Acorn World '97 Transcripts

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Acorn World 97 This is the complete transcript of the Chris Cox and Peter Bondar talk at Acorn World '97 on Saturday, 1st of November. All text has been written down as accurately as possible. Words between square brackets are guessed or missing whenever they could not be understood after a couple of times rewinding the tape. Especially the Q&A's were sometimes hard to understand. Some headlines have been added for your convenience. New questions and answers have been added (26-11-97). Enjoy! - LogiX
Chris Cox

Chris Cox


Why is the RiscPC been such a successful product? And the answer to that is, a really well designed piece of kit, it had tremendous upgrade capabilities, so we have been able to expand it, keep it going, keep it moving with things as new developments come in. But one of the things which really make the RiscPC, where its name came from, the PC part of its name, was the ability to run what other people intend to call, "industry standard" applications. I hate that term at the moment. I'm sure everybody else here does, but that's what everybody else calls them.

However, having said all that, the world in which we are operating is now changing. Things are moving on and changing and one of the biggest drivers for this is the increasing use of networks, both local are networks within buildings, within schools, within offices and so on and also wide area and the Internet. I would have [thought?] the majority of the people in this room have used a computer which is connected to some form of network. And with the introduction of networks is come a lot of platform independence now. So if people try to network and try to get information across between different machines, so they developed enhanced new standards. The main one of these that drives away is HTML. I'm sure everyone is familiar with, but having said that, there is a new one emerging, which is Java.


Just talk for a little bit about what Java is, for those of you that probably [picked up the CD that we're doing?] and curious to know. Java is more than just a programming language. It's a whole architecture behind you making code which is very object oriented and C++ like but actually making it platform independent, the ability to run whatever code you write on anybody's platform, not just Windows or whatever, but any platform. Obviously to do that, you need to have a [close?] security model, so that you don't prejudice to viruses, that's another one of the threads which RISC OS people, because our operating system is in ROM are been relatively immune from in time, but Windows users had to struggle with.

The way Java works is, you actually have several different layers. At the bottom layer you have the hardware. So that's what actually runs it. The StrongARM or the ARM7 [...?] or whatever. On top of that we let run our operating system, RISC OS and on top of that we run a thing called a virtual machine. This presents to the Java applications, the code right on top, the environment in which it will operate. There are various different ways of doing this. You can either interpret the code on the fly as it comes in, so it's a bit like the BASIC interpreter or alternatively you can actually run what's called a JIT, or a Just In Time compiler that takes the code as it downloads it, compiles it and then runs it straight on the operating system. It runs it within the virtual machine framework on the operating system itself. So those are the two different ways that Java operates there.

Talking a bit about Java and one of the things when you start looking at Java you think, yeah, but there is nothing out there. Where are all the applications? What's going on? When you actually start searching around to the web and you talk to people within Sun, what you find is that, out that are an awful lot of development tools, tools for developing Java, working with Java and computing applications and also there is a really quite [...?] small little applications and applets that are around. But what you don't see is a vast array of major commercial software. Well if you look at the sort of timelines of development, the application programming tools are come up. The applets are come up. But as yet, we have yet to see the real explosion in commercial applications. This is just at this moment around about now set to change and soon we will start to see a major lift off.

Companies like Lotus who have been investing huge amounts of money during [...?] in developing a [...?] of software in Java and starting next month, they tell us, in November they will be launching a whole word package called Kona, which includes database, spreadsheet and all the rest of it. Presentation, [...?], schedulers and so on. So that's one of the first ones. Talking to the people at Sunsoft they reckon that there is something like about 400,000 programmers, actively developing in Java right now. And they are developing what will become the mainstream commercial applications for the future.

So, why are people using Java? What is it about Java that it is so attractive? Well, for a start, despite of all the propaganda that we get to [hear continuously?] there are actually in use other platforms other than Wintel. In particularly the platforms that Sun themselves make, the workstations and there are platforms like ours, Acorn, Apple and there is also been the [...?] [explotionary?] evolution of the thin clients. Now Acorn is very active in so. We are working with a number of people to develop thin clients and TV centric technology in all kinds of different ways and forms. But what you [...?] that is now exploding in the case of the USA [...?].

And then there is another factor which is, people have just generally got sick of Microsoft and people really used to think that Microsoft was the best thing in the world and now starting to get tired of it and starting get tired of being dictated to and having to change the software continuously, having things not work very well. They are just getting tired of that. Even the Department of Justice in the States is tired of Microsoft [...?]. So given the world is changing and there is an increase in the use of networks and Java is at the point of take off,


What should Acorn do about it? What we see the first steps for us is to release a Java desktop machine. So that's what we are doing here today. We got a beta of the Java virtual machine available at the show for free to help build the understanding. So you guys can actually see what's it all about. You can look at websites that run it. You can actually work on it. See how it all goes together. And in exchange for that we get a much wider testing of what we've done than what otherwise would be possible. So we're building some understanding, getting a lot of testing. We then need to follow that up with some products.

So the first one we are going to do will be a RiscPC which is specifically built to run Java to make to most out of it. We use the fastest processor we got available, which is the 233MHz StrongARM. And we'll have enough memory to run Java. The virtual machine that we use if actually reasonably memory hungry, it's one of the first things we've done and it's very memory hungry, so we will actually put 32MB memory into that. And we'll [up spec?] all the peripheral see we have a reasonable speed CD-ROM, that's 24 speed and 1.7GB harddrive, [...?].

Obviously on that we'll include webbrowsers, that you can access them today and Java and we will also for those people who are working on local area networks, we'll include Omniclient and we are gonna do that for pretty much the same prices as we have been doing it for current top of the range models of today.

Then we have to follow that up with a software release, early on next year probably. So we'll take on feedback from the beta trial, make sure we fix all that and it's part of our mainstream development, so we're gonna take care of all that information. And get a fully tested, proper copy of release out, which we'll be able to sell, early '98. So, we get Java out on our desktop and that's good, we're doing that now, we're starting that process today. We then also need to improve machine performance.


We get 1 or 2 questions on the stand. [...?] what we are doing about the portables. And one of the things is, once you start looking at Java, you really need a StrongARM to make the most out of what it can do. And, when you look at portables and StrongARMs, Digital just happened to have released very recently, a brand new processor they announced they call the SA1100. And this is very very exciting from the point of view of a lot of the licensees that we've been talking to. It's a very attractive product. It's a StrongARM core for up to around 200MHz, but really importantly it has built in to the actual chip itself all support that you need to run LCD displays.

Now, before where we've done portables, we've actually had to do that externally to the main processor. Which has consumed vat amounts of board area, power and memory and all sorts of other things. And particularly the SA1100 has built in support for STN panels. There are low-cost passive displays, colour displays, which have improved enormous in quality and made the sort of price/performance trade-off it proves/works much much more attractive. And also, the SA1100 has enough power in it to be able to develop a softmodem.

Now, we wanted to produce a portable before now, but one of the problems that we faced in doing this is that the size of the potential market for a RISC OS portable, it's not tiny, it's reasonably big, but it's just not never been big enough. So what we need to do, is we actually need to work with a development partner, to get a reasonably large volume going, so that we can actually take advantage of that and produce a product in the sort of volumes we're looking at the sort of price people be happy to pay. We don't really want to start producing portables at 4 or 5 grand, for a RISC OS portable, because that's a bit silly, although a few people might happen to buy that, that's not really what we're going to do. We want to be in the 1 to 2000 pound area with a reasonable volume and we can do that with a partner. So we're working with a number of people on this [SA1100?] at the moment.


The other thing which we need to do, this is the other thing which we are looking at at the show, is how we improve the desktop performance. The RiscPC as it stands at the moment has done very very well for a number of years, but when you start to look at Java and what that uses of the machine we realise we actually have to really improve the way that the processor, the StrongARM processor talks to memory, because we really need to get that much much faster than it currently is. So we need to improve the memory system so we use the latest in memory technology, we're updating the memory controller so that it goes as fast as it possibly can.

And we're also going to improve the I/O system so that it can actually talk to PCI peripherals. And also improve the I/O systems so that we get faster access to and from harddrives, and everything else. So we really need to boost up the performance of the desktop computer, and also, as part of the whole thing that we're doing, as much as we have done on the RiscPC - it's been extremely successful - we need a provision for some of the newer processors that are coming out from Digital. And this we're doing, this is the project codenamed Pheobe, that a lot of you have been heard of RiscPC II.

Now we're not gonna call it RiscPC II. David Lee launched a competition to choose a new name for the RiscPC. So we're following that up with some mailings and some communication and so, so we can actually come up with a really good name for it. and we expect to ship that during Q2 '98.


And also if you're going to look at Java seriously, you need to improve the networkcomputer performance, because we really want to run Java well, and so we're looking at a StrongARM version. And we've got a demonstration of that here at the show. And that demonstrator, the coNCord, which is the launch name for it, is attracting an awful lot of attention from a number of people interested in licensing the design and taking it further forwards.

Set-top boxes

We've also got set-top boxes at the show. Now set-top boxes traditionally we have thought people are tended to think of as simply MPEG decode boxes that display digital video on a TV screen. Well, it's a bit more than that, because a lot of the companies looking to take this forward, thinking about how they develop the user interfaces, and they are developing those user interfaces in Java, to run on the set-top box with the MPEG stream simultaneously.

So we need to improve the performance of the set-top box. In fact we actually have a set-top box which is running Java and demonstrating user interfaces at the moment. And this will help us to really build on the LanTV concept for the local area networks where we have the service provision of going in.


We also need to improve RISC OS and one of the things which we have to o is to support Java files a bit better and Java files are not short name files, they are long filenames, so we actually have to put into our operating system, the ability to handle long filenames. And we also need to improve the way that we interact between the memory and how we make the most of the fast memory that we have. And the fast SRAM in particularly for the very critical tasks. But for some things Java is still not as fast as we would like it, it could do to be improved, things such as the games which we're demonstrating, will always need to be run native, in native code on the platform as close to the hardware as they can get.

And we need to constantly update and redevelop RISC OS, our main desktop operating system, so we can keep it fresh and alive and nice and fun to use. So we released Java on the desktop machines, we boost up the machine performance. What else do we need to do?

Java and Galileo

We need to continuously develop. We can't just say, OK, here it is, we've done it, end of story, [tick?]. We need to continuously invest in the development of it. The version of Java which we are releasing in the beta trial is Java 1.0.2. There is a virtual machine for that. We're actually working on the Just In Time compiler. And I think that's been demonstrated on the stand today. Just recently sparked into life. And we're actually working on porting the next version of Java and it will go on and on, and continuously develop and move forward.

We're also looking at completely restructuring the operating system underneath all of this. One of the things that Java needs is provision for pre-emptive multitasking and multithreading. And that's what the virtual machine provides the Java applications in its use. And so what we're actually doing is, we're looking into rebuilding the kernel, underneath all of this and providing those services not through the RISC OS layer, but actually directly to the hardware.

This project is codenamed Galileo. It has some other very key features, which is the fact that we're developing a quality of service concept, so when you have critical processes that need a certain amount of processor bandwidth, then the operating system will guarantee no matter what is happening, no matter what anybody is going around it, it will guarantee to deliver that amount of processing power to the application. So updating on the line of operating systems.


So as the result of all this, and what we're doing at starting the process today, we're really well placed on a desktop [...?] to take advantage of the shift away from Microsoft, to work with what's happening with thin clients and the way that Java and thin clients will be starting to roll out in large volumes to cross the marketplace. And take advantage of the explosion in the Java applications. And I think at this point, if I can I like to hand over - is he here? Did I talk too quickly through that? [yes you did ;-) - LogiX] - is he gone, is he?

Peter Bondar

Peter Bondar


So let's go through the general and corporate presentation. I'll cover a few items on what we're doing technologically and then before we wrap up we'll do a Q&A and I'll have to guess what the first question will be, but I think the words Digital and Intel will be in it, but that's my first prediction. So let's just summarise from a corporate viewpoint Acorn.


Two and a half years on after we started down the technology direction, we've now completed the restructuring of our organisation, we're back to a single organisation, so there's no more Online Media, no more ART, no more Network Computer Division, we're back to the little green nut and Acorn.

We have one now very large single integrated engineering organisation and we have one single world wide sales and marketing organisation, so a lot of the problems and issues that we were suffering from for the last year or so have now been removed. As part of that we have recruited two new directors. [Stan Burgeon?] joined us head of finance, couple of months ago and on November the 20th our new sales and marketing director joins from a major TV based organisation, so that will obviously add [...?] to our TV type focuses.

We continue to focus heavily in investment in both people and technology. At this point now, we have more people in engineering than at any point in Acorn's history. We're investing more in both customer and [specutive?] engineering than at any point in Acorn's history and we're actually investing in people in a variety of training and career development programs, the way that's not been seen of Acorn for many years.


Our strategy of going down the technology route continues. We've learnt a few things on the way. Some things we tried to do have not been as successful as we would like them to be. But we've been very quick to learn and to revise that. So our overall philosophy is very much the same as we started half or two years ago. I think the major thing from the product viewpoint, which is always Chris's and my viewpoint is that we've now found a natural and sustainable balance between the product type business the we run and the technology business. And I think this weeks show shows the relationship between those with.

Some of our new customers our coming online, our American cousins with some of their new product, Curtis Mathes, [...?], etcetera. Hopefully next year even more will be public domain then they are today. The rate of change for Acorn has been very rapid. 40% of our business now comes from technology, which from a cold start two years ago is a very impressive rate of climb.

We now have agents in Japan, Taiwan and Korea. We will open an Acorn office in the United States probably in the first quarter of next year. We'll probably open a Japanese office to service the far east sometime in the second/third quarter of next year. We've won something alike more than 50% of the first generation of network computers wins out there. We've watched a number of our competitors failed to achieve what they promised, so therefore, we're ideally placed now for the second generation of systems which are about to happen.

We are one of the few companies that actually did deliver what was promised. Most of our American colleagues were strong on rhetoric, less strong on delivery. Now that the second generation designs are coming up for grabs, we are in the prime position to exploit that. Ironically having apparently destroyed the Online Media organisation and merging the thing to the rest of Acorn we also now find that the set-top box business is now picking up steam with quite regular orders and we've received a number of these in the last few months. So the STB business has stabilised as well.


In terms of a few examples of people who are working with, either in a traditional customer relationship or in a kind of partner relationship. Here are some of the people in the public domain. There is Digital with its new series of superchips of which more later.

There is [...?] with navigation computers, NTT with their first generation video conferencing, [Sprint?] with ultra high speed set-top boxes. Curtis Mathes here with a super home TV concept. RCA with a network computer. We continue, despite maybe not obviously to be so, to be working with Oracle, especially on the OVS3 videoserver technology and set-top box. Boca has been licensed as an NC OEM manufacturer. Silicon Graphics has now signed Acorn as its sole and preferred partner for videoserver and-to-end systems, using our set-top box technology and at this Christmas we complete a games machine for Samsung.


So in terms of what's new in technology, the major things are that there is a new superchip coming out from the alliance of Digital, ARM and Acorn. Can't give you the codename for it, but it's internally known within Acorn as ASIC 3. This is a new generation superchip, which will hopefully have its first customer announcement round about Christmas of this year.

It was previewed by Digital at the Embedded Systems Show West in San Jose a couple of weeks ago and is the key high-end chip for Acorn's strategy for 1998 and 1999. This is a fairly economical chip, it's about 1500MIPS of firepower in a sort of 50 dollars or so packaging. And will be the basis of all our fast network computer and set-top box designs for 1998.

The SA1100 which has already formerly been announced by Digital is a StrongARM superchip that aimed at the PDA and webphone area. We are now involved with this for a number of customers and we'll be starting to build our first customer product with it in a few weeks time. This is a 200MIPS 29 dollar package that actually has an entire computer on a single chip.

We continue to work with the 7500's and they continue to get faster overtime. And again for some of our existing network computer applications we'll continue down that route.

Galileo, Java and other developments

Galileo is our new operating system and we continue to invest heavily in that, in fact we're recruiting more and more engineers for that. It's going very well. We plan to have our first customer shipment of Galileo with the new superchips in the summer of 1998. And over the next two years it will become the foundation of all our technological drives, we've already talked to the [...?] about Galileo its design objectives.

Into opened with Galileo is our decision to make the strategic focus of our application programmer interface to be Java based and also to host Java, our preferred environment upon Galileo. So the Java API, the Java virtual machine and the forthcoming P-Java will all be supported on our new range of superchips. And as part of that plan, as Chris has already mentioned, we are encouraging our existing RISC OS developers to start playing with this technology and as part of the Clan issue this week, we've given with the co-operation of Sun some complementary copies out to some prototype systems.

In the next week or two we'll announce a relationship with [Cytrix?] which will bundle the ICA WinFrame technology which will allow any Acorn network computer to emulate and access Windows applications on Windows NT servers, based on slow speed analogue modem line or on faster network technology. And this is a world-wide agreement for three years that links to two companies together, so this help us tick one of those objection boxes about, but does it run DOS or Windows etcetera.

We were showing at this show our new H263 video codec technology. We're very proud about this, because it's a very high performance video codec, we believe it's absolutely state of the art. But because it also conforms to this H263 standard and some of these other associated ITU standards, we'll be able to offer systems that don't talk Acorn to Acorn but also across other types of videoconferencing systems. So we see this video codec technology being a key part again of our offering for 1998 along with out superchips and Galileo.

We are working closely with major UK organisational speech technologies. And we hope in the next few weeks to make some announcements on that, because again, one of the future user interface issues is that not everybody will want to use keyboards or screens and in reality microphones and speakers are infinitely cheaper than pointing devices, keyboards and screens. So we see this, not so much in 1998, but in 1999 as being a key part of our technology.

New products

So carrying on, the SA110, IOMD2, VIDC20 mark 2 combination is our major investment in the product desktop business. Comes on screen in the shape of RiscPC II in the summer of 1998. We're working very heavily on the and also the technology in that lends itself to some of our technology customer applications. So again, a [...?] relationship between our product business and our technology business.

We're also investing in a brand new browser for ground zero development, again that's on the Clan disk. The control of a stable, reliable, high performance, small footprint browser is absolutely critical to our future strategy and control of that technology is a key factor to break on.

So these technologies lead to a number of products in 1997 and 19998. Set-top box 3 will take the new ASIC3 superchip series and produce a new generation of set-top boxes that are approximately half to one third of the price of the current boxes, but something gonna reach about 10 to 20 times faster.

coNCord is the existing StrongARM based NC and will also receive enhancements with the new memory and videochips coming from RiscPC II. Obviously RiscPC II itself comes out.

We are working on a new ultra low cost Internet device, that will be able to be sold for less that 75 dollars, which is David Lee's pet product. So Mini-Mail is the codename for that. Super home TV is the name given to the bringing together of all these video conferencing, webbrowsing, Internet applications and MPEG [endishable?] satellite in one box that's significantly lower in price than the previous boxes, by typically three or four times cheaper. And we certainly hope to be able to announce a number of major design wins during late '97 and '98 in this area.


I'm sure people have been aware this show we have had a number of visitors from overseas and there will be more tomorrow. We're very actively chasing this market. The market is splitting into two separate areas. We see the high-end and TV type applications. For the low-end we see these very low-cost almost throwawayable type of devices. And the phrase to describe these is called webphones. And we see again things like the SA1100, leading a [critical?] role in the creation of these almost disposable low-cost Internet appliances.

So this marketing slide which this time of the day and this range is probably indecipherable. But what I was trying to do is show the relationship between Acorn and the rest of the world. So Acorn makes products and it has technology. We interchange ideas and technology with the semiconductor partners. We interchange technology with software vendors primarily through our product related business. We then pass technology through to the consumer electronic manufacturers and we pass products primarily to the systems integrators and value added resellers. And that represents the flow of the information between those.


So the business outlook for '98 for Acorn is yet again, an exciting year. Never been a dull year so far. But truly for those in Acorn that can see the opportunity in front of us are desired to succeed absolute. The opportunities are there before us. Our competition in many ways, has repeatedly shot itself in its feet. So if we fail this time, it will be absolutely due to the fault of Acorn. It won't been because of anybody else.

We have a whole pile of new products. As you already have heard about. We have a whole pile of new technologies which are all now moving from wishes and wants to reality. Which is obviously very good. As usual there are a whole pile of threads and competition and we're well aware of those. And I think there's a whole pile of opportunities and I think with the new management team in Acorn and the way that our thinking has moved, I think in 1998 we'll see a number of interesting manoeuvres from Acorn which could cover a whole variety of new types of modes of operation of Acorn, including mergers, acquisitions and partnerships and all. And I'll leave it to the cryptic level.

Here [I just?] a small list of small bit players in the electronics and other businesses that we are currently talking to, have proposals in, are looking with or whatever in addition to all the projects we have been talking about. So, when somebody turns around and says, "well, who is using your technology?" hopefully by the end of 1998 we'll be able to give your a very impressive list. So that's the conclusion of that. And I think we're gonna do some questions and answers.

Questions and answers

Chris mentioned the increasing importance of Java for the Acorn platform. Are we gonna be seeing some serious Java development software for Acorn or from somebody else?


The key thing with the Java environment is that we find a way on the slipstream about the Java tools that already existed and one of the key reasons of using the Java API was to not reinvent the wheel with a whole set of proprietary development tools so certainly our future technology engineering team are planning to [...?] the wide variety that already exists and the fact that we have so many people [...?].

So we're not going to write many proprietary Acorn Java development tools, but simply going to buy in of most of the ones that exist. Because time to market speed is critical. Although we got up to 25 engineers, that's not enough to take the rest of all those areas. So let's not waste our time with what other people are already doing.

The question was all about the various high-end performance battles.


The actual chip technology itself at the CPU level [...?]. So whether ARM are having that compensation or not, I can't actually comment on that I'm afraid. But obviously lots of people in this business are always talking to everybody else. I think the general viewpoint there is that the high-end area is still not the problem where we're at or where we're strong.

But in fact to answer the question - that at least I must have answered that 750 times today - in the case of Intel's intentional acquisition of Digital's technology, the point is not to replace the Pentium technology or offer a competitor to it, but to actually fill in a major weakness in Intel's product line which is that it fails to offer a high performance low cost embeddable [...?] of technology. So Intel's acquisition of that technology is to fill a weakness there.

Intel's [...?] behind the own brand, given that ARM still only has 10% of the world market for RISC microprocessors and Hitachi and MIPS still dominate, is a major alliance [...?] from Acorn and ARM's perspective is seen an extremely positive alliance. Because the alliance with Intel is a non-exclusive. Intel, even if it wanted to, can not shut the technology down.

The technology is now too well established in the hand of two [...?] for Intel to contain it. So therefore having paid 1.8 billion dollars for it, everyone can only reach the logical conclusion that the reason why they've done it to utilise it, not to simply shut it down. So despite the fact that it will prove a bit embarrassing for those that have the Intel Outside sticker it the [...?] of time. That [...?] is good news for us.


I had a look at the RiscPC II prototype down there, speaking to some of your [...?] I got a feeling that you're going to repeat some of the shortcomings with the new RiscPC II that you've got with the current RiscPC, such as only two DRAM sockets; you're soldering DRAM chips to the motherboard which I personally don't want, because you can't expand it [...?]. Also you're going backwards in that you're not going to provide expandable cases. There seems to be no floating point [...?] There are a lot of other points like this. I don't think you're actually listening to people who want to buy your machines, to what they want in the machine at all.


All the points raised are valid. I can assure you that at least 200 people within Acorn use these machines and play with them as well as coming to shows like this one for the last six, seven years. We're well aware of what customer feedback in these areas are. In reality as usual is that there is certain limitations in life caused by speed of processors, I/O banks etcetera. So especially with the year 2000 emission requirements that we have to meet throughout the world for this product, as we planned to [...?] and ship world-wide, which was never one of the original RiscPC objectives. We've had to go back to the drawing board.

Yes, we've had to forsake some of the things that RiscPC did have, [...?] and in other areas we've had to make other issues, but I think the proof ultimately will be how it sells. And I think when people actually see what it does, how it does it and having addressed some of those issues with things like swap out programs and upgrade programs. I think we'll have addressed most of those issues. So certainly 200 people in Acorn have got their names in a queue for one, so we don't think it's that bad, but like everybody else, yes it could be better, but most of the things you've raised are things caused by the loss of business, by the loss of economics that we're not able to control.


One of the key things that we've done on the second generation RiscPC, RiscPC II as we still call it, one of the main things which we're going for is make it as fast as we possibly could. We want the best possible product in terms of speed of operation and really drive that as hard as we can. Now as a result of that, there are certain design things that we have to do. Realistically what we're trying to do is make it the fastest and the best possible machine that we can. With certain other considerations, but that's really what we're driving for there.


What is the relationship between Acorn NC and Oracle NC? What is the difference between operating systems of the Oracle NC and the Acorn NC?


We've only got I think 15 minutes, so I'll try to keep it short. There actually have been several [...?] written on this one, it's not actually theoretical. The single issue is that, when Larry Ellison wanted a network computer to be designed, it spent [...?] over a year with Apple who then failed to deliver anything. We in several weeks built him the network computer which is launched with the famous swimming fish, which every RiscPC owner instantly recognizes. As a result of that, all was wonderful and NC OS 1 equaled approximately RISC OS 3.6, 3.7.

NCI then was formed as a separate company. NCI decided to go in about 7 directions simultaneously. It then approximately once every three weeks changed each of that 7 directions and as a result of that, most of the world became completely confused as to, what and where NCI was going. We carried on with NCI down the NC OS route with the ARM 7500 and that's the technology that RCA, Proton, Akai, Apple [...?] products with. As a results of the acquisition of Navvio, they decided at somewhere version 973, to go down and get another separate routes and in fact in that period of time they subsequently reiterated a number at a time. So most of NCI's customers are, A completely confused, and B very pissed off with the series of promises of what has been delivered.

The fact that we've finished our contractual obligations with NCI, [...?] that we disgracefully distance from them, which we have done. And as a direct result of that we've picked up substantially prices of business from disaffected, disenfranchised NCI people. So our position with NCI now is actually about to be clear, we're absolutely direct competitors. The fact that we actually work very closely with Oracle, their parent company, is again one of those classical business issues, you know we're working closely with Oracle on OBS3 and set-top box. But we're actually an absolute direct competitor today with NCI. However, if in the [fallness?] of time they realize they [...?] or want to work again with us, then in the classical style that decision will be revisited.

Similarly deeper, have got the a similar route, created a similar situation and again, this is why [...?] the opportunities here for Acorn are very strong, because we have stayed consistent to what we said we were going to do, we did deliver what we've promised what we're going to do and we have articulated a road map for three years which we are fulfilling and living up to. None of our competitors have come close to that level of consistency, of predictability and now we are the preferred and trusted partner of a number of people who despite our modest lack of sales and marketing capability, at least trust our personal and company integrity and our professionalism and our technology. So that's a brief summary of that I think.

Can you tell us anything about the Acorn Games machine, Samsung?


What we've done for Samsung is that we've licenses RISC OS and we've also produced an ARM7500 based design to allow Samsung to replace a product I don't think for this audience is particularly compelling, but it's a sort of 3 to 7 year old educational-games type of thing, so they will launch a product this Christmas, imaginatively called Tinko. Which is this thing.

So we created the RISC OS binaries, rewrote the drivers and helped with the games porting and we did the fundamental board design. A Japanese company, which also coincidentally happens to be our agent, MP-Tek done a lot of physical cosmetic design and now it's been passed over to Samsung for the manufacturing. So I don't think most people are gonna be seeing as an alternative to Doom or whatever, but it will in its own market, hope we be quite successful, being anticipated sales of that could reach 50,000 units a month per territory that it goes into. So since we've actually [...?] hope that it sells well.


When do you expect to be in profit?


We don't actually know, not because we can't work that calculation out, but one of our decisions is what we had to prove to the world, that we could recover Acorn from frankly, an extremely bad position and the position we were in three years ago. I think the truth can be now told, but it was bad. The fact that we managed to transition ourselves so quickly, so successfully, to the hybrid technology/product company that we are today, was to reduce of those losses consistently for the last five half years, is really an indication of the capabilities of the company.

However, one of the key issues is that we know we need to play on the world stage when it comes to the technology, so therefore we aim at a paradox, which is, do we try and strain the company even harder to break-even and in the process to [...?] ourselves of the engineering efforts and sales and marketing business development effort, we need to be successful onto, or do we run the risk of running losses to help fund those activities. I think the viewpoint that we have, that is, that we will not have as a design objective a decision to break-even or return to profit in a rush simply as an economical objective. If it happens, naturally because of a way a business works, then so be it. If we have to tolerate some additional losses, to fund the R&D and sales and marketing, then we will do so, because we have the ability with our new established reputation to raise new capital in a very efficient way.

So rather organically returned there, we will if necessary raise future money in a variety of techniques in the net year, so we [...?] much much more preoccupied with our sales success and our technical and logical roll-out program rather than the short time economic success, but we have ways of addressing that now that we have earned our stripes over the last two years. So our focus from a management viewpoint if first of all most the delivery of the technological programs that we are involved in and the rapidly escalation inclusion of our sales and marketing capability on a world-wide basis, now that we feel confident that we understand what our business is and what the opportunities are in front of us.


Do you expect the new RiscPC II to be able to take the new superchip and if so, will it take more than one?


No and no.

It's the same way for example that you can't actually fit a VIDC20 and a StrongARM 110 to an ARM7500, it's the same sort of problem. The new RiscPC II has a new set of system chips that collectively make it happen. The new superchip is a completely integrated solution that doesn't meant itself to be fiddled with with other types of devices or so. It's the same fundamental type of relationship as the existing RiscPC is to the A7000, that are two different architectures, aimed at two different things. It's much more likely that in [fallness?] of time the superchip will find itself in a replacement to the A7000 type category of products, so you get like this 500 pound A7000, that does 1500 MIPS. So it should be able to run most of the educational applications quite properly.


Is Bill Gates' his new camp in Cambridge at all relevant to Acorn?


It's a good question. Again there is always a competition and at the big boys is, do you go run away from them and throw your toys at the [...?] actually greet the opportunity that presents itself. I think those people in theoretical research in Cambridge view it quite dangerously because of the kind of soaking of the brains and exporting them out. I think from Acorn as much more of a commercial company, we actually see it in a very positive light, in that we're now able to attract a number of people to the company, who previously would have seen moving to Cambridge as a complete commitment to Acorn only and in the event of that, for any reason, didn't work out, having no other option than leave the area and ho back to wherever they came from.

Where as now, a lot of people feel a lot more comfortable that Cambridge as an entity has a lot more going for it, so specifically we have experienced recently, the number of Senior Engineering and marketing people who I don't think two years ago we would have attracted, who actually feel, you know, well it sounds very negative, but everybody always from a personal viewpoint has to look of what the consequences of their actions area, and people being persuaded to move to this strange place in the swamps away from the M3/M4 corridor, that's been a very hard think for us to do. But actually again, from our viewpoint ironically, this is a ringing at the doors for Cambridge and the area and provides [...?] of employment. So from our viewpoint we actually feel very positively.


There's been talk of Acornsoft, what its new titles are, other then the browser and Java, that may be quite small titles? Anything about new titles?


What we're doing with Acornsoft is very much, working to try and get out of the company initially, what we have already developed. So we did a lot of work on the browser and Java, so that's what we're starting with. But then we want to expand it out beyond that, once we got into the business of selling software, there are other things which are going on inside Acorn which we can use, and we're also going to be looking outside to try and encourage some other things.

One of the particular areas that we're getting very excited about, is the actual gaming area. And [...?] what the technology guys are doing as companies as Curtis Mathes look at hunting these [...?] sort of games do you need for this and that ends with some major players in the field as they roll out a number of client devices, so the whole market comes up and gets a whole lot more attractive for games developers doing their games ports. And that's another area we're going to concentrate on. [snip some mumbling about Acorn House and Quake] We should see a bunch of announcements coming out in the next few months as we close some deals on that.


You said, Java would require a different file system. Can you tell us more about how the filing system is going to change for RISC OS?


One of the key things that I pointed out in the talk is that Java filenames are significantly longer than RISC OS filenames in most cases [...?] So that's one of the areas where we're need to actually provide support, just [...?] simply basically to use to filenames rather than to run the, in an image filing system, X-Files or something like that, so that's one area we're changing. We're also doing a lot of other fundamental work. We have to work within the constraints of not damaging the existing applications, se we have to be a little but careful of how we do that. Other area that we're looking at are the number of filenames in the directories as well.

Last update: 21 Mar 1998