About Acorn and RISC OS

    Acorn Computers Ltd was a British microcomputer manufacturer founded in Cambridge, England in 1978 by Herman Hauser and Christopher Curry. During the 1980's and early 1990's, Acorn Computers were widely used in schools throught the United Kingdom, drawing may comparisons with Apple in the U.S. Acorn is probably best known for the BBC Microcomputer series of machines, first released in 1981. Over 1 million of these computers were sold, mainly to schools throughout Britain and the Commonwealth. From 1985 onwards, Acorn began development on their next line of computers, the Archimedes series. Realising no existing processor design suited their needs, they developed the Acorn RISC Machine (ARM) processor, which would be at the heart of these new computers. Acorn also developed a new operating system, RISC OS, to power them. RISC OS, initially called 'Arthur OS' for the first year whilst in beta, was a superset of the original BBC micro operating system (MOS), ported to run on the new ARM chipset. Despite the success of the Archimedes series and later machines, from the mid 1990s onwards Acorn began to lose marketshare to the (then) inferior Windows/IBM PCs, mainly due to Microsoft's superior business and marketing tactics. Acorn Computers Ltd was finally broken up in 1998, and their assets were sold off to various companies. Despite this, they left an impressive legacy, particularly to the development of RISC personal computers. A number of Acorn's former subsidiaries live on today, notably ARM Ltd who are globally dominant in the mobile phone and PDA microprocessor market.


    RISC OS (Reduced Instruction Set Computer Operating System) was designed in 1987 as the operating system of the Acorn Archemedes. It was designed to run specifically on the ARM chipset, which Acorn also designed. When Acorn was broken up in 1998, RISC OS was sold off to Pace Micro plc, and was then later aquired by Castle Technology in 2003. In 2007 Castle implemented a 'Shared Source' Liscence, which made the source code for various components of RISC OS 5 freely available for developers to modify and improve. The RISC OS source code is managed by a company called RISC OS Open Ltd. These new features and improvements are then incorporated into the next version of RISC OS 5, similar to open source Linux distributions. Meanwhile, since 1999, RISC OS Ltd have been developing a version of RISC OS 4 (now version 6) for use with (now) legacy hardware such as the Acorn RiscPC and A7000, as well as the Virtual RiscPC Windows emulator.


Why Choose RISC OS?
  • A superior, cutting-edge GUI - The RISC OS GUI is extremely easy to learn and use, as well as being simple and uncluttered. The RISC OS GUI is still considered to be ahead of its time and one of RISC OS's best features, even though it has remained largely unchanged since it was first created.

  • Reliable/Stable - the OS is stored in flash ROM, meaning that it is uncorruptable, immune to viruses and the computer will still boot into the desktop even in the absence of a hard disc.

  • Extremely efficent OS - RISC OS requires a minimum of 16MB of RAM to run and the OS itself is stored in 4MB of flash ROM. Also the ARM processor uses far less power than Intel chips, eliminating the need for a fan, or any form of cooling for that matter. Despite this, it is still able to cope with the demands of a modern desktop computer.

  • Full drag and drop - the use of drag and drop instead of Cut 'n' Paste and Open/Save dialogue boxes means that there is greater clarity throught the UI, such as dragging and dropping pictures/graphics into a blank Artworks document. This makes the RISC OS GUI very easy to learn for children and people new to computers.

  • Software support - RISC OS supports a wide range of software from advanced word processors, to web browsers as well as World-Class graphic design, photo, and DTP software packages. RISC OS can import, edit and export a wide range of industry standard formats such as Microsoft Word and Excel, and Adobe PDF, Illustrator and Photoshop formats.

  • Support for modern standards - you may remember Acorns as those 'crappy' computers you used at primary school, - not any more! RISC OS has support for the USB 2 interface including printers, SD card readers and USB sticks. Also support for Gigabit Ethernet, DVD RW, PCI, and modern graphics capable of ultra high screen resolutions in millions of colours, as well as multiple monitors.

  • Simplicity - RISC OS contains no annoying wizards, e.g. instead, applications can be installed simply by dragging them from their zipped folder and dropping them where you want them to be stored. Also at the bottom of the screen is the Iconbar, invented by Acorn in 1987, this gives access to all connected devices, disc drives and running applications - meaning no annoying start menu to navigate.

  • It just works (literally) - out of the box, a new RISC OS computer can be switched straight on and boot up into the desktop ready for use within a few seconds, with all fully liscenced software pre installed on the hard disc. Also throught its lifetime, it will require virtually zero maintenance, and will always boot up ready to use.

  • Extremely fast startup time - under 10 seconds on the Castle Iyonix.


    Click the screenshots below to see RISC OS in action.
    A screenshot of the RISC OS desktop with a filer window open, a 'Netsurf' browser window open, and a drawing of an apple done in Artworks. Also other apps are running, on the right side of the iconbar. A screenshot showing the RiscPC's 486 PC card running Windows 95 in a window. The RiscPC had a slot on the main board so that an Intel or compatible processor could be fitted to run PC software. A screenshot demonstrating RISC OS's multimedia capabilities. Including Maestro, a music scoring program, ROTunes, an iTunes 'clone', and KinoAMP playing an MPEG video.
    A screenshot showing Ovation Pro, a DTP package (left), and Techwriter, a technical word processor, with MS Word export (right). A screenshot showing PhotoDesk, a bitmap photo editor, similar to PhotoShop (top left), and Draw, a vector drawing package with an ArtWorks drawing imported into it (bottom right). A screenshot showing the homepage of this website being displayed in Netsurf.


History of RISC OS Versions
    Below is a timeline of RISC OS version history, starting with version 5 of Acorn's 6502 based MOS (Machine Operating System) in 1986, through to the current versions of RISC OS 5 and 6. The timeline also shows the OS split, along with the companies that developed that particular version at the time.

    This illustration is Copyright 2011 New Century Computing. A PDF version can be found in the Documents and Stationary section on the Downloads page.

Portions Copyright 2007 - 2012 New Century Computing.