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The Icon Bar: News and features: RISC OS interview with Andrew Rawnsley (Part 1)

RISC OS interview with Andrew Rawnsley (Part 1)

Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:43, 25/12/2023 |

I really excited that Andrew Rawnsley has agreed to do a xmas Interview for us! He really needs no introduction to let's dive into Part 1 (I have split the interview across several parts)

Would you like to introduce yourself?

Hi there,

I'm Andrew Rawnsley, of R-Comp and R-Comp Interactive (RCI).  I also reach into the wardrobe and put on a different piece of headware (hat) and jointly run RISC OS Developments with Richard Brown and the other directors.

For those unfamiliar, R-Comp develops application software and offers support services, whilst RCI primarily handles computer systems and other hardware items - a partnership with my father.

How long have you been using RISC OS?

I started with a BBC Micro when I was six, I think.  But that isn't RISC OS, so does it count?

My first experience of RISC OS (ignoring pictures in magazines) was the launch of the A3000 which shipped with RISC OS 2 (the first public "RISC OS", with Arthur preceeding it).  The A3000 was the first semi-affordable Archimedes-series computer, and my father bought one for his work,  although I  suspect I ended up using it just as much as he did!  That  would be 1987, I think.

I suspect we ordered it from Beebug in St Albans, because I'd recently discovered the Beebug/Risc User magazines which happened to have just the right mix of programming articles/utilites in them to fit with what I was interested in at the time, and I became a touch besotted with them (and then Archive too, of course).

One thing I clearly remember was how pristine it looked in its clear plastic wrapper once removed from the box.  We left it in its wrapper for what felt like an eternity (probably a minute) before setting it up with a black-and-white TV for a screen.  Needless to say, a colour monitor followed quite rapidly, and Lander did look *much* better with colours!

From there, I went to an A5000, and became an Acorn Registered Developer, which made the later machines (RiscPC, StrongArm etc) much more tenable.

We also had a second-hand A4, which I recall using to write parts of HTMLEdit 2 and the Web Designer's Toolkit.  I had been drafted in to sort out my former school's network and sundry other computers, but once that was done, I was left to sit in an office awaiting a "we've broken our Mac!" call.  What better time to write RISC OS software?

How did your RISC OS business come about?

As a teenager I wrote a number of small scale programs - most unfinished. Typically they were little games or utilities which never amounted to much - I think that's common for many of us.

I managed to more-or-less finish a graphics/icon design program for the PocketBook (written on the bus journey in/out of school - hence PocketBook) which was published by Risc User.

A local teacher who worked with special needs pupils, especially visually impaired, had a variety of older BBC programs she wanted to use, but the schools she worked in had moved to A3020s.  I did some hacky "convert the BBC BASIC code and screen modes to work on RISC OS" adaptations for her, but then she suggested a range of other programs which might be useful.  This led to a suite of programs published by NorthWest Semerc.  I sold the programs under the name "Andrew Rawnsley Computing" aka ARC.  I was definitely a fanboy :)

They in turn suggested a couple of other ideas.  Many of the people who I dealt with at Semerc are still around, under the name Inclusive Technology, and we still have occasional dealings with them.

One of their requests/suggestions, which didn't quite materialise, was a text editor that could predict what you were typing.  With some help from the gurus on the Scripture Union Computing & Electronics holiday (formally run by Paul Beverley of Archive) I put together a skeleton editor program with buttons to click to insert the text.  The predictive part never quite happened, though.

That was because I became sick with ME (chronic fatigue, tiredness andother physical symptoms) during my sixth form.  It rather ruined my "go to Cambridge, join Acorn" daydream (I think many of us had similar dreams). Recovery took almost 10 years, and I remain less-than-robust.

Instead, I ended up talking to a friend about going into web design, since it was the first year or so of the World Wide Web.  Companies were paying thousands for crude pages that were almost text-only.  It seemed like something I could do "as I felt able".  We'd need a tool, of course, to speed the process along.  A text editor, one with buttons you could click on to insert HTML code (text)....   Sound familiar?

So, out of the ashes of !Predict, !HTMLEdit was born.  I very rapidly realised I enjoyed doing this a lot more than actually making web pages (I'm not visually artistic), so I continued to develop HTMLEdit as and when I had the energy.

I'd made friends with Alan Wrigley (ex-editor of RISC User, and author of Vigil, Text Aid, and subsequently many other programs) having found he lived locally when trying to buy his programs.  Alan suggested I should sell HTMLEdit as a low cost program, because it fulfilled a useful role and there was nothing like it for RISC OS.

At the time, the comp.sys.acorn.* newsgroups were beginning to flourish, so I announced the program there, and to my amazement, cheques arrived in the mail.  It was enough to convince me  that this was something I could do despite the illness, and so R-Comp was born.

Alan, who I still work with to this day, strongly encouraged me to attend the next Acorn World show as an exhibitor, so we took a small 2m x 2m booth.  In order to make it worthwhile, he suggested having a few programs available in case HTMLEdit didn't appeal, so I tidied up ShortCuts (which I'd written for use at home) as a low cost extra.  The web design friend put together a collection of graphical textures which could be used as backdrops for web pages, and that became Textures. Instead of just one program, we had a tiny portfolio - enough for our first exhibition.

Acorn World was amazing.  Massively tiring, but so much enthusiasm and energy from visitors and other stands.  My family helped man the stand, as they did for many years thereafter - I'm very grateful for their help. My father became a mini-expert in HTML coding demonstrations, despite never having created a web page before (or since)!  Looking back, I don't really know how I managed it with illness still in effect - I was probably just running on adrenaline.

By the end of it all, my future was written, really.  I expanded the programs with user requests, and grew the portfolio of products.  I met people and developed new programs with them, and acted as a tiny publisher.

I always felt that I had been fortunate that I was starting R-Comp at a time when other companies were becoming disheartened at a downturn in the RISC OS scene.  There was a recession on, and ultimately Acorn closed. For me, though, never knowing the "good times" (business-wise) of the years previous, the experience of the late 1990s was actually very  positive.  I think that has a lot to do with why I have stuck with RISC OS - even when it has hard times - I try to focus on the positive things and  what I/we can do to make things better.

This is, in turn, how I ended up involved in RISC OS Ltd in the late 1990s, but that's another story for a later part.

What other systems do you use?

Almost all of my productive work is done on RISC OS - email, programming, manual-writing, DTP tasks, graphics work and so on.  However, I do find Windows useful for web browsing.

As a result, my main work machine is one of our RISCubes (a RISCube Mini to be precise - described in a recent Archive article).  This gives me Windows web browsing, and a full range of RISC OS software all on one machine.  I'm writing this on RISC OS right now.

Beyond that, I have an entertainment PC for gaming, although I use that rather less than I used too - so little time!

To Be continued...

You can read lots of other interviews on Iconbar here and if you would like to be interviewed, just drop us an email.

  RISC OS interview with Andrew Rawnsley (Part 1)
  freder (17:46 27/12/2023)
  helpful (00:31 28/12/2023)
    arawnsley (00:48 28/12/2023)
      freder (15:34 28/12/2023)
        PBIGGS (23:28 28/12/2023)
          markee174 (10:48 30/12/2023)
Fred Bambrough Message #125569, posted by freder at 17:46, 27/12/2023
Posts: 11
Andrew's timeline is a bit confused. 1987 was the Archimedes, the A3000 launched in 1992. I bought one at its launch at Alexandra Palace, delivered straight off the back of the pantechnicon.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Bryan Hogan Message #125570, posted by helpful at 00:31, 28/12/2023, in reply to message #125569
Posts: 251
The A3000 was 1989, it coincided with the release of RISC OS 2. It was the A3010 and A3020 that came out in 1992.

[Edited by helpful at 00:32, 28/12/2023]
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Andrew Rawnsley Message #125571, posted by arawnsley at 00:48, 28/12/2023, in reply to message #125570
R-Comp chap
Posts: 595
Thanks guys, you're right. '89 does sound right. It is funny how we end up with dates/times etched into our memories, only to find out they're completely wrong. Or is that just me?
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Fred Bambrough Message #125572, posted by freder at 15:34, 28/12/2023, in reply to message #125571
Posts: 11
Apparently not just you. I returned from that event to find my house had been broken into. You'd think that would stick a landmark in my head.

[Edited by freder at 15:37, 28/12/2023]
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Paul Biggs Message #125573, posted by PBIGGS at 23:28, 28/12/2023, in reply to message #125572
Posts: 4
I remember going to the show at Ally Pally (though it had merged in my mind with another one at Olympia that I went to years later).

I think pretty much all of the dealers had the same finance offer from Acorn on the A3000. We chose Beebug and were led out to the pantechnicon to collect it. That machine got a huge amount of use.

Looking back at Popular Computing Weekly from June 1989 Acorn were expecting 18,000 visitors to the show.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Mark Stephens Message #125574, posted by markee174 at 10:48, 30/12/2023, in reply to message #125573
Does all the
work around here

Posts: 144
I had a summer job to fund mine and then bought it with the education discount through the University of St. Andrews. They kept asking if I was sure I did not want a Mac instead!

The A3000 was my secret weapon writing all my Uni essays (and we played lots of E-type as well).
  ^[ Log in to reply ]

The Icon Bar: News and features: RISC OS interview with Andrew Rawnsley (Part 1)