Part 3 - What It Would Take To Drag Me Back Onto The Platform
This section is the most speculative and therefore the most personal part of the article. If RISCOS is so great, why don't I use it? What would it take to drag me back? Personally, there is no way that I am buying into the current model of buying a very expensive, under-speced proprietary workstation or of paying quite a lot of money for periodic OS updates. Part of the reason is that I don't have a lot of money but even if I had an much larger income, I doubt that I could be convinced to invest in the platform as it stands at the time of writing. Here are some alternatives that would make me interested again:
Open up the source code:
Efforts in this direction have already begun on the part of Castle Technology's RISC OS Open project. Check out their FAQ for more info: http://www.riscosopen.com/ss_faq.html
At the time writing, RISCOS Open haven't actually released any source code but they have established a web presence for the project and made efforts to maintain contact with the RO community. Apparently, the planned release is being held back while the final polish is applied to the legal documentation. What follows is my (perhaps flawed) interpretation of the project from of the released facts:
In the documentation on the website, they do not explicitly state that they are planning to release the source code of the entire operating system even though it is implied by their stated goals for the project. They do state that they are planning a phased release of the source, and in that spirit, the first releases will be the source to some of the support applications and utilities.
They are not releasing the source code under an 'open source' licence such as the BSD. I for one welcome this move on their part. It's hard to see how they could hope to make money as a company if they were to simply 'give away' their product. The idea seems to be that, if a developer makes an improvement to a RISCOS component, the improved source has to be made public. RISC OS Open will then decide whether or not to move this improvement back into the the source code tree. Presumably, even if they do not, other developers will be able to reuse and build upon this work.
The second important aspect of this licence is that if you want to commercially exploit RISC OS code in this manner, you have to pay some royalties back to Castle. Again, this makes good sense to me.
My hope would be that at some point in the near future, in becomes possible to build a complete version of RISCOS from the sources. This means that the entire operating system could be theoretically ported to other hardware platforms. How much work this would actually entail remains to be seen, but remember, RISCOS 5 (the version that this release is probably going to be based on) is already free of any dependence on legacy, custom hardware. Some of RISCOS is very old but as RISCOS 5 has already been modified to run on currently available ARM chips, nearly every part of it has been at least looked at and recompiled in the last few years.
If this were to happen, it would open up the possibility of either community-based or commercial groups moving the OS to other hardware platforms. ARM powered motherboards, PDAs, set top boxes and even phones are ubiquitous and many of these could, in theory, serve as a platform for running RISCOS. Other groups having access to the source code of RISCOS means that further development of the platform can be focused around software development - in this case, porting the OS - rather than, usually more expensive, hardware development.