The RISC OS Select Scheme FAQ

Paul Middleton answers some of the questions that are likely to be uppermost in readers' minds about the new RISC OS Select scheme

This article addresses the following broad topics about the RISC OS Select scheme and related matters. Click on the links below to jump to the associated heading, and on the headings themselves to scroll back to the top of the article:

RISC OS Select logo

Subscribing to Select

Q: Exactly what do you get for your money with a Select subscription?
A: A continuing series of updates to RISC OS in a staggered fashion over a period of approximately two years. The alternative would be to wait until everything is ready for a once-off release. The trouble is that the speed of change, and the timescale for producing ROMs, would mean that any product that was released on ROM would be at least six months out of date when it was shipped. In some ways you could liken it to RISC OS insurance, or a subscription to a virus protection scheme.

Q: I've got two machines and want to upgrade them both. Do I have to pay for Select twice?
A: No. It is a personal scheme for up to ten machines owned by one person or family and in use at one location.

Q: Why have you opted for a personal approach to the scheme rather than locking each upgrade to a single machine?
A: The soft-load mechanism has been forced on us due to supply problems with all types of ROMs. Having a soft-load that is tied to a specific machine is very difficult to implement, so we chose the personal licence route.

Q: I represent a school and want to install Select on fifty machines. How much is that going to cost?
A: We don't really recommend Select for schools. Some of the parts of the scheme that will be appropriate for schools' use will be made available for separate purchase, but we don't expect schools to want to play around with their machines in the same way that enthusiasts do.

Q: Won't this multiple-machine approach lead to piracy? Some Select members might give or sell copies of the latest CDs to their friends, or install a single subscription CD on more machines than one scheme covers. And how can you stop piracy via the Web site, if users give their passwords to their friends?
A: If the updates are shared amongst lots of people, the simple result will be that there will not be any more upgrades because the company will have closed due to lack of income.

We believe that RISC OS users will want to pay for their upgrades. Or, more precisely, they will be prepared to pay for one upgrade even if they own more than one machine.

The cost has been set at a price that we think is reasonable to cover the development costs involved.

Q: When's the first CD due out?
A: The first components will be on the Web site at the end of July. The first CD will appear at the end of August.

Q: What will be on the Select Web site?
A: A copy of what's on the CDs, along with interim updates.

Q: Will users who don't join Select be able to buy occasional one-off upgrade CDs to update their OS?
A: Only within certain restrictions. New members of the scheme will get older versions of the CD dependent how far down the line they join. The best way to think of it is like a magazine part-work, where you buy a new part every month and over two years you get the full collection, though it is not quite as simple as that.

The cost of upgrading

Q: At around £100, it seems as though I'll be buying a new RISC OS 4 upgrade every year. The regular CDs sound like a good idea, but surely I'm not getting the same value for money as I was getting for a major OS revision with the original RISC OS 4 upgrade.
A: Well, we could have made it £200 for each major upgrade and brought it out in two years' time. But we felt that people would prefer to start having upgrades now and effectively pay for it in instalments.

Q: The Select scheme is advertised as providing "up to three CDs per year": does that mean that in some years there may only be one CD? £100 is a lot for just one or maybe two CDs!
A: The practicalities of software development mean that there may be two CDs or possibly four in a twelve-month period. The aim is not to try and fill a CD every four months, as that is impossible. The aim is to develop RISC OS on a continuing basis. Ideally we would just like to make new items available on the Web site, but we are still a long way off everyone having an Internet connection, so CD distribution is essential for everyone else, since distribution on floppy is impossible.

Q: I've put off buying RISC OS 4 so far because I'm happy with RISC OS 3.7, but I think I'd like to join Select to get up to date. But why should I have to get RISC OS 4 and Select? That's like buying two upgrades! Why can't Select work with RISC OS 3.5 onwards?
A: Over 3,000 people have bought RISC OS 4, so they would be a bit annoyed if they found out that new upgraders could go straight to RISC OS Select! We are offering a discount for people who upgrade in this way, to soften the blow, but they must also buy RISC OS 4 for technical reasons.

Q: Maybe getting the first Select CD is a good idea, but what happens after that? Won't you just be offering small bug-fixes after the initial major update?
A: The subscription is for a year at a time, with an ongoing series of upgrades. The first CD will only include some of the major features planned, not all of them.

Q: How long is the Select scheme going to last? If RISC OS 5 appears in a year or two, will it be covered by Select or will it be a whole new upgrade?
A: In practise the Select scheme is likely to run for two to three years. That is the expected maximum lifespan for the availability of 26-bit processors. Once the market moves to 32-bit, our effort will go into 32-bit components. Support for developing 26-bit versions will then logically decline.

Practicalities of upgrading

Q: Will new machines like the Omega come with new versions of RISC OS from the Select scheme pre-installed, or will they contain RISC OS 4.0x for the foreseeable future?
A: New machines will inevitably need slightly different versions of RISC OS, but the basis of those versions will be the current RISC OS 4.02. Major new features will only be available to Select members.

Q: I like the idea of regular updates, but I'd still like new versions in ROM sometimes. Why can't you have, say, an annual ROM-based issue with 'top-up' modules on CD?
A: That option is dependent on the availability of suitable ROMs.

Also, the ROM sockets are not really designed for constant replacing of ROMs and to make ROM sets available would cost at least £25 per set.

Q: Many users have RISC OS 4 upgrades on Flash ROMs which can be rewritten. Can you offer a service to allow those users to have their existing ROMs upgraded with the new versions of RISC OS?
A: Flash ROM reprogramming on products such as the Kinetic Risc PC will be dependent on agreement with the manufacturers.

Q: Will the new multiple-user boot system transform RISC OS into a true multi-user operating system like Unix, with full control over access privileges and the ability to give individuals their own, private parts of a machine? Or will it just allow several users to set up their own individual sets of application choices?
A: ADFS doesn't have the necessary support to allow Unix-style access permissions. The intention is to implement a multi-user/multi-location choices system, such that a particular user logging in at a particular location will activate a particular set of choices.

For example, Dad at home will enable a particular set of Internet settings and printers, whilst Child A at school would have a different set of Internet settings and printers.

Q: How will it be possible to boot RISC OS from various different devices, such as hard disc, CD or network, which may all be available on a single machine? And will it be possible to use Select versions of RISC OS on machines without a hard disc, like the new Slym from Cumana?
A: There is a new Boot menu which is activated by holding down <Shift> during bootup. This allows you to jump to the appropriate Boot on either hard disc, CD-ROM or network mount.

The Slym machine will have Flash ROM instead of hard disc, so it will be possible for the dealer to reprogram the machine. The end-user will not be allowed to do the job, simply to prevent unauthorised reprogramming.

Q: I don't like the idea of soft-loading the whole operating system. It's going to eat up between 4Mb and 8Mb of RAM, and I've only got a 16Mb Risc PC. Aren't you going the way of Windows and Mac OS by demanding vast amounts of memory? One of the advantages of RISC OS being in ROM in the past is that it hasn't wasted any of the RAM in the machine.
A: We don't think that using 6Mb of RAM for the operating system is a vast demand. For comparison, Mac OS X needs a minimum of 128Mb for the OS, and really needs 256Mb! To run more than one application then usually needs another 128Mb RAM; i.e if you haven't got 512Mb of RAM in your new Mac, it will be slow and will complain when you try to run Photoshop and Internet Explorer at the same time. Memory costs are now at the lowest they have ever been, so if you have less than 16Mb of RAM in your machine then now is the time to upgrade, before DRAM becomes obsolete.

Q: Won't soft-loading the OS take a long time and add significantly to the boot-up time of the machine?
A: No. Loading the soft-load ROM image only takes approximately six seconds.

Q: I don't like disc-based operating systems because they're slow and prone to being corrupted. What happens if my hard drive fails or I get a virus?
A: RISC OS has been partially disc-based ever since ROM patches were released for RISC OS 3.5; and ever since that version of RISC OS was released, much of the functionality of the OS has resided on disc as part of the Boot sequence.

The original ROM is still in the machine, so if all else fails you will still be left with a workable RISC OS 4.0x machine. As for the question of speed, executing code from RAM is actually faster than from ROM.

Future versions of RISC OS

Q: Will the first version of RISC OS to come from the Select scheme be RISC OS 4.5?
A: No.

Q: Then why have you given the next RISC OS upgrade the project name of RISC OS 4.5?
A: All future 26-bit versions of RISC OS are grouped under the project heading of RISC OS 4.5 (or Ally, as it is known internally; RISC OS 4 was Buffy).

RISC OS 5 is the project code for 32-bit versions of RISC OS.

There is no specific fixed goal for RISC OS development. We want to bring out as many upgrades and new features as possible, rather than limiting ourselves to a fixed set of upgrades.

Q: What will RISC OS be known as once Select has started? Will there be a regular version point increase (4.1 for the first CD, 4.2 for the next and so on) or will the OS as a whole be updated less frequently?
A: The version of the kernel determines the overall RISC OS version. We are currently at version 4.20 for development. The versions for CD release will be whatever version is reached at the appropriate point in the year. So it may be 4.25, 4.36 and then 4.36 again, dependent on how much work is done on the kernel. Other parts of RISC OS besides the kernel are also being developed, but they may not change the kernel version.

Q: If the OS is being updated in piecemeal fashion, won't this lead to a lot of fragmentation in the market, with people running lots of different and perhaps incompatible versions of RISC OS 4?
A: People are already running four slightly different versions of RISC OS 4. There will be more different versions in circulation in the future, but they should all be compatible with each other, subject to certain changes that are inevitable, such as CMOS re-allocation.

Q: What happens when a new piece of software needs to use a new module which has been improved as part of the Select scheme? If users aren't on Select, they won't have the necessary module, and that will reduce the number of people who can run the new software. Will programmers be able to distribute individual modules for use with their applications as has sometimes happened in the past?
A: Binary distribution agreements will be available for developers to allow them to distribute new modules with their products.

Q: Why have you stopped development of the 32-bit RISC OS 5? Doesn't Pace need a 32-bit version of RISC OS for its products? What will happen when 26-bit-compatible chips like the StrongARM stop being available?
A: We haven't abandoned development. It is simply in abeyance until the requirements of the hardware developers dictates that development recommences. That could be in two months' or two years' time.

We have simply stated that we are not producing a 32-bit RISC OS at present because you don't need it for use on current machines, and none of the current hardware manufacturers has made a commitment to justify the development at present.

We can't speak for Pace.

The timetable for extinction of 26-bit-capable processors is still some way off.

Registered Developers and support

Q: I'm an amateur programmer, and I'm interested to hear that by joining Select I can become an Associate Registered Developer for free. What do I have to do to take advantage of this?
A: Write in or email us at select@riscos.com, saying you want to register, and we will send out the necessary forms. These will be on the Web site in due course.

Q: Exactly what benefits do I get as an associated developer?
A: Listing on the RISC OS Products Directory Web site and inclusion in the Database section of Foundation RISC User (both the CD-ROMs and the online edition).

Q: What form will the support material on the Web site take?
A: HTML and PDF documents on the functional specifications of RISC OS 4 and other programming information.

Q: I'd like more support than this, but the price of becoming a full Registered Developer is prohibitively expensive at £1000 per year. I'm running a small business with small margins, and your full scheme is much too expensive. How can you justify such a price, and is there no middle ground?
A: If we were solicitors then £1000 would get you about five hours' support! To offer support requires an engineer, which costs money. Most people simply require access to technical documentation with a little bit of explanation, which can be done by email. Anyone who requires extensive support will have to pay for it, since we cannot afford to subsidise other companies by virtue of our engineers trying to solve their problems. All services have to be paid for somewhere, and the fairest route is to charge for something approaching a sensible rate. Our engineers can earn £400 per day doing contract work, so it doesn't make commercial sense to have people with the same skills offering technical support to people who only want to pay £100 a year and then expect to have hour-long telephone calls, trying to sort out their problems every few weeks.

The middle ground is simply to charge on a per-call basis for support, which is likely to be in the region of £50 per hour.


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