This time round, the author of CDVDBurn talks to us...
You can also hear him at the February 2020 Rougol meeting online on Monday 15th February
Would you like to introduce yourself?
Hi, I'm Steffen Huber, nickname "hubersn", a humble software developer for RISC OS and other systems from Waiblingen, Germany. My only commercial software to date, CDVDBurn 3, is sold via my (one-man) company hubersn Software.
How long have you been using RISC OS?
I started in 1990 with an A3000, which was not only my first RISC OS machine, but also my first Acorn. My first computer was a Schneider CPC 464 (or Amstrad CPC as it was known in Britain and the rest of the world), and I jumped straight from 8 Bit Z80 world into 32 Bit ARM world.
What other systems do you use?
Windows, Android, Linux. At work, I develop Java software in a Windows setup for customers that run it on Windows, Linux, AIX, Solaris and OS/390.
What is your current RISC OS setup?
Most of my RISC OS usage is via emulators. I use RPCEmu and V-RPC on various Windows Notebooks. But I also have nearly every native RISC OS machine: A310, A410, A3000, A3010, A5000, A4, Risc PC, IYONIX pc, Omega, A9home, BeagleBoard, BeagleBoard-xM, PandaBoard ES, IGEPv5, ARMX6, mini.m, Titanium, and every Raspberry Pi from the first Model B up to the latest Pi 400. And sometimes, I am experimenting with the Archimedes code on the MIST/Mistica and the MISTer FPGA systems.
All of my development is done on emulators, and then deployed to the various "real hardware" machines for testing.
What do you think of the retro scene?
I am quite active in the German retro scene, there is a big user group called the VzEkC - "Verein zum Erhalt klassischer Computer", which roughly translates to "Association for the conservation of classic computers". Back when there were physical meetings, I visited quite a few of them, showing both classic Acorn machines and modern RISC OS machines side-by-side.
I have a large bunch of Acorn RISC OS machines from the RISC OS 2 and RISC OS 3.1 era and a lot of hardware like e.g. nearly all SCSI podules that were ever produced. So yes, you could say that I am a true member of the retro scene. Although I still suck at playing Zarch.
Do you attend any of the shows and what do you think of them?
The last show I visited was of course the "Virtual RISC OS London Show 2020", which stretches the word "visited" a bit. Before that, I regularly attended the Wakefield Show, but because of work pressure around that date every year this ended I think in 2005. And I was at the last Acorn World Show 1997 when CDBurn was released. Still a show I like to remember.
Once upon a time, there were also shows with a RISC OS theme in Germany, but these morphed into user group meetings like the GAG meeting once a year.
I always liked the "physical" nature of the shows - being a RISC OS user in Germany, you are always in a small minority. Most Germans have never heard of RISC OS, only some remember the Archimedes because it got a lot of good press when released, but most are surprised that the OS is still alive. And while modern communication means that you can be in contact with like-minded people all over the world, being at a physical event, meeting dozens of those like-minded people - that always was a big boost for my motivation to develop something for RISC OS.
What do you use RISC OS for in 2021 and what do you like most about it?
Sometimes, I think that most of the time I am just keeping all the hardware running, updating the software and the OS, and getting not much "work" done. Most of my RISC OS usage is developing CDVDBurn. I don't use RISC OS for much else, but I miss its user friendliness and partly also its familiarity at least once an hour when I use Windows or Linux.
What is your favourite feature/killer program in RISC OS?
In preference to software on other OSes, I think there is not much left - Draw and Artworks for quickly sketching up stuff, because I am used to those packages. Impression Style, because nothing beats its ease of use (and my familiarity with it) when putting frams with text on a page. And StrongEd.
What would you most like to see in RISC OS in the future?
99% of my usage time of other OSes are using the browser and using the Eclipse IDE. So if someone could provide me with a stable and fast browser as well as a stable and fast Java implementation on RISC OS...
But to be honest, I learnt to be largely OS-agnostic due to my work. I like the RISC OS UI very much, but it also has weaknesses. So I use whatever OS runs the software I need to use to get the job done. When I had my Risc PC and the PC card, until around 1997 this meant that I could do nearly everything on the Risc PC, switching between Windows and RISC OS. Today, I am switching between whole computers connected to my KVM switch instead, or use a RISC OS emulator.
Favourite (vaguely RISC OS-releated) moan?
Actually, a RISC OS-specific moan. Our developer community needs to adopt a more open spirit, looking at how things are done on otehr OSes, and try to provide modern tools for software development. I know that many people are happily hacking away using BBC BASIC because that is what they know, and this is fine. As I said before, "familiarity" is a big factor for productivity and also fun. But another big factor is being able to use modern tools, and RISC OS really lacks many essential tools here - I am working around that by developing on the Windows side partly inside the emulator and partly using Windows-based tools, but this also creates a lot of friction that slows down progress.
As a result, we have a fragmented developer community - some use C (and half of them the DDE and the other half GCC with little exchange between the two groups with respect to e.g. ported libraries), some use BASIC, some use Assembly, some develop exclusively on RISC OS, some cross-compile, some use emulators, some have a mixed development environment. Because of the small numbers of developers, every developer usually ends up in a very specific environment that makes it more difficult to work together in larger teams (i.e. more than one).
The lack of a standardised library system means that the BASIC users can't have access to the C libraries, and a lot of development frameworks like WimpWorks, AppBasic or DrWimp are BASIC-centric. The DDE users cannot use the libs ported for the GCC ELF world. Interested developers from other platforms miss the tools and languages they know from elsewhere. There could be a lot of synergies if we invested more into development infrastructure, but it is an uphill struggle. The community is too small to keep a meaningful subset of development tools up to date and well-working. There are laudable individual efforts like GCCSDK, Lua, Python 3 or the recent port of the Git client. And of course Chris Gransden's effort to port everything from Linux to RISC OS. But if the one sole developer that maintains that stuff has little time or abandons the project, we are already in deep trouble.
And another moan...what I really don't like is the secrecy of some of the development done. Small, closed groups or single developers doing something in the dark without community involvement to speed things up. Open Source works for many communities because it leverages the power of the many. Embrace it. I really like the efforts of Steve Fryatt with publishing everything on GitHub, as well as his great "Wimp Programming in C" tutorial. We need more stuff like that! RISC OS Open Ltd. is also to be applauded for establishing an open development process based on GitLab.
Can you tell us about what you are working on in the RISC OS market at the moment?
The only product you can currently buy from me (i.e. hubersn Software) is CDVDBurn 3, and I am currently working on a minor update for existing customers. I am also working on some other interesting tools mostly around emulator usage, but no firm release dates yet. I keep saying that since 2018...but I will show a glimpse of what I'm working on at the forthcoming ROUGOL February Meeting. The common topic is "for RISC OS, but not on RISC OS".
Any surprises or dates to tease us with?
No firm dates or promises, but watch https://blog.hubersn-software.com/ for any hints and information. You'll hear it there first :-)
Apart from iconbar (obviously) what are your favourite websites?
My own websites of course - https://www.hubersn-software.com/ for all your CDVDBurn 3 needs, my development blog https://blog.hubersn-software.com/ for the latest hubersn Software news, and for the small German speaking minority (and those who are willing to rely on automatic translators) my RISC OS blog http://riscosblog.huber-net.de/ which I am trying to update regularly.
You will notice how beautifully designed those websites are and how many cool pictures there are...not. My excuse is, that I always thought that "content is king", and I really like text to convey information.
Other than my own sites, I really like the Stardot forum and the RISC OS Open forum. I spend a lot of time there.
What are your interests beyond RISC OS?
Beyond a general interest in software development and other IT stuff, I like watching movies. I used to go to the cinema once every week in pre-COVID times. Currently, I am a heavy user of my own home cinema which is quite well-equipped with a good sound system including a large subwoofer and a big screen for the projector. The home cinema is also used for watching various sports events from German Bundesliga football to NFL (American Football). I am also interested in politics and get dragged into too many discussions all too easily which wastes a lot of time.
If someone hired you for a month to develop RISC OS software, what would you create?
Most of the projects I have on my list will take a lot longer than one month. My favourite project would be a BASIC compiler built on top of LLVM for a subset-and-superset of BBC BASIC. That would need a lot of groundwork for the LLVM ecosystem first. But I think it would provide a lot of seasoned BBC BASIC developers with the kind of environment they would need to produce a lot more advanced software in a lot less time.
Any future plans or ideas you can share with us?
I have a long list of possible projects I might want to work on, but the list gets longer every week, and my spare time is very limited. I am in a comfortable position of having a "proper" day job that I like and that pays the bills, so RISC OS stuff will only get done if I feel like it. Unfortunately, that also means that most projects on this list will never be done.
If a capable RISC OS developer has some time to spend and needs inspiration for projects, just drop me an email.
Any questions we forgot to ask you?
Why do you still develop software for optical drives? Because I can.
What is your best tip for RISC OS developers wanting to produce software to sell? Don't write software that drives hardware - it's a nightmare.
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).