Jenny’s Daily Drivers: RiscOS 5.28

On a mundane day at some point in late 1987, though I didn’t grasp exactly what it would become at the time, I sat in front of the future. My school had a lab full of BBC Micros which I’d spent the previous few years getting to know, but on that day there was a new machine in one corner. It was a brand-new Acorn Archimedes, probably an A300, and it was the first time I had used an operating system with a desktop GUI. The computer was the first consumer application of the ARM processor architecture which has since gone on to conquer the world, and the operating system was called Arthur, which hasn’t. That’s not to say that Arthur is forgotten though, because it was soon renamed as RiscOS, managed to outlive both Acorn and the Archimedes, and still survives as a maintained though admittedly niche operating system to this day. So my Daily Driver this month is the current generation of RiscOS, version 5.28, and the machine I’m running it on is a Raspberry Pi 4. For a computer with an ARM core that’s designed and sold by a company based in Cambridge just like the original Acorn, it’s the most appropriate pairing I can think of.

Probably the Smallest OS In This Series

A beige desktop with no monitor, keyboard and mouse in front. It shows signs of yellowing with age.
The first ARM product, an Acorn Archimedes A310. mikkohoo, CC BY-SA 4.0.

At one point the Raspberry Pi folks even featured the Pi version of RiscOS on their website, but for those missing it there it’s freely downloadable as a disk image from the RiscOS Open site. Having spent most of its life as a closed-source product it’s been opened up over the last decade, and you can grab the source if you’re interested. When it’s normal for an OS download to run into the many gigabytes, it’s a bit of a shock to grab one that’s a shade under 140 megabytes and can be written to a 2 gigabyte SD card. This makes it probably one of the quickest operating system installs I have ever done, with all steps completed in a very short time. Sticking the SD card into the Pi it boots to a desktop in about 32 seconds which is only 5 seconds less than the latest Raspberry Pi OS image, so sadly that compactness doesn’t net you any extra speed. Continue reading “Jenny’s Daily Drivers: RiscOS 5.28”

Jenny’s Daily Drivers: SerenityOS, And In Particular, Ladybird

As we continue on with the series in which I take a different OS for a spin every month I am afraid, dear reader, that this month I have a confession to make. Our subject here isn’t a Daily Driver at all, and it’s not the fault of the operating system in question. Instead I’m taking a look at a subject that’s not quite ready for the big time but is interesting for another reason. The OS is SerenityOS, which describes itself as “a love letter to ’90s user interfaces with a custom Unix-like core“, and the reason I’m interested in it comes from its web browser. I know that the OS is very much a work in progress and I’ll have to forgo my usual real hardware and run it in QEMU, but I’ve heard good things about it and I want to try it. The browser in question is called Ladybird, and it’s interesting because it has the aim of creating a modern fully capable cross-platform browser from scratch, rather than being yet another WebKit-based appliance.

A Pleasant Trip Into The 1990s

Part of a Linux desktop with the SerenityOS build instructions in the background, a terminal having built the OS, and the OS itself in a QEMU window.
My first look at SerenityOS after building it.

SerenityOS isn’t ready to be installed on real hardware, and there’s no handy ISO to download. Instead I had to clone the repository to my Linux machine and run the build script to compile the whole thing, something I was very pleased to observe only took about 40 minutes. It creates a hard disk image and opens QEMU for you, and you’re straight into a desktop.

When they mention ’90s user interfaces they definitely weren’t hiding anything, because what I found myself in could have easily been a Windows 9x desktop from the middle of that decade. There are  a bunch of themes including some Mac-like ones, but should you select the “Redmond” one, you’re on very familiar ground if you had a Microsoft environment back then. It’s only skin-deep though, because as soon as you venture into a command line shell there’s no DOS to be found. This is a UNIX-like operating system, so backslashes are not allowed and it’s familiarly similar to an equivalent on my Linux box. The purpose of this review is not to dive too far into the workings of the OS, but suffice it to say that both the underpinnings and the desktop feel stable and as polished as a Windows 95 lookalike can be. The various bundled utilities and other small programs seem to work well, and without any hint of the instabilities I’ve become used to when I’ve experimented with other esoteric operating systems. Continue reading “Jenny’s Daily Drivers: SerenityOS, And In Particular, Ladybird”

Jenny’s Daily Drivers: Raspberry Pi Desktop

One of the more exciting prospects upon receiving one of the earliest Raspberry Pi boards back in 2012 was that it was a fully-functional desktop computer in the palm of your hand. In those far-off days, the Debian OS distro for the board wasn’t even yet called Raspbian, but it would run a full-on desktop on your TV and you could use it after a fashion to browse the web or do wordprocessing. It wasn’t in any way fast, but it was usable enough to be more than a novelty. I’ve said before on these pages that the Raspberry Pi folks’ key product is their OS rather than their computers. While they rarely have the fastest or highest spec hardware, you can depend on Raspberry Pi OS being updated and supported through the life of the board unlike many of their competitors. I can download their latest OS image and still run it on that 2012 board, which to me ranks as a very laudable achievement.

The OS They Don’t Really Tell You About

Screenshot of the first i386 Pi desktop
The background image may have changed since the first release back in 2016, but the UI hasn’t.

Raspberry Pi OS doesn’t run on any other ARM single board computers but their own, but it’s not quite accurate to say that it only runs on Raspberry Pi hardware. Since 2016 when it was launched as PIXEL, the folks in Cambridge have also maintained a PC version for 32-bit i386 computers, now called Raspberry Pi Desktop. It may be the Pi product they don’t talk about much, but  you can still find it on their downloads page.

Like the ARM version, it’s based on Debian and presents as close as possible to the environment you’d find on your Pi. I’m interested to see whether it still lives up to the claim of being usable on older hardware, so I’ve downloaded a copy and installed it on my trusty 2007 Dell Inspiron 640. It rocks a 1.6 GHz Core Duo with 4 GB of memory and a SATA SSD so it’s not the lowest spec hardware on the block, but by 2023’s standard it represents a giveaway-spec old laptop. Can I use it as a daily driver? Let’s find out! Continue reading “Jenny’s Daily Drivers: Raspberry Pi Desktop”

Jenny’s Daily Drivers: FreeBSD 13.2

Last month I started a series in which I try out different operating systems with the aim of using them for my everyday work, and my pick was Slackware 15, the latest version of the first Linux distro I tried back in the mid 1990s. I’ll be back with more Linux-based operating systems in due course, but the whole point of this series is to roam as far and wide as possible and try every reasonable OS I can. Thus today I’m making the obvious first sideways step and trying a BSD-based operating system. These are uncharted waters for me and there was a substantial choice to be made as to which one, so after reading around the subject I settled on FreeBSD as it seemed the most accessible.

First, A Bit Of Context

A PC with the FreeBSD boot screen
Success! My first sight of a working FreeBSD installation.

Most readers will be aware that the BSD operating systems trace their heritage in a direct line back to the original AT&T UNIX, while GNU/Linux is a pretty good UNIX clone originating with Linus Torvalds in the early 1990s and Richard Stallman’s GNU project from the 1980s onwards. This means that for Linux users there’s a difference in language to get used to.

Where Linux is a kernel around which distributions are built with different implementations of the userland components, the various BSD operating systems are different operating systems in their own right. Thus we talk about for example Slackware and Debian as different Linux distributions, but by contrast NetBSD and FreeBSD are different operating systems even if they have a shared history. There are BSD distributions such as GhostBSD which use FreeBSD as its core, but it’s a far less common word in this context. So I snagged the FreeBSD 13.2 USB stick file from the torrent, and wrote it to a USB Flash drive. Out with the Hackaday test PC, and on with the show. Continue reading “Jenny’s Daily Drivers: FreeBSD 13.2”

Jenny’s Daily Drivers: Slackware 15

As a recent emigre from the Ubuntu Linux distribution to Manjaro, I’ve had the chance to survey the field as I chose a new distro, and I realised that there’s a whole world of operating systems out there that we all know about, but which few of us really know. Hence this is the start of what I hope will be a long-running series, in which I try different operating systems in my everyday life as a Hackaday writer, to find out about them and then to see whether they can deliver on the promise of giving me a stable platform on which to earn a living.

For that they need an internet connection and a web browser up-to-date enough to author Hackaday stories, as well as a decent graphics package. In addition to using the OS every day though, I’ll also be taking a look at what makes it different from all the others, what its direction and history is, and how user-friendly it is as an experience. Historical systems such as CP/M are probably out of the question as are extremely esoteric ones such as the famous TempleOS, but this still leaves plenty of choice for an operating system tourist. Join me then, as I try all the operating systems.

A Distro From The 1990s, Today

A desktop mini tower PC with monitor showing the Slackware boot screen
The Hackaday test PC gets its first outing.

When deciding where to start on this road, there was an obvious choice. Slackware was the first Linux-based distribution I tried back in 1995, I’m not sure which version it was , but it came to me via a magazine coverdisk. It was by no means the first OS that captured my attention as I’d been an Amiga user for quite a few years at that point, but at the moment I can’t start with AmigaOS as I don’t have nay up-to-date Amiga-compatible hardware.

July 2023 also marks the 30th anniversary for the distro making it the oldest one still in active development, so this seems the perfect month to start this series with the descendant of my first Linux distro. Slackware 15 comes as a 3.8 GB ISO file download for 64-bit computers, and my target for the distro was an old desktop PC with an AMD processor and a big-enough spinning rust hard disk which had been a high-end gaming system a little over ten years ago. Not the powerhouse it once was, but it cost me nothing and it’s adequate for my needs. Installed on a USB Flash drive the Slackware installer booted, and I was ready to go. Continue reading “Jenny’s Daily Drivers: Slackware 15”