RISC OS Computers: the RISC OS Operating System

Me with my Acorn RiscPC

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The Operating System Acorn wrote for their ARM-processor powered computers is called RISC OS, and in its first version appeared in early 1989 after having been shown to the public at the PCW Show in September 1988.

This Operating System was blown into read-only chips (ROMs) so could not be corrupted or deleted. It fitted into just half a Megabyte of ROM chips, yet exhibited advanced multi-tasking capabilities, a superb desktop user interface and had a somewhat UNIX-like script programming language built in. Although it was nowhere near perfect it was certainly an impressive achievement.

Though its three-button mouse took time to learn to handle to full benefit, users soon grew accustomed to working in the amazingly productive way that RISC OS made possible; and even now, some nineteen years later, there are still thousands of dedicated users. Many of these users have other systems available to them (typically at their places of work) but a healthy proportion prefer RISC OS and simply find it more productive, more convenient in use and less frustrating than other systems. RISC OS users tend to go grey or hairless (from tearing out!) much later than users of some other systems...

Such innovations as the iconbar at the foot of the screen, button bar (first seen in ArcWriter back in January 1988!), accurate and smooth text display (anti-aliasing, still performed best on RISC OS), multiple views of the same document, drag-and-drop data and file handling, among many others were pioneered on this platform, many back in the days when other systems were essentially still single-tasking. It is no wonder that this became the platform of choice for education, as the rest of the world would have caught up with the way our youngsters had learned to work by the time they went out to get a job. That situation has now changed to some extent, but only after many years of Acorn/RISC OS dominance of the education market.

Here is a screenshot (at half scale: the original was 1600 ×1200 pixels!) of an issue of a newsletter I produced for my former employer back in 1994. Not only does this show the iconbar—rather full of icons at the time, I notice—and the multiple views of the same file, but also the very clear (and accurate) text display.


Desktop showing 'IT News'


This sheer quality and accuracy has for years enabled me to produce some very high standard work accurately, as I always knew precisely how the finished product would appear once printed, as for example in this roundel I produced for an annual competition: the final version was printed at almost a metre in diameter, so it absolutely had to be spot-on.


Roundel for the B.I.I.


It has also been helpful to have such wonderful tools available as Draw, a surprisingly advanced object-based vector drawing package that is built into all versions of RISC OS. As it is in the ROM chips of the Operating System it takes very little memory to run, too—just 76 Kbytes for the program itself on my system.

Here is the design I created from a sketch (also shown here) for a dog grooming service.


Dapper Dog


This advert was created in mid-2003 using only Ovation-Pro and Draw — not exactly the most exciting subject for a product, but far and away the highest-quality advert in the trade magazines in which it appeared! (click on the image for a larger version):

Maricollar Advert


So, we can readily see from these few examples that RISC OS is not just a powerful and conceptually advanced Operating System, it is also an excellent platform on which to work to produce real results, with a lot of genuinely useful and productive tools to perform all manner of tasks: textual, graphical, mathematical, video (an open-ended capability thanks to the innovative Acorn Replay), sound, on-line communications among many others. I know I'd feel lost without my trusty RISC OS computers, and I am far from being alone in that.

RISC OS 4 The latest versions of the Operating System are RISC OS 5 (for Iyonix and some of the mini-board systems) and RISC OS 6 (for the RiscPC).


Spinning RiscPC image


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