back to article Roughly 30 years after its birth at UK's Acorn Computers, RISC OS 5 is going open source

Not to be outdone by the open sourcing of an early version of MS-DOS for Intel chippery, version 5 of RISC OS – arguably the original commercially successful Arm operating system – is going fully open source. History lesson RISC OS was designed and developed by Acorn Computers, once dubbed the Apple of Britain, in the 1980s to …

  1. Alan Bourke

    The Archimedes was a brilliant machine.

    Way ahed of its time. I wrote a music tracker on it that worked with four tracks of samples, in BASIC. Try doing that on a Miggy or ST.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The Archimedes was a brilliant machine.

      It's biggest problem was the lack of keyboard shortcuts. Just an alt-tab combo could have saved it.

    2. Waseem Alkurdi

      Re: The Archimedes was a brilliant machine.

      And this BOFH episode I dedicate to you my friend:

    3. Captain Scarlet

      Re: The Archimedes was a brilliant machine.

      I want someone to go "Challenge Accepted", not me though (It will end up with the poor machine exploding like when Homer pressed the any key in The Simpsons)

  2. RyokuMas

    The more things change...

    "Pretty much everyone got rich off the breakup of Acorn... except the community of enthusiasts and developers that had bought into and supported Acorn products for a decade or more.

    ... the more they stay the same. Who would be a developer???

    1. Chris Evans

      Re: The more things change...

      "Pretty much everyone got rich off the breakup of Acorn... except the community of enthusiasts and developers that had bought into and supported Acorn products for a decade or more."

      Dealers also lost out. My company which specialised exclusively in the RISC OS market had just invested significantly when Acorn canned the desktop division:-(

      Great news about the licensing and a very good informative article!

      1. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: "Dealers also lost out."

        True. true, just added that to the piece.

        I remember buying a Viewfinder from you, Chris. Much appreciated at the time.


        1. phuzz Silver badge

          Re: "Dealers also lost out."

          "I remember buying a Viewfinder from you, Chris"

          It's amazing he found the time, between being on Radio 2, and being an Avenger.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. Tigra 07

    I see butt plug, i upvote...

    I like that the Acorn logo looks like a butt plug...

    1. VinceH

      Re: I see butt plug, i upvote...

      Nonsense - that's clearly Weebl after he's eaten a bit too much pie.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: I see butt plug, i upvote...

        The proper name for a bell end, glans, comes from the Latin for acorn.

    2. Francis Boyle Silver badge

      Re: I see butt plug, i upvote...

      Try using that as a butt plug and you'll be in the ER in no time.

      1. Tigra 07

        Re: I see butt plug, i upvote...

        Yes...And this is a Christmas Tree...


        1. DropBear

          Re: I see butt plug, i upvote...

          Actually, that looks like bait for catching a partner for a number of completely different, size-related fetishes...

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: I see butt plug, i upvote...

          Tigra 07,

          It is a Christmas Tree (if you squint a little !!!) ...... just be careful when you put on the Tinsel, Holly and Star !!! :=)

    3. Long John Brass

      Re: I see butt plug, i upvote...

      11 down-votes, I see the puritan I'm offended by that crowd are out in force again today

      1. Tigra 07

        Re: Long John Brass

        "11 down-votes, I see the puritan I'm offended by that crowd are out in force again today"

        And not one of them said "won't somebody please think of the children".

  4. steelpillow Silver badge


    When the BBC Micro was dominant, the company realised that it had enough money to develop either a next-generation school micro or its ARM processors. It chose the latter and, financially, that decision cannot be faulted. The Archimedes/RISC PC was always going to be a kooky and expensive niche, supported only by a shrinking band of Acorn fans, but its processor is fast taking over the world.

    Like me. I went through three or four RISC OS machines and still have a working RISC PC. Had to move to Wintel for a few years until Linux desktops became productive enough.

    Attempts to reach the present announcement have been going on for a long time. RISC OS Open Ltd, aka ROOL, were formed several years ago, with exactly this as their ambition. Looks like the eternal bitchfights between IP owners have at last been settled.

    H'mm. Maybe my next upgrade will be a Pi dual-booting RISC OS and Devuan. That would be nice.

    And I'll tell you what else. How about a nigh-on unhackable ROM-based, compact and lightning-fast but still fully-featured, and Open Source, OS to power the IoT? That would be nice, too.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Observations

      Quite amazing that OSes for what were once entirely suitable to be used for fully-fledged computers can now be considered as viable OSes for IoT devices.

      What did Windows, OS X, and Linux bring to the party apart from hardware improvements just to be able to run them in the first place?

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Observations

        > What did Windows, OS X, and Linux bring to the party apart from hardware improvements just to be able to run them in the first place?

        As a '90s gamer, DOS was my main environment, and Windows was largely ignorable. RISC OS just wasn't available for my x86 machine. I'd used RISC OS at school just as I had used Atari ST and Amiga equivilents at friends' houses (and was jealous of their sprite based games libraries).

        OSX seems to have served Apple and their users well, especially those (mainly DTP and music professionals) who hung on in there during the '90s. I've not heard of RISC OS being considered by Apple before they brought in NeXT.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Re: Observations

          Presumably RISC OS, if Apple's software people knew about it, was not considered because it was ARM instead of PowerPC. BeOS was considered though.

          OS X until 10.2 wasn't that usable and the high point was 10.6.

          1. ThomH

            Re: Observations

            I can't speak confidently as to the others, which is going to make me sound like an apologist, but I know that macOS née OS X spends modern-scale processor cycles on:

            (i) using the full set PDF primitives for all desktop drawing;

            (ii) the dynamic dispatch that underlies its approach to UI building;

            (iii) contrasted with Risc OS, the various context switch costs associated with preemptive multitasking and a full implementation of protected memory*; and

            (iv) various things that were historically optional: the file indexing that goes into Spotlight, the background backup of Time Machine, the remote syncing of iCloud file storage, etc.

            * if memory serves, Risc OS protects applications from each other, but doesn't protect the OS from applications.

            Do you necessarily want these things? Tough, you're getting them.

    2. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Observations

      > And I'll tell you what else. How about a nigh-on unhackable ROM-based, compact and lightning-fast but still fully-featured, and Open Source, OS to power the IoT?

      It would, but the trouble with it being ROM based is how to patch a vulnerability that is undiscovered at the time of shipping - as we've just seen with Amazon's Free RTOS. To quote Douglas Adams "the problem with something that is designed never to go wrong is that it is a lot harder to fix when it does go wrong than something that was designed to go wrong in the first place".

      Of course you could take a small RTOS and subject to it to much scrutiny, or take a mature RTOS on the grounds that any vulnerabilities would have been found by now. There's also active research in OS kernals that are mathematically proven to do what they're supposed to - Formal Verification.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: Observations

        the trouble with it being ROM based is how to patch a vulnerability that is undiscovered at the time of shipping - as we've just seen with Amazon's Free RTOS.

        System for extending functionality of a digital ROM using RAM/ROM jump tables and patch manager for updating the tables

        Yes, it's a patent for what was common in 80s home micros. And, of course, it's by Apple in 1999.

      2. Chris Evans

        Re: Observations

        ROM versions of RISC OS can be patched, though users on Modern hardware (Raspberry Pi, Titanium, RapidO Ig, ARMX6 etc) do use a boot loader to load the 'ROM image' of the OS' so it can now easily be changed/patched, which can be a good and also a bad thing.

        1. steelpillow Silver badge

          Re: Observations

          ROM based OS can be as permanent or as upgradeable as you like. For example the EAROM (Electrically Alterable ROM) can be reprogrammed by enabling a special hardware signal, while Acorn made the ROM physically swappable and distributed OS upgrades by sending out a replacement chip. The BIOS in the average desktop PC faces similar issues but is mostly a lot more easily updated - and hence a lot more easily hacked.

          An OS in ROM is not a panacea for all ills, but it helps finesse security management.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Observations

            I upgraded RISC OS 2 to RISC OS 3.1 - only two chips to unplug and replace.

    3. MOV r0,r0

      Re: Observations

      Well it's not like they had a choice - they couldn't do the former as there was no 6502 replacement that suited them so they did the latter. I think the article implies that.

      This was an age when eg IDE was a novelty, the problem was that Acorn were used to doing peripheral control on the CPU to cut hardware costs and arrive at a viable price point but you can't have your CPU disappearing into it's own microcode for a dozen (plus some random number of) clock cycles without your OS thinking the hardware has failed. IIRC MUL was the first ARM instruction to take more than one clock tick and if you watch an ARM running RISC OS it's forever jumping into and out of Supervisor Mode.

      There's no need to be revisionist over the history. The truth is the Master series hung around in education for an embarrassing length of time and left the door open for the competition which consequently sealed Acorn's fate. That ARM didn't disappear is 50% excellent judgement and 50% good timing/luck.

      As for unhackable, as with BBC MOS, RISC OS routines were called through vectors plus those OS ROM modules were fully relocatable and could be replaced by soft loaded RAM resident versions and often were cos patching. Hacking the OS was half the fun and yes, still got mine too.

  5. WallMeerkat


    "Particularly if you feel like squeezing that Pi into the shell of an unloved 1980s Acorn Micro or Archi to get whole retro thing going on."

    Or one of those Fuze boxes that looks a bit like a BBC Micro :) (FUZE T2-SE-R I think)

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: Retro

      There is a company doing an interface apapter between BBC Model B keyboard and USB, so you can hollow out an old yellowed Beeb and put it back to work with RISCOS.

  6. Craig 2

    Fond, fond memories of BBC Basic, it was a joy to work in and ahead of it's time for creating structured code. The Archimedes came along towards the end of my school time and I mainly remember being wowed by the "Lander" demo.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      The 3D Lander demo? Great, only allowed to play it on last IT class of the term though.

      Super SWIV was good!

    2. jasha

      And being able to chuck assembler straight into your basic code. The best BASIC by miles.

    3. Mage Silver badge

      Re: it was a joy to work in and ahead of it's time for creating structured code

      Only compared to other Basics or Fortran.

      It was prehistoric and there were real languages available.

      BBC Basic 1981 (I thought earlier?) according to Wikipedia.

      UCSD Pascal was first released in 1978. I used it on an Apple II.

      Modula-2 1978

      C 1973

      I'd argue that even Forth (since 1972, also built in on Jupiter Ace in 1982) is better than Basic for learning.

      There were loads of good languages for learning that could have, and many did, run on BBC Micro, Apple II, IBM PC (it originally had a Basic in ROM and could use a cassette tape, I think?), Research Machine. Especially on CP/M, from about 1977, PC didn't reach UK & Ireland till 1981.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: it was a joy to work in and ahead of it's time for creating structured code

        You're not wrong, but I'd say, horses for courses. As in, the Beeb and their BASIC was years ahead of what was on offer for comparable markets and users at the time. C64 BASIC wasn't up to much if I recall and you certainly weren't getting any of that inline assembler goodness, or rich documentation. And all this out of the box, with Mum and Dad not having to spend a penny more to get little Johnny and Jane started on this new-fangled computing thing.

        The get-started-for-cheap-n-easy thing shouldn't be underestimated. I'd posit that Modula-2 and suchlike were not cheap or easy at the time and it wasn't until Borland Turbo Pascal and Zortech C came out on the PC at the bargain price of $29.99 that there was a comparable replacement on the PC.

      2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: it was a joy to work in and ahead of it's time for creating structured code @Mage

        I have often thought about what it was that made the micro revolution happen in the 1980s.

        My thoughts are that one of the reasons was the immediacy of getting something done that hooked the youth of the '80s. Rocking up to a machine, typing a four or five line program followed by RUN, and having colours splatted all over the screen, or random beeps coming from the speaker says to a newbie "look, you can do magical things", and they're hooked, almost in no time flat.

        BASIC was the best tool at the time for this first step. Quick to learn, easy to remember, and immediate.

        I look at what is necessary to learn Pascal, Modula and the other compiled languages. First you have to learn the editor. Then you have to write the code. Then you work out how to compile, and only then (assuming that you don't get any cryptic errors from the compiler), you get to see the results. Even using IDEs puts too much complexity in the first step before you achieve anything.

        Most of the youth of today will turn off after exhausting their limited attention span at the point that you have to invoke the compiler. And this IMHO is the problem with most modern languages used for teaching.

        Add to this the need to learn quite complex language constructs before being able to write syntactically correct code in things like Python, currently the poster boy of teaching languages, and you will turn off more kids than you attract, even if they are quite able.

        I saw this in the early '80s. I worked in a UK Polytechnic, and had several intake years on HMC and HMD computing courses coming in having learned BASIC on Spectrum VIC20 and C64 systems (amongst others) who sat down at a terminal, learned how to log in and use an editor like EDT, and start writing Pascal, complaining bitterly that this was not what they thought computing was all about, and why was it so complicated! Once they got over the hump, they were fine, but some did not get that far.

        Similarly, my father learned to program on Spectrum and BBC micros, and as a retirement present in about 1992 was given an 8086 MS/DOS PC, and one of the first things he asked me was "How do I write a program that draws pictures and plays sounds" (things he had been doing for years to aid the teaching he was doing), and I had to say that it was not built in to MS/DOS, and even GW Basic by itself without extra software packages.

        I don't believe that he ever wrote another program ever again.

        Your comment about Forth is interesting. I learned Forth as an additional language (PL/1, APL, C and Pascal were my primary languages then) back in the 1980's (ironically on a BBC Micro with the HCCS Micro Forth ROM, not Acornsoft Forth), and I would say that it is an extremely poor language to for a newbie to learn programming in. The stack based arithmetic system is completely non-intuitive to someone who has not studied computing already (good grief, most people have difficulty understanding and using named variables in a computer program), and although you can define meaningful words in the dictionary, most of the primitives are terse, and impossible to guess the meaning of without reading the manual. And even getting to the point where you could define a word would tax most kids I have known.

        At least most Fortran/Algol/BASIC/COBOL based languages have their keywords closely matching English and sometimes mathematical languages. And BASIC scores well in not having strict typing, something that becomes more important as you get more proficient, but a real barrier to someone just learning.

        So in my view, as a first stepping stone, BASIC is a good start to gain the concepts of programming, followed on by a move to a more comprehensive language. And BBC BASIC was one of the fastest and best.

        Could it be bettered? Yes, I'm sure it could, but Javascript and Python are not it!

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Re: it was a joy to work in and ahead of it's time for creating structured code @Mage

          Yes!! It's almost like you need a code that people can use for any purpose, with easy symbols and keywords, for beginners

          A Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code perhaps.

          I'll see myself out :)

  7. WonkoTheSane


    Can I burn it to eproms to install in my STILL WORKING StrongARM RiscPC?

    1. Chris Evans

      Re: Eproms?

      Theoretically yes. I've certain seen copies of Arthur (RISC OS 1 by another name) and RISC OS 2 in EPROM. They only needed 2 x 500K or 1MB ROMS/EPROMS. I'm not sure if they ever made any 16bit wide 2MB EPROMS that RISC OS 3 and 4 needed.

      RISC OS 5 is available in one time PROMs.

      RISC OS 4 was available in FLASH using chips on a carrier PCB but as they couldn't be flashed in situ (No read/write connected on the 40 pin socket) PROMs were a cheaper/easier solution.

      1. WonkoTheSane
        Thumb Up

        Re: Eproms?


        I don't (yet) have an eprom programmer anyway. Learning I can get a pre-loaded OS for £30 is all I needed to know.

    2. Vulch

      Re: Eproms?

      You need to watch the address bus width. The ARM processors used by Acorn, including the StrongARM, used 27 bits (I think, getting on for 20 years since I left Acorn) of the notional 32. More recent versions use the whole 32 and I think RISC OS 4 and 5 are intended for the full width architecture. It may or may not be possible to build for the older architecture.

    3. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Eproms?

      You can even use pin compatible Flash Memory, you can make an adaptor for BIOS chip on a 486, boot floppy that updates BIOS, swap jumper so blank Flash memory connected (I've actually swapped out a BIOS chip while power on and put in a blank DIL IC) then use Bios update command with argument for your custom BIN file. You can make a simple adaptor and use 486 PC compatible reprogrammed BIOS IC as a cartridge on an original game boy. There used to be a scope adaptor. You can write the program for the "Gameboy original" using Modula-2, Pascal, C or Z80 Assembler on a CP/M emulator on DOS, or in DOSbox on MacOS, Windows, Linux or even RiscOS.

      I've not used actual EPROMS since pin compatible Flash Memory came out.

  8. theOtherJT Silver badge

    RiscOS really was magnificent but...

    ...without preemptive multitasking it feels a little fragile these days. If you have a process go rogue for some reason, you can lock up the entire system.

    The thing that sticks with me today however, is that for all the years I used these things, I don't remember that ever happening. The software quality back then must have been fantastic.

    1. werdsmith Silver badge

      Re: RiscOS really was magnificent but...

      RiscOS really was magnificent but...

      ...without preemptive multitasking it feels a little fragile these days. If you have a process go rogue for some reason, you can lock up the entire system.

      It runs on Raspberry Pi but can only use one of the CPU's quad cores.

      1. Tom 7

        Re: RiscOS really was magnificent but...

        Run it on the single core zero then! I have a copy of the version that was released for the Pi 'originally' and its gobsmackingly fast compared to Raspbian. It seems to run like a dream on the Zero but the apps were few and far between. I really wished someone would put the GNU developer stack on it and now it seems my dream may come true.

    2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: RiscOS really was magnificent but...

      Whilst it was co-operative multitasking with no interrupt driven scheduler, the points at which a process could lose the CPU were built into many of the system calls, including the ones to read keystrokes from the keyboard and the mouse position.

      What this meant was that if you were doing any I/O through the OS, there were regular points where control could be wrested from a process.

      That's not to say that it was not possible to write a process that would never relinquish the CPU, but most normal processes are not written like that.

      The real issue (IIRC) is that the earlier versions of RiscOS did not enforce any memory space virtualisation or separation. All processes had to be written as position independent code that could sit anywhere in memory, and used the OS to manage their data space. This meant that in this day and age, RiscOS would be regarded as a really insecure OS.

      1. YARR

        All processes had to be written as position independent code that could sit anywhere in memory

        Are you sure about that? I thought this applied only to relocatable modules, not application tasks which ran in user mode? IIRC the MEMC presented the memory pages allocated to a task as a fixed address space, protected from other tasks. Only relocatable modules run in a privileged mode / ring with access to the full physical address space.

        1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

          Am I sure?

          I'm no expert, although I have looked into the memory layout of RiscOS because I was interested.

          It may be that over the different versions of RiscOS, new features were included, but Wikipedia indicates RiscOS 2 did not have virtual addressing, and I saw nothing in the remaining history to indicate that it was added later.

          It is quite true that MEMC did have memory protection capabilities, but from what I have read, it was not used in the earlier versions of RiscOS, although I am sure that it was used in RISC iX.

          I find it hard to believe that the current versions of RiscOS do not have memory protection, but my original post was really about RiscOS under Acorn's custodianship.

          1. YARR

            This applies to classic RISCOS up to 3.1, the latest version may work differently, since modern ARM devices have a different memory controller.


            "One-to-many mapping is used to 'hide' pages of applications away when several applications are sharing the same address (&8000 upwards) under the Desktop. These pages are, of course, not held at &8000"

            Desktop applications run in user mode, and see an address space starting at &8000, the MEMC translates this to the real address in physical memory. When the 'desktop' switches between tasks, it changes which memory pages are mapped into address &8000 and upwards, which isolates / hides those memory pages from other tasks.

            Code that runs in a privileged processor mode (like relocatable modules) can access the full memory address space. Relocatable modules are assigned memory in a shared block called the module area which is not dynamically mapped by the MEMC, allowing them to be called from anywhere. Hence the modules must use relative addressing so they can run at whatever memory address they are loaded. If modules were unloaded from memory, this could leave gaps of unrecoverable memory (unless the next module was small enough to load into a vacant gap). The result being that you often had to reboot a computer that had been running for a long time, when the module area was full.

  9. Anonymous Coward


    Good effort all round by Herman 'the German'

    1. Tom Paine

      Re: Yep

      You mean "your Prussian friend"?

    2. Stoke the atom furnaces

      Re: Yep

      Hermann Hauser was, and is, Austrian.

  10. Torben Mogensen

    A bit too old now.

    While I love the GUI, the file system (typed files, applications as folders, uniform display and print graphics, and a modular file system) the font manager and the standard applications (especially Draw), I haven't used RISC OS in over a decade. It lacks a lot of things that are needed for modern desktop/laptop use: Multi-core, pre-emptive multitasking, proper UNICODE support (unless this has been added since last I looked), support for most USB-devices, support for graphics cards, and so on. It is also a problem that it is written in ARM32-assembler. Not only does it make it harder to maintain, it also limits use on ARM64 and other modern systems (except through emulation).

    I think the best route would be to build a RISC OS desktop on top of a Linux kernel, rewriting the RISC OS modules and applications in Rust (or C), and use Linux drivers etc. to make it exploit modern hardware.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: A bit too old now.

      RISC OS has undergone steady but slow development over the years. RO5 is a lot more modern than the classic RO3.x. But the slow pace of often paid-for development under profit-hungry and peccadillo-riddled closed licensing has left a lot of holes and was one of the big reasons to push for open-sourcing it. Let's hope the community bites.

    2. Bod

      Re: A bit too old now.

      Or build a new kernel that supports multi-core and pre-emptive multitasking, which would need a fair rewrite of the OS, or gradually migrate modules and apps and run the older stuff in a subsystem layer. New drivers for new hardware.

      All possible. A lot of effort. Though if fully open source and get away from god awful CVS, it may go somewhere if there's enough interest.

      RISC OS on Linux just seems incompatible with the 'RISC' in the name, unless it's restricted to ARM Linux only.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: A bit too old now.

        A kernel can be a small part of an OS. It's all the other stuff that's the huge effort. Minix and Linux kernels didn't take long to develop. A RiscOS style OS on top of a Liinux Kernel is pointless and a lot of work. You might as well just have a RiscOS desktop/Theme for Mint.

        1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

          Re: A bit too old now.

          This already exists. OroboRox combined with Rox filer, gives a very close approximation to RISC OS.

          I don't think it's being maintained any more though :(

          Also, I believe some specifically RISC OS-like features were later removed because people didn't like them {grrrr}

          1. steelpillow Silver badge

            Re: A bit too old now.

            "This already exists."

            Indeed. ROX stands for RISC OS on X and has been around for a very long time. It came up with some innovative ideas, such as one of the first Linux-desktop taskbars, which was soon widely copied and is now the default on most desktops, and a mechanism for drag-and-drop software installation, which for some reason never made the mainstream.

            Looking forward to a touchscreen-aware generation revisiting the old paradigms.

    3. VinceH

      Re: A bit too old now.

      "I think the best route would be to build a RISC OS desktop on top of a Linux kernel, rewriting the RISC OS modules and applications in Rust (or C), and use Linux drivers etc. to make it exploit modern hardware."

      Although this isn't what you meant, take a look at this.

  11. Peter Gathercole Silver badge


    You make the comment that the graphics on Archimedes was underpowered, but you have to put in historical context.

    The original Archimedes hails back to 1987. At that time, the Atari ST520 was available and the Amiga 500 was released. The Atari had no graphics assist beyond some sprite handling, the Amiga has a blitter which automated block transfer of memory, but only in the first 512K of memory.

    The Archimedes was able to do everything that the others could just using the power of the ARM processor, and was not at a serious disadvantage.

    And at the same time in PC land, you had the CGA, EGA and early VGA adapters (plus the third party graphics cards) that did almost no processing on their own, and provided a dumb frame buffer that was manipulated by the underpowered (compared to the ARM) main processor.

    As the ARM was an efficient full 32 bit RISC processor (as opposed to the 16 or 32 bit register, 16 bit data path of the Intel and 68000 based systems) with good memory access and a high clock speed, it was able to drive a frame buffer as well or better than almost everything else available at the time. The Amiga had some advantage due to it's blitter, but IIRC, it had some serious limitations in what you could do with it.

    Where it fell behind was when the clock speed of the Intel processors started being pushed up into the decade MHz range, mainly because Acorn did not have the resources to build the higher speed ARM and ARM based systems. But this was a financial limitation, not a technical one.

    And of course Acorn never got into the graphics co-processor market that only hit the mainstream after Acorn was split up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "Underpowered"?

      >The original Archimedes hails back to 1987. At that time, the Atari ST520 was available and the Amiga 500 was released. The Atari had no graphics assist beyond some sprite handling

      Atari added BLiTTER coprocessors to its lines in 1987 - the 520 ST was released in 1985 (January 1st at that) - ie the year before Acorn released the BBC Master 128.

      1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: "Underpowered"?

        According to Wikipedia, the BLiTTER functionality was added to the ST range in late 1989, with the introduction of the STE models.

        This is Wikipedia, I know, but for things like this it is mostly correct.

        The A400 model of the Archimedes was launched in June 1987.

        The Master 128 was a continuation of the 8-bit BBC microcomputer range, which is why it was still available for continuity purposes for schools, even after the Archimedes was launched.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "Underpowered"?

          >According to Wikipedia, the BLiTTER functionality was added to the ST range in late 1989

          Was on the MegaST2 in 1987.

          >The A400 model of the Archimedes was launched in June 1987.

          Indeed, 2 years 6 months after the Atari ST you were comparing it to. Atari is a whole different tale of woe and lost opportunity of course.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "RISC architecture is going to change everything."

    - Hackers, 1995.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      ...and it did!

      If you look at the core implementation of modern Intel and many other processors, including the zSeries mainframe, they have microcoded RISC processors in them.

      And that is not taking into account the remaining RISC processors, ARM, IBM PowerPC (although this is the most un-RISC RISC processor I've ever seen), RISC-V, and MIPS derived processors that are still available.

      And I don't think that the micro-controllers and PIC processors that you find embedded in many millions of devices would exist without the research done for RISC processors.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: ...and it did!

        PIC 1976. Amazingly a code compatible Flash version of that is still sold. It was originally a Peripheral Interface Controller (PIC) for a more complex CPU. The Load/Store architecture is more accurate than RISC, as many are not really reduced instruction set compared with x86 or 6800. That dates from the 1960s, but RISC research in the current (or ARM) sense of the phrase is really since 1980. Not 1976! Micro-controllers such as in the late 1970s early 1980s and now with x20 clock speed, RAM and Flash added owe almost nothing to RISC research. Only microcontrollers / ASIC with ARM, MIPS and PowerPC cores.

  13. sack

    I loved my trusty A3010 (the exact machine that the demo in the first youtube video was captured from).

    Yes there was a lot of jealousy of the Amiga because it got all of the 'good stuff' on my part, but the 'if you want it you'll just have to code it' mentality it gave me, the fact that coding was so accessible in RISC OS (the basic doubles up as a macro assembler, although I preferred !extASM) and the fact that instruction set-wise I ended up on the right side of history all led to good things.

  14. Giovani Tapini

    I had an A310 and loved it

    I am now worried that things I saw as new are museum pieces, that's making me feel old.

    I recall cutting my teeth on the RISC assembler and wondering naively why this simple approach wasn't common across other processors at the time. Indeed I occasionally find this thought resurfacing even now...

    The BBC basic on the Archimedes had been upgraded too and included lots of extra commands. My foray in to counting degrees with COS and SIN to draw shapes was replaced with the command CIRCLE. My nerdiness wasted from that point.

    And yes, the OS and GUI were very good indeed, particularly for the time. Yes there were some things we are now used to that hadn't been thought of but it has been a long time before other GUI interfaces came even close. The mindset behind it was the best asset, not the specific features (or lack of).

    Yes, it may not have become an industry standard, but it was a very well designed and executed bit of kit for its time, and I still miss it.

    1. Admiral Grace Hopper

      Re: I had an A310 and loved it

      I didn't have and Acorn - my Dad bought us a Dragon 32 - but I share your feelings about the passage of time. Every time I visit the National Museum Of Computing it becomes a tick list of machines I used to own, machines I use to work on and machine I use to covet.

  15. This post has been deleted by its author

  16. andy 103
    Thumb Up


    "Tesco – a massive supermarket chain in Britain at the time "

    Yeah, they've only got 1 store left now, haven't they?!

    On a more serious note, I remember the vouchers for schools scheme. But I don't think that's what killed Acorn off - not to that extent anyway. My school started to buy IBM PC hardware in the early-mid 1990's. They had a combination of Acorn machines and PC's. They even had 1 Mac but I don't recall which model. I liked the Acorn machines but remember that it was the application software on the PC's that simply blew them out of the water. I think as well (some) schools had a foresight to realise that as their students entered workplaces they'd be more likely to use IBM PC's and investing in anything further from Acorn would have been a bit of a backwards step. Essentially, it was good, but not for that long.

    1. Mage Silver badge

      Re: Tesco

      Also they promoted the PC jr, a massive fail of a cost reduced IBM PC.

      It was more the grants that fuelled BBC Micro, Apple II and Research Machine 380z in schools. Mad selection.

  17. heyrick Silver badge

    the best-ever source-code editor StrongEd

    You know Zap's better, right? :-)

    1. VinceH

      Re: the best-ever source-code editor StrongEd

      Nope. StrongED all the way. :p

  18. Jim Nagel

    Vector drawing

    Another thing Riscos has had since Day One, built in as part of the rom, is the quite sophisticated application !Draw. As a result, vector art has been taken for granted in Acornland since 1987, and every other application on the platform knows how to handle a drawfile. By comparison, few everyday users in the Windows or Apple worlds have any idea of the distinction between vector and bitmap.

    1. Torben Mogensen

      Re: Vector drawing

      One thing that I would have wanted for RISC OS is to allow !Draw-files for file/application icons. This would allow them to be arbitrarily scalable, and a bit of caching would make the overhead negligible. It was such caching that made Bezier-curve fonts render in reasonable time on an 8MHz machine. Similarly, you could define cursor shapes as !Draw files to make cursors easily scalable. Thumbnails of files could also be !Draw files.

      Another obvious extension would be folder types, similar to file types. As it is, you need a ! in front of a folder name to make into an application, and there are no other kinds of folder than normal or application. Using types, you can make, say, word-processor files into typed folders. For example, a LaTeX folder could contain both .tex, .aux, .log, .toc, and all the other files generated by running LaTeX. I recall that one of the RISC OS word processors used application folders as save files, but that meant that all file names had to start with !. You could get rid of this for both save files and applications by using folder types instead.

      For modern times, you will probably need more bits for file types than back in the day. I don't know if later versions of RISC OS has added more bits, bit if not you might as well add folder types at the same time that you add more bits for file types.

    2. ThomH

      Re: Vector drawing

      In their defence, the classic Mac OS natively supported PICT files — a merely serialisation of QuickDraw API commands, and therefore usually considered a vector file format — from day one, and it was expected that applications would be able to open and use them anywhere an image could be placed. It just didn't come with a decent editor.

      Microsoft did much the same thing in WMF, but not until Windows 3.0.

  19. Pete M

    What I grew up with...

    My Dad bought an Acorn for our first family PC and it's what I grew up with - he was an IT tinkerer and it was the one we had in our school so made sense. Great computer - still miss that middle mouse button even now sometimes.

    And the games, I miss some of those games - some were just ports of widely available Amiga and other things of that era (best version of Elite) but there was a company called 4th Dimension who did games exclusively for Acorn and I'm the only person who remembers them!

    Maybe when the Crostini thing on ChromeOS goes stable I'll learn how to use Linux and figure out how to emulate some of them...

    1. defiler

      Re: What I grew up with...

      I also remember 4th D. As I recall, they did E-Type, Saloon Cars, Holed Out, Chocks Away, and Apocalypse(?), amongst others.

      Ah - them were the days. All innocent and full of unicorns, before DooM came and ruined us all.

      1. Pete M

        Re: What I grew up with...

        Chocks Away - maybe the first game I ever played! Landing was bloody difficult (like docking in Elite but worse...). Remember having dogfights with my friend.

        They did an awesome puzzle game called Cataclysm - you're a little spaceman with a jetpack who has to position a limited amount of blocks around a damaged space station to ensure that all the liquid falling goes into a funnel at the bottom. Maybe not explaining it well but that is a truly lost gem that would actually probably do really well if it was on the Play/App Store without any tweaks.

        Maybe that's an idea for some of those guys if they're still around - update them as mobile games.

        Other games of that era I remember are James Pond and its sequel, Zool and Pac-Mania (3D pacman, you could jump over the ghosts)

        If you'll excuse me I think I need to play a sounds of the early 90s Spotify list and weep for my lost innocence now...

  20. karlkarl Silver badge

    What I find sodding annoying is that before the raspberry Pi came out there was a gap of around 10/15 years where it was almost impossible to get a machine capable of running RISC OS.

    When the Raspberry Pi dies off in popularity again (I.e like the BBC Acorn did) will there be another gap for 15 years?

    Too few people care about digital preservation

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      Not So

      There are machines in production right now that are designed from the ground up for RISC OS.

      Start here:

      1. Chris Evans

        Re: Not So

        The Titanium was designed with RISC OS in mind.

        rcomp's ARMX6 uses the iMX6

        and 4Ds RapidO Ig uses an IGEPv5 motherboard

        Whilst the Raspberry Pi wasn't designed with RISC OS as its sole OS. I know one of the key Broadcom BCM2835 designers was a RISC OS fan and did the initial porting of RISC OS to the Broadcom chip. Thanks Adrian!

      2. karlkarl Silver badge

        Re: Not So

        I guess I stand corrected.

        That said, were these products around ~2 years ago? I remember looking for a very long time and my only options were a second hand Iyonix or Virtual RPC.

        What chips were in them before the ARM Cortex A8, A9 and A15 chips came out?

  21. Rainer


    Dad threw out my RISC-PC during a clean-up of the basement a couple of years ago :-(

    Very sad.

    I had spent almost all the money that I received during my year of mandatory service at the German Armed Forces on it and a 17" CRT from Iiyama (which was pretty high-end at the time).

    I upgraded it to the StrongARM CPU daugherboard when it became available (even pre-paid for it and received a reservation-number - Acorn was ahead of the curve there, too: they preempted Kickstarter by a decade..). It had SCSI-disks, SCSI-CDROM...

    I loved the integrated vector graphics program ("Draw", IIRC), as well as TechWriter.

    And the ChangeFSI picture-format conversion utility...

    RISC-OS taught me many important concepts of computing - and it truly was a joy to use.

    1. defiler

      Re: Sadly

      Hah - ChangeFSI. I'd forgotten about that. The docs explained how Floyd-Steinberg error diffusion worked, and I used that to write a program to print .PPM files in colour, requesting the closest colour from the printer driver, setting that as the PLOT colour, drawing a pixel to the page, and smearing the difference around the surrounding pixels.

      Was slow as hell, but it did a *lot* of OS calls from BASIC. Maybe this is why I pull apart everyone's graphics these days.

  22. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Heretics have more fun

    Sigh... sounds like a Nanny Ogg novel...

  23. Mage Silver badge

    arguably other languages better suited to the modern world

    Better suited even in 1983, I know because I used them. VB6 (and maybe VB5?) with Option Explicit was the only really viable Basic. RAD / Demos. Even at a pinch sensible windows applications. I looked at BBC Basic, Basic on Apple II and on the Spectrum. Near useless for learning to program properly and pretty poor for applications. There were other languages, better for learning and deployment on CP/M, Apple II, BBC Micro and Archimedes.

    I used an ACT Siruis 1 at work in 1983 and then an Apricot. I'd have liked an Archimedes at home, but it was too expensive and only just reviewd. Even an XT was beyond my budget so I bought a PCW8256 for home use and ran CP/M. Quickly added serial port, modem, 256K RAM and filed front + made adaptor cable to fit a 3.5" 720k Floppy instead of a second crazy 3" drive.

    I still have the Acorn User magazine featuring launch Archimedes, August 1987.

    I think also in the attic (along with an IBM AT and the modified PCW8256) is the Unix news:

    1. Torben Mogensen

      Re: arguably other languages better suited to the modern world

      Yes, BBC BASIC was only an improvement on what you got for default on home computers at the time, which is almost all cases were BASIC variants, and most often inferior to BBC BASIC. Hard disks were uncommon even at the time Archimedes shipped (with a floppy as standard), so using compilers were impractical -- you wanted programs to load and run without storing extra files on your floppy or using large amounts of memory for compiled code. It was only after I got a hard disk that I started using compilers on my Archimedes. Several compilers existed early on for RISC OS, including Pascal, which was arguably the most popular compiled language at the time (until C took over that role). There was even a compiler for ML, which is a much better language than both Pascal or C.

      So, to look at alternatives for BBC BASIC for floppy-only machines, let us consider languages that runs interpreted without too much overhead and which were well-known at the time. Pascal and C are rules out because they are compiled. Forth was mentioned, but only RPN enthusiasts would consider this a superior language. LISP (and variant such as Scheme) is a possibility (LISP was actually available even for the BBC MIcro as a plug-in ROM), but it is probably a bot too esoteric for most hobbyists, and it requires more memory than BASIC and similar languages. Prolog is even more esoteric. COMAL is not much different from BBC BASIC, so this is no strong contender.

      Also, BASIC was what was taught in schools, so using a radically different language would have hurt sales. So, overall, I would say BBC BASIC was a sensible choice as the default language. Other languages such as C, Pascal, or ML, were available as alternatives for the more professionally minded (who could afford hard disks and more than 1MB of RAM).

  24. cuddlyjumper

    Good luck

    Removing the rose-tinted spectacles for just a moment, RISC OS is - quite frankly - a complete mess. Still hosted in CVS. Poor documentation. (Currently) closed source development tools (IIRC). Major parts of it still sitting in 32-bit ARM assembly. Scant hardware support. No virtual memory. No multi-core support. No 64-bit support.

    Don't get me wrong. I'm every bit as nostalgic as the next Acorn person, believe you me. I'd like to see this spark fresh interest into what was (30 years ago) a really nice bit of kit. But there's a SHED load of work to do on this thing, if it's going to get any traction, and there's no immediate vision of where it's going. And given the state it's in, it's somewhat unattractive to developers who might otherwise find themselves interested in kernel/OS development in this day and age.

    1. defiler

      Re: Good luck

      Boo! Down with this sort of thing!

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: Good luck

      32-bit code is useful for IoT stuff as 32-bit ARM chips are still a thing. It'd probably be wise not to throw it out just yet.

    3. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      Re: Good luck

      @ cuddlyjumper

      Oh yes that is certainly the case, and the developers know it. Its what happens when the parent company breaks apart and the code gets no significant attention. I remember a few years ago somebody was writing a new SSL library to replace the convoluted spaghetti code mess that OpenSSL had become. LibreSSL I think it was callled and it basically chucked most of OpenSSL out of the window to get rid of the mess. OpenSSL is still widely used and became such a mess due to the fact that this heavily used code is developed by a team of...two.

      Heartbleed happened because one of the two developers made a typo.

      Somebody out there was interested enough to start writing LibreSSL, just like somebody out there is still interested in maintaining GNU Emacs. Someone will enjoy moving RISC OS into a multi-core world.

      "and there's no immediate vision of where it's going" erm I think they know exactly where they are going. They even will PAY you to help get it there.

  25. elgarak1

    No one seemed to have mentioned the elephant: Nothing mentioned in this thread matters if there are no applications people would want to use, and developers who would want to write those applications.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

      Web Browser, Email Client, Video Player, Audio Player, Document Processor, Personal Organiser, Games, Art Package.

      That's not all, but I think it covers most of what the majority of people want.

    2. DuncanLarge Silver badge

      @ elgarak1

      There are plenty of applications to cover most stuff. In fact there are UNIX/Linux compatibility libraries that allow for easy porting of software from Linux.

      RISC OS might not fulfill every need, just like Linux did only 10 years ago. In this day and age though most users tend to use multiple devices and operating systems and spread their needs across many of them. I know of a few people on youtube who say they use Linux for most things but switch to a machine running windows just to use some certain video editing software either because they know that software well or the Linux equivalent does not yet support something.

      George R.R Martin maintains a DOS machine just so he can use his fave version of Wordstar to write his novels. He knows Wordstar so well that he sees no need to move to something more modern as that will incur a significant learning curve that he simply doesnt want to bother with. I'm sure for most other things he uses a more newer machine but when it comes to writing it must be Wordstar or bust.

      One of my needs is to use Free Software wherever possible as I'm one of those guys who likes what Richard Stallman says and totally agrees with it. I do however remain flexible enough to allow personal exceptions such as booting Windows so I can use Sony Vegas as the Linux equivalents did not fully support the HD DV video format I was using. Then they started to, and now I boot windows to install windows updates and play certain windows based games/steam.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RISC OS 6

    So when will RISC OS 6 be open sourced? I can't believe there's much money to be made from it as a closed-source OS.

    1. Wilseus

      Re: RISC OS 6

      I don't think it matters, because as far as I understand it, RISC OS 6 isn't a more advanced version, it's a fork.

  27. mark l 2 Silver badge

    While I was at secondary school our IT labs only had Acorns and I had an Amiga at home, so the first time I got to use a Windows PC was when I went to college aged 16. I remember thinking at the time how backwards the PCs with DOS/Win3.11 were compared to the Acorn and even my Amiga A500 which was about 5 years old at that point.

    Now if only Acorns fortunes had been different and they could have spent the last 25 years developing RISCOS, I doubt we would have to put up with POS that is Windows 10.

  28. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    RISC OS didn't/doesn't load from ROM, it *RAN/RUNS* from ROM.

  29. DuncanLarge Silver badge

    Yay finally!

    RiscOS was the first OS with a GUI I ever used. Before I used the machines at school I was solely using a C64 at home.

    I have a RiscPC slowly being upgraded to be the best RiscPC it can and all my RPi's run RiscOS 5. All my other machines run Debian, one outcast still runs windows 10 :D

    In Risc OS 5 I can program the RPi in BBC basic with full access to the GPIO. Some have said that the BBC basic on the RPi gives you the fastest access time to GPIO pins (next to using machine code). Plus with BBC basic having an ARM assembler built in its a win win for mucking about with a bit of code and GPIO.

    Being very into Free Software and the principles behind it and the GPL I have always felt a twinge of uneasiness that parts of my fave hobby OS were still locked up here and there. Now that it has moved to the Apache 2.0 license it feels a lot better now its truly Free Software.

    I'm off to play Zarch

  30. RichardRussell

    BBC BASIC today

    As far as BBC BASIC remaining "fresh and relevant" is concerned, both 'BBC BASIC for Windows' and 'BBC BASIC for SDL 2.0' (for Windows, Linux, MacOS, Raspbian, Android and iOS) have been greatly extended compared with the version that comes with RISC OS. They include features such as named data structures, private (static) variables, unlimited-length strings, event interrupts, additional data types, indirect procedure and function calls etc.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This cannot be a coincidence

    It is being published next to articles showing how Microsoft has lost its way with Windows 10

  32. mrdalliard

    More Of This Sort Of Thing

    I have to say that this is great news. RISC OS Is still a damn good OS, which given the prevelance of nasties on other operating systems seems to reenforce it's place as a safe platform for getting things done.I know, it doesn't have cloud-enabled-this and voice-assistant-that, but to be quite honest I don't want them anyway.

    My StrongArm RISC PC (which I think is about 25-ish years old now) is still going strong on RISC OS 4.02. It does internet-type stuff nicely with NetSurf, streams some of my favourite internet audio and still allows me to do the odd thing in !Impression Style (which is still infinitely easier to do things in when compared to Word). I generate PDFs of anything I want to export elsewhere.

    The machine still gets regularly fired up for many a reason. It's a great bridge machine to the DOS world (via my PC card) and there's still some great old games that I love. I might take the plunge and upgrade in the future, although my only worry is if the PSU goes pop - they're in short supply these days.

    There's a whole pile of applications out there which could take advantage of a safe ad stable OS such as this with such a small footprint.

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