Ovation is not Ovation Pro - I have never sold Ovation, but I did write it for Beebug. Very little of the code is common to both programs.
Work on Ovation began at the start of 1989, and the program appeared in mid 1990. That fact contains much heatache, it came as a big surprise to both Beebug and myself how difficult writing a DTP program is. Having previously written Hearsay which appears to be very complicated, the expectation was that Ovation would be no problem. At the end Beebug had so little confidence that I would finish the program the original manual was printed with no mention of my name.
Acorn had ensured there was a DTP program for their new computer - Acorn DTP. That software is long forgotten; I thought it was good. The battle then was to produce the word processor/DTP - document processor of choice for RISC OS. There were three contenders, Ovation (Beebug), Impression (Computer Concepts - CC) and Tempest (Clares).
There were impressive demos of Tempest around - something which worried Beebug - but it was never finished - I told you writing DTP was difficult.
CC understood the importance of being the first program available and threw everything they had into writing Impression. Numerous incomplete versions appeared, features were announced before they were available. One aspect of Impression was that it was written in "machine code" - in those days this meant it was fast, compact (which mattered when computers had little memory), and the people writing it were skilled. Today no one would consider the language a program was written in before buying it - back then being written in "machine code" sold software.
Ovation was written in C, and it lacked the speed edge Impression had, and it was a little bigger. I should now add the perspective of hindsight. CC abandoned Impression around 1995. The users are still waiting (20 years later) for a version that will work on modern ARM processors. Why? Well it's written in highly optimised machine code, which relies on tiny details of the architecture of the processor.
Impression is an excellent program - although I seem to have spent my career trying to beat it. In 1988 I applied for work from CC. I was turned down but they gave me a copy of the book on ARM programming they'd published. Perhaps an attempt to doom my software. They were generous in selling me a Laser Direct - an amazing printer - still the fastest laser printer I have owned.
Everyone writing DTP software at this time suffered from Acorn's non-standard approach - RISC OS had no clipboard and the way fonts are organised was different to the way publishers work (no specified bold and italic variations). I could claim that Ovation stuck to the RISC OS style guide - yet another reason for Impression's popularity was how good it looked, partly due to CC introducing a non-standard 3D style; which was soon adopted by Acorn.
This was the time CC talked about doing their own faster more efficient operating system for the Acorn hardware. Ovation set off using the bitmap font manager, and at some point early on we moved to the outline font manager. Beebug were at one level magazine publishers, they used Macs, and the design of Ovation was influenced by Quark Express.
I plodded on, on my own, and CC cheated by employing lots of talented programmers. When Ovation eventually came out, after Impression, enthusiasm was lacking. One reviewer said it was a shame we had not written a database. Users tended to only see good in Ovation because it provided competition for Impression - of course they didn't buy it.
Ovation was a capable program, you could produce a book using it, as some people did. Beebug produced big software manuals using it. However it was not a much loved program. It did not look good. Eventually Beebug started to give it away with various products, and people I was on friendly terms with would cheerfully tell me how they had thrown away their free copy.
At the start of 1993 Beebug commissioned Ovation Pro, a new and better DTP program. That is another story... Impression meanwhile was so good people on other platforms were envious. Perhaps if it had not been tied to ARM it would have appeared elsewhere. However by 1995 CC lost interest as other platforms advanced (Windows 95?) and people moved away from RISC OS.
Looking at the source code today, it seems very primitive, but it was written in an era when hard disc drives had only just appeared and only a simple C compiler was available. I was paid a one off £16K for writing it.
When Beebug abandoned the Acorn world in 1999, they sold Ovation to David Holden's APDL. However I continued to produce new builds for the various ARM processors that appeared.
Following the death of David Holden in 2014 APDL ceased trading.
The source code for Ovation is now available below. Since this is not my program to give away, the executable version is not here, and nor are the resources like sprites and templates. Use of the code is subject to the conditions:
- Released for personal, not for commercial, use
- If alterations are made and the new build will benefit the community, the build to be submitted together with the updated source code.
You can get an executable version of Ovation from Richard Murray's blog here.
- Rick Murray managed to build Ovation from the sources. It turns out that it uses the XL library for one or two small bits of assembler; also the mk file is not set up with the flags for the latest ARM processors. You can read more on Rick's blog here and here. An improved executable version is available from the blog pages.