The case for Hardware
Lets start at the beginning. RISC OS was designed to run on low power consumption ARM hardware. Indeed when ARM was founded it stood for Acorn Risc Machine, the name only being changed later when it was decided that the Acorn link no longer suited the new company's plans. RISC OS runs exceptionally well on lower power machines, which is why there are still so many older Acorn machines in use. They are reliable, they are powerful (for their clock speed) they have an OS in ROM and they are virus resistant.
I am not sure that any of these qualities could be attributed to an emulator, surely it will only be as reliable as the underlying operating system? In the case of VirtualAcorn that would be Windows. Another point is how powerful can an emulator be? I have seen various claims of "StrongArm type performance", but I have an Iyonix with a 600Mhz XScale, and it is far faster then my Risc PC, even though the Risc PC still gets used for running some older software that isn't RISC OS 5 compatible. I don't own Aemulor, which runs older software under emulation on the Iyonix, but then 90% of the software I use runs on the Iyonix, and the other 10% can be used on the Risc PC. Since the machines are networked this isn't a great problem. I also have a PC running Windows 98, not that it gets turned on very much and even then often doesn't work. I find I can do all I want with RISC OS.
Why are emulators a bad idea?
I don't like the idea of emulators a great deal, they are OK in some cases, for example I don't mind playing some older games under an emulator on my Risc PC, but would I want to use an emulator every day? Why bother when I might as well use a real computer. The thought of having to use RISC OS on some great big Pentium powered office heater with the associated noise of cooling fans simply does not appeal. There is another reason why I think emulators are a bad idea, they expose RISC OS users to the horrors of Windows. Now I do know a bit about Windows and I have a PC, but I don't use it much because Windows is a mess and I don't want to support Microsoft in any way. I don't like power hungry hardware, and I don't like Bill Gates.
There is another problem with running RISC OS on emulation, how accurate is the emulation? Will it run all the software that I want, and how compatible is it? If something is wrong in the emulator then the program won't work. It's a fairly trivial matter to re-compile a bit of software for the Iyonix, but how can you re-compile it for the emulator if the emulator doesn't work properly. Castle have done a lot of work to create a 32bit RISC OS, and now they own the OS itself, they are in a position to get things fixed, and indeed there have been a number of updated to my Iyonix since I purchased it. Emulator authors simply don't have the same resources as far as I can see.
Why emulation damages RISC OS developers
Then of course we come to the hardware manufacturers themselves, only one company is still in the running as far as I can see and that is Castle Technology. Castle should be supported for their amazing work on the Iyonix, the thought that sales of a real RISC OS computer developed by a well known and totally respected RISC OS developer should be lost to an emulator running on a PC is unacceptable.
What about the RISCStation laptop I hear you ask? Well it seems to me that any chance of getting a real RISC OS laptop is now lost. Anyone can simply get a cheap laptop from a box shifter and then install an emulator. Some RISC OS dealers have started selling cheap laptops with VirtualAcorn installed already, although the cheapness of the machines doesn't seem to be being passed on to the customer.
What about software developers? Will anyone buy any software to run on an emulator? I doubt it. People will buy software to run on a real computer. I am certainly looking strongly at buying Oregano2 at the moment. If I was running an emulator would I buy a browser, it's rather unlikely as the PC would come with one already. And here is the real problem, if I was using an emulator I would end up having to do some things under Windows, and I don't want to.
Emulation could be the death of RISC OS, it's a terrifying thought that soon all that could be left is a load of over priced PCs running an emulator with no more real machines in site. Castle have already announced that the Risc PC is going out of production, I wonder how much emulation is to blame for this, despite the quoted reasons. I don't believe the emulation does the market any good, I don't believe the quoted speed claims that have been bandied about and I don't want us to be in a position where all that is left is emulation, that will be then end of RISC OS.