The recent South-West Show gave the IconBar team a chance to 'persuade' some more faces in the RISC OS world to tell us about themselves and their plans. (We will return your wives, kittens, computers, and families safe and unharmed when we receive the finished interviews). So we will be running several interviews in the next few weeks for you to enjoy and catch-up with some of the faces in the RISC OS scene.
This time round we introduce you to Andy Marks (the man behind the stream of innovative new products from RiscOSBits). Thanks to Andy for being such a great sport and enthusiastic participant. Over to you...
How long have you been using RISC OS?
I started using BBC/Acorn computers during my O Levels where I attended the local college for a computer science course, successfully failing to grasp BBC Basic and coming out with a brilliant U grade. I didn't quite understand how useful computers would become and wasn't as, er, focused as I could have been. I've remained rubbish at programming ever since!
I followed this up by working at the same college some years later, as a lab technician, again failing to fully utilise the department's A3000 and A420/1 and the 50 or so sensors that were available, except for dabbling with Lemmings, TwinWorld and E-Type. I remember actively not reading the manual and being shocked by what happened when I accidentally held down shift when double-clicking! We had an active lunchtime computer group whose main purpose was to collaboratively complete Lemmings and TwinWorld. We did it, and were very disappointed at the results. Of the group's mock A Level in Physics!
After a brief period with an already outdated Amstrad PPC512 (I used this exclusively at Uni - I was the only one in my group not to handwrite assignments!) and an Amiga (as it was all I could afford, and came with some games!) I returned to the Acorn fold with an A3010 with 20MB hard drive, before progressing to a RiscPC with StrongARM voucher in 1996, and then adding the subsequent CPU upgrade. I discovered the benefits of having proper wages, and by 2004 had progressed to having about three RiscPCs and an Iyonix, plus a Microdigital Alpha laptop, having converted my Omega deposit as I feared it would never see the light of day.
A purchasing hiatus followed, as no new hardware was available, but since the Beagleboard, Panda and Raspberry Pi, I have returned to my previous "splurge" mentality, and since then have been unable to count the number of RISC OS running machines I actually own!
I do think I'm a bit of a kiss of death for some things - I buy into them and then they die on their a**e! Acorn, Psion, Nokia and cassettes spring to mind! Although Count Arthur Strong is still going (look him up - you won't regret it!).
What other systems do you use?
My "day job" requires me to use Windows and Microsoft Office extensively, but I have managed to rig up a remote connection to my home equipment (shhh, don't tell the IT department), so I can access RISC OS and "unapproved" Windows software, like Xara, for better productivity. WindowsRDP is a real boon in this area, and then I connect out of Windows into my ARMX6 via VNC. All quite smooth, really!
I always manage to sneak a RISC OS machine into work somehow - it feels less like a betrayal that way! I just have to hide stuff when IT come around.
What is your current RISC OS setup?
I have an ARMX6, a Titanium and lately, a PiSSD! that I use regularly. The one I use most is the ARMX6, as I use it to drive a 3440x1440 monitor. I would say that my PiSSD! has become a regular feature of my RISC OS use, as it is capable of 2560x1440, the same resolution as my monitor at work, so I tend to VNC into that one.
I also have a few plaything machines, too, like a RiscPC with an ARMX6 built in to a second slice, and a RiscPC with a PiPOD inside. I bought a Pi-Top from the crowd funding campaign in subtle grey, but managed to pick up a really cheap green one recently, which I took to the South West Show. Unfortunately, it is getting through batteries like there's no tomorrow - or I'm just unlucky enough to keep getting the faulty ones.
I have a really small MicroATX case with a Pi, Beagleboard and Panda all crammed inside, along with a de-cased network switch. It all runs very nicely headless. I make a lot of use of Jeffrey Lee's VNC Server module, Steve Potts' VNCSvrFE and James Peacock's Avalanche.
I also have a few projects in the pipeline to play with, including an A3000 case and keyboard and two A3010 cases with keyboards which I hope to mount a Pi and a Wispy inside.
I told you I couldn't count them all!
Do you attend any of the shows and what do you think of them?
I've only recently progressed from attending shows to exhibiting. I always used to go to the Wakefield show, as it's the most local to me and just used to amble around for an hour or two. Having had a stand at London last year, at South West this year and I'm booked in for Wakefield, I'm enjoying that side of things, but miss having a rumble through the charity stand and I seem to miss the "new stuff" that people have on show on the day.
What do you use RISC OS for in 2017 and what do you like most about it?
Email. I use Pluto extensively for archiving and searching emails. It's just so simple and flexible. I do some "teaching" work showing older people how to use computers and technology for everyday tasks and the one thing that frustrates me most is everyone's reliance on webmail. They then complain when their provider changes the page layout and ask me to put it back to how it was before, and I have to explain that they'll just have to get used to it or use something else. The beauty of Pluto is its simplicity and flexibility. I'd tried Messenger Pro and the earlier ANT stuff, but I just prefer Pluto. I was really pleased when Jonathan Duddington open sourced it and Martin Avison et al picked up development.
I also use Ovation Pro a lot - I never got to grips with Impression.
What is your favourite feature/killer program in RISC OS?
Pluto, as I've just mentioned, in conjunction with Hermes. Ovation Pro, too. Even though I can use it on Windows, I much prefer the RISC OS version. I always struggled with ArtWorks though, and used to use Draw a lot, but in the past few years, I've spent time getting to grips with ArtWorks' younger sibling, Xara, and most of my "graphics" stuff seems to have gone over to Windows as a result. I do like the fact that occasionally features appear first in ArtWorks and then appear a little later in Xara!
I would have said WebChange, but the lack of a proper manual is a bit of an issue!
What would you most like to see in RISC OS in the future?
Obviously, RC15 for the Pi.
And a nicer laptop - the Pi-Top is good, but looks really out of place in Costa. Especially the toxic green one. I liked what people were doing with the LapDock, especially Steve Drain and Raik Fischer (I have one of his little add-on cases that sits neatly on the docking ports). I also liked Raik's PiTab and was surprised more people didn't pick up on that as a homebrew option, especially with the GPS module from Chris Hall and integration with RiscOSM.
I also spotted the Gemini PDA on Indiegogo the other day, reminding me of my love of the Psion 5mx. Given that they're proposing that will dual boot Android and Linux, I'd love to see RISC OS on that, in some sort of resurrection of the RON thing. We can but dream...
And, not strictly RISC OS, I'd love for the Raspberry Pi lot to build in SATA support, as opposed to SATA over USB. The PiSSD! does a reasonable job using mSATA SSDs, but I'd prefer something more like ARMX6 speeds.
Bizarrely, apart from that, things we once had but lost...
Wireless connectivity. Even though I'm developing something now that will allow that, I'd really like it to be redundant, because someone has developed a proper wireless stack.
Some of the better features of Select would be nice, but not those daft sliding menu things. Who thought they were a good idea?!
Favourite (vaguely RISC OS-releated) moan?
I think I'm increasingly becoming jaded with people "demanding" backward compatibility with, or just focusing on, RISC OS 3/4/6. Not because I don't think it's important, but I don't think it should be a driver. We are never going to see the forks converge and only one fork is being developed, so let's focus on what that can do. And I say this as an initially very reluctant convert from Select to RISC OS 5 and when I do use a RiscPC, I remember all the bits that were good. I had an Iyonix for about three years before I could abandon my RiscPC. But that fork is DEAD, folks, it's not coming back, let's get over it and move on! My concession to that is, I guess, the PiPOD. Just stick one of those in a podule slot and use VNC to connect them up for interoperability.
All that said, I really like the resurgence of people using BBCs and even asked Tom from Ident if I could distribute his !Basic app for use with the Absolute Zero, PiPOD and PiSSD! So simple, and so effective! Reminds me of that O Level failure though...
Can you tell us about what you are working on in the RISC OS market at the moment?
I'm working in collaboration with a couple of people on Wispy, which is intended to be an interim option for "wireless" connectivity. It's a bit like one of those branded little ethernet-wireless boxes but with a few added bonuses for RISC OS users that fill some of the internetty gaps that we still have. And more, but you'll just have to wait and see! There were a couple running all day at the South West show and they were incredibly stable. We're hoping for a proper release at Wakefield. As I said earlier, though, I'd much rather it was redundant.
I keep working on GeminX, which is kind of similar to the old PC Card in RiscPCs, but I need someone to do a bit of front-end programming for that. Like I said, my programming skills aren't up to such a thing! Any offers?! Payment in peanuts and buttons...
Do you think of the product first, or the name? (Yeah, okay, that was my question!)
Definitely the name! Sometimes it's really hard to make a product fit in with a slightly rude name that I've come up with! If I could code, I'd definitely be developing something incorporating SSH and TTY just for the pun of it! Geddit?
Any surprises you can't tell us about or dates to tease us with?
There's a few more things in the offing, but they're largely in my head or the heads of my collaborators at the moment - unfortunately, we're geographically distant and not telepathic! All of them are hardware-based, because I can't code! I have lots of pipedream ideas, spend a bit of time researching them and then realise that, with RISC OS volumes, they become unaffordable to end users. RISC OS and its ease of use could be SO much more useful in the real world.
Apart from iconbar (obviously) what are your favourite websites?
IconBar? What's that?
I like Riscository. I look to that as my main news source these days, along with Twitter snippets. I guess, with the odd exception, websites aren't really the thing in RISC OS - the forums (fora?) are better places. I'm an avid reader of, and less avid contibutor to, the ROOL forums. And I've recently discovered StarDot as a wealth of information - people on there have forgotten more stuff than I will ever know! I do subscribe to RSS feeds for all of the RISC OS News type websites but a lot of them are dormant. I'm really glad to see IconBar resurrected these days - along with Drobe, it used to be my staple RISC OS diet. I also remember the early days of using newsgroups to find out stuff, and whilst they're still alive, they're not as well propagated as they used to be. I remember trying to read ALL of the messages on comp.sys.acorn.* and just not being able to keep up! Alas, no longer so.
I look at eBay quite a bit, too, and laugh at some of the prices people want for things! And then laugh a little bit less when they occasionally get them, whereas I sold one of those for half that price! It's a good job I'm not involved with RISC OS to make my fortune! Or even pocket money!
Any questions we forgot to ask you?
You didn't ask me about any capital cities - I was expecting some general knowledge questions!