David Lane of SASAUG showed a Beagleboard running RISC OS at this month's meeting of ROUGOL in London. Although a keen Acorn fan, Lane is self-confessed non-techie. As he puts it: "There's one failsafe way to spot a geek: do they have a hub? Until I bought the Beagleboard, I didn't!" The first time he showed the board, he only got RISC OS running in the last 10 minutes of a two-hour demo. This time, not only did it work perfectly, but by the end he was able to get the machine on the Web via a USB Ethernet adaptor for the first time.
The ROOL port is incomplete and there are still a few gotchas. The display needs to be powered-on before the board, or it won't be detected, and the OS displays an error about a missing keyboard every boot. (It's fair enough – there's no Acorn keyboard port anywhere near the thing and never will be.) A FAT-formatted SD card holds the ROM image, but the card slot can't be accessed by RISC OS just yet, so it also needs an Acorn ADFS-formatted USB key as a boot drive. Which pretty much mandates that you have to have a working Acorn box (with USB) to hand – or a free emulator – to bootstrap the system.
But hardware-wise, you don't need much: a power supply, a couple of flash drives, a small SD card – the OS only takes 10MB – and USB keyboard, mouse and hub, plus an HDMI display or a convertor cable to hook the HDMI output into a D-SUB or DVI monitor.
And new RISC OS hardware has never been so cheap: the official price of the board in its home state of Texas is $149, which with trans-Atlantic markup converts to about £120 in the UK. You'll need some basic RISC OS-fu to get it up and running, but compared to the £1500 that the new Amiga will cost you, it's a bargain. ®
RISC OS runs on fastest hardware ever
Co-operative though it was, it was at the time leap years ahead of Windows 3.1 and then Windows 95 came along stealing the task bar concept (in fact the 'Icon Bar' pre-dated Windows task bar and Mac's dock. In general UI experience, RISC OS was speedy compared to clunky Win 95 and its pre-emptive multitasking (and whilst were on it, why is it that Windows even today can still take down the entire computer if a pre-emptive multitasking process locks up?).
C64 OS... not even remotely in the same ball park. Didn't even have a windowed interface. C64 was equivalent to the BBC Micro in terms of OS, with barely even any form of multitasking at all, and even then MS DOS was way more advanced, and RISC OS was way beyond that. RISC OS was near equivalent of Windows 95, just without the pre-emptive multitasking and the hideous registry system.
It's long in the tooth now, but for embedded systems it would be pretty good. Pre-emptive Multitasking just bloats Symbian, but otherwise the two have similar footprints. Cut out the desktop and you could build an embedded RISC OS that would be pretty rock solid.
Best thing about RISC OS was installation though.
Forget registries and installers. Just click on the app, drag to folder, job done.
Oh, and let's not forget the super speed of loading the OS thanks to putting it into ROM, and the inherent security this provides. Again, ideal for embedded systems, and if there's no registry/internal database concept (which Symbian does have), then if anything goes wrong, just power cycle and the device is back to factory default. Dodgy app? Just click, delete, gone.
Ye Authore Himsselfe responds
I must admit, even as a regular ROUGOL attendee - 'cos they're a good bunch - I do not actually ever use RISC OS any more myself. I ought to dig my A5000 out of the attic and find out if it still works.
But plain old nostalgia aside, it did have some really good aspects to it. It gave the world the icon bar, which begat the Windows 95 taskbar - indeed, Windows 7's taskbar has gone back to something considerably closer than Acorn's 1987 original. The system-wide font anti-aliasing and full-window-drag are now ubiquitous, but RISC OS did it first. And personally I feel that the RISC OS desktop was one of the most elegant and efficient GUIs ever, even if it did (and to some extent still does) lack some amazingly basic features, such as cursor-key folder navigation.
No, I wouldn't recommend RISC OS to anyone today as a mainstream OS - but it's an interesting thing to play with. It may have been largely forgotten but it was tremendously influential. And on the gripping hand, I'd give good money for one of the tiny ARM-powered netbooks running RISC OS instead, if only as a portable writing tool.
RISC OS not RiscOS
There are two completely different operating systems with similar names. RISC/os and RISC OS.
RISC OS could be thought of as a glorified version of the BBC micro operating system, in the same way windows could be thought of as a glorified version of CP/M.
Novel Netware obviously wasn't a serious operating system, by your criteria.
I would be curious to see a GUI on symbian (or even Windows mobile) that was as good as the versions of RISC OS from the early 90s, let alone its current UI.
I was going to say that serious opererating systems need good GUIs, but then I remember the state of GUIs on other systems.
Yeah, but ...
x86 hardware blows goats.
The fact that ARM has basically taken over all the other embedded device markets is something that is indeed impressive. The day someone comes out with an ARM-based "PC" and actually gets it to take a bite from the Wintel majority, it will be as revolutionary as the first PCs themselves.
Meanwhile, I'll have to keep on suffering the almost 30 year old x86 arch that has been patched over to look like it's actually good.
Wash your mouth out!
"glorified C64-style OS"
If you had said glorified BBC Micro OS I might have let you get away with it! The C64 OS was primitive compared even to that.
But neither had the fluid, consistent, well designed GUI of RISC OS. Sadly, nor does anything else :-(
I keep waiting for someone to catch up with the RISC OS GUI, but after 20 years it doesn't look like happening. It's not going to be Windows with its history of appalling GUI design, Mac OS X did get closer, and while you can change the Linux desktop it doesn't change the apps which all behave like WIndows apps.
Touch sensitive devices or gesture recognition will probably completely change the way we interact with computers, so the WIMP desktop metaphor will be replaced by something "better".
This new ARM hardware will hopefully mean I can continue using RISC OS until that happens :-)