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The Icon Bar: News and features: The Great Divide
 

The Great Divide

Posted by Chris on 17:00, 15/12/2009 | , ,
 
The RISC OS user base has always been a bit schizophrenic. Even in the 90s - the period when the OS had its greatest mainstream success - RISC OS users were a diverse bunch. Most OSes had a clearly defined stereotypical user: Windows was for business-types, Macs for design gurus, Amigas/STs for gamers and Linux/UNIX for developers and academics. RISC OS never had a clear rationale. Many users came from the education sector, others from the scientific community, and a few were home computing enthusiasts.
 
Despite the fact the community has shrunk rapidly over the years, its seems to me that the divide is still with us. There are essentially two types of RISC OS user. The first is the thoroughly traditional non-technical type: perhaps a retired teacher, probably quite 'mature', with a decent knowledge of BASIC and the workings of the Desktop, but no advanced programming skills or interest in the more esoteric side of development. The second is the hobbyist developer. Maybe an ex-IT student, perhaps employed as a programmer in the computing mainstream, they will be comfortable with C/C++, build scripts, open source politics and all the other features of the current IT world.

Two Worlds

The problem for RISC OS is that the two groups have little (superficially) in common with each other, and their needs can seem to be pulling in very different directions. Take software distribution. Traditionalists are much more comfortable with the old model of paying for closed-source applications. This meets their needs - there's no need for potentially confusing downloads or manual building of libraries. In theory, commercial products ought to be fully stable. If not, then the paid-for model normally includes proper support, either by telephone or via a mailing list.
 
By contrast, newer users are much more comfortable with open source software. Being comfortable with downloading resources and making sure dependencies are in place, they can take advantage of the faster development cycle of such software. If something goes wrong, they're likely to be confident about reporting it correctly to the right person, or even fix it themselves. The 'polish' of the application is probably less important to them than the function it performs, and they're likely to have strong opinions on the kind of licence the application is distributed under.

The Open-source Shift

At a guess, I'd say that for most of RISC OS's history, the former group has been more influential. Notwithstanding the excellent PD software of the past, major RISC OS software has tended to be of the commercial, out-of-a-box type. Even PD software tended to be paid-for, in the sense that PD Libraries handled the shipping of catalogue disks. The lack of updates over the internet meant that free software needed to work in a similar way to commercial offerings - beta quality editions were rarer. And, of course, the OS itself has been closed-source until very recently.
 
But this is changing. There are very few commercial applications left. MW Software, David Snell, R-Comp are the only three companies/individuals still developing products that come readily to mind. Even RISC OS itself is moving from a commercial product to a freely-available one. ROOL, of course, distributes the sources and pre-built components for RISC OS 5, but ROL also sells the 'virtually free' edition of its closed-source branch.
 
So the future, to the extent RISC OS has one, looks like being open-source. The geeks have triumphed over the luddites, and in future we're likely to download our OS updates in a way similar to Linux distributions. Is this good news? Well, in the sense that it's the only conceivable way forward, yes it is. You just have to look at the progress made on the shared-source OS, NetSurf and Firefox to see the power of open development. Even some of the commercial software for RISC OS has an open source heart - such as Music Man from R-Comp.
 
But care needs to be taken here. I'm guessing again, but would be pretty sure that the bulk of remaining RISC OS users are a pretty traditional bunch. Things that seem obvious to a seasoned developer can be utterly baffling to a non-technical user. You just have to look at the frequent misunderstandings and frustrations when the two get together, such as on the comp.sys.acorn newsgroups and product mailing lists. Developers can often find the more traditional kind of user immensely frustrating, and the feeling is wholly reciprocated. At their worst, users expect the moon on a stick from free software, fail to follow simple installation instructions, and insist on using hopelessly out of date hardware and OS combinations. At their worst, developers can be intolerant of honestly-asked questions, too opaque with any documentation they provide, and dismissive of the real difficulties some users have with modern ways of distributing and maintain software.

A Happy Compromise

I think it's likely that both kinds of users will continue using and enjoying RISC OS, and it would be sad to see either group feeling that the platform was no longer for them. There are good examples of excellent software from both sides. MW Software's excellent commercial offerings will hopefully continue being produced and supported, and show how capable and popular closed-source applications can still be. On the other hand, premier open source applications like NetSurf have made real efforts to make installation and use as simple as possible for non-technical users. Their website is a model of clarity and professionalism.
 
So even though the future of RISC OS looks brighter for fans of the more collaborative, open-source model of computing, there's room for the OS to remain the broad church it's always been. Personally, I'd not wish RISC OS to go the way of Linux distros, where a certain degree of technical expertise is generally expected in order to make best use of the desktop. With any luck, open-source RISC OS will remain the rather strange hybrid it's always been, appealing to both seasoned hackers and retired geography teachers alike.
 

  The Great Divide
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Eric Rucker Message #112439, posted by bhtooefr at 17:31, 19/12/2009, in reply to message #112432
Member
Posts: 337
But its a pity that the OSS community just ports OSS like Firefox.
Please tell me what RISC OS browser supports JavaScript and modern CSS, in the same browser, and isn't Firefox.

Also, please tell me what just about every user of every modern OS uses with their computer, today.
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Andrew Hodgson Message #112440, posted by Andy_Hodgson at 18:45, 19/12/2009, in reply to message #112439
Member
Posts: 65
Also, please tell me what just about every user of every modern OS uses with their computer, today.
Erm, chrome as it happens. wink
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Eric Rucker Message #112441, posted by bhtooefr at 18:48, 19/12/2009, in reply to message #112440
Member
Posts: 337
Yay for missing the point entirely, and if you count it that way, Internet Explorer wins. wink

The correct answer is "a modern web browser with JavaScript and CSS support." (Which even IE doesn't quite meet, but I digress.)
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Alan Robertson Message #112442, posted by nytrex at 18:54, 19/12/2009, in reply to message #112438
Member
Posts: 109
Hm, I dislike arguments which end in "...", since it suggests to me that what ever you are saying wasn't even clear to you. So, I'll end it for you:
Good point. I'll try and stop from doing it again.

...until then, there is much that can be done for RISC OS, and all that will still be relevant (and faster) on new RISC OS hardware.
Agreed. There are plenty of things that users/developers can be doing to improve matters in the meantime.
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Andrew Hodgson Message #112443, posted by Andy_Hodgson at 19:05, 19/12/2009, in reply to message #112441
Member
Posts: 65
Yay for missing the point entirely, and if you count it that way, Internet Explorer wins. wink

The correct answer is "a modern web browser with JavaScript and CSS support." (Which even IE doesn't quite meet, but I digress.)
I agree. Now whether this is a port of firefox or helping to improve netsurf, is down to the ability's of the people involved, the time they can devote to it and what the developers feel that the customers want.
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Amin Kharchi Message #112447, posted by AKX at 23:58, 19/12/2009, in reply to message #112433
Member
Posts: 11

I don't know what you think this means, but UnixLib supports all the standard BSD sockets, and there are many other libraries which sit about this like the SDL sockets library. But then, I've never seen you ask any such questions in csa.p/GCCSDK mailing list.
Yes, I have never asked this in public. But thats what I wanted to say: I can't find informations, so I must ask. Why I have to ask for things that should be basics? Of course if I would need today such informations I would ask. But its a bad thing that I can't find this informations already.

I don't doubt that I can get help in newsgroups or mailing list.

Do you understand my intention?


"just". This is an argument I *have* heard from your before. Several times, and I pointed out the folly each time, but you seemed to have ignored me.
I know you have ported Firefox sucessfuly and this _honourable_! If I take Firefox everytime as an example you feel attacked. I apologise! This is not my intention!

There are many arguments for porting Firefox to RISC OS. I don't have to repeat them here. There is no "just" about it - the effort that goes into it is enormous. The alternative is to do it from scratch, and that is magnitudes more effort for browsers which are now mostly no longer developed.
I know that a browser is a big task. And you are right that Firefox is worth a port. So I say that a port must be costomized (or your word "integration") to get a benefit using RISC OS.

How has Apple made its browser Safari? They have reused Webkit for the core of a browser but build around it an Apple Mac OS X application. So that its integrated in Mac OS X.

Of course the don't developed the core (html renderer etc.) from scratch. But they also don't ported a browser. Why? Because they wanted a unique browser on Mac OS X:

"Look! We have Safari! Forget IE and Firefox!"

There are so many other examples why Mac OS X is so successful: iPhoto, Keynote, iWeb, iMovie, Numers etc.
All this applications are not ported, you find them only on Mac OS X. If you want use Keynot you must by a Mac.

But the overall problem with your argument is that you don't actually name any "unique software", or suggest alternatives to porting.
I see! You think that I don't want Firefox but another browser ported? Sorry, but you misunderstood me.

Of course, if you want more RISC OS integration, then you are most welcome to do it yourself.
A common answer in OSS community! "Make your rubbish yourself!" Out of pure spite.
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Peter Naulls Message #112452, posted by pnaulls at 02:25, 20/12/2009, in reply to message #112447
Member
Posts: 317

I don't know what you think this means, but UnixLib supports all the standard BSD sockets, and there are many other libraries which sit about this like the SDL sockets library. But then, I've never seen you ask any such questions in csa.p/GCCSDK mailing list.
Yes, I have never asked this in public. But thats what I wanted to say: I can't find informations, so I must ask. Why I have to ask for things that should be basics?
This is a ridiculous position. Indeed, BSD sockets are a fundamental, and you _didn't_ have to ask. Any reasonably experienced developer would have known what they are and where to look for them. Beyond that, you are trying to argue that documentation for any particular thing you are hoping for should "just exist". i.e, someone else needs to do it. This is just being lazy, and anyone who wanted to ask would readily be responded to with any number of answers. The same situation exists for sound.

Perhaps you are unaware that RISC OS documentation _is_ actively being written. But no one has ever pretended that it was complete, or it would suit the purposes of any particular individual unless that person got involved or made his needs known.

If the situation of sound/sockets documentation on RISC OS bothers you so much, then you should start a wiki page on riscos.info that others can contribute to and also benefit from


I know you have ported Firefox sucessfuly and this _honourable_! If I take Firefox everytime as an example you feel attacked. I apologise! This is not my intention!
I'm not attacked or offended. I just find your arguments badly wanting, and simply lacking in an alternate position.


I know that a browser is a big task. And you are right that Firefox is worth a port. So I say that a port must be costomized (or your word "integration") to get a benefit using RISC OS.

How has Apple made its browser Safari? They have reused Webkit for the core of a browser but build around it an Apple Mac OS X application. So that its integrated in Mac OS X.
This is a non-sequitur. Apple is not comparable to anything in the RISC OS world, and it has magnitudes more developers. And there's a perfectly useable Firefox port for Mac OS X. But so what - you haven't actually said anything here.


Of course the don't developed the core (html renderer etc.) from scratch. But they also don't ported a browser. Why? Because they wanted a unique browser on Mac OS X:
If you say so. But again, of no consequence to RISC OS.


I see! You think that I don't want Firefox but another browser ported? Sorry, but you misunderstood me.
No, I don't misunderstand you, for the simple reason that you haven't said anything.


A common answer in OSS community! "Make your rubbish yourself!" Out of pure spite.
Are you inventing words and phrases to suit your argument? I said no such thing. Again, this is the same situation you expected above - someone else to come along and magically save the day so you don't have to make any effort yourself. No one argues that RISC OS integration is a bad idea. But again, no one is willing to do it either - it's easier to insist that others do it.

Development in most instances is hard work. You can't avoid that with any amount of verbiage - although I've known plenty who've tried.
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VinceH Message #112455, posted by VincceH at 12:02, 20/12/2009, in reply to message #112452
VincceH
Lowering the tone since the dawn of time

Posts: 1600
Development in most instances is hard work.
And dealing with users is even harder.

(Not aiming that at comments in this thread as such - just a general observation.)
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Tony Haines Message #112457, posted by Loris at 16:04, 20/12/2009, in reply to message #112447
madbanHa ha, me mine, mwahahahaha
Posts: 1025
Of course, if you want more RISC OS integration, then you are most welcome to do it yourself.
A common answer in OSS community! "Make your rubbish yourself!" Out of pure spite.
"I demand this thing - and I'm willing to do and pay absolutely nothing for it!"

It's not spite to refuse an unreasonable demand. You're the one who is failing to be reasonable Amin. You want stuff done - pay for it, or do it yourself. Some people might sometimes be willing to do something for the love of it, but that doesn't mean you can expect it.


[Edited by Loris at 16:06, 20/12/2009]
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Simon Willcocks Message #112458, posted by Stoppers at 17:55, 20/12/2009, in reply to message #112452
Member
Posts: 302


Of course the don't developed the core (html renderer etc.) from scratch. But they also don't ported a browser. Why? Because they wanted a unique browser on Mac OS X:
If you say so. But again, of no consequence to RISC OS.


I see! You think that I don't want Firefox but another browser ported? Sorry, but you misunderstood me.
No, I don't misunderstand you, for the simple reason that you haven't said anything.
That´s not fair. It seems quite clear to me (and I think to you, too) that Amin is of the opinion that end-user applications ported without changing the look and feel to that of RISC OS don´t encourage people to choose RISC OS because users can get the same experience on other platforms.

I agree with that, and you appear to, at least to an extent ("No one argues that RISC OS integration is a bad idea."). The problem, as you say, is there is noone willing and able to do it.

If Amin wants to look into providing a RISC OS front end to the browser engine, your work (on all the aspects of getting firefox to run, libraries, GCC, etc.) has provided him an excellent base to work from.

Even a less integrated implementation at least reduces the number of people leaving the platform, but surely you agree it would be even better still if it appeared to be a native RO application?
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The Icon Bar: News and features: The Great Divide