RISC OS User Group Of London Online
Meeting Report - May 2004
Sales Board

There has been some interest in the "show of hands" at the recent ROUGOL meeting. dgs offered to write an article about this for the RISC OS news website Drobe Launchpad, on 18th May 2004. The article was duly submitted to Drobe, and the Drobe editor returned an edited version, which was due to be published on the Drobe website at lunchtime on Friday 11th June.

Following further discussion on that day, Drobe decided that they were no longer willing to publish the article.

There follows the full text of the article, entirely unchanged from the version originally prepared for publication by Drobe editor Chris Williams.

(Some of the images originally intended to accompany the article, along with some other details of the meeting provided for Drobe by dgs, can be found back on the Drobe website).

A poll of ROUGOL members

Perhaps surprisingly, a great many RISC OS users have never visited a user group. There is no reason to imagine that readers and contributors to online resources like Drobe are an exception; indeed, some readers even seem a little negative regarding user groups in general.

May's RISC OS User Group Of London (ROUGOL) meeting saw forty or so people turn up to watch a demonstration by Castle's Jack Lillingston, ask questions of Jack and Castle's Chief Technical Office John Ballance, and in some cases have their Iyonix computers updated.

Who went to the show?
Castle's visit happened to be the day immediately after the Wakefield show. So it wasn't very surprising, when asking for a show of hands from those present, that all but a handful had not visited the Wakefield show, and only two of those had attended Jack's presentation at Wakefield. After all, if one travels a couple of hundred miles to a RISC OS show at the weekend, catching up on similar news at a user group meeting the day after is unlikely to be high on the agenda. Equally, if someone is keen to spend all evening at a user group meeting on a Monday, they may not be able to justify also spending the time to visit Wakefield the weekend immediately beforehand. In other words, perhaps many of the ROUGOL members who didn't attend ROUGOL on Monday evening were amongst those who had attended Wakefield over the weekend.

I followed this up with some further questions, again to get some real feedback, even if only from a relatively small number of people, rather than relying on anecdotal evidence. For me, the "show of hands" mostly told me things that I already knew; or confirmed things that I was reasonably sure of. I'll talk more about those later, mainly because whilst I am sure of them, a number of online pundits don't seem to agree.

But one show of hands in particular surprised me. It's interesting because it shows exactly how much the "average" user group attendee differs from the "average" contributor to an online forum or poll.

It's very clear that most people commenting on Drobe articles or forums look at the Drobe website about once a day. A minority of contributors look at the Drobe website once a week or less. When I was unable to attend the Wakefield show due to work commitments, I made sure to look at Drobe on Saturday evening and Sunday evening to see what had been going on. It seems entirely plausible that the majority of people reading this, if unable to attend the largest event in the RISC OS calendar for 2004, checked out Drobe on at least one of the two days, or the following morning.

That's why one result surprised me. After asking who attended Wakefield, and who attended Jack's talk there, it seemed sensible to ask who had read reports on the Internet about the show. (This could perhaps include newsgroups, web articles like those on Drobe or Iconbar, or comments on web articles). Bearing in mind that about 90 percent of those present hadn't attended the Wakefield show, I was absolutely gobsmacked when I asked who (on Monday evening) had read any sort of Internet report about the show. Only about five people raised their hands. Because I expressed some surprise at this (I believe I quipped "the Internet clearly doesn't have a great following here"), one attendee pointed out "the show was only one day ago, you know".

This may all seem rather trivial, except it makes you realise that the average RISC OS user may not be the people we bump into every day on web forums and newsgroups - or even at user groups.

Needless to say, I know people who frequent Drobe and other sites, who also attend user groups. But there are a great many people who post comments on Drobe and on newsgroups, who do so out of a vague interest in an operating system that they used to use at school or university, or because they "like the sense of community", or because they still nominally maintain services or software products for RISC OS, not because they still use RISC OS on a day to day basis.

Pollsters don't win prizes
Why is this relevant? Mainly because it can skew polls or comments, in a way that can make them less meaningful. If a hypothetical poll asks what sort of RISC OS computer people would most like to see, and a particular user hasn't bought a RISC OS computer since one in 1994 that they now hardly ever use, that particular user's response is largely irrelevant to the purpose of the poll - even though it would probably be a valid answer to the question as asked.

Many different people help RISC OS users in many different ways, and there are quite a few people making a significant contribution to the RISC OS market who perhaps use Linux six days a week, but spend twenty minutes on their day of rest maintaining some RISC OS software package or website. Whilst they are very clearly contributing to RISC OS in a positive way, they may not be a RISC OS user in the sense that some of us understand. Their comments or poll responses are likely to reflect their view of which operating systems or operating system paradigms they prefer, not necessarily a genuine wish for particular functionality in RISC OS.

We shouldn't worry too much about Internet polls and forum comments, of course. The issue is that for many people, the only pseudo-statistical information they have to back up their decision-making is polls on RISC OS portals. One Iyonix owner was concerned that the Iyonix was not popular, purely because on Iconbar's "what I bought at Wakefield" poll, the Iyonix Panther was chosen by 11 percent of voters - whereas VirtualRiscPC lead with 16 percent and RISC OS Adjust behind at 9 percent. Of course, it's not my intention to demean polls on RISC OS websites. The Wakefield poll in particular was intended to provoke interesting responses, not to serve as statistical data. It certainly fulfilled its purpose, otherwise I wouldn't be writing about it.

What's a user group?
It's equally the case that forty people attending a particular user group evening is not the most scientific sample. However, I believe that it is a good basis for getting some representative results that are likely to be more useful than an online poll, a newsgroup dominated by a handful of people pushing a particular agenda, or suggestions about other people's sales figures made by your favourite RISC OS dealer when you talked to him on the telephone. As for suggestions that user group attendees may not be representative of RISC OS users in general, this is about as meaningful as suggesting that attendees at RISC OS shows are not representative of RISC OS users in general. Not very likely.

A RISC OS user group in its prime is simply those people who are sufficiently interested in RISC OS to travel to a central point to see RISC OS hardware and software and talk to other RISC OS users, dealers and developers. I should stress that some of these will be people who perhaps only attend a user group meeting once a year or less, as time or work or location dictate; there may be a lot of familiar faces, but it's not a case of an unchanging clique who all share the same views.

There are occasionally one or two user group attendees who haven't used RISC OS since their A3000, but they are few and far between. This does contrast with online forums where anyone with a past or passing interest in RISC OS is just as likely to contribute their wisdom. User group attendees are often bigger spenders than their online counterparts, but that may just go back to the fact that some of the more vocal online pundits are much less likely to use RISC OS on a daily basis.

The audience is listening
Some might suggest the audience at ROUGOL could have been biased towards Castle's way of doing things, since it was a Castle presentation. On the other hand, for this meeting we told everyone weeks ago that the presentation would mostly be about the Iyonix. Thus, the Iyonix enthusiasts could have stayed at home because they no longer have a need to learn about the advantages of the Iyonix - they probably already own one - leaving an audience of users yet to find out what Castle has recently brought to the platform.

It has been pointed out that Castle were providing Iyonix fixes and updates on the night, so some people may have been present purely to avail themselves of that service. However, as far as I am aware only seven Iyonixes were brought to the meeting for modification; so considerably more than three quarters of the audience were not there for that reason. Now that we've been through all that, I'm sure you have a picture in your minds of a user group meeting, forty or so people are present, we're in the midst of a show of hands and we've only been slightly diverted.

If those closest to the front were daily Drobe readers, doubtless someone would have suggested asking how many of the forty were Select subscribers. However, no-one mentioned this at the time - I did ask people nearby for their suggestions. I myself didn't think of it.

Anyone own an Iyonix?
Instead, we asked who already owned an Iyonix. Out of forty people present, about thirty hands went up. 75 percent? At this point, Jack Lillingston jokingly suggested that he might as well go home. We truthfully responded that one of those present had already bought their second Iyonix, two more were considering buying their second Iyonix, so 75 percent already owning an Iyonix might just as well be a positive sign for additional sales. We asked who was considering buying an Iyonix, and the show of hands seemed to be larger in number that those who hadn't raised their hands when asked if they owned an Iyonix. Statistically complicated, so we ignored it and moved on.

Anyone own an emulator?
We asked who was using a RISC OS emulator (like VirtualRiscPC) on a Windows laptop computer. Eight people raised their hands - that's 20 percent. We asked who was using a RISC OS emulator (like VirtualRiscPC) on a Windows desktop computer. Two people raised their hands (5 percent), and one of them was quick to explain "that's my wife's computer". I forget whether his own computer was an Iyonix or not.

None of this counts as a statistical guarantee of anything meaningful, but some trends are easy to spot. Those upset about emulation have suggested that sales of a genuine RISC OS computer like the Iyonix are being lost purely because desktop Windows machines running an emulator (like the A6 or RISCube) are available. As far as this user group is concerned, that's entirely implausible. Also, a noticeable portion of RISC OS users are buying Windows laptops and using the VirtualRiscPC emulator because they need a laptop running RISC OS applications - they have no choice, there is no other option.

In the RISC OS market, there always seem to be some points of view that get repeated so often that people start believing them even in the absence of any hard evidence. It's widely suggested that large numbers of RISC OS users are being forced to buy Windows computers at home for one reason or another, and that a Windows desktop computer like the A6, in conjunction with a RISC OS emulator, allows such users to carry on using RISC OS applications. In reality, what we've seen is that most RISC OS users forced to accommodate Windows did so some years ago, either with the Risc PC x86 card (still in regular use in some places), or with a separate Windows PC networked to their Risc PC.

Personally, I had always assumed that I was one of the few RISC OS users who hadn't already bought a Windows computer for home; at one ROUGOL meeting I quickly learnt my error, as the first eight people to arrive all told me they'd never had a Windows computer in the house. Those who did, had generally been using Windows for quite some time. Who are the two highest profile RISC OS users you know, who have bought a Windows desktop computer for use with a RISC OS emulator? If you're thinking of the same two people I am, then one of them bought an Iyonix as well, and the other has an Iyonix in his house.

Anyone own an Omega?
Of the forty people present on this occasion, I also asked if anyone owned an Omega. I repeated the question, just in case there was any misunderstanding. We did identify several people who had paid the deposit on an Omega, but not received one. However, the number of people present who had actually received an Omega, was zero.

We do know of one ROUGOL member (already well known to Drobe readers) who owns an Omega, but sadly he is unable to demonstrate his Omega at ROUGOL due to practical considerations; and he was unable to be at ROUGOL on this occasion.

If anyone with an Omega lives in south-east England and is happy to bring it to ROUGOL so that people can see it in action, we would like to hear from you. ROUGOL has repeatedly contacted our nearest Omega dealer over the last year or two, and also a MicroDigital dealer slightly further away, but sadly most of our requests seem to have fallen on deaf ears (one request for an Omega demo almost succeeded, but sadly the Omega failed on the day before the demo was due to happen).

We do get the idea that the Omega has sold at least some units in mainland Europe. We can also presume that Liquid Silicon's enthusiasm has resulted in some Omega sales in Scotland (they were the supplier of the one Omega known to belong to a ROUGOL member, as well).

Who lives where?
South east England and London's commuter belt in particular represent the highest concentration of RISC OS users anywhere in the world, in addition to much greater disposable income than other areas where RISC OS users are common. Do ROUGOL's poll results mean that the Iyonix has almost wiped out any other competition in this lucrative area, or do they suggest that those with higher disposable income will choose an Iyonix over an emulated solution regardless of the price difference, or do they mean something else? Your guess is as good as ours.

North-west England is another hotbed of RISC OS activity, especially on the development front, and RONWUG did benefit from a very interesting presentation and almost flawless demonstration of the Omega a few years ago. RONWUG has never held an equivalent show of hands to the ROUGOL questions, but one peripheral piece of information I do have is that more Iyonix owners turned up for Iyonix updates when John Ballance visited RONWUG, than when he visited ROUGOL.

This is partly because London is rather nearer Castle's base in Suffolk, and thus some ROUGOL members had already gone to Framlingham in person to have the updates applied to their Iyonix. But either way, it provides a little more food for thought.

Outside Europe, Australia and New Zealand are the largest RISC OS market. We don't know of any Omega owners at all in these regions (though one can imagine there might be one or two). Given the enthusiasm for the Iyonix-based hybrids being produced in Australia, and an Iyonix dealer still active in New Zealand, this may be another market that Castle have pretty much wrapped up.

Definite sales figures are always of far more interest than estimates based on hands, or even fingers, in the air. If you have information about sales figures, or even anecdotal evidence about sales of different sorts of RISC OS computers in a particular area, then Drobe is always very happy to hear from you. In the meantime, the results of our little poll have hopefully provided some interesting information to compare with what you may have otherwise been told in private.

ROUGOL - other photos soon to be available on the site
dgs is the chairman of the AAUG

dgs welcomes comments on this article at dgs@argonet.co.uk