Meeting: Xara, ArtWorks... and Home Networking

August 2008

Following on from the July presentation, Rick Sterry opened the meeting by taking a look at ArtWorks’ close cousin Xara, and showed us a number of neat tricks that can also be used in the RISC OS application. The second half of the evening saw Chris Hughes talk about home networking and the use of power line network adaptors such as the HomePlug.

Report by Ian Macfarlane

Our guest speaker for the August meeting was to have been Keith Dunlop, but unfortunately he pulled out at short notice citing a work commitment. We hope that this is a postponement rather than a cancellation, and that we will be seeing him at a later date. So, not for the first time, we had to fall on our own resources; Rick Sterry volunteered to talk about Xara, which is in effect ArtWorks for Windows, while Chris Hughes talked a little about networking.

Xara and ArtWorks

Rick was not going to attempt to go through all the intricacies of Xara, but wanted to cover those features with similarities to ArtWorks, for example compatibility of file exchange. He started by briefly covering the history of Xara and its relationship with ArtWorks – the other vector art package from the Computer Concepts stable. Rick then showed a small number of the basic tools to indicate how similar it is to ArtWorks. He gave short demonstrations of the use of the Select tool, the Freehand tool, the Shape Editor tool, the Text tool, and the Blend tool to prove the point that anyone used to ArtWorks would feel very much at home with Xara.

He then went on to talk about transferring files between the two programs. Xara will not read ArtWorks’ native file format, but it will read RISC OS Draw format and ArtWorks EPS format. The latter was useful in transferring files between the RISC OS platform and Xara, and he gave a few examples that had been created in ArtWorks and Draw, which he displayed in Xara. There were a few niggles, such as arrowheads in Draw, which didn’t transfer; text had to be converted to shapes; some of the components ‘missed the paper’ but could be easily dragged back; clip-views don’t transfer. Even a graduated fill could be transferred and edited on the target side.

A questioner wanted to know what its main competitor was on the PC. Rick supposed that Corel Draw was, although it was much more expensive. Someone said that they had seen Xara 4 advertised at about £40 – this is the current version. Rick said that there is a nice 3D tool – if the mouse was positioned over an object and then a drag instigated then a 3D object would appear. Xara will export in PDF, but it won’t import PDF. Rick showed how documents could be transferred to Microsoft applications using the ‘.cmx’ file extension (Corel metafile exchange) and said that animated GIFs could be easily produced using layers.

This led him to demonstrate layer manipulation and the Transparency tool on a map of Bradford, which raised a comment from Bradford resident Colin Sutton: Bradford was missed off a lot of maps! He showed how the Clone tool was used and how effective Arrange Shapes could be. First he used Join Shapes and then Combine Shapes and Subtract Shapes: quadrants could be easily drawn for example. Rick showed that objects could be moved with the cursor keys; holding the Ctrl key down, the movement is coarser, whereas holding the Alt key down makes the movement finer. Objects could be made to Snap to a grid.

In summing up Rick said that ArtWorks and Xara had gone off on slightly different branches of the evolutionary tree, but they were still pretty close relatives. He asked for a show of hands of ArtWorks users – a third of the audience did – and then he asked if Xara was familiar and he got nods of agreement. Someone said that he didn’t recall the Slicing tool being available in ArtWorks 2. [In fact, details of how to achieve equivalent effects in ArtWorks can be found in one of the RISC OS HowTo articles on this site.] Another comment was that it was fast compared with the RiscPC, but it was realised that the processor was probably much faster than the RiscPC. Finally Rick said that there was a downloadable demo version that was time limited or save disabled and was available from the Xara website at

Home networking

Chris wanted to show members what was on the club machine, and he said that it had networking facilities on it; as several members had been asking Chris about networking, he would use the club machine to demonstrate networking and its setup. There were three different types of networking in the home. One was the common wired network; then there was the up and coming wireless network; finally there was the ‘HomePlug’ way, which used the mains electric cabling of the house.

The HomePlug was a defined standard for sending data signals round the house, but several manufacturers had opted for a different standard so that the user had to be careful when buying additional units. Chris showed us his 200Mbit/sec plug; he had four of these plugs in his home, arranged in four rooms. He told us that the HomePlug transfer of data was much more secure and reliable than wireless. He had tried wireless and had found it to be susceptible to reflections from iron in the fabric of the house. His HomePlug circuit is encrypted so that if a signal did get transmitted down the mains it would not be readable. In answer to a question from Colin Sutton, Chris said that it was an offence to use someone else’s bandwidth under the Computer Misuse Act. Colin told us of a car-park in Bradford, where, because there was some unprotected wireless broadband at an adjoining house, one could pull up and watch whatever was being downloaded at the time on one’s laptop. Chris found HomePlug to be a very effective way of connecting up his computers in his home.

I asked the price of a plug. Chris said that a starter pack with two plugs was between £65 for a slower 85Mbit/sec pair to £100 for a 200Mbit/sec pair. The plugs should be used in the wall sockets and not on extension leads. Some won’t work across a circuit breaker. The plugs come with a cable and a CD with file-sharing and monitoring software on it. Chris has not bothered with the latter. He literally plugged his router into one end and hooked up his laptop in the other and within ten seconds was surfing the internet. The system goes into standby mode when it isn’t working, but consumes very little power anyway. The HomePlug that Chris has is flash updatable, for downloading more recent versions of the system.

Terry was worried that next-door would be able to receive Chris’s data. Chris said that that was a very common question that he was asked. He answered it by saying that in theory it was not possible and in practice it was unlikely, but Chris’s system had the encryption turned on. There was a button on the side of the plug that enabled the encryption. Colin asked if the signals only ran round in the ring circuit of Chris’s house. Chris said that usually the fusebox/consumer unit in a house was a sufficient barrier. Colin asked the make and Chris replied that this was made by Devolo, but there were other plugs that were made by Solwise and Netgear. Steve Potts said that he was using an old version at 14Mbit/sec made by Netgear and that he would classify the plug as an ethernet to mains bridge.