GPS on RISC OS with Raspberry Pi HATs

posted in: Software, Technology | 0

hz320I’m sure most people are familiar with GPS today. It feels like it’s built into every kind of portable device on the market at the moment.

If you’ve recently traveled forward in time and you’re not aware of what GPS is, it is a global navigation satellite system that provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere on or near the Earth where there is an unobstructed line of sight to four or more GPS satellites.

Historically there’s hasn’t been a real need for GPS on RISC OS, as all computers running the OS have generally only been desktop machines and thus not very portable.

That’s all changed with the rise of small-form factor boards such as the Raspberry Pi, and now the capability is here.

SatNav (provisional name) is utility that receives GPS data from a module connected to the Raspberry Pi’s 40-pin header, interprets and decodes the data, displays location and bearing via its iconbar icon and transmits a ‘geo:’ URI.

Due to the availability of GPS modules in the form of  HAT boards, I’d say Satnav is more targeted at the Raspberry Pi at the moment. The picture in this article is Chris Hall’s implementation of the Adafruit Ultimate GPS HAT running RISC OS and Satnav in conjunction with RiscOSM in order to show the board’s current location.

Chris has advised however that there’s a possibility of supporting serial access on all RISC OS system which would allow a wide variety of  RISC OS computers to utilise GPS.

The tool generally requires other applications to implement its functionality. When used in conjunction with the vector map rendering application RiscOSM, Satnav can display the travel of the machine on a map.

What’s interesting with this development is GPS on a board running RISC OS could really appeal to people looking for a very light system that isn’t resource-hungry and can be placed into a portable environment and just work. At the moment, I can’t see it really being widely implemented without wi-fi support on RISC OS (for remote tracking), although if wireless support was ever to come in then I’d expect a takeup in the number of boards such as the Raspberry Pi 3 (which has built-in wireless capabilities) can report its GPS location back to another system.

The lack of wireless support on RISC OS aside, this could still be quite attractive for someone wanting a barebones embedded system – even if it only saves GPS location data to memory in order to be read later as a log.

Version 0.50 of Satnav can be downloaded from the Pling Store or directly from Chris Hall’s website.

A look at web browsing on RISC OS

posted in: Software | 0

Web browsing on RISC OS has never been the most streamlined experience. Historically Fresco and Oregano were the big boys of RISC OS web browsers, but as time went on their functionality became dated and the lack of support for things that most people take for granted these days, such as proper Flash and Javascript support, really saw the browsing experience on RISC OS take a bit of a nosedive.

The mid to late noughties saw NetSurf gather some steam, offering probably the best browsing experience for RISC OS users. A Firefox port courtesy of Peter Naulls was welcomed but has since become quite outdated, and although usable it doesn’t offer the same experience you would get from NetSurf.

Flash support on RISC OS has been incomplete for a number of years, but with Flash being generally phased out these days in favour of HTML5, that’s less of an issue.

Javascript however, has been the biggest problem users encounter when trying to browse the web on RISC OS. Netsurf implemented partial Javascript support on RISC OS in 2013, but the release of Otter Browser and Qup Zilla more recently has meant RISC OS now has fairly usable Javascript support – which is a huge plus at a time when a number of people are tuning into the platform for the first time through devices such as the Raspberry Pi and Beagleboard.

The release of Otter Browser and QupZilla RISC OS ports by Chris Gransden has really opened up the web browser space on the platform. They’re both based on QtWebKit, which is an open-source web browser engine. Javascript JIT support was enabled back in April.

These browsers now mean that a number of websites that were previously not accessible on RISC OS, are. Google Maps, Gmail, speed test websites and most banking and online shopping sites should not work, although patience is required as performance is not always the best with the ports in their current states.

Otter Browser in action

Otter Browser

Otter Browser is a free and open-source web browser that aims to recreate the best aspects of the classic Opera web browser using the Qt framework. Based on the QtWebEngine, Otter Browser is licensed under GPLv3 and is already established on Windows, OS X, Linux and BSD based systems.

The browser focuses on being visually appealing and feature rich over performance(although I haven’t had any major issues with speed or stability). Otter comes with a built-in password manager, bookmark and add-on manager as well as content blocking and spell checking tools. It has quite a customisable GUI, which allows the majority of the way it looks to be modified.

There is an Ad Block plug-in enabled as default, but users on the RISC OS Open forums have advised it can cause problems – namely increase memory usage and slower page loading that can sometimes cause pages not do display properly. Disabling the plug-in resolves the issue, this is recommended on devices that don’t have a tremendous amount of RAM and CPU power – the Raspberry Pi being a good example.

Otter is compatible with the majority of new wave RISC OS compatible devices. ARMX6, Raspberry Pi (1, 2 & 3), Pi Zero and Beagle/Pandaboard. It needs a minimum of 512MB RAM to run, it will run on older devices but don’t be surprised if it’s too slow to be useable. A Titanium-based computer such as the RapidO from CJE Micro’s or R-Comp’s TiMachine will give you the best performance.


Qup Zilla in action

Similar to Otter Browser, QupZilla is a lightweight browser based on the QtWebEngine engine. The projects aim is to provide a light and fast web browser that is compatible with as many platforms as possible.

QupZilla has all standard functions you expect from a web browser – it includes bookmarks, history and tabs.

The browser is compatible with the majority of new wave RISC OS compatible devices. ARMX6, Raspberry Pi (1, 2 & 3), Pi Zero and Beagle/Pandaboard.

Just like Otter Browser, there is an Ad Block plug-in enabled as default, but users on the RISC OS Open forums have advised it can cause problems – namely increase memory usage and slower page loading that can sometimes cause pages not do display properly. Disabling the plug-in resolves the issue, this is recommended on devices that don’t have a tremendous amount of RAM and CPU power – the Raspberry Pi being a good example.

It needs a minimum of 512MB RAM to run, it will run on older devices but don’t be surprised if it’s too slow to be useable. A Titanium-based computer such as the RapidO from CJE Micro’s or R-Comp’s TiMachine will give you the best performance.

If you’re looking for speed and stability over features, then you may want to opt for QupZilla over Otter Browser.

NetSurf (Best fit for old hardware, 26-bit & 32-bit)

NetSurf has been the dominant web browser on RISC OS for a number of years now. It’s an open source web browser that uses its own layout riscos-netsurfengine. It’s designed to be lightweight and portable, and was originally developed for RISC OS before being branched out to a wide array of platforms, including Windows, OS X, Unix-like systems, BeOS/Haiku and even AmigaOS and AtariOS.

Although it doesn’t have a huge array of features, it has everything most people needs and it does it in a fast and stable manner. It provides tabbed browsing, bookmarks and page thumbnailing. It also has limited Javascript support.

NetSurf is the best browser out there if you’re running RISC OS on older hardware, especially 26-bit machines like the RiscPC.

Although you’ve got a number of options available when it comes to browsers these days, it’s worth noting that the QuipZilla, Otter Browser and Firefox ports are not finished products, they do have bugs and they can be unstable. If you’re looking for a good, stable browser that can visit a good chunk of website (although it will hang up when trying to use services such as Google Maps or online banking) then NetSurf will be a good fit.


Mozilla Firefox is a hugely popular free and open-source web browser developed by the Mozilla Foundation, it is available for Windows, OS X, Unix-like systems and a variety of mobile platforms – including Android and iOS. It uses the Gecko layout engine to render web pages, which implements current and anticipated web standards.

Ported to RISC OS in 2005 by Peter Naulls as port of the Linux Porting Project, which involved porting a number of high-profile Linux applications over to RISC OS. Porting Firefox to RISC OS was a mammoth task and it was primarily funded by a large number of donations from the RISC OS community.

The browser works on RISC OS, and it is stable for the most part – although be warned if you’re expecting it to work just like it would on your Windows system, some website may not load fully due to limited Javascript support.

The latest version of Firefox for RISC OS is version 2.0, which is far behind current versions of the browser on other platforms. Looking through known vulnerabilities with older versions of Firefox, the vast majority will not be an issue on RISC OS systems which is a good bonus.

Firefox is compatible with all recent RISC OS compatible hardware, and it will run on a Raspberry Pi, although I’ve found it to be quite slow when compared to a more heavy duty board such as the Titanium or IGEPv5.

If you’re running an older 26-bit system (or emulator) like the RiscPC, then you’ll want to run the RiscPC version of Firefox.

Useful tools

So we’ve covered the main web browsers you have to chose from on RISC OS, here’s a few interesting utilities you may useful when browsing the web on RISC OS:

  • Murnong – Download YouTube videos to be played locally
  • BookMaker – An address book and browser hotlist manager
  • Searchy – A small utility that places a search bar just above the RISC OS iconbar
  • Wget – Command line utility to download files and webpages to your local system

Some notes from the 2016 London Show

posted in: Events | 0

RISC-OS-LogoOctober 29th saw the 2016 RISC OS London Show take place at the St Giles Hotel in Feltham, London. A number of interesting developments arose from the show, which over the last few years has arguable overtaken the Wakefield show as the biggest event on the RISC OS calendar.

Here are some very comprehensive notes from the show, written by Chris Hall.

I attended some of the theatre sessions, fewer than I would have liked as I had a number of things I wanted to buy, do and discuss at the show in between demonstrating my ‘GPS on RISC OS’ thingy. I had two battery powered Pi+GPS machines one using a Pi Zero and one using a Pi model A+. I turned them on just after 10 a.m. and one lasted until 4.15 p.m. and the other lasted until 6 p.m., just long enough to demonstrate it to Matthew Phillips as we walked to the railway station!

CJE Micro’s

Chris Evans reminded us that the last truly native portable solution was the Acorn A4 in 1991. He said that the PiTopRO has been available for about a month now, priced at £499 and contained a model 2 Pi, with an option for a model 3. He noted that ARM v8 compatability might present issues with the model 3, especially where an application had been compiled with older Unix libraries. The portable came with a PowerSave module (which turns the backlight down and thus improves battery life) and CPUClock so that processor temperature could be monitored. Wifi can be set up with the !Otter browser provided and there were controls for screen brightness and contrast.

PhotoDesk 3.12 had prevailed for about four years but an upgrade to 3.14 was now available to overcome problems on Pi 2, Pi 3, IGEPv5 and Titanium: it now copes with LTRGB modes, 64k modes on the Pi and with the zero page protection. Also progressive JPEGs were now supported.

ROOL had announced that the NutPi SD card had now been updated for the Pi model 3 but he noted that the update for PhotoDesk had not made it in time but that PhotoDesk 3.14 had addressed this issue and users should contact CJE about the latest changes to PhotoDesk.

The Rapido Ig and Rapido Ti: dual monitor output (where the desktop is split between two separate monitors) was still a bit fiddly so he was making no guarantees in this area. He noted that a 1920×1920 screen existed but that ‘if you had to ask what the price was then you probably couldn’t afford it!’.

Rapidly bringing the talk to a conclusion, he noted that a pair of USB speakers and an optical ‘no scroll wheel’ mouse were both now available at a more reasonable price. A pressure sensitive graphics tablet was being demonstrated on the CJE stand using PhotoDesk (where pressure sensitivity was already built in). The tablet was PaintPal compatible and was around £100.

Sine Nomine Software

Matthew Phillips introduced version 1.40 of RiscOSM which had some new features: it could present a map which followed a GPS location produced by !SatNav – by default (with no GPS signal present) a simulated walk around Midford was generated and communicated (as if it were a GPS signal) by messaging between the two applications. He showed the marker following this trail, RiscOSM could be asked to remember the route or to stop listening.

By registering, an inventory of Edinburgh’s buses could be obtained, as if requested by a browser, showing (in a ‘CSV’ file which RiscOSM would open and process) the position of each bus. Another new facility was to trace a route between two points in a special way, i.e. not just as a straight line between the two points but following roads, footpaths, railway lines etc. based on a stated mode of transport as a menu option.


Steve Revill said that he would review what had happened in the last year, since the last London show; describe the update to the NutPi; talk about the bounty process and provide a preview of the near future.

ROOL was now ten years old (since June 2016). The NutPi was a joint venture with commercial software providers to showcase cut-down versions of their software for the Pi. The model 3 (ARM v8) had introduced two issues – it was less easy to ‘lock down’ software to run on the Pi only and the lock down mostly failed to recognise the model 3 was permitted. Also ARM v8 compatability where some instructions were no longer supported. The Nut Pi had now been updated to include the model 3 and was on sale from the ROOL stand.

Turning to the Bounty scheme he noted that the JPEG bounty had been successfully implemented and Paint, Draw, ChangeFSI and Pinboard as well as the OS had all benefited. EDID work was currently under testing and the Paint and USB bounties had been claimed and were being worked on. New bounties being considered included the RISC OS network stack and WiFi.

He drew attention to a few projects which were not yet quite complete but were ‘coming soon’:

  • A new RISC OS Pico release was imminent, which would include the model 3.
  • A new RC-xx SD card image was a ‘few weeks away’, would include GPIO fixes and was expected ‘this side of Xmas’.
  • An update to the DDE with zero page fixes was waiting on two things – video driver and ‘delete on power on’ (and similar start up adjustments) during HAL initialisation.
  • The RISC OS User Guide was 52% complete.

A suggestion was made that where bids had been made for a bounty then the ‘progress’ could show not just ‘money received’ but also ‘money required’ – Steve offered to look into this.

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