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Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:00, 23/6/2017
| Open source, Software
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In a previous article
we looked at !PackMan and !Store. In this article we are going to highlight some of the software available in !PackMan and ask for your suggestions.
When you run !PackMan, it offers you a long list of files (with some nice category and filter options). You can see these in the screenshots below (click on the images for the full sized versions).
When you choose a program it brings up a window with lots of information, including more details, version numbers and dependencies (which it will generally handle for you automatically of tell you of any clashes. Here you can see I am installing the Povray ray tracing program which allows you to design and render 3D scenes.
!PackMan provides a home (and central repository) for many established RISC OS programs and, as a bonus, an easy way to update if new versions are released. !Nettle offers a terminal program for RISC OS, which is still (even in 2017) a very convenient way to access remote systems. You also have OpenSHH as an alternative option. You can also see a whole host of other applications available such as Rsync, FTPc and even other web browsers to try (I would recommend a really fast machine for those).
If you want to indulge in some nostalgia, there is a selection of emulators - upgrade your RISC OS machine to a Spectrum class machine today!
There are some good tools on other platforms which you may miss on RISC OS. My personal favourites of Bash and Grep are available as ports.
!PackMan is not just about software programs. You will find free fonts on to download including these excellent BitStream fonts.
That is a small selection of some of the gems you will find on !PackMan. In a future article, we will have a rummage around !Store. In the meantime, what are your favourite applications or recommendations on !PackMan?
Posted by Mark Stephens on 07:44, 16/6/2017
| Software, Reviews
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Given the 12 years between the last 2 releases of Font Directory Pro, an update 6 months after the last release is really good news. Previously, this very slick Font Manager from LookSystems languished until adopted by Elesar.
This release moves the release from 3.20 to 3.21 so it is an incremental update. The only 'new feature' on the changelist is enhanced help text in Choices and there are 5 bug fixes.
The software comes with a slick installer application and was automatically mailed to all registered users. You will need your application key to update the software. It would have been nice to be able to just drag the software on have it updated (as we have got used to with packages like !Ovation).
Elesar are still asking for user ideas for future improvements and the appearance of an new version so soon should give us all encouragement for a bright future for this great piece of software. Elesar website
Posted by Mark Stephens on 08:52, 6/5/2017
| Software, Hardware, RISC OS Open Ltd
3 comments in the forums
As ROOL had hinted in the run-up to the show, Wakefield 2017 saw the long-awaited release of RC15.
RC15 (RC stands for release candidate) was the official release of RISC OS to run on the Raspberry Pi 3. All the issues found in RC14 have been fixed and this version is now considered stable and reliable to run. RC14 was actually fairly good but several 3rd party applications (which are shipped with RISC OS) did not. There are actually a lot of changes in RC15 (it is an ePic release) which you can read on the changelog
It is still RISC OS 5.23 (so officially no new features) but it has needed a lot of changes to make it run on the latest version of the Raspberry Pi. The hardware used has changed significantly in this new model and this required some updates to the code to make it work correctly. In particular, it uses a different ARM chip (Cortex-A53) which no longer allows some 'old' ways of doing things. This does not effect BASIC code, and C code needs a recompile. ARM code is more messy as it needs to be updated if it still uses these old methods. Otherwise the software will crash. And much RISC OS software is still written in ARM assembly code. We have been playing this catch-up game for many years (remember moving to 32bit for the same reason).
The release is important because it once again means RISC OS can run on the whole range of Raspberry Pi machines.
Setting up RISC OS on the RaspberryPi 3 is a bit of an anti-climax... I plugged the SD card in, switched on and it all booted straight into the RISC OS desktop. It even autamatically setup my a network connection for me. A quick screen resolution change, and I was up and running....
RISC OS is available for the Raspberry Pi in 3 ways:-
1. You can download the SD card image and copy it onto your own SSD card for free from ROOL
2. You can buy an SD card already setup from the ROOL store
3. You can buy an SD card containing both RISC OS and all the software on the Nut Pi together on an extra large, superfast SD card from the ROOL store
RISC OS does not really make much use of the extra features so it is not worth upgrading to a Raspberry Pi 3 for a faster RISC OS experience. Where you will see a real benefit is in running other Operating Systems (which can make use of the 64bit chip and multi-threading). This is the first Raspberry Pi which I feel runs Raspbian (the office Linux release) well enough for my personal real, everyday usage. I actually have my Raspberry Pi 3 mostly setup as a Linux machine to use as a web browser (it now includes Chrome) and run Open Office (easily accessed from my RISC OS machines using VNC).
The Raspberry Pi is an amazing phenomenon and it is great to see our favourite OS available for all the versions and providing a really cheap entry point for RISC OS and a whole new generation with the chance to try RISC OS. ROOL official announcement Raspberry Pi website
Posted by Mark Stephens on 22:22, 17/4/2017
| Software, Open source, Linux
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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
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.
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
Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:39, 8/4/2017
| Software, Opinion, Open source
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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-Comp
, 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! !PackManPlingStore
Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:53, 25/3/2017
| Reviews, Software
Acorn brought us the exciting world of fonts
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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
Posted by Mark Stephens on 09:28, 15/2/2017
| Software, Reviews
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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
Posted by Mark Stephens on 10:28, 1/2/2017
| Writing, Software, RISC OS Open Ltd, Reviews
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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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