The state of web browsing on RISC OS

posted in: Software | 1

Web browsing has historically been quite a neglected part of RISC OS, and as we all know, it’s by far the most popular type of application when it comes to modern-day desktop computing.

Netsurf has traditionally been the de-facto web browser for RISC OS since the project’s conception in 2002, and while it is a stable and very efficient browser, it does struggle when it comes to Javascript supporting and dealing with complex websites.

A port of Mozilla Firefox to RISC OS courtesy of Peter Naulls and the then-active Linux Porting Project was released back in 2006. While an impressive feat, Firefox was only really usable on high-end machines of the time (Iyonix and A9Home back then), and even then, Javascript support was not really present and there were some significant stability issues. These problems coupled with RISC OS Firefox falling woefully out-of-date compared to the main Firefox project, saw it largely left for dust and the vast majority of users continuing to use Netsurf as their browser of choice.

More recently, we saw the emergence of Otter Browser and QupZilla ports by Chris Gransden. They’re both based on WebKit, which is an open-source web browser engine. Javascript JIT is now enabled on both, which provides a more usable browsing experience – meaning web applications such as Google Maps, Gmail and online banking services do now work. This unfortunately doesn’t mean there’s full Javascript support on RISC OS, so these web services may still not display correctly and performance is not fantastic, but they should still work providing you have enough persistence.

In terms of usage, looking at the web server logs for this website – it looks like the vast majority of users hitting the website from RISC OS (which actually is a minority) are still using NetSurf (76%), with Otter Browser also having a fair chunk (16%). There also appears to be one visit a week or so from a nutter person using Acorn Browse.

What’s quite exciting is there’s a significant amount of development being pumped into two WebKit-based browsers – Origyn and Iris. The work is being co-ordinated by RISC OS Developments, who are working to give both browsers a RISC OS look-and-feel (iconbar icon, RISC OS UI windows etc.) which is where these browsers differ from Otter and QupZilla.

A lot of work appears to be going into Javascript supporting and handling modern day websites and web applications – with a demo at the 2019 South West show showing Iris being used for online shopping. Information is limited at the moment but I’d imagine the direction is likely to follow that of AmigaOS’ port of Origyn named Odyssey – which has HTML5 and Flash support (although Flash is generally being phased out so that may be unneccessary for RISC OS) as well as multimedia support using FFmpeg, which makes watching YouTube videos possible.

Origyn and Iris aren’t available for download yet, and it’s not certain as to whether they’ll be commercial or free releases (I suspect the latter) but from the information that’s available on these projects so far it looks like this could be a huge move forward in making RISC OS attractive to users as a general purpose desktop operating system.

Pre-built RISC OS computers: What’s out there

posted in: Hardware | 2

Update! March 2019: Added information about the newly launched R-Comp Titan.

It’s hard to believe that back in 2006 or thereabouts I’d relegated myself to never expect the release of a commercial RISC OS computer again. Production of the Iyonix had been discontinued, the A9Home was pretty much dead in the water and the RISC OS market didn’t seem big enough to sustain another pre-built system, apart from a few Windows+VirtualAcorn offerings from R-Comp.

How things have changed. Sparked by the Raspberry Pi boom and thanks to the hard work of a few key players in the RISC OS market – RISC OS Open, R-Comp and CJE Micro’s to name a few, there’s now an abundance of pre-built systems out there offering the power and stability that RISC OS 5 on newer hardware offers you, without the hassle of building a system based on a board like the Raspberry Pi, Titanium or Wandboard yourself.

So with that all in mind, I was curious to see exactly how many of these pre-built RISC OS computers are available right now and what type of machines they are under the hood.

Older boards, such as Pandaboard and IGEPv5 based systems have been omitted as the boards themselves are now no longer being produced.

It’s also worth noting that while a lot of these systems will have dual-core or in some cases quad-core processors, RISC OS can only utilise one core currently – that said, this isn’t generally a problem for the vast majority of use cases.

Overall, I’ve counted 14 systems that are still in production today, from a total of four vendors. A good chunk of the systems discussed below have independent speed benchmarks on Chris Hall’s website.

Price-range: High-end

TiMachine from R-Comp Interactive (2016)

Built around the Titanium, the TiMachine offers a significant speed boost when compared to other RISC OS compatible boards on the market. The system comes with a dual-core Cortex-A15 processor clocked at 1.5Ghz, 2GB of RAM, two DVI video out ports, a built-in DVD drive, Gigabit networking and a 120Gb SSD hard-drive as standard connected via mSATA.

The two USB sockets at the front of the machine can be swapped out for a card reader at point of sale, which is a nice feature especially if you’ve got Raspberry Pis that depend on SD cards for their storage and/or OS.

The case has space for additional hard drives, which allows for the optional extra of having a built-in backup drive (64GB or 128GB). Hard drives up to 2TB can be used in FAT32 format via USB.

The TiMachine is by no-means a successor to R-Comp’s ARMX6. While the Ti is a more powerful system in general, the ARMX6 is cheaper, supports 4K screen resolution and doesn’t suffer from the TiMachine’s lack of a HDMI port for video output.

Just like with previous computers from R-Comp, a large bundle of applications comes pre-installed with each system which includes a number of recovery tools in case of emergencies. You get the !DualHead multi-monitor software for running two screens effectively, numerous drivers and a number of ‘get out of jail’ type tools – mode recovery, reset tools etc.

A good deal of curated software is also included, 1GB or so of it – this includes the likes of SafeStore and DeleGate.

Similar to the ARMX6, the TiMachine comes with ongoing updates and upgrades as well as a support mailing list.

The TiMachine is available from £899, with the model that includes the additional back up drive costing £50 more.

Rapido Ti from CJE Micro’s (2016)

The RapidoTi from CJE Micro’s is their Titanium based offering, consisting of the Titanium motherboard in a DTX case which can be run vertically or horizontally.

As you’d expect, the Rapido comes with the latest version of RISC OS 5, along with a DVD drive and a 240GB SSD. Additionally, you get a keyboard and mouse two ethernet ports and an optional card reader.

As is the case with R-Comp’s Ti Machine, the system is lacking HDMI output meaning you’re stuck with DVI – although dual monitors are supported

The Rapido Ti costs £909, with having a built-in card reader costing an extra £30.

TIK from A4Com (2018)

The German RISC OS dealer A4Com’s Titanium based offering is the TIK (Titanium-in-Kiste) which consists of the Titanium motherboard in a mini-ATX case, 2GB of RAM, a DVD-RW drive, a 128GB SSD and the latest version of RISC OS 5.

As with all Titanium based machines, you get two DVI ports, 2 ethernet ports and a wealth of USB ports. A built-in card reader is optional.

The TIK starts from €900 (around £780), with all machines built to order.

Titan from R-Comp Interactive (2019)

Similarly-specced to the TiMachine, the recently launched Titan is their more budget-friendly approach towards a Titanium-based computer.

The base Titanium machine is shipped with a single drive for storage, with additional options available, and ships with the same custom-written software as the TiMachine. Ongoing updates, upgrades and support are included as with every other R-Comp system.

Released officially at the South West Show 2019, the Titan is priced from £775 inc VAT.

Price-range: Mid-range

ARMX6 from R-Comp Interactive (2014)

The ARMX6 is currently R-Comp’s flagship system based on the quad-core Cortex A9 processor, and it is the successor to the ARMini and ARMiniX.

It comes loaded with 2GB of RAM, 6 external and 4 internal USB sockets as well as a built-in card reader and DVD drive. HDMI video output up to 4k screen resolution is supported. A VGA port can be added if required too.

While not quite as fast as Titanium based machines, the ARMX6 packs a lot of bang for your buck and is marketed as being six times faster than the Iyonix PC.

A 120GB SSD is included for storage, with bigger drives available if needed as well as an optional built-in backup drive. Hard drives up to 2TB can be used in FAT32 format via USB. Partitioned drives are also supported, meaning 1TB drives can now be utilised fully in RISC OS.

The ARMX6 also has a multi-core support Beta currently available for developers (or extremely brave/enthusiastic users), which is pretty exciting!

A bundle of applications comes pre-installed, this includes a number of recovery tools in case of emergencies. SafeStore and DeleGate have recently been added to the bundle to give more peace-of-mind if you’re paranoid of losing important files. The ARMX6 comes with ongoing updates and upgrades as well as a support mailing list.

A good deal of monitor definition files are included as well as a number of ‘in-between’ modes which allow for high-resolution monitors that allow 4K to be readable (e.g. reading text on a 27″ inch screen would by default be too small for most people).

On the audio front, the ARMX6 offers high-quality (up-to-24bit) HDMI audio which can be extracted separately via DAC or output to something like an amp or soundbar. USB audio devices are also supported.

The ARMX6 starts at £699, with optional extras such as bigger drives and optional back up drives coming at additional cost. R-Comp do make a point about a good chunk of profits from the ARMX6 and their other machines do go back into developing RISC OS further now that they and Orpheus Internet (collectively called RISC OS Developments Ltd) own RISC OS, which is great to see.

ARMBook laptop from R-Comp Interactive (2019)

Although not officially launched yet, the ARMBook laptop (name may change before release) is a really exciting prospect. While laptops such as the PiTopRO are currently on the market, the ARMBook is made with RISC OS in mind and is more than just a barebones board in a laptop case.

Details are a little limited as it stands but hardware-wise, it has ~1.2Ghz CPU and 2GB of on-board memory. It will be available in 12″ and 14″ variants, with storage options up to 200GB.

While RISC OS laptops have been promised in the past – the most notable case being the RiscStation portable* which ended up almost as much of an unmitigated disaster as the MicroDigital Omega – R-Comp’s foray into portable RISC OS has more of an air of reliability around it.

The laptop will be dual-bootable with Linux, which should be very useful for times when you’re away from an ethernet connection, rendering the RISC OS side of it offline due to RISC OS’ current lack of wi-fi support. Booting into Linux and connecting to Wi-fi is a nice way of getting around that.

The ARMBook is coming to life as a result of an as-yet unamed company’s CEO asking for RISC OS to be supported on his hardware. That exciting development coupled with far-eastern manufacturing has spawned the ARMBook.

Andrew at R-Comp’s advised the laptop will be available to try out at the RISC OS South West show in February, and some early-adopter units may be available for purchase.

The standard ARMBook will be priced from £499 – with 1080p models coming in at a cheaper price point, probably between £399 and £499.

PiTopRO laptop from CJE Micro’s (2018)

A neat looking laptop from CJE Micro’s featuring the Raspberry Pi 3 with 1GB of RAM running RISC OS packed inside a laptop case alongside a WiFi Nano router for wireless connectivity. This is based on the pi-top modular laptop.

The PiTop has a 14” full HD LCD screen, 4 USB ports, a HDMI port, Gigabit Ethernet and 802.11n wireless support which may be handy if you end up using Linux or another OS that does support wi-fi on it. A MicroSD card with RISC OS 5 on it also comes with it.

As RISC OS isn’t currently designed for portable computers, the PiTop comes bundled with some applications to handle tasks such as powering off and on, monitoring the battery level and controlling the screen brightness.

The PiTopRO is currently available for £549 from CJE.

Mini.m from R-Comp Interactive (2018)

Based around the same quad-core Freescale i.MX6 processor as R-Comp’s ARMX6, the mini.m is essentially a tiny version of its bigger brother.

Although lacking the internal SSD and SD card slot that is present on the ARMX6, the mini.m is about 2 inches in height and width – whilst also packing 2GB of RAM, up to 200GB of internal storage, two USB ports, a gigabit ethernet port and a HDMI slot. The machine can be powered by a dedicated power supply or via USB connected to another computer or to a USB wall adapter.

Partitioned hard drives are supported, meaning 1TB drives can now be utilised fully in RISC OS.

As with the ARMX6, a bunch of monitor definition files as well as a number of ‘in-between’ modes for high-resolution monitors are also included.

The Mini.m is the cheapest of R-Comp’s current computer range starting at £299 for the machine itself, while there are bundles available that include more storage and accessories.

Qadro from RISCOSBits (2018)

The Qadro is based on the Wandboard Quad, which features a 1GHz processor, 2GB RAM and SSD storage options ranging from 120GB to 500GB. Video output is via HDMI, there’s also on-board audio in and out.

Each system comes with RISC OS 5. Various case options are also available when placing an order.

The Qadro’s price isn’t set on RISCOSBits’ website as systems are built to order but from speaking with Andy at RISCOSBits, he’s advised that a base spec Qadro with a 120GB SSD comes in at £379 – which isn’t bad considering a Wandboard Quad board once you’ve factored in VAT and customs charges racks up to about £150 on its own.

WBK from A4Com (2018)

Similar to the Qadro, the WBK from A4Com is based on Wandboard Quad – with 2GB RAM and 128GB SSD storage by default. Video output is via HDMI, there’s also on-board audio in and out. The machine comes in a mini-ITX case that can be run vertically or horizontally.

A multi-card reader is included by default, as well as DVD-RW and an internally mounted 7-port USB switch.

WBK users also get automatically enrolled into a free R-Comp ARMX6 support membership which is a nice touch, this gives users access to R-Comp’s system download, custom-OS updates support scheme.

Each system comes with RISC OS 5. The WBK’s price isn’t set on A4Coms’ website as the system is built to order but I’d imagine the price point won’t be too dissimilar to that of the Qadro – probably in the £400-£500 price range for most orders.

RasberryRO from CJE Micro’s (2015)

Based on the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ board, the RaspberryRO comes in two versions – the RaspberryRO and the RaspberryRO Lite.

The standard version (£275) comes with a built-in 7-port USB hub, a Power Control Module with temperature sensor and battery backed RTC (real-time clock) in a mini-ITX case. A mouse and keyboard is chucked in for good measure too. An SD card with RISC OS 5 pre-installed is also included.

The Lite (£200) comes in a custom-made ‘nano’ case along with a built-in 8GB mSATA SSD drive and a battery backed RTC.

Price-range: Low-cost

PiHard from RISCOSBits (2018)

The PiHard is quite similar to the Qadro in many ways but is based on the Raspberry Pi 3B+ instead.

The system comes with built-in SSD storage as well as RISC OS 5. As with the Qadro, it is built to order but a base spec PiHard with a 120GB SSD comes in at £199.

PiRO from RISCOSBits (2017)

Unlike the PiHard and Qadro from RISCOSBits, the PiRO range are defined builds with set prices on them. The range has three models, the Core (£59) which is essentially a Raspberry Pi 3B+ in a PiRO branded case, with a 32GB SD card that has RISC OS pre-installed on it.

The Plus (£79) is the same as the Core, but comes with a mSATA adapter and case which will allow you to slot in your own mSATA SSD hard-drive.

The Max (£129) is then the same as the Plus, but with a built-in 120GB SSD.

si.zeRO from RISCOSBits (2018)

On the dirt cheap end of the scale we have the si.zeRO – a Raspberry Pi Zero with full sized USB and Ethernet ports added – all packed into a tiny case.

The Zero has 512MB of RAM, which is still more than enough for the vast majority of use cases on RISC OS. A 5V micro USB connector for power is provided, along with a MicroSD card running an enhanced version of RISC OS 5 with additional software. A HDMI adapter is also chucked in for good measure.

The si.zeRO starts at £49 for a 16GB SD card for storage and housing RISC OS on. 64GB (£69) and 128GB (£89) versions are also available.

*Whilst researching this article, I found that the RiscStation website has miraculously been revived, well over a decade since their disappearance from the scene. All of the products listed on there almost certainly do not exist, despite their news page claiming they appeared at Wakefield 2017 to unveil new hardware (which they didn’t). I have a feeling that this is just an odd attempt at domain squatting, and it’s not RiscStation’s original proprietors putting up this drivel. It should come without saying, don’t give them your money.

A guide to playing Doom on RISC OS

posted in: Games | 0

The first-person shooter Doom is one of those classic games that will never fall out of favour. It transformed the gaming industry back in 1993 and it’s still hugely popular today.

Although there have been quite a few ports to RISC OS over the years, there are two main versions that are recommended for running Doom on modern RISC OS hardware as well as older systems.

Free – FreeDoom (Review)

As the name suggests, FreeDoom is a free version of the Doom engine and the RISC OS version has been enhanced with RISC OS specific desktop options for doing things like loading additional levels.

You’ll be able to run Doom, Doom 2, Ultimate Doom, Final Doom and community-generated Doom level files (WADs) on FreeDoom – but due to the Doom games still being commercial titles, you’ll need to source the level files yourself before you can play them.

There’s a free demo copy for Doom available for download from here to get you started, there’s also a full Doom-like game designed for use with FreeDoom available from here.

For the most part, FreeDoom on RISC OS is quite reliable and provides a good experience. Although it’s not perfect, it can be buggy and networking support is not available. Level files created using Deth or other Doom editors are also compatible with FreeDoom.

Commercial (£15) – Doom Trilogy (Review)

R-Comp’s commercial release of Doom 1, Doom 2 and Ultimate Doom is a complete port of all three titles, with networking support, a huge selection of additional game levels and some improvements to the game’s music. Level files created using Deth or other Doom editors will work with this version.

The games are all compatible with modern RISC OS systems including the Raspberry Pi, Titanium etc. It will also run on pretty much any system older than the Acorn A7000+.

Commercial (£11.99) – Final Doom (Review)

R-Comp’s Final Doom port follows in the same vein as their Doom Trilogy release with some improvements to the game’s music and graphics over the original as well as some extra level packs to give more bang for your buck. Level files created using Deth or other Doom editors will work with this version.

The game is compatible with modern RISC OS systems including the Raspberry Pi, Titanium etc. It will also run on pretty much any system newer than the Acorn A7000+.


Connecting to Wi-fi with an Ethernet-to-Wireless bridge

posted in: Hardware | 5

Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I decided to do some rearranging of things around the house recently. Apart from a computer that runs without a monitor, keyboard or mouse connected to it, I was planning on moving all my machines to another room. The only system that put a spanner in the works was my Raspberry Pi running RISC OS 5 – which of course doesn’t support wireless.

I initially tried out powerline adapters to allow my electric cabling in the home to pass connectivity around the house and into the spare room, where I could then plug it up to my Pi. For most people, this solution would probably work but I found that there was something about the cabling in my property that was causing traffic on my LAN to loop – this resulted in about 25% of all my traffic dropping out.

Running an Ethernet cable from my router through to the other room wasn’t a suitable option either as the ball and chain my significant other would hang me out to dry.

So I looked at getting my hands on a Wireless-to-Ethernet bridge. I wasn’t sure on what compatibility issues with RISC OS I was going to run into, so I thought I’d start out cheap with something that has reasonably good reviews on Amazon.

I went for the Vonets VAP11G-300, which is an all-in-one wireless extender and wireless-to-ethernet bridge. It’s coined as being compatible with games consoles and printers so I figured as the device wouldn’t require drivers to work, it was likely to work on RISC OS.

The device can be powered by an external power adaptor or you can plug its built-in USB cable into a computer. The back of the device has a sticker with its MAC address and configuration panel details for you to log in with.

After being plugged into the power and connected up to my Raspberry Pi via ethernet, it was just a case of opening up the adapter’s local IP address (192.168.254.254) in a web browser and selecting my router’s Wi-fi network name from a dropdown list then entering the network password. (Edit: It looks like accessing the configuration page on RISC OS doesn’t work for everyone, your mileage may vary. Use a non-RISC OS computer to setup the network before switching the device back onto RISC OS if needed.)

Then I ran !Boot and went into the Network configuration section to set the Pi’s IP address to 192.168.254.100 and set the gateway and DNS server to 192.168.254.254. Setting the network configuration as Manual works best as selecting DHCP will most likely give a Gateway error.

Once that was done, RISC OS on my Pi was running on my Internet connection without a hitch, and I found it to be pretty reliable considering how inexpensive the device was (£15 on Amazon). I’ve had no issues with it located upstairs and my router being downstairs, although the signal strength does show at about 50% in the configuration webpage, which leads me to believe that if the distance was any larger between it and the router then I might have encountered problems.

All in all, if you’re looking to connect your RISC OS system to a Wi-fi network, this is a decent, cost-effective option.

Under the Microscope: Island of the Undead

posted in: Games | 0

An original first-person shooter for RISC OS is definitely a rarity, the last one I can think of is the woeful Destiny many moons ago.

Fortunately, Amcog Games’ The Island of the Undead seems to have a lot more going for it.

Officially unveiled at the Wakefield show back in April and released a few months later, The Island of the Undead is a retro first-person shooter written using the Amcog Games Development kit as well as a new 3D engine. The game is a commercial release and is available for purchase for £11.99.

The plot

The game is based around the protagonist finding themselves alone on an abandoned military base after being forced to land a plane on a seemingly deserted island due to lack of fuel caused by a fuel leak.

While searching for fuel, a notebook is found with a number of eery scribblings in them, written by the last person on the island. An experimental virus that was initially meant to extend life began killing test subjects before reincarnating them in zombie form. Oo-er.

So naturally, your aim is to find some fuel and bugger off of that island post-haste, but the zombies don’t intend on making it that easy…

The game itself

Island of the Undead is displayed in retro-styled 3D vector graphics and features five original music tracks, 360 degree movement and the quite handy addition of level codes – so you can jump straight back onto a level you were playing before without having to start from scratch again. As always with an Amcog game, sound effects are supplied by their very own RDSP sound module.

A nice feature of the game is a built-in map in the right corner along with a counter that keeps track of your score, ammunition, health and the amount of fuel you’re still to acquire before you can get in your plane and bugger off home.

Source code and level design are also included for everyone to see and tinker with.

Compatibility

As the game is written in BBC BASIC, it should play fine on a vast majority of RISC OS machines, old or new.

The game runs well on a Raspberry Pi 2 and I’d imagine it should be fine with pretty much any other modern RISC OS compatible board you throw at it – Titanium, Beagleboard etc.

Overall

Overall, another solid title from Amcog and some definite progression in terms of the type of challenges Antony is giving himself with this game appearing to be a much more difficult title to write when compared to previous releases.

The game is a digital purchase via the Pling Store. If you’ve got just over a tenner to spare and want to help support further RISC OS game development from Amcog then giving Island of the Undead a spin isn’t a bad shout.