Meeting: R-Comp

October 2008

WROCC were visited by Andrew and Allan Rawnsley from the prolific software and hardware developer, who came to tell us about some of the new software and hardware developments which they hoped to launch at the South East show. Those present had the chance to see the new backup software, SafeStore, updates to the popular Messenger Pro email and news client, and the re-releases of Iota’s Image Animator and Touch Type Tutor. Finally, Andrew talked about R-Comp’s range of hardware, which can run RISC OS via emulation.

Report by Steve Fryatt

October’s meeting finally saw the visit of Andrew and Allan Rawnsley from R-Comp, following the cancellation earlier in the year. With the proximity of the South East Show later in the month, Andrew said that he mainly planned to talk about new products which would be available to buy there.

Backing up

The first new product that R-Comp planned to launch at the show was SafeStore, which was previewed at our own show back in April. Designed as an easy to use backup system – suitable for those who find backing up a hassle – it allows copies of files to be made to a second hard disc, removable disc, USB stick, or even an FTP site on the internet.

The software allows backup jobs to be created by specifying the location of the files to be copied, the target directory, and how often the data should be backed up. SafeStore seemed to allow the timing of backups to be controlled fairly precisely, including the ability to run the process only on certain days of the week.

Andrew showed how the actual backup process can be adjusted to strike a balance between speed and the ability to use the computer while it is in progress. On modern computers, it seemed as if the system could still be usable even at the fastest setting – making it possible to perform backups while the machine was in use.

Finally, for users of Virtual Acorn systems, Andrew stated that it was possible to use SafeStore to back up both the RISC OS discs and also the rest of the Windows filing system via additional HostFS mounts. Apparently the developer uses it in this way to back up other machines on his network.

News and email

R-Comp are well-known for their internet software, including the Messenger Pro email and news client for RISC OS. As more and more users are starting to use other systems, many are finding they miss the familiarity of their old software – presenting an opportunity to provide something similar.

The original developer of Messenger and Messenger Pro, Mark Sawle, produced a mail client for Windows and Linux systems known as Gemini when he handed over development of the RISC OS version to Colin Granville. For a long time this was developed and marketed by Mark’s own company, Intellegit, but now its successor has also moved into the R-Comp stable and is known as “Messenger Pro for Windows, Linux and the Mac”.

Andrew showed that, despite initially following single-window conventions more familiar to users of Windows, MP4WLM (as I think I’ll refer to it from now on) can quickly be re-arranged to look and feel exactly like the RISC OS version – down to the main folder window, message list windows and message viewers. This gives users the choice of whether to conform to the norms of their new OS, or to try and maintain a semblance of RISC OS familiarity.

A little controversy was brought into proceedings when Andrew stated that by default, MP4WLM produced only plain text emails and news postings; support for HTML formatting is included, but users must turn this on before they can use it. A number of audience members politely suggested that this could be seen as a little backwards-looking, but Andrew countered by stating that MP4WLM would lose the Good Net Keeping Seal of Approval were it to adopt such non-standard extensions by default.

Since this is an area in which consensus is unlikely to be reached any time soon (although with the increase in popularity of handheld mobile devices, plain text email does seem to be coming back into vogue in business circles, if your correspondent's experiences are anything to go by), Andrew rounded off the demo by reminding us that since Messenger Pro (on all four platforms) supports reading messages via IMAP and NNTP, a copy of Messenger Pro Server Edition on a RISC OS system would allow messages to be viewed in MP4WLM through other machines on a network. He finished by mentioning that although some people have suggested sharing a stand-alone copy of NewsDir between several RISC OS machines (to save the cost of the Server Edition), the risk of losing data was very high as the system had not been designed for doing this.

Typing and animations

R-Comp have owned many of the former Iota titles, including DataPower, for a while now. Alongside the better known titles, the software included Image Animator and Touch Type. Both of these have now been updated to be fully 32-but compatible, and Andrew was able to demonstrate them.

These days, Image Animator is likely to have most uses when creating animated images for use in the web. We were shown how straightforward it is to create a sequence of frames and animate them on screen; once the desired effect has been produced, the animation can be converted into an image file for publishing on a website if required.

The Touch Type tutor has been a useful learning aid for many years now, and provides a series of exercises to help beginners master the art. Help is provided through on-screen graphics showing the correct finger positions, and a course of tasks to guide users through the learning process. Versions are available for Windows too, and Andrew said that they are popular in education – helping to support R-Comp’s work on RISC OS software.

Virtual hardware

After briefly mentioning R-Comp’s PDF Suite (which he stated he wouldn’t discuss in much detail since I – as the developer of the competing PrintPDF – was in the audience), Andrew moved on to the other side of R-Comp’s business: hardware. Members may be familiar with the ranges of RisCubes and RiscBooks: Windows systems running Virtual Acorn software on top.

Andrew quickly took us through the range of systems available, including a new sub-£500 machine which he was hoping to sell at Guildford. He also talked a little about future plans to offer systems with Linux installed instead of Windows – these would allow the price to be reduced a little because of the saving on the Windows license, at the expense of not being able to run Virtual Acorn on top.

Questions and sales

At the end of the presentation, Andrew invited anyone with questions to come and speak to him. He and Allan had also brought a collection of software with them, and members were able to buy some of the products without waiting for the show.

After all the delays, it was good that R-Comp were finally able to make the trip over the Pennines. The updates on software and hardware developments in Knutsford were interesting, and hopefully aroused interest from those in the audience – I can’t have been the only person who left the meeting looking forward to being able to try out some of the products mentioned.