Meeting: Pot Pourri: Printing and RISC OS on Pi

July 2013

Steve Bass described the many different routes by which documents under RISC OS can be printed onto hard copy, both directly, via other systems and over a network. This was followed by Peter Richmond describing his experiences with a Raspberry Pi kit from Maplin, and also reviewing the software provided on the Nut Pi SD card.

Report by Rick Sterry

The July meeting was another of our occasional ‘Pot-Pourri’ evenings, which just means that it was made up of unrelated topics by different presenters. First on the stand was Steve Bass, despite the fact that he had also given the presentation at the June meeting – this goes beyond the call of duty. His theme was ‘printing from RISC OS’, and he started with a quote from the R-Comp web site, which states that if you were to ask a RISC OS user what the Holy Grail of printing was, the chances are he or she would say, “to be able to print at a decent quality to any kind of printer”.

Printing from RISC OS

Steve then went on to describe the various ways by which this could be achieved, and they can be broken down into three basic methods:

  1. Print directly from RISC OS to a printer connected to the ‘host’ machine.
  2. Print to a network printer.
  3. Print to a PDF.

Method 1 can be achieved with the Printers or Printers+ driver software (as supplied with RISC OS) and the appropriate Printer Definition File (which I shall refer to henceforth as PriDF in order to avoid confusion with Adobe PDF files). The problem, as we all know, is that PriDFs are not usually available for the latest printers. However, you can get round this by using the Gutenprint software and drivers from Martin Würthner, supporting a great many modern printers, especially Epsons – this is described on his website. GutenPrint is funded by donations, and the suggested initial amount for new users is £25-£30 unless you are on a very low income. Laser printers often don’t need specific drivers, so if they support PostScript or PCL they can usually be made to work with an HP LaserJet driver. For Postscript printers the other option is to use either the PS2 driver or better still the PS3 driver.

Method 2 can itself be broken down into two basic alternatives:

  • Printing across the network with the RISC OS drivers, which suffers from the same PriDF limitations as printing directly from the host machine.
  • Printing across the network with the UniPrint (UniServer) software from R-Comp, which uses the printer driver on the Windows machine acting as the print server, thus overcoming the RISC OS PriDF problem.

Steve did go into some detail of setting up UniPrint on networked machines, and also covered a number of utilities and protocols etc. related to printing under RISC OS. Although I won’t be describing them here, I will mention them by name in case you want to look into them: RemotePrinterFS, PrintSpool, JDServer, Gutenprint + LPR, and IPP.

Actually, there is rather more to the practice of printing across a network, but again I will not be going into detail about it. You can:

  • Connect directly to a single networked machine.
  • Connect to a Print Server.
  • Use a dedicated Networked Printer.

Within this context, in most cases there is no practical distinction between RISC OS machines with native ARM hardware (e.g. a RiscPC), and a Windows PC running Virtual Acorn (VA). A comment from the floor brought to light that in the case of UniPrint, a Windows machine running VA behaves rather like a RISC OS machine already networked to a Windows machine, without the need for networking software and the associated setting up IP addresses and so forth. In other words, it’s a lot simpler and more user-friendly to set up UniPrint than is the case with physically separate networked machines.

Method 3 involves ‘printing’ to a PDF file, which can then be transferred to another machine with the necessary printing capability, e.g. by file sharing, email, etc. This can be done with Steve Fryatt’s free PrintPDF software, which is a front-end to GhostScript, allowing PDF documents to be produced more easily under RISC OS. It adds a new ‘PDF Printer’ as part of Printers on the iconbar. Using this, any application which can print to paper can also create a PDF document with ease. Steve Bass uses the PDF3 PriDF supplied in the PrintDefs.PrintPDF folder of the PS3 driver download from Martin Würthner and John Tytgat. This allows PrintPDF to send PostScript3 data to GhostScript, but unlike the PS2 driver it is commercial software and costs £35. Alternatively, PrintPDF is supplied with a PDF PriDF, which uses the PS2 driver bundled with Printers. As I have already indicated, it is beyond the scope of this brief summary to describe everything that Steve talked about, and what I have described has inevitably been considerably shortened and simplified.

Takeaway Pi

The evening was rounded off by Peter Richmond, talking about his experiences with RISC OS on the Raspberry Pi, under the title “Takeaway Pi” for reasons that will become clear. He had intended to move on to the subject of tablets afterwards, but alas ran out of time. Peter had bought a Raspberry Pi and Starter Kit from Maplin, comprising a Pi model ‘B’ (512MB), Raspbian OS supplied on a 4GB SD card, mains powered 4-port USB hub, USB keyboard, USB optical mouse, 2.1A twin USB mains power supply, 1.5m gold-plated USB A to micro B cable to power the Raspberry Pi, 1.5m gold-plated HDMI cable and an N150 Nano Wi-Fi dongle for wireless connectivity.

This complete kit cost £80, but I’ve seen it reduced to £75 for short periods during promotions. You can pay less if you source all these parts separately, and indeed you may have some of them in the ‘junk box’ already, but Peter opted for convenience. It does not include a case, which Peter bought separately for about £4 – “more like a fried rice tray” according to him, hence the takeaway reference! One snag that he spotted was that the cases available do not have enough headroom to accommodate anything tall being plugged into the 26-pin General Purpose Input/Output (GPIO) connector, unless you leave the lid open.

As mentioned above, the kit came with Raspbian OS on SD card, but Peter also bought an approved 2GB SD card preloaded with RISC OS Pi, at a cost of £10 + P&P from RISC OS Open Ltd (ROOL). The OS is also available as a free download from the site, but Peter didn’t want the hassle of having to create it on SD card from an image, so again he opted for convenience. He also invested in the Nut Pi software collection on 2GB SD card (also from ROOL), at a cost of £35 + P&P. The P&P is £2.50 per order, making the combined cost of the two cards £47.50. Details can be found on the ROOL site (search for “Pi”), though I did find some inconsistencies in the pricing within the site, particularly in relation to VAT. The Nut Pi (amongst other things) was mentioned in the write-up of the March 2013 meeting, which you can find in the April newsletter. Peter spent some time looking through and commenting on the Nut Pi software.

Eclectic software

There was plenty of space on the RISC OS SD card for Peter to gather what he considered to be additional essential software (freebies) for his new Pi: Calc, ZipEE, ViewXLS, PipeDream, OhpShow, PlaySound, KinoAmp, DigitalCD, SampleEd, Invaders, Chuckie Egg, Breakout2, X-Word, Cybertron and DareDevil – quite an eclectic mix! The final thing that Peter showed us to ‘perfect his Pi’ was a demo version of Aemulor Professional for the Pi, (also referred to as Aemulor Pi), which enables older 26-bit RISC OS software to run under the 32-bit hardware of the Pi. A fully featured time-limited demo version is available from Spellings, or you can purchase the full version for £15. Aemulor is also available from other dealers such as CJE Micro’s, but the price may vary. It works very well, and Peter demonstrated it running a 1992 version of the Cybertron game, without any problems caused by the use of an interlaced screen mode.

Peter had gathered some simple comparative image-rendering benchmarks to give an idea of the relative ‘real world’ speeds of a RiscPC (with StrongARM), A9home and the Pi. He used three bitmap files – a small and a large JPEG file, a TIFF file, and two ArtWorks (vector) files, the second of which involved a lot of complex drawing. As can be seen from the results on the left, the Pi is noticeably faster than the A9home, and lightning fast compared to the RiscPC – not bad for a little pipsqueak!

The total cost of the hardware, SD cards and Aemulor came to around £155, although as mentioned earlier it is possible to spend less. Peter valued convenience and lack of hassle over cost, and he got it as everything worked pretty much perfectly first time with no fuss – mission accomplished!