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Acorn Arcade forums: News and features: Rougol April meeting

Rougol April meeting

Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:01, 18/4/2023 |
The April Rougol meeting was an in-person only event featuring Ben Finn, one of the original Sibelius co-authors.

It was a very popular talk with over 20 attendees crammed into a room meant for 12. By luck the talk was delayed so ended up on 30th anniversary of Sibelius. The talk was recorded.
Here are my notes (all mistakes as usual mine)....
RISC OS part
Ben and his brother started with an Acorn Atom in 1980s. Taught themselves BASIC and assembly. Moved to BBC and wrote software for it. Wrote several games for Acornsoft.
Time when kids knew more than the teachers so kicked out of Computer classes to do his own thing. Very musical as well and learnt composition by hand. Still very old fashioned business then.
Knew both music and programming so started project mainly for fun. Wrote to Peter Maxwell Davies and did some proof reading while doing his a levels.
At that time Acorn Archimedes with fast 32bit arm chip arrived. Much easier to write for than BBC.
Software written in uniserity holidays. Took 7 years to write first release. Contacted music publishers to demo and software companies but not interested. So started own business with mail shot to all composers and music publishers in UK. Still a student at time. Musicians bought package with machine to run Sibelius . Guessed price of 795 pounds for software.
Like giving a word processor to someone with a quill pen so game changer
Had to give up on PHD due to success of business, and also against uni rules to run a business. Mentions in national press made it impossible to keep secret.
Company Originally run from his flat in Cambridge then small office.
Some key users early on included John Rutter. Royal academy of music, music sales
Education market turned out to be a big market as well. Produced a cutdown version for schools. Turned into main market for product.
Always had a funny relationship with Acorn. Generated 7% of their sales outside education. Industry standard in UK but limited by reach of Acorn computers in places like USA.
Could see Acorn in decline. Opened office in LA and sell some acorn systems.
Technical interlude
Written is 100% assembly code. Much easier in 32 bit
To speed up, avoided using operating system, wrote direct to screen memory, 4 colour screen mode, created own fonts.
Used Postscript for printing with own driver. One of last features to implement. Rented an apple laser printer to complete. Later switched to RISC OS for printing.
Lots of memory optimisations as memory expensive. Also made Sibelius files very compact.
Print out of Sibelius 7 fits into 3 volumes. Wrote own style assembly language which made code easier to read and replaced with arm commands
One of key features of software, automatic reformatting on the fly
Rise of windows
1997 started on a Windows version. Rewritten from scratch in c++ and memory much cheaper by then
Pre-announced new version and delay in completing software hit sales
Planning to do Mac and Acorn versions but no decent c++ compiler for Acorn. Announcement 2 weeks after windows release that Acorn abandoning Computers. Moved back to selling just software.
Few competitors so far on any platform. Only real rival 'Finale' which was big in USA.
Added publishing on internet to Sibelius and raised some Enture Capital money in dotcom boom. Opened offices in Australia and Japan.
Added additional products to range.
By mid 2000s keen to sell and sold to Avid. They ran into financial problems and fired Dev team to cut costs. Team members were immediately hired Steinburg to write a new product called Dorico. Ben offered to buy company back without success. Avid owns the rights to original RISC OS version.
Questions afterwards….
Rougol website





  Rougol April meeting
  arawnsley (10:39 18/4/2023)
  markee174 (11:53 18/4/2023)
    BernardUK (18:26 18/4/2023)
    helpful (03:41 20/4/2023)
Andrew Rawnsley Message #125420, posted by arawnsley at 10:39, 18/4/2023
R-Comp chap
Posts: 595
Big thanks for this article, Mark. Really good for those of us not within range of London smile
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Mark Stephens Message #125421, posted by markee174 at 11:53, 18/4/2023, in reply to message #125420
Does all the
work around here

Posts: 144
Hopefully the recording will be released soon. It was an excellent meeting and very interesting.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Bernard Boase Message #125422, posted by BernardUK at 18:26, 18/4/2023, in reply to message #125421
Posts: 12
Very sorry not have been able to attend. I made do instead with an informative 2015 interview with Ben Finn at:

  ^[ Log in to reply ]
Bryan Hogan Message #125426, posted by helpful at 03:41, 20/4/2023, in reply to message #125421
Posts: 251
over 20 attendees crammed into a room meant for 12
Well the room is listed as holding 24 seated, and we had 25+Ben, which explains why one person was standing and one sitting on the floor!

Hopefully the recording will be released soon.
Our thanks to Paul Emerton for setting up the professional recording equipment. I'll post here when he has had the time to edit it and get it uploaded.
  ^[ Log in to reply ]

Acorn Arcade forums: News and features: Rougol April meeting