technical documentation, or sources, for any version of RISC OS prior to version 4. So if you are still running RISC OS 3.7 or earlier you really should consider an upgrade, unless you want to get left behind.
Turning on a machine running the new RISC OS.
Using a soft loaded OS does have two disadvantages. Firstly the time it takes to load the new OS over the old one, however this is only a few seconds and only has to be done when the computer is first powered up. The second is that the soft loaded OS takes up space in RAM (with the old OS still in ROM). RISC OS Ltd say the new version of RISC OS will come as a 6MB ROM image (existing versions of RISC OS are no bigger than 4MB). So a 66MB machine will only have 60MB free after RISC OS has ben loaded. With the current low prices of RAM (roughly 15 pence a MB if you know where to go) this seems quite sensible, so if you are still running with less that 64MB of main memory it may well be time to upgrade!
RISC OS 4+
The new title banner.
The new version of RISC OS has been given the name RISC OS 4+ and is scheduled to come with quite a few new features and improvements to existing features. The main changes are as follows:
Although this may not sound like much please remember that these are all items from the first Select CD, and more will be added later. Also some of the changes are deep routed. The old Acorn Kernel is starting to be ripped apart and replaced with more, but much smaller and easier to maintain, components.
Memory handling has been improved with a degree of memory protection, and much easier handling of dynamic areas. One rather odd change is that when a machine is booted with SHIFT held down you now get a Boot menu, instead of the computer dropping to the configured language (BASIC, Command Line or whatever). I suppose users these days simply expect a computer to boot into a desktop and don't want command lines any more.
Quite a bit of work seems to have been done on networking, including the possibility of adding a Firewall system, and using a RISC OS machine as a true IP gateway on a network. MimeMAP has been updated as have almost all of the other network components, but the first Select CD will not include DHCP apparently due to a licensing problem. However RISC OS Ltd have reported that the new version of the OS runs networking tasks around 25% faster, which should mean improved speed when browsing the Internet..
And the rest?
Some of the changes in RISC OS 4+ seem a little cosmetic to say the least, being able to have a graded pinboard backdrop may well not be top of your list of RISC OS short comings.
The new Pinboard, and dynamic area management
A new Zipper module has been added which enables handling of ZIP files, although most users will already have SparkFS, or similar, this may prove useful for programmers. A new program PathUtils handles the setting up of Path$ variables, unless you have had trouble with Path$ variables before you may not appreciate this quite useful addition. Obey files are now cached (rather than being read line by line) and hence open and execute much faster. RISC OS Ltd say that the BASIC assembler has been improved, but I can't find any documentation to cover the changes. The Boot sequence now has support for multiple users, with their own profiles.
On a more light weight front a new "Galaxy" screen saver is included, but far more usefully the new JPEG handling code in RISC OS should be able to correctly load JPEG images created by digital cameras. As a further addition !Paint can now save out in JPEG format.
The full Monty
RISC OS Ltd were able to provide a full list of the new components for RISC OS 4+, and their version numbers. However it is unclear what changes have been made to some items. Indeed RISC OS Ltds press release states that "Changes to version number may not reflect number of changes made". This can be viewed two ways, either lots of changes and improvements to the code with only a small version number change, or a new version number and only token changes made to the code. Still the full provisional list is as follows.
The Select Scheme and RISC OS 4+ does indeed look very promising. We will do a full review of RISC OS 4+ when we get the first Select Scheme CD.
There are a couple of questions remaining. The cost of the Select Scheme subscription is £105, for this customers will receive up to 3 CDs. If RISC OS Ltd can deliver 3 CDs, and each one contains upgrades similar to the proposed first CD then at only £35 an upgrade the Select Scheme would represent an unmissable opportunity.
However suppose that RISC OS Ltd cannot produce the 3 CDs, remember the scheme will be up to 3 CDs, so it could in theory end up just being one. The question remains is this just a cynical cashing in on work already done in the past (but not released), or a brave attempt to push RISC OS forward. Perhaps we won't know till the 2nd CD comes out? Mind you if you don't subscribe perhaps there won't be a second CD and you could miss out on all the improvements?
I suppose it comes down to this simple point, do you trust RISC OS Ltd to deliver?
David Bradforth & Aaron Timbrell