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About RISC OS
RISC OS is a British computer operating system, which provides an alternative to the more familiar mainstream systems such as Windows, Mac OS and Linux. Originally developed in Cambridge during the 1980s by Acorn Computers, it first ran on the ARM-based Archimedes range of desktop computers.
These days, RISC OS continues to run natively on a number of ARM-based computers, as well as being available to users of Windows, Mac OS X and Linux through emulation.
The main strengths of RISC OS are its flexibility and ease of use, which still make it an extremely productive system for many tasks. You can find out more about what makes RISC OS different in our introduction to RISC OS for the uninitiated.
The desktop version of RISC OS is primarily looked after by RISCOS Ltd, who are currently developing RISC OS 6. This is a successor to of RISC OS 4, and both versions run on emulated systems as well as native hardware such as the RiscPC, RiscStation, Microdigital Omega, and A9home.
RISC OS 5 was developed from an early version of RISC OS 4 by Tematic and Iyonix Ltd for use on the Iyonix PC, which was released in late 2002. Most of the source code for RISC OS 5 has now been made available through a shared source license by RISC OS Open Ltd, allowing third-party developers to contribute to the system.
Which system to use is largely dictated by the hardware available: RISC OS 5 runs on the Raspberry Pi, BeagleBoard and Iyonix PC, with experimental ports underway for hardware such as the PandaBoard and RiscPC, while RISC OS 4 and RISC OS 6 run on all other systems. Software is usually compatible with all three versions of the OS, unless it requires specific hardware features.
RISC OS requires hardware based on an ARM processor, although it can also be used on systems running Windows or Mac OS X with the help of an emulator. The latter option gives all the benefits of RISC OS, along with the ability to use the underlying system when appropriate.
At present, most native hardware solutions are based around the BeagleBoard and BeagleBoard xM, which runs RISC OS 5 and can either be assembed as a DIY project or bought as a as a ready-to-run system in the form of the ARMini from R-Comp or the BIK from a4com. RISC OS 5 also runs on the Raspberry Pi, and there is a special distribution available for that machine. Older native hardware is also available; the most common systems are the Iyonix PC from Iyonix Ltd, the RiscPC, which many still use as their main computer, and the A9home, which was designed by Advantage Six and is marketed by CJE Micro’s.
Most emulated systems are based on the Virtual RiscPC software, which is developed by Virtual Acorn for Windows or Mac OS X machines. While this can easily be bought on its own and installed on an existing computer, pre-configured “hybrid systems” can be bought in desktop and laptop form from companies including R-Comp.
For those who are happy to get a little more ‘hands-on’, RPCEmu offers an open-source emulation system that works on Linux, as well as Windows and Mac OS X systems. It comes without a copy of RISC OS, but copies of RISC OS 4 can be bought from RISCOS Ltd in a suitable format for £5.
You can find out more about the various systems that run RISC OS in our guide to RISC OS hardware.
RISC OS has an active community, with a number of local user groups (including ourselves), print magazines, websites and online forums.
For more information, www.riscos.info provides a Wiki-based overview of the platform along with information for users and developers. Alternatively, www.riscos.org provides a general overview of the platform aimed at users, along with links to other resources including magazines, software and developers – unfortunately the site has not been updated since early 2009, so the news items and some of the other details are now out of date.
If you want to know more, why not just contact us?