This year, RISC OS Direct made its first appearance at the Southwest Show. A distribution of the operating system with more in the disc image than the standard offering found on the RISC OS Open Ltd website and in the Raspberry Pi NOOBS distribution, this version has an initial set up that is much friendlier for first time users – which is exactly who it’s aimed at.
To make it even more friendly for users, there is also a RISC OS Direct video series being produced – the first two instalments are already online. The series will be looking at various aspects of how RISC OS works, and how to get the best of it, but for the benefit of first time users – people who might not realise that saving files is done by drag and drop, or that the middle mouse button is used for the very specific purpose of opening a contextual menu, and so on.
There is a third step, though. One of the biggest failings in RISC OS is the help system – which by default presents any help information in a very limited way; if the Help application is run, it displays limited information about whatever is currently underneath the mouse; in essence, it tells the user what something does – but what if they want to find out how to do something instead?
Taking inspiration from a Microsoft innovation of old, Mr Clippy, crossed with modern digital assistants built into modern phones, the answer is Scoggy – a feature that will be included in RISC OS Direct with immediate effect, in a new version of the Help application.
In its simplest form it will just do what Help did before, but with a ‘friendly face’ (although looking at the sample image provided with the press release, I suspect some may dispute that – but perhaps it will be improved in time). As the mouse pointer moves around the screen, Scoggy’s eyes will follow it – so you know it is ‘looking at’ whatever you are pointing at. Stop moving the mouse, and Scoggy will helpfully tell you what you are pointing at, and what it does by way of a speech bubble and, if speakers are attached, a friendly, synthesised voice.
The next level of use is to deal with presses of F1 (normally used for help) in any application. When doing this, any help offered by the application is intercepted by Scoggy and again presented using a speech bubble and a voice. Some application help may be a little too much for a speech bubble, in which case Scoggy breaks it down into more manageable chunks and displays it one bit at a time.
However, to address the problem described above – to help the user learn how to do something rather than what something is or does, in a bit of meta-help, moving the mouse pointer over Scoggy will result in that speech bubble/voice telling you to “click on me to ask a question” – and if you do that, you get a multi-line, fully editable input box, into which you can type a question.
Scoggy will then analyse the question, and seek out the answer and present it to the user in the same way as before. It has two resources to draw upon, firstly a local database of information about commonly used applications, and common uses that a RISC OS computer might be put to, and secondly an online database, which it is hoped will be added to in time as more applications are developed, and more people learn tips and tricks about how to get the best of them.
If you want a preview of the application itself, a cut down version has been made available exclusively for RISCOSitory readers to download and try.