A look at the new Raspberry Pi 3 A+

posted in: Hardware | 1

A new member of the Raspberry Pi family was unveiled this week. The Raspberry Pi 3 model A+ features the same 1.4GHz ARMv8 Cortex-A53 processor as the existing Pi 3 model B+ – but instead is more focused on the embedded market, with a smaller form factor and 512MB of RAM instead of 1GB.

Bluetooth 4.2 is supported as well as 2.4GHz and 5Ghz b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi. Power is still taken in through a micro USB connector as well as graphics coming from the usual HDMI slot and storage via a micro SD. The GPIO header as well camera and touchscreen ports are still present.

There is only one USB 2.0 port with this board, which instantly makes it less attractive for the desktop user as you’d need a USB hub to use a mouse and keyboard in conjunction with it. The Ethernet port is gone too, although Internet connectivity should be achievable through a USB-to-Ethernet adapter providing you’re using an up-to-date version of RISC OS 5.

ROOL have confirmed that RISC OS 5.26 and above is already compatible with the board should you want to tinker about with it for a lower price of £23 instead of the £32 price point that the Pi 3 B+ goes for.

Probably not an ideal board for most RISC OS users unless you have a specific requirement for a cheap, small RISC OS system – but nevertheless, this board does offer a good amount of bang for your buck.

Specs:

  • Broadcom BCM2837B0, Cortex-A53 1.4GHz processor
  • 512MB LPDDR2 SDRAM
  • 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz IEE 802.11.b/g/n/ac wireless LAN
  • Bluetooth 4.2/BLE
  • Extended 40-pin GPIO header
  • 1 × full size HDMI port
  • MIPI DSI display port
  • MIPI CSI camera port
  • 4 pole stereo output and composite video port
  • Micro SD format for loading operating system and data storage
  • 5 V/2.5 A DC via micro USB connector

RISC OS gets the open source bug, finally!

posted in: General | 0

Two decades since Acorn Computers packed its bags, RISC OS has become fully open source. This move marks a big step forward for the community as a whole by getting rid of the license restrictions that has limited parts of the operating system’s development in some form or another since Acorn parted ways with it back in 1998.

In a nutshell

RISC OS Developments Ltd, formed last year by R-Comp’s Andrew Rawnsley and Orpheus Internet’s Richard Brown, has acquired Castle Technology along with RISC OS itself – marking an end to the shared source initiative that allowed RISC OS Open Ltd. to develop RISC OS, with Castle Technology retaining ownership of the operating system.

It has since been announced that RISC OS 5 will be re-licensed as open source effectively immediately – allowing for RISC OS Open to continue development without any restrictions.

ROOL co-founder Steve Revill’s thoughts on the news:

This re-licensing represents the achievement of the primary goal RISC OS Open originally set out to achieve. It is a key milestone for an important part of British computing history and the fulfillment of my long-held personal ambition to enable anyone to use RISC OS freely and contribute openly to its future.

How we got here

It’s been a bumpy and quite long-winded road to get to where we are now.

The Acorn break-up in 1998 ended up with Pace (who later merged with Arris) taking ownership of RISC OS who wanted to use it for its range of set-top boxes and other embedded systems. The desktop version of RISC OS was licensed out to RISC OS Ltd. who developed RISC OS 4 and eventually 6 (but not 5). Their version of the OS was then supplied with the various post-Acorn 26-bit computers that emerged on the RISC OS market in the late 90s and early 2000s – namely the RiscStation ARM7500, MicroDigital Mico and the Acorn RiscPC and A7000 line that Castle Technology continued producing.

Castle later emerged with RISC OS 5, a 32-bit version of RISC OS that would be future proof for newer ARM processors hitting the market. Castle claimed it had the rights to release and develop this version of the OS based on an agreement they’d secured during the Acorn-Pace transition. RISC OS 5 was released with the Intel XScale based Iyonix PC in 2002.

After much debate and controversy between RISC OS Ltd. and Castle as well as the community itself, Castle ended up acquiring RISC OS 5 from Pace while RISC OS Ltd. could continue developing its own 26-bit flavor.

2006 saw Castle announce that the source code would be opened up to the public under a ‘shared source’ license, meaning you could basically use and improve it as you wanted for non-commercial purposes. It is thought this decision was made because production of the Iyonix PC was coming to an end and the size of the RISC OS market at the time wasn’t big enough to make another fully-fledged commercial system viable.

Despite some development from RISC OS Ltd. (now 3QD Developments), their variant (RO 4 & 6) has now pretty much completely halted and is only compatible for legacy 26-bit hardware (pre-Iyonix).

The shared source license allowed for the birth of RISC OS Open who’ve taken RISC OS 5 from strength to strength ever since, including porting RISC OS 5 to a number of new platforms, including the hugely successful Raspberry Pi, which RISC OS has been fortunate to have been riding wave with since the beginning, in turn opening up the OS to a huge market of potential users, something that I wouldn’t have dreamt of back in 2004/2005.

If the last decade is anything to go by, the next decade with RISC OS as an open source operating system is bound to be an exciting one.

Reading Manga from your RISC OS desktop

posted in: Software | 0

As someone who’s never been an avid manga reader in the past, I took a look at !Manga from Rick Murray out of curiosity more than anything.

I was expecting an offline reader that would take in some sort of file containing the manga book you want to view and then spit out the book at you in pages. How very wrong I was! Manga is actually a graphical interface and reader for all manga books hosted at mangareader.net – which gives you access to thousands of free manga titles.

Manga can be downloaded for free from the Pling Store. Installation is very straightforward, you unpack !Manga from its zip file and drop it to where you want on your system.

When run, an icon appears on the icon bar that when clicked it will bring up a menu that gives you access to a huge list of manga books that once selected, will be downloaded on the fly via an SSL connection to mangareader.net.

The main window will display details of the book, its author, what way the book is to be read (right-to-left usually with manga) and a few other details.

Flicking through pages is a little slow at times due to it pulling stuff from mangareader.net, but it’s definitely useable.

Rick has emphasised on this ROOL Forum thread that Manga is not complete yet, and does have some kinks to work out. Although from my time using it, it has only crashed once, so the program is definitely usable for reading manga for more than just a few minutes.

Compatibility-wise, Manga seems to work on most RISC OS machines you chuck at it. It works fine on my Raspberry Pi 2, it’s been reported to work fine on an ARMX6, Pandaboard and even a RiscPC running RISC OS 4.39.

Whether you’re into your manga or not, Manga is a pretty impressive project and is definitely worth checking out. It is still under development, you can keep tabs on how Rick is getting on with it on the ROOL Forums.

Under the Microscope: Passwords

posted in: Software | 1

A year ago I took a look at what password manager options there were out there for RISC OS, that article covered Passman from Kevin Wells as well as Qupzilla’s built-in password manager. I didn’t however cover !Passwords by John Peachey, who’s recently updated it to work on newer hardware such as the Raspberry Pi and Titanium – so without further ado, let’s take a look…

Passwords can be downloaded from John’s website, it requires the WBModule to run, which can also be downloaded from the same page.

Installation is as easy as you might expect for a small application like this, you unpack !Passwords from its zip file and drop it to where you want on your system.

When run, it opens up an icon on the icon bar, where you can click into the main password database or open up a configuration menu that allows you to hide the main window on display or to enable/disable the application’s ability to open up the password prompt to view your passwords when the application runs (by default you need to click on the icon bar menu to get a prompt to login to the password database and view/amend your passwords).

Adding, removing and amending passwords in the database once you’ve entered your password to login is as straightforward as you’d expect. There’s an option to name your password (i.e. Facebook login) and an option to add the username for that particular site/system, an optional comment and of course the password itself.

You’re given a default password to login to Passwords to begin with. You can change that password by clicking into the main passwords screen, middle-clicking and selecting ‘Change’. The password isn’t stored in plain-text within !Passwords or anywhere else on the system which is good.

The passwords themselves are stored in an encrypted format, although I can’t for the life of me identify what form of encryption has been used, they don’t appear to be hashed (MD5, SHA1 etc.) so I’m going to hazard a guess that they’re being compressed in some form or another. I wouldn’t bank on it being uncrackable but it gets the job done.

That’s all there is to tell really. Passwords is a nice, small little password manager that does exactly what it says on the tin, it stores your passwords safely.

Running RISC OS on Linux without emulation

posted in: General, Technology | 3
RISC OS Desktop on a Samsung Chromebook – Image: Jan Rinze

Back in February 2017, Timothy Baldwin announced on the RISC OS Open forums that he was working on an experimental port of RISC OS to Linux. Fast forward a year and a half later and the project’s progress has been impressive.

This port allows you to run RISC OS directly from within Linux, without the need for an emulator such as RPCEmu or Qemu.

The main advantage of running RISC OS directly means that, unlike virtual machines such as RPCEmu, there is no restriction on what RISC OS programs can do to the Linux environment, beyond that provided by Linux itself.

So the interaction between RISC OS and the host system will be similar to that of the Linux Subsystem that is implemented in modern versions of Windows. This allows for RISC OS to be able to interact with the host directly, rather than having to treat is as a separate machine on a LAN like you would with an emulator.

RISC OS Open Limited’s Desktop Development Enviroment (DDE) is required to build RISC OS. So this is required if you want to build this Linux port yourself. The DDE is proprietary software that can be bought from RISC OS Open directly.

This port can be built in a similar fashion to the traditional method as documented on ROOL’s website, it is not necessary to run InstallTools as the relevant files will be accessed from the DDE without copying. However this will not build the SDL front-end which connects RISC OS to the Linux graphics system, without it RISC OS is limited to a text only interface.

The port is by no means complete at the moment, but it does allow for a usable RISC OS desktop with working networking and domain resolution.

What this symbolises to me is – in a similar vein to how the emergence of the Raspberry Pi and similar boards a few years ago completely changed the way people use RISC OS for the better – this could open up much more opportunities for RISC OS later on down the line as the project progresses.

The Linux port of RISC OS can be downloaded from its GitHub page, which also has instructions for compiling it. For more information on the project check out this thread on the ROOL forums.