This time round, we talk to Mark Moxon, a name which will be very familiar to anyone who read any Acorn magazines.
Would you like to introduce yourself?
My name is Mark Moxon, and I've been an Acorn user since 1983. I was lucky enough to work as an Acorn journalist from 1991 to 1995, starting with a stint on BEEBUG and RISC User magazine, before working my way up to Editor of Acorn User.
How long have you been using RISC OS?
I got my first Archimedes, an A410/1, in the summer of 1989, just after the new models were released. I've still got it - what a great machine.
What other systems do you use?
I split my non-Acorn time between an iMac, a Windows 10 PC, an Ubuntu box and various Raspberry Pi models, depending on what I'm doing.
What is your current RISC OS setup?
My main machine is still my trusty A410/1, upgraded with a hard drive, RISC OS 3 and 4MB RAM, of course. I recently replaced the ageing mechanical hard drive with a solid-state IDE podule, so I could finally unplug the case fan, which was starting to sound a bit like a jet engine.
I've got an Econet network that connects my Archimedes to my BBC Micro, and an Ethernet podule that hooks the Arc into my home network. I've also got a Raspberry Pi running RISC OS 5 that I mainly use as a fileserver, and I've got Acorn emulators galore on the PC and Mac, from RPCEmu to a whole range of Beeb and Electron emulators.
What do you think of the retro scene?
I love it! It's really impressive that people are not only still coding for Acorn machines, but producing really pushing the hardware. As someone who fell in love with both 6502 and ARM assembler back in the day, I guess I'm not surprised, but it's great to have a scene that's so active.
Do you attend any of the shows and what do you think of them?
Not yet! The last Acorn show I attended would have been in the 1990s.
What do you use RISC OS for in 2021 and what do you like most about it?
My interest in RISC OS is mostly retro-based, and the reasons I like it are the same as back in the day. The speed, the look, the three-button mouse, the software, the fact that it's a fast ROM-based system, and the ease with which you can access almost all parts of the operating system - I still love firing up my RISC OS 3.11 machine and just poking around in the code.
What is your favourite feature/killer program in RISC OS?
My killer app is the Archimedes version of Elite, which is the best version of my favourite game of all time.
But probably even more impressive - though this might sound a bit weird - is the BBC BASIC-based assembler that started life with 6502 assembly language on the Beeb and spilled over into ARM assembly on RISC OS. It's an absolute killer feature for me. I do most of my RISC OS coding in ARM assembler, and although I know there are proper development environments out there, the DDE was always too expensive for me to justify, so like most people, I developed all my ARM-based apps in the BASIC assembler. Being able to merge the assembly language with the programmability of BASIC was a genius move when Acorn added it to the BBC Micro, and that still holds on the Archimedes.
I'm still planning to install the DDE and get my head round all the features, as I'm sure there are things the DDE can do that the BASIC assembler can't do, but it's still on the to-do list. I guess that says a lot about how good the built-in assembler really is!
What would you most like to see in RISC OS in the future?
Wi-fi support on the Raspberry Pi. I have a Pi running RISC OS 5 that acts as a handy fileserver and works as a better interface to the modern world than my A410/1, and it would be great if it could work without wires.
Favourite (vaguely RISC OS-releated) moan?
The BBC Micro scene has such a huge library of software available for free - look at the amazing wealth of games on the bbcmicro.co.uk site, for example. It would be brilliant if RISC OS could spawn such a library, though I'm not sure how that would come to be; JASPP is a fantastic resource for games, but the only way to get hold of a lot of non-games software is to buy the originals on eBay, which can be a bit hit-and-miss (not to mention quite expensive). I totally understand that with the OS still being developed, and software still being sold, the copyright situation is different to that of the older BBC Micro, but I live in hope.
Can you tell us about what you are working on in the RISC OS market at the moment?
It's not remotely market-related, but I'm trying to resurrect all the software I wrote back in the 1990s, so I can convert them to run on my Raspberry Pi. I didn't write that much software, and it was mainly for magazine cover discs and the like, but it would be great to see it running in higher screen resolutions and at modern speeds... and it gives me an excuse to get my head round the developments in the ARM scene, which is always welcome!
Apart from iconbar (obviously) what are your favourite websites?
Stardot is fantastic. I'm doing a fair amount of digital archaeology on the BBC Micro at the moment, and as a one-stop shop for both 8-bit and 32-bit expertise, it's hard to beat.
What are your interests beyond RISC OS?
Currently, my hobby is all about Elite on the BBC Micro, which I'm documenting to within an inch of its life. It requires a satisfying combination of technical analysis and journalism, which ticks all my boxes, seeing as I was addicted to Elite on both the Beeb and the Arc. What a game!
If someone hired you for a month to develop RISC OS software, what would you create?
Any future plans or ideas you can share with us?
Once I've finished documenting the BBC version of Elite, I'd love to pull the Archimedes version apart, though I'm not sure how feasible that is, as I believe it was built in a mix of ARM code and C. Still, a commander's got to dream...
You can read lots of other interviews on Iconbar here
(If you would like to do an interview, please drop an email to markstephens AT idrsolutions.com and I will arrange).