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Bob and Trev: Resurrection
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Chris Gransdon tells ROUGOL about Otter browser and other ports

Posted by Mark Stephens on 22:22, 17/4/2017 | , ,
A good crowd braved the Bank Holiday public transport to attend the April ROUGOL meeting with Chris Gransden talking about porting !Otter and other software to RISC OS.
Before the main event, there were brief 'teasers' for 2 other events.
The ROUGOL organizer (Bryan Hogan), is also helping to organise the Acorn User Show in Cambridge and more details will be appearing in the next few weeks.
Richard Brown (Orpheus) was also there to announce his new venture RISC OS Developments. This has raised significant funds to do some development and he will be announcing more details at Wakefield on saturday...
Chris Gransden started investigating porting !Otter and other browsers onto RISC OS when he spotted that the QT5 library (which !Otter needs) had been been ported onto RISC OS by another developer. Rather than trying to develop a new browser from scratch, Chris is getting an existing Open Source browser written for the Linux platform to run on RISC OS. The attraction of !Otter is that it uses a version of the Webkit browser engine, which has been JavaScript support than any native RISC OS browser. Chris logged into GMail on !Otter which is impossible in any other RISC OS browser. It also includes https and ssl support in the browser.
As !Otter and !QupZilla use QT5, this enabled him to get these browsers to run on RISC OS - he has not had to extensively rewrite and hack the code as the QT5 and UnixLib libraries allow them to run on RISC OS. This also means it is really easy to update as these applications are altered by their developers.
Chris had his overclocked Pi running the software and was able to explain how the !Otter/!QupZilla browsers work on RISC OS. The software is effectively providing a sprite display inside a RISC OS window. RISC OS does not have compositing support (redrawing just the bits it needs) which would speed things up. This is also using shared memory, and memory is high.
Because the software was written for another OS, it is designed to make use of fatures like threads which are not available on RISC OS. This is why performance can be sluggish as RISC OS does not have the capability to offload work onto multiple threads - it is all done by the single, main RISC OS task. RISC OS is also not able to make use of additional hardware acceleration which also speeds things up considerably on Linux.
Switching off JavaScript at the start and putting the fonts into memory can speed up the browser. Chris has turned off by default file caching (which is actually slower in RISC OS) and customisations to Otter which can slow the software still further. Still, you really need a fast, modern machine to run Otter on).
One of Chris's future hopes it to make use of something like Kronsos on the Pi and have a much faster cusotmised versions for machines which can support it.
The !Otter browser itself is still being debugged and once 1.0 becomes available, Chris will make available a proper RISC OS release. At the moment, it can be a bit complex to setup.
Asked the difference between !QupZilla and !Otter, Chris explained that !QupZilla was currently more stable (less bugs and shared libraries) but Otter would be a better long-term bet.
The !Otter port has come a long way since Chris first started it 2 years ago. It is much faster and more stable although still crashes. It probably is not yet an alternative to browsers on Windows/Linux/Mac but there is not lots of scope to improve further and it opens up a lot of sites to access from RISC OS. We look forward to seeing how it develops, especially once Otter 1.0 officially comes out. Chris has done an amazing job so far!
Otter browser main page and builds for non-RISC OS platforms.
ROUGOL website
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A tale of 2 package managers

Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:39, 8/4/2017 | , ,
In the 'early days' most software had to be 'sourced' from different locations. The only big source of software in one place was Hensa on the University systems if you were lucky enough to have access. You could also connect to Bulletin boards (Arcade BBS) or get floppy disks through the post from Skyfall or APDL).
You can still hunt around (and there are lots of sites with gems we will be looking at in 2017 on IconBar), but in 2017 you have really easy access to huge sources of software straight from your RISC OS desktop. All you need is TWO programs.
PlingStore ( ie !Store) gives you access to a range or both free and commercial software (which you can buy with a credit card via the software). All software includes details of the software, website links, screenshots and you can search and explore the software on offer. You will find lots of favourites from David Pilling, R-CompInfo, Steve Fryatt, Chris Johnson, Sine Nomine and many others.
PlingStore tracks which versions of the software you have downloaded so it can also offer you the option to get free updates or buy commercial ones. If you are using R-Comp software, they provide a service to update the store with your current purchases to you can use it for updates when they release new versions.
When PlingStore runs, it checks on the Internet to update its information, so it can tell you about new software, updates or special offers.
!PackMan has developed out of RiscPkg. This brought dependency manangement based on Linux solutions to RISC OS (software can now describe what other software it works with and what it needs).
Dependency management is a big problem on many platforms (and trying to fix it on the Java platform has been the big issue for the last 2 releases of Java). Simply, the problem is that you download a new piece of software which needs version 4 of another library. So you install that on your machines. You then find that all your other software stops working as it only runs on version 3.... RedHat came up with a good solution to this problem which RiscPkg uses.
!PackMan builds ontop of this with a slick front end. It also includes a list of software and it knows what other software (dependencies) this software has. So it can ensure you have the software or download it for you as well. As with PlingStore it gives you a wide range of software and it can update its details with new releases when you run it. There is no payment options in !PackMan so all the software is free. !PackMan has some nice features to not only install the software, but add to Apps, run on startup, etc.
Both applications need some discipline to get the most from them. They do not look at your system and spot existing software, and PackMan has a standard location for all software. So you may be better off deleting existing software, and downloading a new copy in the new location through the package manager.
I am also pleased to say that there is little overlap and duplication between the software both offer. In general (apologies for slight over-simplification) PlingStore offers both 'original' commercial and free software from well-known RISC OS companies and developers while PackMan gives you access to the conversions to RISC OS platform from riscos.info and other sites (fonts, !Otter, games, tools, etc) which has grown from Peter Naulls' original Unix Porting Project.
Both applications are free and should be on your machine!
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Elesar brings back Font Directory Pro for modern machines

Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:53, 25/3/2017 | ,
Acorn brought us the exciting world of fonts
One of the things which first excited me about the Acorn Archimedes was the excellent font support (which in some respects is still unique). Once you had tired of Homerton and the other built-in fonts, there is a whole world of fonts out there including high quality conversions of professional libraries like Monotype and URW, the huge EFF font collection and lots of fun fonts included with !Artworks.
The problem that then strikes you is that you have a huge collection of fonts. If you put them all in !Fonts, you get a huge list to scroll down and the whole process slows down. You also find that you spend hours trying to select a font (because you do not get a WYSIWYG view). So you end up sticking with Homerton and a few other fonts.... These are the problems which Font Directory Pro solves very elegantly.
LOOKsystems gave us a way to make it workable
Font Directory Pro was one of two software products which allowed you to easily manage your growing font collection. It provided you with the following functionality:-
1. A font filing system where you could store all your fonts and arrange in whatever way you wanted.
2. A WYSIWYG font viewer which allowed you to see what all your fonts look like and dynamically switch them on (so the appear in !Fonts only when you want them).
3. A document scanning capability where you could ask the software to scan a file and it would automatically switch on any fonts which were needed in the document.
4. The ability to define collections of fonts so you could easily have different sets of fonts which you could switch on (for example a myDTP fonts collection).
The way I used to use it was to have a small core collection of fonts permanently in !Fonts (I am a big fan of EFF's London font and their fancy Malinka cat font) and some collections for different uses (like Artworks header fonts for posters). It is very flexible so you can take control of your fonts and get the best of both worlds with both a small workable setup and the easy choice of a huge font collection.
and Elesar has brought it back for Modern machines in 2017
The software was originally written by LOOKsystems and the last release was a patch to make the software work on the new Iyonix. Now Elesar's Rob Sprowson has tracked down the original author for permission to use the software, updated the source code (which consisted of patching together multiple versions/sources), made it work on all the latest hardware and rewritten/updated the manual.
The software is now available from the Elesar and there is even an upgrade price for existing users. You can buy the software directly from Elesar through their shop for 22.50 pounds as an upgrade ot 45 pounds new.
The software upgrade will update your existing setup (so you can keep your existing setup) and it just works perfectly (I love those types of installers).
There are no new features in this release but Elesar are asking for your ideas on features you would like to see in future versions.
Since I stopped using Font Directory Pro I had forgotten just how pleasant it made using RISC OS as a publishing platform and I think it is another step in again making RISC OS a really exciting platform for getting my work done....
But are there still any fonts for RISC OS
If you are looking for fonts, there are lots available on RISC OS still. You can find them on the Internet, several free ones are available in the RISC OS package manager and !PlingStore, CJEmicros still appear to have lots of fonts in stock, the charities stands at RISC OS shows sometimes have some gems, and we will be reviewing the new font collection from DRAG'nDROP in a future review. Looks like you may need a tool to help you handle all those fonts....
Elesar website


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Exploring Mathematical shapes in RISC OS

Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:28, 15/2/2017 | ,
One of my long-time favourite programs for RISC OS is !PolyDraw from Fortran friends. If it is not already installed on your RISC OS machine, it deserves to be (shame on you). It is fast, fun, educational (and since 2016 it has also been free). It also has that wonderful property of a great game - you can use it pretty much instantly without the manual but it has loads of depths to explore.
!PolyDraw and its linked programs (!PolyNet, !Stellate and !PolySymm) lets you view, create and explore complex mathematical shapes. It also lets you print out the flat design for any shape which you can then cut out and stick together to make a physical shape.
The software gives you a huge range of three dimension shapes, which you can inspect in a 3D viewer. The viewer lets you choose how to rotate the shape in any directions, what color/shading you use (or you can stick to wire frame) and shows the flat outline net of the shape. When you print them out, the software adds tabs to the surfaces so you can cut out and glue the shape together. If the 141 initial shapes are not enough, there are additional data sets to load and use can create your own.
At RISC OS shows the Fortran Stand is usually full of Cubes, Dodecahedron and other icosahedra and the experts show you how to use features in the software. It's like being back in your coolest ever Maths class! As they say it is ideal for children of all ages (especially those over 18).
They are regular exhibitors at the South West Shows. So hopefully you will be able to see them in a few weeks.
All details and their downloads are on the Fortran Friends website.
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A fresh look at the Desktop Development Environment Manuals

Posted by Mark Stephens on 10:28, 1/2/2017 | , , ,
TheDesktop Development Environment manual is the essential documentation to make the most of the Desktop Development Environment. Both have been adopted and are now updated by RISC OS Open. The manuals come free with the DDE and are also available to buy in printed manual form.
The first edition of the manuals was produced in 1994 and it has been revised several times. As you would expect from professional developers, RISC OS Open includes a changelog so you can see what exact changes have been made. Last major update was in 2015. The manuals have also been rebranded with the RISC OS Open cog logo and company name.
There are 3 manuals in the set.
The Desktop Tools manual (329 pages) covers all the tools in the DDE (Make, Squeeze, SrcEdit, ABC, etc). There is a nice introductory section at the start telling you how to setup and start using the tools.
There are lots of screenshots to show the features in action. It should not be regarded as a tutorial but there is lots of material on using them. The Desktop Debugging tool includes 60 pages explaining how to use it.
The last 100 pages are Appendices which cover a summary of changes added over the years and information which you would need to use the tools (Library file formats, alignment details, file syntax,etc).
The Acorn Assembler manual (159 pages) shows you how to use ObjAsm. It includes some details on ARM Assembler instructions but it is not a tutorial (it does include some good further reading suggestions for you to learn ARM code). The focus is on using the tool and its features (ie labels, macros compilation). There are also some short chapters on writing RISC OS modules and interacting with C.
The Acorn C/C++ manual (438 pages) provides provides detailed coverage of the C and C++ language features supported by the Compiler (as well as the libraries) and some useful details and tips on writing RISC OS applications from C or C++. The languages are cleanly separated out so you only want to write C, it is easy to skip the non-relevent items. Again it is not a tutorial on coding, but a detailed summary of all the details you need to develop code.
All three manuals include an index at the back to help you to navigate as well as very detailed section descriptions at the start and a clear structure.
All three books are part of the DDE or available in a printed version (discounts for registered developers). The printed package makes a fairly bulky doorstop (and a great table stand for my MacBookPro!). I also find that it is the sort of programming content which I like to read and reread offscreen.
Further details on the DeskTop Tools Manual can be purchased from RISC OS Open website or they usually have some copies as Show events. Maybe something to check out at the South West Show later this month.
If you are looking to write software, you should also consider the Style Guide which tells you how the software should look and act to fit into RISC OS nicely.
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Running RISC OS under emulation with RPCEmu

Posted by Mark Stephens on 10:58, 24/1/2017 | , ,
In previous articles, I looked at VirtualRPC as a way to run RISC OS on my Mac. Another options is RPCEmu.
This offers 2 potential main advantages over Virtual Acorn - it is free and it runs RISC OS 5.
The software can be downloaded from http://www.marutan.net/rpcemu/ and you can also get a USB drive with the software on it from RISC OS Open.
RPCEmu is available for Mac, Linux and Windows. The Windows and Mac versions both come as ready to run applications while Linux needs you to build the source code (which is also supplied). This is because it needs the Allegro Game Library. This process is not as daunting as it sounds and the instructions are clear and cover each step. If you are already a Linux user, you may already be doing this,. If you are not it is a really good introduction to compiling software which will open lots of new software to you....
The Mac version of RPCEmu has some isses with Retina screens on the later Macs (it works fine if you move it onto an external monitor). You can get around running this by running the software in low resolution (Menu and Info options). This trick does not appear to work on the 2016 October MacBookPros :-(
RPCEmu allows you to configure the software and choose settings like mouse buttons, etc. A copy of RISC OS 5 is included and a Hard drive to setup a basic RISC OS 5 installation.
This gives you a fully-functional RISC OS 5 machine, which can access the local hard drive. I have a shared directory on my setup so I can have a single shared copy of my RISC OS applications between Virtual Acorn and RPCEm. (You cannot share everything because RISC OS 5 and 6 have different setups and !Boot drives but it it useful to be able to shared data and third party software.) In usage I find RPCEmu runs slightly slower than Virtual Acorn but the speed is perfectly acceptable on a high end machine.
So if you are looking for an easy way to run RISC OS on your non-RISC OS machine, or even something to improve your Linux skills, have a look at RPCEmu.
RPCEmu website
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Rob Sprowson talk at January Rougol meet-up

Posted by Mark Stephens on 22:01, 16/1/2017 | ,
Rob Sprowson returned to Rougol (he was here almost exactly a year ago) to give an update on his exciting hardware and software projects. Running a presentation on a Titanium (one he knocked together over breakfast to give him an easier carrying case on the tube), he started by talking about Cloud storage.
CloudFS is not the first cloud storage solution for RISC OS (there is a Python based client for DropBox), but it does offer a totally integrated solution. Rob ran through the pros (offsite backups, access from multiple locations) and cons (potential loss of data, security) before uploading a picture from his camera to his PC and then into CloudFS where he loaded it into ChangeFSI. He also explained how the software could be run from the command line and was decoupled into 2 parts - the pCloud is implemented separately so it would be possible to add other Cloud providers if you can get the specifications.
Asked about security, Rob said he was very happy to be using the Swiss as they are known for their discretion (he stashes all his fortune in Swiss banks).
After CloudFS, Rob recapped on the Titanium board - still the fastest RISC OS machine and still waiting for the OS to catch-up. There are 9 cores sitting inside, waiting to be tapped for video or audio editing or any other processor intensive activity. Rob also reminded us that it has a huge number of ports - one customer is actually using the parallel ports to drive a fax machine. And Rob is always on the look out for interesting new PCI cards to plug into the machine.
Rob takes a keen interest in the economics of the IT industry and had some nice graphics on logarithmic axis to show how costs and projects work. Given the limited size of the RISC OS market his focus is lower cost or simpler projects. He also pointed out that the Titanium was cheaper than the Iyonix when it was released (even before adding inflation). Such is the rate of change in the industry.
Rob's current project is the update of Look Systems Font Manager. It had actually taken two years to hunt down Adrian Look to get permission to update the software. The current release uses some source code from the last release (way back in 2003), Adrian's original partial copy and some deft reverse engineering (the audience suggested it looked like a good reason to have cloud backups.
The new release brings this excellent software onto the latest hardware (where it runs very quickly). Software development was completed on 22nd December and the manual is now being finished off prior to release. Rob showed it dynamically updating fonts in a !Draw document and it was very solid in use. There are no new features but Rob had been thinking about possible future updates. At present there is no unicode support.
Rob said there may well be upgrades for existing users - details and final prices being finalised. The software will be available through Elesar website
Finally, Rob plugged the other port of his Titanium into the overhead projector to give himself an extra large desktop with OSM generating a map of the Borough street area.
Rougol meets every month in the Blue Eyed Maid Public House near London Bridge. The meetings start at 7.45pm and there is usually a collection of people arriving before that to chat and enjoy the pub's Indian curry (which I confirmed is very good in the interests of doing thorough investigative reporting). It is free to attend, and the next meeting is 20th February.
Rougol Website
Rob Sprowson interview
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ROOL updates RISC OS development toolset to release 27

Posted by Mark Stephens on 10:07, 15/1/2017 | ,
DDE (the Collection of tools for developing software in Basic, C and Assembly) has been updated to release 27. If you have a DDE26, you should receive an email telling you that you are eligible for a free update. Developers with older releases can upgrade for 25 pounds.
The update includes changes to multiple tools, so ROOL provides a complete new release to replace your existing DDE26 release (simply deleted and use the new version).
The headline of the update is to bring the tools in line with Zero Page relocation. The software will now run correctly on a ZPP enabled RISC OS system and all the tools and libraries have been updated to work with ZPP.
As an additional bonus, the Basic Compiler (!ABC compiler) has seen some upgrades with fixes, long lost examples now back again and a new manual.
In the email, ROOL also draw developers attention to their technical development notes for builds and reminds us that !Make is now really a legacy option.
The full announcement is here
If you are not currently a registered developer and interested in writing software for RISC OS, it is also well worth signing up for the discounts and announcements.
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R-Comp support scheme

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!Organizer reaches 2.26

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!PhotoDesk adds support for latest hardware and software with version 3.14

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Elesar's new Cloud Storage software

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Games news

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Aemulor/Spellings.net account details posted online

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