A roundup of 2021 news and releases not already covered on RISCOSitory
With 2021 now behind us, the time has come for one final round up of news that hasn’t already found its way onto onto these pages – although this time, in fact, it’s the only round up of such news for 2021; for 2020, a snippets post appeared half way through the year and then another just after the year ended – but no earlier post has been compiled for 2021.
This inevitably means that I’ve had more forum posts, etc., to read through in order to look out for news of releases and updates that weren’t sent directly to the bunker, which in turn increases the likelihood that I may have missed a thing or
two ten. Or twenty. Or more.
Ho hum. Anyway, on with the post.
The popular and powerful vector graphics package ArtWorks has been updated. Version 2.X3.01 is, according to Martin Wuerthner who now develops the ex-Computer Concepts package, the first release that is fully ARMv8 compatible. Upgrades are free for 2.X3.00 users, and chargeable for users of older versions.
Now is probably a good time to buy an upgrade for ArtWorks and any other of Martin’s products, because MW Software is currently holding a ‘crazy winder sale’.
For converting vector images, rather than creating them, Clive Semmens has updated one of his apps with names that just roll off the tongue, XP1Dr2SVG, which converts Draw files to Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) files.
Version 1.16 improves the handling of line caps and arrowheads. Caps now match the colours of the lines they are attached to, and arrowheads now match both the colour and dimensions of those in the source Draw file.
For viewing images rather than creating or converting them, Dave Thomas released a new version of PrivateEye, an image viewer that can handle a range of common bitmap formats, as well as vector graphics produced by Draw and ArtWorks. The program also offers some handy editing features, such as rotation and bitmap effects.
Version 3.10 of the image viewer brings enhancements to the way it handles JPEG files: Depending which version of RISC OS and SpriteExtend you are running, progressive JPEGs will be passed to the operating system when it is able to decode them. There are also improvements in the information reported on them.
Thump 1.56 alpha 18
Another image viewer is Thump, originally developed by Rick Hudson, and now being looked after by Christopher Martin – who has released a couple of updates to it. The program understands several common types, and allows them to be browsed via a filer-like thumbnail display. Images can be displayed in a slideshow, the thumbnail views can be saved as sprite or Draw files, and keywords, captions, and descriptions can be associated with images to enable searching.
The latest release, version 1.56 alpha 18, brings support for RISC OS 5 new format sprites.
Moving away from static images to videos, KinoAMP 0.55 was released by André Timmermans. The program is an application for playing MPEG files, either on the desktop or full screen.
Amongst a list of other things, a key feature of version 0.55 is that the software can now play DVDs directly from the DVD drive if the necessary software and/or hardware is present.
André also released an update to DigitalCD, the desktop music player with support for connected CD drives, internet radio, and audio file playlists. The update includes a number of problem fixes.
A front-end to play internet radio stations using MPlayer, Bernard Veasey released version 0.50 of NetRadio.
The update was necessitated by the BBC Internet radio station addresses changing; the new version includes the new addresses.
Chris Mahoney has spent a little time looking at SQLite, a C library that incorporates a SQL (structured query language) database engine – previously ported to RISC OS by The Really Small Software Company. Chris initially brought things up to date with a port of version 3.35.5, but has since progressed it further to version 3.37.
3.60 3.63 / ImpEmail 1.20 1.21
Relational database Impact, and the email mailmerge application ImpEmail saw new updates from Sine Nomine. The main new feature of the database was a new display of field definitions, along with other less significant improvements, such as better handling/interpretation of dates when only two digit years are input. A subsequent release addressed bugs introduced in the earlier release, affecting the Save and WimpPoll action script commands – but also enhanced the new ‘Field list’ window.
ImpEmail, the mailmerge application, gained support for BCC, Reply-To, and Sender fields, and the editor was improved to allow a triple-click to be used to select an entire merge command. It also now supports the inclusion of a signature in emails, with the source file being one of those used for Pluto and Messenger Pro.
Wimp messaging protocol for RiscOSM
An outcome of development on RiscOSM, Sine Nomine’s application for displaying maps based on converted OpenStreetMap data, is that third party software may have need to interact with it. A wimp messaging protocol has therefore been developed to allow developers to do this – and this is now available from Sine Nomine’s developer resources page.
As well as traditional ways to find somewhere – postcodes if it’s an address, grid references if it’s a more general location, and so on – a fairly recent approach is to assign a set of three words to every three metre square, thereby giving each one a unique three word address. Brian Jordan released an application in 2019 that made use of the protocol and could take a What3Word address, convert it to latitude/longitude, and open that location in RiscOSM.
Version 2.01 (direct zip download) adds the ability to convert to What3Word address, and much more.
YAL – Yet Another Locator
Sometimes it isn’t places that you need to find, though – sometimes it’s your keys. Or on a computer it might be files, possibly even ones that contain specific things. There are a number of solutions for this, and now there’s yet another one available from Gavin Wraith – YAL, or Yet Another Locator.
Using a text file to define your search term, drag a file (or a directory) onto its icon, and it will scan those files line by line, giving you a list in a task window of which lines in the file (or files) match that your criterion.
Ovation Pro utilities and applets
Gavin Crawford has added a few items to the selection of Ovation Pro-related goodies on his website:
- CallOPro and SendOPro are small utilities that make it possible to transfer data to the desktop publishing software, either from other software or the command line (and therefore Obey files). The first of these makes it possible to make an external call to a function in an Ovation Pro applet, and while the other allows a file to be sent to the application by simulating the effect of dropping the file onto its icon on the icon bar.
- Step and Repeat is an applet that can be added to and runs within Ovation Pro itself, and allows an object (or group of objects) to be duplicated, creating the number required both across and down the page to achieve a chosen layout.
- MapFind is a new applet that works with Ovation Pro and RiscOSM (or, technically, Nominatim) to look up place names and addresses from text selected within the DTP application.
- Another applet is Extra Functions – this being one that was already on Gavin’s site but which has now been updated. This applet, as you might guess from its name, adds some additional functions for use in the Ovation Pro script language (which is used for writing applets). The update adds two more functions to the existing set – one to return the page width, and the other to return the page height.
Ovation Pro 2.78f
And speaking of the desktop publishing application, David Pilling has released an update to Ovation Pro itself. Version 2.78f fixes a redraw bug. The download link will give you a zip file containing an application called Freshen that existing users can run to update their copy to the latest version.
David also released an update to Hearsay – a once commercial terminal communications package. The update to version 2.25 deals with keyboard extensions, allowing them to be turned off.
PackMan 0.9.7 (beta)
Alan Buckley pushed out a new version of PackMan, a packaging client that can be used to find and install software provided through the RISC OS Packaging Project. The new version saw SSL support re-enabled after it was accidentally removed in 0.9.6 – which itself gained a few improvements over previous versions, such as the ability to support the use of a proxy server for downloads.
For developers, Alan also released version 0.7.6 of TBX, his library designed to help with the development of C++ applications for the RISC OS desktop. One of the changes was to officially move it out of alpha status, as it has now been used in distributed programs for over a decade. Other changes include support for the global clipboard, support for toolbox TreeView and Tabs gadgets, and more.
GCC 4.7.4 release 6
A new version of the GNU Compiler Collection was announced by Alan on behalf of the RISC OS GCCSDK developers. Changes in version 4.7.4 release 6 include improved speed when loading shared libraries, shared memory improvements, support for running statically linked libraries that contain PIC, mmap implementation, and more.
DBack and DRest 1.02
Dave Higton has updated his backup and restore applications, DBack and DRest. The first will back up a directory tree – which can mean an entire drive – efficiently and smoothly, multitasking while it works, while the second is the companion application for restoring a backup. The 1.02 release extends encryption to the index file, allows large backups to be broken down into more manageable chunks, splits the index and log files, and adds CRC integrity checking.
In order to remind himself to switch off his cordless mouse and save wasting batteries, Dave put together a little program that listens out for a PreQuit message – which RISC OS broadcasts when it’s about to shut down – and in response pop up a message. With the message fully configurable, OnPreQuit can also be found on his website.
Coinciding with the 2021 London Show, a new version of RPCEmu was released. There have been a number of bugs fixed in version 0.9.4 of the multi-platform emulator that allows RISC OS to be run on other platforms, and the dynamic recompiler code has been refactored, so there are performance gains.
If you need to host a server of any kind from RISC OS, it’s now possible to configure ports to be forwarded between your host system and RPCEmu, HFE format floppy disc images are now supported, and if video RAM isn’t being used up to 4MB of RAM can now be used for video modes.
For users of Apple computers, Timothy Coltman has produced new binaries that allow the emulator to be run on Mac OS – and if you are using newer Apple machines which run on their ARM-based silicon, the interpreter versions are universal binaries that can be run on both Intel and ARM-based Macs.
Another emulator – this time of Archimedes era machines – is Arculator, from Sarah Walker, which is available for both Linux and Windows.
As well as bugfixes, version 2.1 adds support for emulating the Acorn A4 laptop and the prototype A500 machine. HFE disc image support has been added, along with support for emulating various podules, including the PC Card.
A new version of VNCServer – a small tool that uses the Virtual Network Computing protocol to allow one computer to be operated from another (running a VNC client) – has been updated to version 0.22 by Jeffrey Lee (but don’t be fooled by the date on that page – this was a 2021 change!)
The update moves to the use of a config file for setting it up, rather than star commands, and one of the settings is for a server/session name.
A conversion tool from John-Mark Bell, one of the NetSurf development team, TTF2f can take TTF and other font formats and convert them to RISC OS fonts suitable for use with the Unicode Font Manager.
Version 0.06 can be found on the NetSurf website and includes a fix for some broken glyph naming issues. This follows the update to 0.05, also during 2021 – the first update since 2011 – in which the application was rebuilt against a newer version of UnixLib and other libraries.
And speaking of NetSurf, version 3.10 of the lightweight browser has appeared. While it began life as a RISC OS application, it has long since been available for other platforms (here in the bunker, the Linux version was helpful choosing a new look for RISCOSitory to ensure as much RISC OS compatibility as possible).
A new version of PipeDream has been released by Stuart Swales. With version 4.59 the integrated word processor/spreadsheet application could be set up to be the default handler for any type of file it’s able to import, and the subsequent point release to 4.59.01 gave it a speed increase for determinant and inverse code for large matrices.
A new version of TaskCheck has been made available by John Williams. The goal of the very small BASIC program is to check, from within an application’s !Run file, if a particular program is already running – halting execution of the file (and therefore preventing the application from running) if it is. As such, it provides a quick and easy way to prevent multiple copies of the same program running. Version 0.04 incorporates a change to how quotation marks around filenames are handled.
John’s Pic_Index application makes use of TaskCheck in its own !Run file, so the download for version 1.24d of that has also been updated accordingly.
Various updates from David Ruck
David Ruck has updated a number of his old pieces of software this year, all of which can be downloaded from The ARM Club website:
- GraphTask provides a graphical taskwindow so that some non-desktop programs can be run in a multitasking desktop window, and supports VDU graphics plotting, numbered screen modes, and more. Dave recompiled the program to fix issues reported when running it on the Raspberry pi 4.
- Appstat, SWIstat, SERVstat, VECstat, and CPUload, are applications to monitor various aspects of the system, and have been updated to recognise new service calls, vectors, etc.
- ARMalyser, an ARM code analyser that can help when converting code to run on 32-bit systems, has been updated to version 0.67, with a number of corrections, improved CFront/C++ symbol name demangling, and a few other things.
And various items from Jim Lesurf
Jim Lesurf has also updated some of his (sound-related) software, and released something new – all of which can be found on his Audio Misc website:
- USBScope, which provides a virtual oscilloscope and spectrum analyser (when the computer is connected to a suitable USB analogue to digital converter) has reached version 2.04. The program is now able to capture more data-per-scan than previous versions, and it now also displays a pair of ‘peak programmme meters’ to provide a better view of samples being captured.
- USBScopePlus is an extension to USBScope, adding the ability to output test waveforms to the scope, provide fast fourier transform spectrum analysis, etc.
- USBAudioProbe can scan the host computer system and list any USB audio devices it finds that are connected, with details about them.
Paolo Fabio Zaino took his WakeOnLAN utility – already available via the RISC OS GitHub community – and packaged it up so that it can be found and installed via RISC OS Packaging Project client applications, such as PackMan. As its name suggests, the utility provides a way to send ‘Wake On LAN’ packets to sleeping network devices that support the protocol, in order to wake them up ready for use.
Desktop modernisation project
Speaking of Paolo, why not take a look at his efforts to modernise the RISC OS desktop – an attempt to address a fairly common criticism of RISC OS; that it looks and feels ‘dated’. This (to be fair, along with other shortcomings such as the lack of a modern browser) also contributes to the idea that it’s a retro platform.
For an example of what Paolo is working on, this is the most recent video of his LaunchPad application, which aims (and already looks) to be a huge improvement on the Apps folder.
RISC OS Community videos
And speaking of videos, two others that have been uploaded to the RISC OS Community YouTube channel alongside the WakeOnLAN tutorial cover installing RISC OS on a suitable card for the Raspberry Pi, and resizing the card image so that the space on a larger card isn’t just forgotten about and therefore wasted. The necessary tools to carry out the task are linked in the video description.
The videos themselves are very well put together, and as more added the channel should become a very useful resource for new or less technical RISC OS users.
TailWimp Lite is a utility from Andreas Skyman for rearranging windows. Inspired by window managers on other platforms that support window tiling, the program – which Andreas notes isn’t a fully fledged tiling window manager, hence the ‘Lite’ part of the name – allows windows to be moved around using keyboard shortcuts.
Cat 0.30, SatNav 2.30, FamTree 1.52
Chris Hall has released updates to Cat, FamTree, and SatNav – all of which can be downloaded (or bought if necessary, in the case of FamTree) from !Store.
- SatNav has been updated to version 2.30, and the new version addresses some bugs, and now reflects the finalised messaging protocol.
- Cat is an application that can catalogue a disc (or directory tree) visually, in tree format. Amongst other recent changes, it now shows top level objects in descending size order, and the find option now treats the input text as a potential substring of any filenames, rather than look for an exact match.
- FamTree, Chris’ application that allows amateur genealogists to store family tree data in a directory tree, and produces a family tree from that data, is now at version 1.52. Changes include better ability to handle proportional fonts, better handling of long text lines in source data files, and the ability to handle UTF-16 encoded GEDCOM files.
Chris has also released a new application, called RingBind (which he seems to keep referring to as RingBound to confuse people) – also to be found via !Store. The program handles files with the type ‘Bound’ (&1EB), displaying them in a window to look like a ring-bound book or manual. Clicking on index tabs (or the bottom corners) will allow you to move through its pages.
It has received a few small updates since the initial release, with the latest – version 0.15 – appearing in early January. If you peek inside the application directory, you should find the necessary instructions and resources to produce your own Bound file from other documents, though Chris hasn’t done the obvious and turned that process into an application and called it HolePunch.
Counting lines of Code
CLOC – an acronym that expands to Counting Lines of Code – is a small program from Richard Coleman to, er, ‘count lines of code’.
The program will analyse code written in a number of different programming and script languages, and report how many blank lines, comment lines, and actual lines of code there are in the program.
Matrix screen saver
If you’ve found the last couple of years to be a bit of a drain, and wish the whole thing was just a simulation that you might hopefully one day wake up from, Richard has has also produced something that might help you imagine that could one day happen.
Based on code by Jacob Scorber, and described in this video, he’s released a BBC BASIC version of a Matrix-style screen saver – so now you can reinforce that dream of one day waking up from the current mess… into something worse.
If you’ve ever wanted to save multiple copies of a file with a single save operation, Gavin Wraith has come up with a program to allow just that with MultiSave (Zip). The program sits on the icon bar, and to perform a multi-location save you drag your save icon onto it. It will then make a copy of that file in each of the locations specified in its internal ‘target-file’.
An obvious flaw here is the need to set up the targets in a text file. If you only need to do something like this occasionally, it may be quicker to just have the necessary target locations open and copy a file between them after a single save, but if you have a recurring need to save a file in several places (especially if those destinations are the same each time) this could be handy.
If your main storage medium lacks a disc activity indicator, but you’d like to see when data is being written to or read from disc, Steve Drain has come up with a simple solution for you. Discobolus (zip) is small module to show any activity at the mouse pointer. It switches the mouse pointer to the hourglass version – using (by default) a red one reads, and orange for writes – though its appearance doesn’t reflect the time taken for the operation to complete.
Python 3.8.8 and Pygame 1.9.6
Chris Johns has brought the Python port up to date (at the time of release) with version 3.8.8, which can be installed via PackMan, along with a version of Pygame 1.9.6 (found via the package manager as Python-38-pygame).
The Sudoku (and other) puzzle generator and solver, Superdoku, was updated to version 1.32 by Sine Nomine to fix a bug. The problem was spotted as a result of its inability to solve one very specific puzzle – the Hard Futoshiki puzzle in the 23rd April edition of Guardian Weekly – though it’s likely other puzzles will also have been affected.
Munchy and Decrypt
Terry Swanborough, the developer of RiscPCB, has released ‘a clone of a classic maze game’, which he’s titled Munchy. He followed that up with a ‘decrypt logic’ game, a brain teaser in which you have to find the hidden code – another clone of an old classic.
Both can be downloaded from the RISC OS page on Terry’s MB Electronics website.
Hopper screen mode update – and a desktop version
Terry also took a look at Hopper, found in the diversions directory of recent RISC OS disc images, and discovered that it wouldn’t run on his Titanium – the problem apparently being the screen mode in which it runs (mode 13). A little investigation of the sources later, and he had a version running in mode 28, and made it available to download (zip). More recently, he’s also made available a version that runs in the desktop (zip).
The Great Escape 0.94 erm… escapes
Dave Thomas released a test build of The Great Escape version 0.94. An isometric arcade adventure, the game is based on a classic ZX Spectrum game, set in a German prisoner of war camp in 1942 – playing a prisoner, your goal is to escape.
The new version provides the ability to save games in progress to human-readable (and therefore editable) text format.
USB Joystick Driver 0.20
Something that can be handy for playing games (if the games support them) are joysticks and joypads. To help with that, there’s a USB joystick driver available for RISC OS, developed by Richard Walker, which he updated in January to version 0.20.
Conway’s Game of Life
Not so much a game and more of a way to idle the time away, Paul Sprangers put out a new version of his Game of Life application. Based on the famous concept by John Conway, the idea is that individual cells (represented on a grid) live or die based on the cells around them; you set an initial layout of cells, and set the program running a life cycle, to see how things progress.
Version 2.00 benefits from numerous bug fixes over the previous releases, as well as many enhancements such as larger grids, easier grid manipulation, keyboard control, and faster animation. It also comes with almost a thousand pre-defined patterns to be explored.
Cameron Cawley has ported OpenSupaplex to RISC OS.
The original Supaplex was released in the early 1990s, and OpenSupaplex is an open source reimplentation of that. The game is based on Boulderdash – which was itself the inspiration for Repton. And, er, Drop Rock.
For fans of the Japanese comic format, Rick Murray released a new version of his viewer app, Manga. Version 0.59 includes a number of changes: For example, it increases the list fetched of latest Manga publications to a second page, search is now implemented, and also gains from an extra page of downloaded results, and more. Rick noted on release that the automatic updated doesn’t pick up this version, but you can force it to do so by starting the application and holding down Shift until the update notification appears. Or you can just grab the new version from !Store.
CPUClock is a program from Chris Johnson that, on modern RISC OS platforms, can switch the CPU speed between fast and slow speeds as necessary, depending how much load the CPU is under. If the system isn’t being worked too hard the CPU may as well run at a lower speed, saving whole pennies of electricity (we’re talking ARM, after all), and producing less heat. As well as being able to tell you the speed and temperature, the application can also be configured to drop the speed if the temperature reaches a particular level.
If you are using a Raspberry Pi with a suitable fan attached, version 2.08 added the ability to switch the fan off or on according to the temperature, and version 2.09 dealt with some pesky bugs. The program can be found as a package via your favourite manager, or downloaded from Chris’ website (mirror).
80 BBC and Electron Books on CD ROM
According to Christopher Dewhurst, the 55 BBC Micro Books on CD ROM, released in 2013, has continued to be one of Drag ‘n Drop‘s best selling products – so this year he decided it was time to update it, and has released a follow-up – 80 BBC Micro & Electron Books on CD ROM (or USB flash drive), featuring over 17,000 pages of material, over 3,000 typed-in and debugged listings, and more, all for just £14.00 (CD ROM)/£16.00 (USB flash drive).
The Application Tutorial and Listings Book
Also new from the same stable is The Application Tutorial and Listings Book, which aims to be a guide to help you write desktop applications in BBC BASIC, with type-in listings to demonstrate various concepts along the way. The 310 page, A5 wirebound manual is priced at £20.00 plus shipping.
Programmers might find Anton Reiser’s SWI400A1 handy. It’s a small application that allows you to ‘explore’ the SWI Font_ScanString, and it does this by presenting a window with all the arguments that gets to the SWI, along with a preview section, so the user can see the results of changing the values.
In development by Jon Abbott is a partition manager, the aim of which is to provide a way to configure, initialise, and visualise partitions and volumes under our various filing systems – though it doesn’t aim to add partition support to the OS itself.
The latest version is 0.70 and can be found on the JASPP forum if you’d like to try it out for yourself – but please note Jon’s warning at the end of that post.
RSS feed reader Sargasso is now at version 2.0.9. Available through your favourite package management application, Chris Gransden’s update to the program allows an adjust click on its icon bar icon to update its feeds.
Pyromaniac system demonstration
The guest speaker at November’s RISC OS User Group of London (ROUGOL) meeting was Gerph, following up his talk from a year earlier on Pyromaniac. An implementation of RISC OS in Python, Pyromaniac started life as the RISC OS Build Service, and his talk aimed to cover his plans for the system and how they’ve adapted to the direction the development has taken him.
Part of the talk was to be a system demonstration, but that part had to be cut short because his presentation ran for a little longer than expected, so he has since recorded the demonstration and put it online, along with other resources relating to the talk.
Codecraft 4 RISC OS coding contest
Occasional RISC OS programming contest CodeCraft returned in 2021 for its fourth showdown, its first appearance since Codecraft 3 in 2001. The competition is simply to encourage people to write short programs in a number of size-related categories, ranging from 256 bytes up to 4kB.
The entries (and winners) are listed on the Codecraft 4 website, along with downloads of the various entries, and links to YouTube videos for some, so people can see what the running programs look like, even if they don’t have the right platform to run them.
Digital Symphony file support in OpenMPT
Most users will be familiar with music trackers, a kind of sequencer that allows sound samples to be loaded and played back at different notes according to a defined pattern. If you’ve played many games on RISC OS – particular those around in the 1990s – you’ll almost certainly have encountered music produced this way.
One of the more widely known trackers on RISC OS was Digital Symphony, and OpenMPT (ModPlug Tracker), a popular tracker application for Windows, has now gained support for Digital Symphony files, allowing those files to be loaded, played, and edited on Windows.
Cross platform sprite converter
If you need to make use of a RISC OS sprite on another platform, but don’t have a RISC OS computer handy, Gerald Holdsworth has released a converter program that might be just the job. His open source converter is available for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS, and can either load and view RISC OS sprites, or convert them to either Windows bitmap (BMP) or Portable network Graphics (PNG) format.
Cross platform StrongHelp viewer
Steffen Huber has developed a cross-platform tool to access StrongHelp files, so you don’t need to have access to a RISC OS computer (or an emulation) in order to do so. Well, as long as you have a suitable Java Runtime environment handy, because that’s what it’s written in. His StrongHelpViewer can also act as a converter, and turn those StrongHelp manuals into HTML files.
Syntax colouring on other platforms
Another cross platform resource, but a handy one for RISC OS programmers, Gerph has updated his syntax colouring modes for other platforms, in case you might want to edit any RISC OS files on those platforms.
- The Nano syntax for CMHG files is now improved, and better understands directives that you might include in CMHG files, making it easier to see when there’s a typo in the names.
- For users of text editor Sublime, there’s a CMHG mode, offering simple colouring – though Gerph notes that it isn’t as good as the Nano version – and a BBC BASIC one, which mostly offers simple colouring for BASIC keywords.
Farewell RiscCAD website, hello RiscCAD Facebook group
David Buck has shuttered his business website and email accounts, from which RiscCAD – a 2D computer aided design package – was available to buy. To replace it, he has set up a Facebook group for the software, so anyone wishing to buy the software or who needs help with it can contact him through that.