An anonymously submitted column looks at the current state of the RISC OS market focusing on RISCOS Ltd.
The notion of a RISC OS 'marketplace' existing is becoming ever more ridiculous. The terms 'Orwellian Commune' or perhaps even 'Prison' seem more appropriate now. It is now frowned upon for the media to report anything negative in the RISC OS world and we are expected to pay for inferior products and services simply to finance yet more 'catch up' development work.
You think I jest? Well, at the Southeast show the other week, we had Mr Rawnsley asking that we all buy the RISC OS 4 upgrade and join the Foundation 'fan club' in order to help RISCOS Ltd. escape their current financial difficulties. What do you mean you didn't know RISCOS Ltd. have financial problems? Has it not been reported in Acorn User? Wonder why?
Ever since their conception, RISCOS Ltd. have failed to deliver. Their long delayed RISC OS 4 upgrade offered very little over what was already present in Acorn's own leaked v3.8 developers' version as seen in Dec '98. The list of bugfixes present on the website for download is a sign that something went horribly wrong in testing. Forgive me, did I mean misfeatures?
Most companies have to attract customers by either having a good product or a poor product and good marketing. RISCOS Ltd. are in the fortunate position where they need neither. At present, RISC OS companies seem to be living on the spoils gained from the astounding brand loyalty of a core of enthusiasts. These people are die-hard enthusiasts, just like football supporters, they'll buy the kit, no matter what the price or level of quality is. Perhaps this is good but RISCOS Ltd. and the hardware manufacturers need to expand the market beyond this. Take a look around at any RISC OS show these days and you'll see that over 80% of people are aged over 40 with only a handful of the twenty-somethings who are typically the highest spenders on computer equipment. Don't take this the wrong way, there's nothing wrong with the 40 somethings (Madonna's one now, you know), it's just that we need fresh blood in the market.
The RISC OS Foundation is less than perfect. So far, members have received just two issues of a CD based magazine, the second of which was available at the Wakefield show but not received by many subscribers until several weeks later.
You may have read that RISCOS Ltd. recently lost their three main programming staff. This leaves them in a challenging position. Clearly, none of the much-needed work towards a fully 32-bit desktop RISC OS is currently happening. Further, the board of the company seems to be split over some mysterious policy proposal, well away from the view of the man on the street.
It's not all bad news though, anyone who delves a little deeper will see that there are still some glimmering embers left at the heart of our beloved market. Picsel, the rather mysterious company trading from Alternative Publishing's Glasgow address are an example of this. Nobody will admit to knowing what they do but it is evident that it might be RISC OS related now that two former RISCOS Ltd. employees are working there.
So, once more unto the breach we go. Will RISCOS Ltd. pull it back or will we all be plunged back into darkness once more?