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The Icon Bar: News and features: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Leave RISC OS: 10 Years On

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Leave RISC OS: 10 Years On

Posted by John Hoare on 12:40, 4/12/2016 | ,
Ten years ago this week, I wrote How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Leave RISC OS for The Iconbar. To mark the occasion, I thought it might be worth revisiting it. After all, surely plenty has changed over the past ten years?
And it has. Luckily, the days of Castle versus RISC OS Ltd have long gone. These days, it's all about... erm, RISC OS Open versus 3QD Developments Ltd. And RISC OS is still - still - forked. Do you hear the sound coming out of my mouth? I am laughing at you, RISC OS. I am laughing at your utter, utter uselessness. 10 years, and you haven't sorted out the forked OS issue? There must be a word that isn't "pathetic" which I could use, but I just can't think of it at the moment.
Still, I am by my own admission entirely an outsider when it comes to the RISC OS scene these days. I've kept up with very few of the developments, and certainly not in-depth. But it's perhaps worth noting which outfit seems to be doing more. RISC OS Open has a news page which has updated seven times this year, and an active, publicly-viewable CVS repository. 3QD have updated just twice over the past year, and both updates were on backward-looking products: VirtualAcorn, and, erm, a load of old APDL hardware.
Or, if we're going to judge merely on websites: RISC OS Open's is clean and thoughtful. 3QD thinks that putting thick outlines all over your company address is a good idea... and what that large grey graphic is doing is anyone's guess. Fair? Yes, I do actually think judging an organisation on how they choose to present themselves to the world is fair - and very often gives you a good insight into how an organisation works.
Despite the above, I genuinely have no side in the forked OS debate. I'm merely talking about how each organisation presents itself to the outside observer. RISC OS Open looks pretty good; a few more news updates would be good, but it's fine. 3QD, to borrow an old Steve Jobs quote, has no taste.
Still, let's look beyond the forked OS issue. The second part of my original article lurches (rather inelegantly, it has to be said) into the real reason why I left RISC OS. I can put that reason rather more simply these days: I use my computer to do work, and RISC OS can't do the work I need to do any more. That isn't a judgement on people who still use the platform to get real work done: I'm delighted it works for you. But for me, that ship has long sailed. Nothing that's happened in the last 10 years has changed that.
So for me, RISC OS's only remaining interest would be as a hobbyist OS. In other circumstances, maybe I'd still be interested in that... but other parts of my life took over. I have no time for a hobbyist OS any more. It used to be that a great deal of my identity was tied up with the computer I used: that's no longer the case. That is nothing to do with RISC OS; it's merely a casualty of me spending too much time watching The Strange World of Gurney Slade, or finding ways to combine Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Monty Python. I used to find computers fun in themselves. These days, I use them to get to other stuff I find fun. And RISC OS is far from the ideal vehicle to do that kind of thing with.
To put it another way: next month, I'm about to bury myself in the arcane world of responsive CSS. If I was the kind of person I used to be, it would have been the responsive CSS which would have been the real joy. These days, it isn't. It's using the resulting site to publish a history of online Buffy fandom. Computing for the sake of computing doesn't really interest me in the same way it used to. And that's not RISC OS's fault. That's all me.
RISC OS. I remember you, and I loved you. I even sometimes still miss your right-click. But ten years on... no, I really don't need you any more. I'm sorry.
  How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Leave RISC OS: 10 Years On
  Bucksboy (12:45 5/12/2016)
  Chris (15:42 5/12/2016)
    dfeugey (18:05 5/12/2016)
      flibble (21:13 5/12/2016)
        dfeugey (22:57 5/12/2016)
  hubersn (00:34 6/12/2016)
George Greenfield Message #123946, posted by Bucksboy at 12:45, 5/12/2016
Posts: 91
A good and interesting idea, to revisit your opinion ten years on. But in truth, I found John's reprise somewhat superficial. His original article, which I re-read, focuses largely (and angrily) on the OS fork between ROL and Castle, and he claims that this is still the case, but anyone with more than nodding acquaintance with the current RISC OS scene would surely agree that it's game, set and match to ROOL - ROL has disappeared, and versions 4.39 and 6 are only of relevance to emulation and the dwindling handful of Risc PC users. Meanwhile version 5 can now run natively on multiple recent-ish ARM hardware at price points ranging from the cost of a pub lunch to the thick end of a grand: a state of affairs utterly inconceivable in 2006. Development of the OS itself to add functionality and stability continues, albeit at a slow pace enforced by lack of manpower. Also overlooked is the ROOL Forum, which in ten years has gone from a few lone voices crying in the wilderness to a rich, active and supportive resource.
But John revisits another aspect: what is RISC OS useful for? It is true that an entire range of activity, particularly involving video and animation, is closed to the RISC OS user. It is also true that the OS is deficient in many areas (the internet stack, I/O speed, multithreading etc). On the other hand, most of the key apps are still being developed and the Otter browser (which I'm using to type this) offers a greatly enhanced ability to access the internet proactively. The arrival of CloudFS has given access to cloud services which means that material produced on a RISC OS machine is easily accessible to other computers, tablets and smartphones. Consequently I find that instead of switching on my PC daily, I now work mostly on my RISC OS Pi and resort to Windows only when Flash or video is involved.
So at the risk of appearing a hopeless optimist, I believe much has changed in ten years, mostly for the better, and that the future holds out a real possibility of further enhancement.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Chris Message #123947, posted by Chris at 15:42, 5/12/2016, in reply to message #123946
Posts: 283
Good grief - has it really been ten years since that article? That's terrifying.

Yes, RISC OS really only exists these days as a hobby OS. I still enjoy tinkering with it, but couldn't imagine using it for much serious real-world stuff. The main change for me since John's original article is just as this update says - computing itself isn't really very interesting any more. The differences between major OSes are pretty small (they can all run Photoshop, Word, etc), and what's left is fairly minor interface differences and web standards. RISC OS can't match the big boys any more, hasn't done for twenty years and probably never will do again. But it's still nice to use the desktop, and designing icons in Paint has somehow never stopped being fun (for me...).

It's probably not quite fair to claim that the OS fork is still a live issue, though - ROOL's the only game in town now, and to the extent there's still a RISC OS market/community it's centred on that.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
David Feugey Message #123948, posted by dfeugey at 18:05, 5/12/2016, in reply to message #123947
Posts: 40
I'm sorry to say that this is not RISC OS that did not move, but you. The fact is that we have today a version of RISC OS 5 for a sub 40$ board, with great power.

And you're still on the 'we don't have the (secondary) features of Select'. You're right. But we could also see the good points:
1- still alive
2- new computers almost each year
3- still have our own ASM/C/C++ stack
4- still have some great software

Remove Windows, macOS, Linux and BSD and you won't see so much OS with such a big ecosystem.

So yes, RISC OS is no use for many people. But it's not nothing/over/dead. It can be even useful for some commercial projects (not very often, but more than other alternative operating systems). As an alternative operating system, RISC OS is probably number one today.

[Edited by dfeugey at 18:08, 5/12/2016]
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Peter Howkins Message #123949, posted by flibble at 21:13, 5/12/2016, in reply to message #123948

Posts: 891
Meanwhile back in reality.

In the last 10 years the userbase has shrunk, new software has turned from a trickle to a drip, the number of people whose livelihoods are made from RISC OS has dropped [1]. Software compatibility has dropped through the floor *again*. The 30 quid computer didn't actually grow the market much. Everything on the platform is so bloody expensive compared to elsewhere [1]. The ROOL project has delivered platform ports but not really provided any extra core features or made the platform any easier to develop for.

It is not that the platform is not dead, it is that the remaining RISC OS community either enjoy playing with zombies or engaging in necrophillia.

This may seem like a complaint or dig at the people involved, but let us be honest here, we have all moved on (too some degree), and personally if all future RISC OS development in its entirety disappeared tomorrow its impact would be nothing.

But "woo, yay, ain't risc os great", etc, etc.

[1] Yeah, that's not as contradictory as you think smile
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
David Feugey Message #123950, posted by dfeugey at 22:57, 5/12/2016, in reply to message #123949
Posts: 40
> and personally if all future RISC OS development in its entirety disappeared tomorrow its impact would be nothing.
To be honest, almost nobody knows it exists.

> Everything on the platform is so bloody expensive compared to elsewhere
Elsewhere = other alternative OS? Or once again Windows / macOS / Linux?

> but not really provided any extra core features or made the platform any easier to develop for.
I can't agree with that. Read releases notes of RISC OS and DDE. There are a lot of new things, even if there is almost no one to use them smile
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Steffen Huber Message #123951, posted by hubersn at 00:34, 6/12/2016, in reply to message #123946
Posts: 91
I am not sure why anyone still cares about the OS split. It is a shame to see all the good Select/Adjust work being wasted, but RISC OS 5 is now the only way to go, so no reason to cry about the past. It is RISC OS 5 or nothing these days, so the split might as well not exist at all.

Anyway, RISC OS has stopped being a viable platform for everyday use for most people a long time ago. Many computer users nowadays almost exclusively rely on their browser for everyday work. I find NetSurf as well as the Qt-based WebKit ports a technically amazing achievement, but they are not "useful" browsers for the currently expected internet usage.

Add to this the inability to easily use WLAN. We all know the workarounds, but try to explain that to a newcomer who has the alternative to use Linux which "just works" with that wireless access point next door.

Then think about the age old problem of not being able to use any old hardware you can buy at that computer store down the street.

There is still a lot of useful software for RISC OS around. I really like to use it. But how will you convince a newcomer to pay for TechWriter, Artworks, PhotoDesk, Ovation Pro and the PS3 printer driver (a 3-out-of-5-win for MW Software!) if equivalent software is available for free or extremely low prices on other platforms?

To sum it up: RISC OS has stopped being useful. But since the port to the BeagleBoard has surfaced, it has started to be fun again. At least for me.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]

The Icon Bar: News and features: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Leave RISC OS: 10 Years On