Some of my favourite computers of all time (after the Commodore Amiga and Sinclair Spectrum, of course!) were the RISC-based Archimedes systems produced by Acorn through the early to late 90's, and found in many schools across the UK.
About RISC OS
The predecessor of RISC OS, 'Arthur' was released in 1987, and ran on 8-bit hardware, following on from the success of Acorn's previous "BBC" range of computers. In 1988, RISC OS 2 was released for the 32-bit Archimedes range of computers, which found a large market in the education sector. At one point, it seemed as though virtually every school in the UK had at least one of these RISC OS machines somewhere - ours had an entire system of networked Archimedes computers across the whole site. A lively public domain, gaming and demo scene thrived - even classics like Lemmings and Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge were converted.
It is difficult to appreciate just how radically advanced even the early releases of RISC OS and Acorn hardware were at the time. The 1991 release of RISC OS 3 offered a sophisticated GUI environment with drag-n-drop enabled throughout, multitasking, advanced Audio capabilities (capable of playing Amiga MODs and samples) 256 colours, and some truly unique UI concepts that were way ahead of their time. Many of the UI concepts that we take for granted were first pioneered in RISC OS, for instance - scalable anti-aliased fonts and an operating system extendable by 'modules', while most of the PC world was still on Windows 3.0.
In 1998, Acorn decided to leave the PC market, and focus on digital TV. They eventually got split up and bought by several companies - amongst them, Pace and Broadcom. Pace agreed to sell licenses for Risc OS technology to the newly formed company called 'RISC OS Ltd.', which today maintains the RISC OS 4 line. Another company, Castle Technology, also bought a license and produced a PC called the 'Iyonix' based on Intel's XScale processor, which runs RISC OS 5. For the purposes of this article however, I will be focusing on the classic 3.x line - in particular, RISC OS 3.7.About Me
I'd better mention straight away that I am by no means a RISC OS expert - most of the information I've picked up has been through trial and error, and hazy memories of many a school lunch-break spent tinkering in the computer labs. I am Unix systems administrator working for a large media company, and a member of the Blastwave.org project, providing high-quality packages for Solaris. As such I may have got things wrong, or used the incorrect terminology - my apologies if this is the case - I welcome all constructive criticism and feedback!This Article
This short article will quickly discuss obtaining and running Risc OS 3.7 on a Windows PC. I'll cover obtaining the ROMs, configuring the emulator, setting up the OS, and finally, provide a few pointers and links of interest to get you going in your 'new' OS. Obviously, emulation of any system takes a fair amount of CPU horsepower, but I've found that a 1Ghz processor or so will provide acceptable results, whilst a 2.6Ghz Pentium 4 absolutely flies.The ROMs
Risc OS is a ROM-based operating system, so it 'boots' in an instant on the original hardware. In it's 2Mb (or 4Mb for RiscPC models) it packs a full GUI as well as several built-in utilities like a bitmap paint package, a vector drawing program, calculator and text editor. Because of this, you will need to get hold of the ROM files before you can start. If you have access to an Archimedes or RiscPC, this step is quite easy - you just need to enter some commands at a '*' prompt, and transfer the resulting files over to your PC via floppy disks or some other means. Full instructions are provided at the FAQ for the emulator we will be using - the link is here.
If you do not have access to an Acorn machine, the ROMs do show up from time to time on Google or the usual file-sharing networks - although as always, it should be noted that these ROMs are copyrighted, and so downloading them if you don't have an Acorn machine may well be illegal. There is also a commercial Acorn Emulator called 'Virtual Acorn', which comes with legally licensed ROMs. Another solution I have heard of is for people to obtain an actual Acorn machine from eBay (many are very cheap now), solely for the purpose of ripping the ROMs. At the time of writing, there is a genuine RiscPC for sale in the UK, currently at around 30 GBP - it's certainly worth considering if you are interested in running RISC OS, but lack the space for another machine!