Students of ARM history will know that the origins of the wildly popular processor architecture lie in the British computer manufacturer Acorn (the original “A” in “ARM”). The first mass-market ARM-based products were their Archimedes line of desktop computers. A RISC-based computer in a school or home was significantly ahead of the curve in the mid 1980s and there was no off-the-shelf software, so alongside the new chips came a new operating system that would eventually bear the name Risc OS.
It’s since become one of those unexpected pieces of retrocomputing history that refuses to die, and remains in active development with a new version 5.28 of its open-source variant just released. Best of all, after supporting the Raspberry Pi since the earliest boards, it now runs on a Raspberry Pi 4. The original ARM operating system has very much kept up with the times, and can now benefit from the extra power of the latest hardware from Cambridge. The new release deals with a host of bugs, as well as bringing speed increases, security fixes, and other improvements. For those whose first experience of a GUI came via the Archimedes in British schools, the news that the built-in Paint package has received a thorough update will bring a smile.
The attraction of Risc OS aside from its history and speed lies in its being understandable in operation for those wishing to learn about how an OS works under the hood. It’s likely that for most of us it won’t replace our desktops any time soon, but it remains an interesting diversion to download and explore. If you’d like to read more about early ARM history then we’d like to point you at our piece on Sophie Wilson, the originator of the ARM architecture.