WACG Show 2000 Report
On Saturday 20th May the Deputy Mayor and Mayoress of Wakefield, Councillor and Mrs Don Hitchen cut a tape to declare our show open. They were then conducted round the hall by Andrew Kaye and Chris Quinn, suitably dressed in smart suits.
Our Wakefield Show is now accepted as the premier RISC OS show in the UK, or perhaps that should be in the World! We hope that this civic recognition will help to raise the profile of our group as well as the show in our own home territory.
Last year's show was successful, but as the first major show since the demise of Acorn, it was more a taste of what was to come rather than what was currently available. This year there were no such doubts, RISC OS was moving firmly forward and the exciting goodies on the on the various stands were there as proof.
It was not surprising that pride of place was taken by many major hardware developments but there were welcome signs that the vital software developer backup was coming to life again. Obviously I do not have space to cover everything on show, but I trust these personal impressions on the exhibits will be of interest to members who could not be present. I hope I have covered the most significant exhibits and I trust you will bear with me if I go on a bit about some of the items I feel are of the greatest significance.
Castle had much the biggest stand on which their ‘Kinetic“ Risc PC had pride of place. This is essentially the RevT RPC that we all know and love, but fitted with a new processor card which, in addition to the latest Intel StrongArm processor, has from 64 to 196Mb of onboard SDRAM which it accesses at 66MHz. Compare this with the current SA cards which address the fast page mode DRAM at 16MHz and you will see that there is a considerable performance increase. It also has a slightly updated version of RISC OS which is automatically downloaded into the SDRAM on start-up. This gives a further significant speed increase.
Happily this Kinetic board is also available as an upgrade for existing machines and its use of SharpBUS protocols will will reduce the timing problems which have caused some difficulties with current StrongArm cards. Castle are offering an exchange service where they supply a new Kinetic card with 64Mb of SDRAM and updated RISC OS ROMs for £299 plus VAT. You have 14 days to fit the new bits and then return your old SA Card and RISC OS chips. The existing DRAM remains in your machine and will automatically come into use, at slower speed, with memory hungry applications.
Sharing top billing was Castle's new Oregano browser. This is a fully featured browser with full security encryption for safe e-shopping and will continually be developed by Castle and Oregan Developments. Visitors had the opportunity of handson testing at an 8 machine Internet Cafe which attracted large crowds throughout the show.
The R7500 RiscStation range was joined by two new options. The non-disc Networkx now has a HD version which boasts a 2.1Gb hard drive whilst the R7500 Lite now has a bigger brother the R7500 Lite Plus. In addition there were two further CD Authoring machines, the Scorcher and the Scorcher Twin Deck with full CD-R and CD-RW capabilities. I can’t help feeling that the copying capabilities of the latter may cause a few old-fashioned looks in some quarters.
The on-board 10baseT network port and PC Game port with Midi capability of the R7500 range was convincingly demonstrated by a NetWORKX HD linked to a LitePLUS which had a Yamaha DB51 XG synthesizer plugged into the motherboard and was making some very sweet music indeed.
Perhaps the most exciting exhibit on the RiscStation stand was an affordable EPOS system which was named ‘POSsum’ as it has been developed by RiscStation Australia. So what is EPOS? Well an Electronic Point Of Sale system which combines a R7500 machine with special software plus existing bar code scanners, magnetic scanners, cash drawers and till roll dot matrix printers to give a full supermarket type system at a price the smaller retailer can afford.
So what has this to do with people like ourselves? Well, as you can imagine, the systems used in supermarkets are vastly expensive, but the combination of the ultra reliable RISC OS and the R7500 computers with their networking capability provides a massive breakthrough for independent retailers at an affordable price and could have an enormous market breakthrough. The status of RISC OS in the commercial world will get a terrific boost. Incidentally POSsum was being demonstrated by the ebullient Mal McClenaghan of RiscStation Australia who must hold the record for the furthest travelled visitor to our show.
Not yet available, but well worthy of mention were two other developments on the RiscStation stand: ‘Evolution’ and a new Portable which runs RISC OS.
Many of you will remember seeing the first prototype CATS/PCI machine developed by Simtec Electronics and running RiscBSD at our 1998 show. RiscStation and Simtec have been moving ahead with this design which currently can run RISC OS with an ARM7500FPE processor but is awaiting ROS upgrades to enable it to use a StrongArm, either the current 233MHz version, but potentially the even faster versions which are due from Intel. RiscStation estimate that RISCOS Ltd will achieve ROS4 hardware independence in time for them to show the first ‘Evolution’ machines around the turn of the year.
You may have seen an announcement of a ‘memorandum of understanding’ between the Lancastrian RiscStation and the Saltaire based MicroDigital. This aims to pool knowledge and thus speed expansion of their individual ranges with consequent economies in time-scale and effort. The first fruits of this co-operation will be a pair of un-named RISC OS Portables which will fill a long awaited need.
RiscStation’s offering will use the Simtec ARM7500FE motherboard built into a standard laptop case with a high quality colour screen, touchpad mouse, hard drive, 3.5" floppy and a CD-ROM. Roy Hislop, of RiscStation was quite bullish about progress and forecasting first availability in around six months with a target price around £1200.
In contrast David Adkins of Micro Digital said that their portable was being aimed at the educational and enthusiast market. They plan to use a metal and plastic case of their own construction with a new minature motherboard based on their Mico ARM7500FE design. The keyboard will be a standard laptop type, but to keep costs down they will use a normal mouse rather than a touchpad. Similarly they will fit only a hard drive and CD-ROM drive as they reason that users will already have a desktop machine to transfer files.
The entry level machine should be available in a few months and using 16Mb of RAM and a 16 step greyscale screen is planned to cost around £600. Later versions will be higher specced but probably only the top end models will have a colour screen as this will add about £600 to the costs.
The existing Mico range have enough ports to put a BBC Micro to shame including Microbus, ISA and USB. They were showing four variations of Mico, all in Micro Digital's own steel and plastic case.
The base Mico nt model has only a 3.5" floppy disc and 16mB of EDO RAM, but with a 10Mb 16 bit ISA Ethernet card with both thin co-ax and 10 base-T connection it is aimed as a network terminal.
Next up is the Mico hd which adds a 8.4Gb hard drive, 32 bit Ultra EIDE card, enhanced 16bit audio card with MIDI compatibility and 4 USB ports.
The Mico Media adds a 48 speed CD ROM drive whilst the top of the range Mico @ comes complete with a 56kbs internal modem and 6 months Argonet connection, including Voyager.
Millipede are the people who create professional broadcast graphics hardware based on RISC OS for the TV and Studio markets. You can see the result of their efforts when you realise that all the graphics and statistics on the runaway hit ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire?’, ‘Stars in their Eyes’ and other TV programmes are driven from a Risc PC with Millipede add-in boards.
Their latest product, the Imago motherboard has been designed as to fit into a standard Risc PC case as well as fitting professional rack mounted equipment. This is a mouthwatering upgrade at a commensurate price. They brought along their own, smart stand where Richard Jozefowski was showing the latest version of his beautifully designed circuit board.
Richard explained that they did not envisage supplying the Imago as a DIY upgrade for the Risc PC. As a small and highly specialised firm, troubleshooting with full customer support would be impossible to guarantee. He did envisage a limited number of dealers who would undertake to fit Imago boards and sort out problems. Fortunately there was another answer to this problem on the Cerilica stand.
Without any prior warning Cerilica introduced ‘Nucleus’ on Saturday morning. This is a top end designers workstation using an Imago board with every bell and whistle to enhance the graphic and audio capabilities.
The heart of Imago lies an FGPA chip which may be programmed to allowing key software components to be merged into the hardware capability. Not surprisingly Cerilica’s Vantage is ideally placed to exploit Imago to the full. The prototype Nucleus case is a striking beast, although Nick van der Walle did emphasize that the final version would not necessarily look exactly the same. With a projected price around £2k plus an expensive monitor this is not for everybody but could do a lot for the future of RISC OS in the professional field.
In addition Cerilica were demonstrating ‘RiScript Pro’ and their special multi media keyboard again tailored to use with Vantage. The killer graphic package is now almost at its final version and looks better every time it is shown.
Lurking on the CJE Micros stand, and priced in a range that most of us can contemplate, was one of the most exciting debutantes at the show, 'Viewfinder'. This is the work of John Kortink and made by his Windfall Engineering Co in the Netherlands.
In simple terms this is a standard Acorn podule board driving a PC Video chipset which bypasses the 2Mb of VRAM limitation of Risc PC Video output. The monitor plugs straight into the podule backplane and does not use the installed VRAM.
Viewfinder allows display resolutions up to 1600x1200 at 82Hz in true colour (32 bit) and up to 1920x1440 at 65Hz in high-colour (16 bit) and 256-colour (8 bit) resolutions. Because these graphics operations are all handled in hardware, the result is a much more responsive desktop.
The card currently uses an ATI Rage Pro 3D Turbo chipset, but John has plans to support the Rage 128 and other AGP cards later. CJE were quoting an approximate price of £220 incl VAT which makes this a much cheaper route to very high resolution graphics for normal mortals than using Imago. Castle have been looking at Viewfinder and, whilst they have not yet made very thorough tests, are pretty sure that the two will work together without conflict. My thought is that a Kinetic RISC PC with Viewfinder gives an affordable equivalent to Imago.
RiscStation do not use Acorn podules in their machines, but they have been in contact with John Kortink about providing Viewfinder on a board suitable for their machines.
R-Comp Interactive have also had a look at Viewfinder and said that that they would be interested in considering supporting the card in future PC games conversions.
For a full specification see John Kortink's website.
RISCOS Ltd were present in force with one of the larger stands and doing brisk business with RISC OS 4 upgrades. They were also selling CD ROMS with complete Acorn PRMs, Basic and Risc PC documentation. Also they were showing the first issue of the "Foundation RISC User CD-ROM magazine and accepting Foundation memberships.
Before the show RISCOS Ltd had hoped to be able to show 'RON' (RISC OS 4 running on the Psion netBook) but sadly this was not ready. They were distributing enquiry forms on which potential purchasers could be added to a list to receive priority notification when the product became available.
Ever since it was first introduced, Textease has won friends with a very refreshing approach to a DTP program which was easy for children to grasp and at the same time was capable of very professional output.Through the years Textease has developed to include Speech and HTML authoring facilities as well as other bells and whistles, whilst still maintaining a very friendly user interface.
Not surprisingly the package has become very popular in schools, particularly as it is possible to click on a box and turn it into a 'Junior' version with appropriate fonts for infant use. Whilst still being developed in RISC OS it is now available to run on PCs and MACs. All three versions and allow file interchange between platforms.
Recent development has culminated in the launch of Textease Studio which adds a fully featured spreadsheet and a database to the basic word processing/DTP, all sharing common user interface.
Development has moved fast in the last year and is 'Studio' they have introduced what could well become a 'Killer' application. Particularly as there are now addon language packs which allow text to be typed, spell checked and spoken in the language of choice. Even the menus and on-screen messages change instantly to the selected language. Educational support is given from a country wide network IT Centres which can provide training facilities.
RiscStation were one of the show sponsors, but they also kindly supported a block of stands to enable small developers to afford a presence t the show. Amongst these were: Chris Morison with his very wonderful 'Organizer' package. David Buck doing wondrous design layouts with 'RiscCad'. Jon Duddington with 'Pluto2' and his comprehensive 'Speak' package which provides the voice for Textease. Paradise with some splendid games. Cd Computing were doing educations items, whilstZenta were doing bargain CD compilations, RGSC where promoting 'Notice Board Professional' and Robin Edwards with his simple but Serious Statistical Software.
Warm Silence Software
This was one of the busiest stands where Robin Watts and his colleagues were promoting their range of packages for the dedicated enthusiasts. These include CD Burning, Webserving, LAN Management, Fast Spooling, Thumbnailing and Sound Plug-In which allows RISC OS browsers to play embedded sounds from web pages.
WSS are now the uk distributors for Martin Wuerthner's range of 'ArtWorks' tools, although Martin was sorry not to be present due to a very important engagement in Germany.
WSS also announced a forthcoming licence-free new Java interpreter for RISC OS which supports later versions of Java than RISCafe and runs with less memory overhead on all RISC OS machines.
Easi Writer and Tech Writer are without doubt the best word processing packages on RISC OS, indeed I can not think of anything on either PC or Mac which offer the same range of facilities with ease of use. Unique in RISC OS they offer seamless saving and loading of Microsoft 'Word' files. They can also generate very clean HTML pages. In-built table creation, mail merging, automatic numbering, index and contents lists, support graphics and multi languages. You can even type from right to left with Hebrew fonts.
I don't think they can manage Japanese or Chinese as yet, but knowing the Icon team even this can not be ruled out!
Stuart Tyrrell's stand is always a magnet for the people who want to connect, interface or access anything unusual. If you want to switch your keyboard and monitor from RISC OS to PC, use a non-standard mouse or tracker ball, get a special cable, have a joystick or steering wheel, Stuart is your man, and all coupled with a nice line in chat and anecdote.
Another very popular stand was that hosted by Paul Richardson who had made the long trek from Tavistock with a load of printers. Paul is the principal seller of the excellent Kyocera range for RISC OS use and also produces printer drivers for both lasers and colour printers. He also specialises in the 'Holy Bible' software which offers amazingly comprehensive coverage and access facilities from all versions for all creeds and denominations.
Always a magnet are the Rawnsley Family's stands which in addition to their range of Web authoring, browsing, site management and grabbing packages, also distribute many of the best games on our platform. This year they were also hosting the Games Arcade where a constant stream of enthusiasts were sampling many of the latest releases, not only from RCI, but other publishers. We would like to thank RiscStation who loaned the arcade computers.
In addition to R-Comp there were plenty of games on show from Artex Software from Frankfurt, Paradise Software and Fourth Dimension.
Chris Hornby and Rachelle Smith were kept busy with sales and upgrades of Photodesk, Top Model and OHP as well as the latest Olympus Digital Cameras with their own Photo-Link drivers. In keeping with their name they announced that they were actively working on RISC OS solutions for broadband internet connection. By using a simple satellite receiver and dish you can access the net at around four times the speed of an ISDN connection for an outlay of around £350, and for a little more, you can even retain your existing internet provider!
Whilst David Holden is well known for the best PD library in the RISC OS world, he is moving increasingly into Hard Drives, IDE interfaces and selling software, including the excellent 'Ancestor+' for the family tree experts.
David was also demonstrating David Pilling's 'Ovation Pro' and, in particular, a new loader applet which lets OP load Impression files with styles, frames and formatting all kept correct. At the moment this works perfectly on about 95% of files, but there are still problems to sort out with some complicated documents.
Si-Plan Electronic Research have long specialised in using RISC OS to solve a variety of industrial solutions. In addition to a range of plug-in cards and software for data gathering & measurement of pressure, temperature, load or displacement, they also specialise in testing machines. Their presence was mainly a PR exercise, although they did have some very interested visitors at their stand.
For the second time Reflex Electronic Service were at Wakefield. Reflex operate a national service for maintenance and repairs to Acorn computers and can offer technical support for problems such as RPC timing problems. They are now also RiscStation dealers.
Under this technical heading I must mention Aleph One Ltd who in addition to their well known range of PC Cards and software are now concentrating on Linux for the RISC PC. At present they are offering a CD with ARMLinux based on the Red Hat distribution which is bootable on a RISC PC at a cost £10 including support by email. They also offer telephone support at extra cost and various options for partitioning your hard drives to receive Linux.
Musical interests were served by David Coronel of The Data Store who is now handling all UK support for the RISC OS version of Sibelius. Also demonstrating Sibelius was Alan Gibson of Liquid Silicon who was using a full range of exciting Yamaha Tone Generators. As mentioned above, RiscStation were also demonstrating the use of a synthesizer over a network.
And the Rest
I am very conscious that some of our most faithful supporters have not been mentioned but I am fast running out of space. Our thanks go to Clares, Cannon/Cumana, EFF, Davyn, Granada Learning/SEMERC and iSV Products. We do appreciate your support.
At present I do not know the exact details of how much was raised by Michael Binns and his helpers, but I can say that it was more than ever before. The same can be said of the quantity of items which were donated, including about 14 486 PCs with monitors which were all tested and in working order. The majority of these were not sold at the show, but we are trying to get them sold locally via Wakefield Hospice. We also donated a number of unsold Acorn Computers with monitors and software to the Hospice's day care centre.
And Finally ... How was the show?
Well for whatever reason, the total attendance was slightly down on last year. At the same time many exhibitors reported record sales. Indeed Jack Lillingston said that it had been their best show since Acorn World in 1997 and many people sold out some items on Saturday.
Our helpers were magnificent and the Deputy Mayor said he had enjoyed himself so much that he would like to come back again and open next year's show, this time as The Mayor and not the Deputy Mayor.
As for ourselves, we we have not yet decided if we are going to run a show in 2001 and, if we do, what form it will take. I suggest you watch this space.