Meeting: Something on the A9home

September 2010

Peter Richmond came to show us ‘something’ on the A9home – or many things, in fact. Starting with an overview of the hardware for those who hadn’t met one before, he went on to look at graphics and sound: manipulation of complex PDFs in ArtWorks and the playback of music and video. To close, he mused on the use of touch screens, audio-visual control systems and the possible uses of an A9home within such a system.

Report by Steve Fryatt

September’s meeting featured Peter Richmond showing us “Something on the A9home”. This turned out to be a ramble through the kinds of things that Peter does with his own machine (which lives, it appears, on the end of his kitchen table), comparing it with other RISC OS systems as we went, before looking at some embedded applications where an A9 might come in useful.

Peter acquired his A9home three years ago at the Wakefield Show: he had wanted to put some money into the market, and so had bought one of the diminutive machines along with a USB-connected DVD drive.

While he liked the small form factor and low carbon footprint (apparently the PSU only draws 5W or so – and that’s if you have some hungry USB devices plugged in), there were some problems. The USB 1.1 limitation makes peripherals slow, and there are some odd software omissions: no Printers (although ironically, Pop-Up Printers from ROOL’s site is said to work OK), no ChangeFSI, and no way to check the free space on the machine’s hard disc.

A year on, Peter bought a copy of ArtWorks 2 for the PDF import and export capability: something he found very useful for manipulating files supplied by PC-owning friends and colleagues. He had also found a workable copy of ChangeFSI by this point (again, the ROOL release should be OK), and had added KinoAMP and AMPlay to his armoury for video and audio files.

Twelve months ago, he had got a copy of Aemulor to give compatibility with 26-bit software: this made it possible to run Impression Junior for simple DTP work, and a range of old utilities. One example of the latter was Acorn’s old pointer resizing utility, which made it easy to see the position of the mouse on screen.

Overall the speed of the A9 seemed pretty good: Peter said that he had run some simple comparisons with other hardware, timing how quickly images loaded, and had been pleased with the results.

Sound and pictures

One of Peter’s interests is audio, and he makes use of the A9home’s ability to play MP3 files via AMPlay. He had a number of his own compositions with him, and we were able to hear how these sounded when played over the speakers in the room.

Despite having an audio-in socket, the A9 can’t make use of it yet; Peter was still hopeful that this might change at some point, given that AudioIn only appeared for the Iyonix after a number of years. Videos can be played with KinoAMP, and we saw this in action; if anyone knows of a good sample player, that would complete the setup.

Some other PD utilities (which apparently had come to light after reading some column or other about free software in a magazine called Archive) added to the overall usefulness of the system.

The verdict

In general, Peter seemed to be happy with his A9home. He found that, once he had mastered the art of writing entries for the USB ‘other devs’ file, it was possible to use off-the-shelf memory sticks – although having it automatically detect and support devices, as RISC OS 5 on the Iyonix does, would have been better.

His main gripe seemed to be with after-sales support: he felt that updates to the OS had been slow, and that problems often went unfixed (or that fixes went unpublicised). The machine still felt unfinished, which was a disadvantage even when the system as a whole was functional.

With that said, though, Peter still liked his A9home. It was his “always on” companion on his kitchen table: ideal for quick web browsing, and accessing graphics and audio files. If only it were marketed and supported more visibly.

Embedded systems

Peter closed the evening by talking about his day job, as an AV support technician at Leeds University. Modern lecture theatres are bristling with computer equipment, and even the lighting will be controlled by bespoke touch-screen systems.

Peter felt that this would be an ideal application for using RISC OS in an embedded environment: perhaps even something like an A9home. In his view, the existing user interfaces left something to be desired, and the cost of the bespoke hardware was also a concern in these increasingly cost-concious times. With a touch screen added (and drivers do exist, apparently, if you know who to talk to), the small blue box might provide the basis for an alternative solution – something to consider when it finally comes out of its prolonged beta phase, perhaps?