The Education Column
Andrew Harmsworth continues his series
Salutations! After a long summer trekking around Canada, moving classrooms, and finally climbing onto the property ladder, the education column is back.
First, a little moan. Last time I asked you, assuming there is anyone out there reading this, for a little light feedback on what you would like to see in this column. Not a jot. Not one electronic e-note. Not one iota! So go on, feel guilty please. I really would like to know your thoughts on RISC OS in Education.
This month I take a look at an interesting use of search engines, dare to poke a dig at VA5000 (What?- ED), highlight one of RISC OS Select's bonus features that has a big part to play in networking, and get my hands on a potential winner for cash-strapped schools: eQ labs' !RDesktop.
Acorn Who? Why the Link?
The old Acorn websites no longer exist, and www.acorn.com is now owned by Acorn Technology Fund, Princeton. Yet many enthusiasts and developers' website still point to these sites! How do I know this?
This web link takes you to AllTheWeb.com's advanced search facility. This is an excellent search engine, and produces - in this case - better results than Google.
Fig. 1: Using the advanced, yet simple to use, search facility.
It is not necessary to enter a word to search for - the very act of setting up a search for pages that must include www.acorn.com in the link to URL is enough.
Fig. 2: First results.
The links that appear are surprising: The C Acorn User Group, Stuart Tyrrell Developments, the Scottish Mathematics Council - and at number 5, one of my own websites! And you thought your website was up to date! Well, mine is now, so probably won't be listed if you try it yourself. I've also dropped Stuart Tyrrell an email, so we'll have to see if he updates it.
(Editors aside - if you want another classic example of out of date links then check out www.riscos.com/authorised_installers/uk.htm go to the Wales section and you will see Uniqueway listed with an e-mail address of firstname.lastname@example.org - however if you try going to www.uniqueway.co.uk you will find the domain seems to be up for sale!
So having changed one of my web pages, how can I find out if anything else I run is still badly linking? Go back to AllTheWeb and set Must Include (url of site) in the URL. Pleasingly, no more of my pages appear to link to www.acorn.com!
I'm about to take over as Radiation Protection Advisers (RPA) for my school. I thought it was probably a good moment to search for pertinent documentation about this, without having to dig through piles of paper in the office. Obviously there are similar tasks assigned to physicists the world over, so once again ones use of the web requires fine-tuning.
In both Google and AllTheWeb it is an easy matter to direct searches to uk-only pages. In Google, the words site:uk added after the search term will only report sites with domains ending .uk, whereas in AllTheWeb one has to first go to the advanced search page, and find a relevant option there.
Fig. 3: Forcing Google to report .uk sites only.
These sorts of searches can be extremely useful, as they help you to reduce the number of pages that get reported to something much more manageable. More importantly, it helps in many cases to find the information you're after. I'm a firm believer that schools should stop teaching how MSWord works, and concentrate on the more useful aspects of education!
For the record, Stuart Tyrrell emailed me within minutes to tell me that the page I found was on an old server, and only exists to prevent page not found errors coming up.
RISCOS Ltd have recently published their third annual report. In it they specifically address the concern that schools have largely ditched their old Acorns. Apparently there are a number of independent sector schools who have upgraded to RISC OS 4. But what of Select?
Unlike RISC OS 4, Select was never designed with thought for schools. However, it does have benefits. For example, my own RISC OS 4/Select StrongARM RiscPC has been able to operate completely effectively over our school network since the new version of OmniClient was released under the Select scheme. In fact, it even allows my machine to see MacOS machines running AppleTalk - to the amazement of the Music School who use them.
Fig. 4: Select's new OmniClient sees all!
Figure 4 shows the machines accessible at time of typing this article, none of which are Acorns. Yet, in all cases, files can be accessed as easily as if it were on a local drive.
Given the original price charged for OmniClient, this feature alone makes the Select subscription excellent value for money - assuming that you have and need access to a multi-platform network.
For some years, network users of Acorns have been able to access Windows sessions over a Windows Terminal Server (WTS), or alternatively Citrix Metaframe software. The Acorn clients have been developed by Microlynx, and are bundled as TopCat.
Just as I was about to submit this article, it was announced by eQ lab that a preview version of an Acorn RDP client was available:
Fig. 6: !rdesktop's preview page on the eQ labs' website.
This is a client for Windows 2000 Terminal Services and Windows XP Remote Desktop Connection. I immediately downloaded the software, as my RiscPC is hung on a school network that supports WTS. There are two applications provided currently:
Fig. 5: !rdesktop and its setup application
One simply sets up the server name, and your login details. The other is the client itself. After setting it up, amazingly I was immediately presented with a logon screen, which gave me full access to a Windows session on our network:
Fig. 7: Accessing Windows sessions using !rdesktop
Their website says that it is "running well on a [RiscStation] and A7000". On my StrongARM RiscPC it flies! Should this be released fully operational (at the moment it does occasionally fall over due to network errors) it might be a useful addition to Citrix clients already in place. Since it is released under the GNU Public Licence (GPL) there are no licence costs. This is certain to be an incredibly useful piece of software for many people. It therefore gets the RiscWorld Highly Recommended award. Bravo!
Virtual Acorns: At Last, A Failing!
Since first getting hold of the demo of VA5000, I have been impressed at how useful it is. However, I have discovered a flaw: if the PC on which it runs fails, you have no VA5000! This is the situation I am in at the moment in my lab, as my Windows 98, PII-333 is running so slowly that if you click to open a folder it takes nearly an hour to achieve this. Meanwhile, the hard disc just thrashes. No, it's not full. No, there's loads of memory. Yes, it needs a new installation of Windows.
Well, that about wraps up the column for this bi-month, except to say I've again telephoned RiscStation Ltd, to discuss the issue of the laptop that I've ordered. I was told that shortly everyone who has a deposit down will receive an email outlining the final stages prior to its release. In addition the website, out of date for some time, is to receive a complete re-write in a bid to improve customer communications. All good news. However they are still awaiting the final pre-production prototype, a complete re-design from the original.
Perhaps we should hope to see it by Christmas?
If you have any questions or comments on the use of RISC OS computers in education, please either email email@example.com or better still join the RISC OS Education Discussion List, and air them there.