back to article RISC OS runs on fastest hardware ever

RISC OS is alive and well and running on the fastest hardware it's ever been on – and the kit only costs £120. But "kit" is the operative word... Acorn may sadly be no more than a brand name attached to fairly generic netbooks now, but Acorn's products are thriving. The Acorn RISC Machine, later renamed the Advanced RISC …

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      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Windows in 1983?

        "And finally (yes, I am known for long rambling posts, so there's light at the end of the tunnel now!), substantial parts of the core OS were written in assembler by the very people involved in the design of the processor it is running on. Howzat for speed freak satisfaction?"

        The umpire waves you away. It was an advantage in 1987, and the advantage mostly worked out for a few years because the architecture barely changed, but then, when the details really did start to change, assembly language programmers started to feel the pressure to keep everything working.

        I remember substantial panic about the StrongARM's introduction, and the woefully late 26-to-32-bit switch (upon the complete discontinuation of any hardware capable of 26-bit operation) added yet more panic. By that time, the benefits of assembly language routines for stuff like blitting operations on bog-standard graphics hardware, when everybody else's graphics hardware had become a lot more sophisticated, had sort of evaporated.

        And anyone having experienced early versions of Impression (and even later "stable" versions) can tell you that assembly language may buy you a performance benefit, but it leads to diminished stability and a lot more work to deliver additional features. The achievements of Acorn and pals were definitely notable, but the "on the metal" attitude helped quicken their demise.

  1. Stuart Halliday
    Thumb Up

    Nostalgia is a wonderful thing

    Hi Fellow-Acorn bods.

    I welcome the news of further development of hardware for ARM chips. But the RISC OS kernel really needs redesigned (just as long as we keep the GUI and its vector based OS modules).

    I can't say any more as large STEEL SHUTTERS may come slamming down!.

    That's a hint btw.

  2. hugo tyson
    Pint

    We tried to make a full-featured OS for ARM in 1985....

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ARX_%28operating_system%29

    ...but the Americans made it so overcomplicated that it was doomed to be too late.

    Interestingly even at the start of that, I and a couple of colleagues tried to get essentially an Arthur made first, but the management were certain the hardware would take at least as long as ARX.

    The BSD 4.3 port was OK, but the early ARM VM hardware had a fixed size associative page table, (so if you add more RAM the pages get bigger, not more) with far too few pages to run unix without a lot of swapping. Remember VAX pages were 128 bytes, in RISCiX they were 4k IIRC!

    ...It's Beer O'Clock....

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Go

    ARX

    Acorn fans might be interested about this:

    http://lists.cloud9.co.uk/pipermail/bbc-micro/2010-January/007795.html

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Netbook

    What we need is a netbook that dual-boots Linux and RISC OS.

    Well, OK, we don't *need* it :-). But it's the most probable way to gain any

    kind of uptake, and talk of ARM netbooks has risen the last year.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters

    Beware bearded men

    There's a word for people who still use Risc OS.

    Telly Savalis used it frequently. Once.

  6. tony trolle
    Linux

    Risc PC

    arr those where the days, 486 board running win95 then win98.

    Its just when we started to use the 486 more than the Risc side we just bought a new x86 system.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Boffin

    A pedant's guide to terminology

    A lot of the RISC OS world has degenerated into pedantry and anal-retentiveness regarding the correct spelling and use of the terms related to the OS and some of Acorn's products. This can already be seen towards the start of the comments here, and throughout other comments as "long-time users" fail to even spell the name of the OS correctly. And so, to clarify, and since this is a long-standing tradition within the RISC OS world, I present the pedant's guide to RISC OS naming terminology:

    RISC: Reduced Instruction Set Computer (an acronym, therefore all upper case)

    OS: Operating System (an acronym, therefore all upper case)

    RISC OS: The acronymic name of Acorn's OS. Note a space between the two acronyms.

    Risc/os: A MIPS-based OS from the '80s, not directly related to Acorn.

    Risc/OS: Nothing under this name exists.

    RiscOS: Nothing under this name exists.

    RISCOS: Nothing under this name exists.

    Furthermore, there was a groundbreaking and extremely popular machine released in the mid-'90s called the RiscPC. While this is, technically, the Risc[half-space]PC, this is impossible to achieve in most situations and so either RiscPC or RPC are used. "Risc PC" is generally not used, and neither is "RISC PC", since it is a brand name (and therefore a proper noun) rather than a descriptive acronym.

  8. Torben Mogensen

    Register-level GUI calls

    Anonymous Coward complained that the GUI calls were all register level with no high-level standard library support. While this made programming the GUI somewhat tedious, it was a consequence of there being no default programming language other than BASIC. Many GUI applications were, in fact, written in BASIC, and some unofficial libraries that packed the OS-level calls into BASIC procedures were made. But many applications were written directly in assembly language.

    This is not as bad as it sounds: ARM assembly language was (and still is) far easier to write by hand than most competing assembly languages, and most of the programmers that wrote applications for RISC OS started their careers by writing applications for the BBC micro, which was mostly done in 6502 assembly language, so for them ARM assembly language was such a relief that they didn't feel they needed a high-level language.

    There also was no clear agreement on what the proper high-level language should be. This was before C became ubiquitous on platforms outside the Unix family: Windows and Macintosh used mostly Pascal variants and Acorn had used Modula 2 for some projects, including the abandoned ARX operating system, but it was becoming clear at the time that Modula 2 would not gain the same popularity as Pascal. So there was no obvious language for which to make a standard GUI library. Hence, making the GUI API OS-level was a reasonable choice, as you could build on top of this in any language, which many people did.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Register-level GUI calls

      "So there was no obvious language for which to make a standard GUI library. Hence, making the GUI API OS-level was a reasonable choice, as you could build on top of this in any language, which many people did."

      I think C was in pretty widespread use on the Microsoft platform by the time Windows 3.1 was introduced, and as you note, C is the traditional systems programming language of choice on Unix-related platforms. Acorn had a bunch of people doing work in C, at least at the turn of the 1990s, not least because they were brushing up against Unix and getting people in to do the RISC iX port of Unix, so I don't think there should ever have been any doubt about what sort of language support should have been provided.

      Microsoft was able to get a lot of developers quickly by getting the tools out there and providing APIs that, although they might have sucked in comparison to platforms like NeXTSTEP, were just absent on RISC OS. Many people may have written wrappers around the low-level APIs, but apart from the proprietary ones, they didn't seem well developed. It must have been a bizarre experience working at Acorn, having access to and experience with Unix-based toolkits like Tk which, although looking archaic now, were in a different league to anything widely available for RISC OS, and yet not providing such toolkits for RISC OS.

  9. nemo20000
    Go

    "We are made of star stuff"

    This article being the most read on The Reg at the mo’ tells its own story. And the number of familiar names here is also telling. ;-) Acorn may have been struck down, but it has gone on to be more influential than anyone could have imagined.

    And never let it be forgotten, that though Apple gives us phones you can't hold in your left hand, Acorn gave us this:

    http://www.john-ward.org.uk/personal/john/computers/html/rocket.html

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