The operating system - the baseline operating system
The most obvious choice at this point is to use Linux as the operating system. Generally, when people talk about 'Linux', they are actually referring to Linux (the kernel) + gnu user tools + X11 + desktop environment + whatever else the distributor has added to the distribution. Hence, a typical desktop Linux can be quite resource hungry. However, properly specified Linux also has a proven track record of offering services within a restricted resource environment such as on mobile phones or media players.
An opportunity for RISC OS?
A more left field suggestion would be to use RISC OS as the underlying OS. For those who are unfamiliar with RISC OS, I wrote an appraisal of the OS last year
Like any OS, RISCOS would need need to be customised to support the Neomicro design goals. The main customising work would centre around:
- adding easy application switching
- making applications open full screen
- adding support for multimedia decoding hardware.
RISC OS has in it's favour:
- The proposed shared source initiative gives access to the code.
- It thrives in a low memory, slow CPU environment. Current versions of RISCOS can boot to a desktop with less than 512k of RAM. Even this could be improved upon with customisation.
- It's designed to be ROM loadable with only a few disk based resources. RISC OS doesn't need to be tied to a hard disk as it doesn't need a swap file or masses of disk based configuration. If the OS is installed it ROM, it can even boot without a hard disk.
- Fast start up and shutdown. On most RO workstations, there is a 'shutdown procedure' but this is mainly to flush any disc buffers. It's not a protracted sequence.
- It's modular: it's designed to have features added to its core and to be tailored to a specific task.
Whatever the OS chosen, it should be as incorruptible as possible. To this end, if it boots from flash media, the flash disk should be partitioned and the core OS files stored on the read only partition. Another partition exists for user data and some OS workspace.
I have set out for you, a specification for a machine that caters for a class of user and a class of computer use that is all but neglected these days: the unemployed person; the elderly person who would like to have a go with this 'tinternet thing that they had heard about and send emails to relatives; the person on welfare, who would like to pursue an IT course; the family man who doesn't have any free time these days, but who would like to dabble with computers in the way that he had in his youth.
For person with a desktop machine, the Neomicro could be an adjunct to that machine that fills some gaps in his digital life. As such a user can connect the Neomicro to his existing network, it could occupy a conceptual space similar to that of Apple's new iTV device but somewhat more computer than dedicated media.
In short, anyone who wants to simply plug in and play around with a computer, without installing software and drivers, upgrading to keep up with the requirements while trying to remember which cable goes where might be interested in the Neomicro.
About the Author:
As a ten year old, Mike once connected the audio output of a Casio synthesiser to the analog joystick port of a BBC Micro. He then wrote a BASIC program that displayed the sound waveform on the screen of the computer. Looking back, there was no real hope of normal development into a non-geeky adult. Read about his ongoing geeky writing and music projects on his website.
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- "Introduction; What Was Good About It?"
- "What Was Good About It?; The Modern Microcomputer"
- "The Machine Itself: Hardware"
- "The Machine Itself: Software"
- "The Operating System; Conclusion"