Part 2 - Barriers To Adoption
Lack Of Essential Applications
Many classes of application that most computer users would regard as essential are under-represented, if represented at all, on the RISC OS platform.
There are a number of web browsers available for RISCOS. Unfortunately, none of the available web browsers can offer a complete, feature-rich web browsing experience that would be in keeping with the expectations of the modern user. One browser might suffer from poor performance and lacking OS integration while another might offer reasonable performance and native OS integration but be comparatively feature-poor. Most users who use RO for browsing do so by switching between browsers while surfing.
Peter Naulls has attempted to alleviate the browser shortcoming by porting the popular Firefox web browser. This project is ongoing but shows promise. Find out more about the project by clicking on this link http://www.drobe.co.uk/riscos/artifact1747.html. Peter Naulls is a well known figure on the Acorn scene and has a track record of doing what he says he's going to do.
It's hard for me to imagine not being able to use my computer for video playback. As a keen wild-life enthusiast it's often gratifying to be able to watch the latest nature documentary covering a subject such as the life-cycle of the noble platypus. OK, I admit that the preceding sentence was untruthful as I have no interest in nature documentaries - let's just say that it would be really inconvenient not be able to able to watch movies back on the computer. Look, I know what I've been doing, you know what I've been doing, you probably do it too ;-)
And there are some quite legitimate uses for movie playback. Apparently.
RISCOS isn't just an 'alternative OS', it's a 'minority OS' too. This means that it doesn't have the rich palette of software tools that an alt. OS such as Linux has. A lot of the basics are there but there are some glaring holes as well as some smaller, more subtle ones. If RISC OS were to be my main OS, I'd either have to change what I use my computer for or I'd have to switch over to another machine for certain tasks.
In summary, RISC OS lacks applications because it isn't popular, and on the other hand, its lack of applications is a barrier to more popular adoption.
Entry Level Cost
The cost of entry to the platform is high. The current workstations are very expensive when compared to Linux, Windows or Mac workstations. This is, in part, due to the low volume nature of native hardware production. 800 pounds could buy you a very nice Mac or PC. Or to look at it from a different angle, quite a nice little workstation with comparable multimedia and application capability could be cobbled together for not much outlay.
And this raises another problem, the PC platform gives the use access to both a well developed second hand market and the rapid pace of new hardware development. This means that a basic Internet and multimedia workstation can be slapped together from the parts that other people are throwing out. If someone gives you an old Pentium III, you can make it into a machine that might match a state of the art RISCOS work station in some capabilities and even surpass it in others.
In short, there is no 'low-end' if you want a reasonably capable RISC OS machine. You might get away with putting 50 pounds a year into an old PC that offers adequate performance for basic tasks but there it just isn't an equivalent price:performance balance on RISCOS. RISCOS workstations are prestige workstations with a correspondingly prestige price tag.
I'm going to to employ some cynicism for a moment here and make what I think might be a controversial point: I wonder why the two currently operating workstation manufacturers have custom designed their own hardware? The developers of both RISCOS branches have had to remove the legacy hardware support. I can't see what special RISCOS support is built into a machine like the Iyonix as the graphics are provided by an NVIDIA card attached via a PCI slot and the sound is also provided by a rather standard chip. In the case of the of the A9Home, there might be some justification in the custom hardware as they have abandoned a standard form factor to make the machine uniquely compact. I'll get further into this point in the final section of the article.
Total Cost of Ownership
Cost Of Software
RISCOS has a fair amount of free software available to it but a lot of the software is commercial or shareware. This means that, in order actually use a RISCOS powered computer, you might have to spend some money on applications. In contrast to this, it's hard to think of any class of application that isn't represented within the world of Linux freeware, for example. The quality of these apps ranges between being adequate for basic tasks and applications that meet or even surpass the quality typical of comparable commercial apps.
If a lone programmer works to create a good quality application for RISCOS, he is well within his rights to sell his software and many RISC OS users are willing to reward such an individual or company for their hard work by handing over some cash. This might extend to voluntarily donating to a worthwhile software project. Equipping a RISCOS workstation with a word processor, a vector art package and a few other little utilities might cost well over two hundred pounds. As reasonable and noble as this might be, this cost has to to be added to cost of actually buying into RISCOS in the first place.
There are other, small areas in which being a RISC OS user might cost you a bit more money. Just seen a MP3 player or digital camera on special offer at the supermarket? You can't buy it unless you're sure that it works with RISCOS. Situations such as this might seem minor but having to make sure that your add-on peripheral purchases work with RISCOS adds to the cost.
These are the sorts of issues that kept some people away from the Mac platform in the past. The entry level for a workstation was high and the software maintenance cost were similarly high. Small utilities which would be free on other platforms might each require a $10 registration on the Mac. Add to this cost of a couple of shareware drivers and the total cost of ownership implicit in using the platform increased still further. I wonder if this was one was one motivations in Apple's decision to include a fairly comprehensive software bundle with the OS?