RISC World

What does RISC OS mean to you?

David Bradforth posed the question through the comp.sys.acorn.misc group on usenet: the responses were diverse and all very interesting...

RISC OS means different things to different people. For me, it was the natural progression path from my earlier Acorn Electron and BBC Master... it began with the A3000 in school, then I got an A310 from Beebug second hand before progressing on to an Acorn Risc PC.

I used RISC OS for many reasons - to edit magazine discs (for RISC User), to edit magazines, to prepare files for print, to prepare work for school (at that time) and of course in entertainment.

As time progressed, so did my requirements for my computer system. With my work becoming increasingly dependent upon the likes of InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator it made sense when the time came to buy an Apple iMac; and to support that a Vista PC. Between the two, I can handle the entire body of work I am given and frequently it's a mix and match between the two to find out which performs best.

I think fondly of the days when I could use Ovation Pro and Artworks for everything; when in between designing pages or writing articles I could play a game of Repton or similar and end up playing until some silly time in the morning.

It's probably why I'm so grateful for Virtual Acorn on the Mac - it allows me to continue playing Repton, while I have InDesign and Photoshop to handle my more creative based work.

For me RISC OS represents is a capable computing platform that works best as a complimentary aspect of a larger system.

For Christopher Jarman (who has been responsible for many articles in the likes of Archimedes World and whom has also compiled a number of CD-ROMs for RISC OS users) RISC OS represents: '.. an old OS that I loved and supported from my start in computing, which has now been overtaken by advancing technology and no longer does what I want... apart from Artworks which I still find the best vector program on the planet and which is in use on the PC by means of Virtual RPC'.

Christopher does make a good point. In many respects the small size of the market has restricted the development and integration of newer technologies - DVD players, faster computers, etc - but with core applications like Artworks which people have used for many years development has not slowed.

Martin Wuerthner, of MW Software, certainly deserves a lot of support for what he is able to achieve; and we should perhaps owe something to Computer Concepts for designing a program with a modular structure in the first place. It is by extending this original structure that Martin has been able to provide so many new features.

Tim Hill commented that RISC OS provides a : 'Simple OS with excellent apps (Pluto, Organizer, Prophet). Though not particularly secure it avoids the attention of the mindless twits who plague other majority OSes with vulnerability attacks. Pinboard (RO) is superior to Desktop (Win32) as it doesn't randomly_reorganise itself from time-to-time (with a mode change) and it doesn't _allow installing applications to add themselves to it!'

It's a comment I frequently see.. simplicity. There are so many technical guides and magazines for Windows users (indeed, I edit one) whereas for RISC OS users the normal way of things appears to be to investigate a problem using the intuitive nature of the operating system because of the familiar nature of it.

Steve Potts, whose BlastZone website boots up just as RISC OS 6 would, made another very useful point. 'To me, it means very low maintenance, stable, efficient OS and hassle free computing. At work I have to put up with Windows, so have little patience with that when in leisure time, but RISC OS doesn't increase stress and annoyance like Windows does.'

'I say stable, because although clearly it's possible to bring RISC OS down to its knees, in my experience operations that have worked once don't randomly crash the system other times, and yet I find this tends to happen elsewhere.'

'RISC OS means a productive, positive computing experience, giving me to the tools to operate in the way I want without dictating my thought processes to me.'

Productive and Positive is a very good way to describe it. With an operating system still based mostly in ROM (with the exception of recent soft-load RISC OS Select versions), RISC OS requires significantly little to make the most from a computer. Certainly you will get an improvement in performance with more memory, a better display, a larger hard disk, etc but at its base level RISC OS is a capable operating system whereas neither Windows or Mac OS X can survive without their hard disk.

Belgium resident Wendy Gray commented: "As a non-technical, female user 'of a certain age', who started using computers as a teacher in 1981 on the BBC B, progressed through the BBC Master, Archie, RO2, RO3, SA and have now arrived at RO4 on the RPC and have an Iyonix to get to grips with, these are my thoughts:

  • It's user-friendly.
  • It's on ROM. Non-corruptible and the machine would still function even if the hard drive crashed. Hence the usefulness of DiskKnight.
  • It doesn't high tail itself off to get updates online without my knowledge.
  • It doesn't do peculiar things when I'm word processing.
  • It has a middle menu button that I can right-click on so I can make several choices without having to open up all the menus each time.
  • It doesn't go into safe mode or hibernation and then refuse to wake up.
  • It doesn't suddenly crash for no reason whatsoever.
  • The hard drive is formatted in a non-M$ way, so it is unlikely anything nasty can read it and report back to some unauthorised spy.
  • When I install something, I can keep a better track of where it has put itself and therefore can uninstall it if I want to.
  • I can do email and newsgroups in safety.
  • The 'community' is small enough that there is little likelihood now of viruses, Trojan Horse, worms etc, especially as the knowledgeable sentinels here "know where everybody lives". I get good after sales service.
  • I don't have to buy a new computer every 2 years or so because of built in obsolescence.
  • I can use !Paint to take snapshots of bits of screens.
  • It comes with !Draw and !Paint for free.

I have a PC laptop, but I only use it for Belgian ING Home Banking, browsing the internet and working with Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Smartboard files that I need for/got from school. Even then I have problems as I've Office 2007 and school only has 2003!

One thing I would like is to see those little cogs turn around - some weird urge makes me want to be able to click on them and make them spin :-)

The points highlighted by Wendy are significant - particularly that RISC OS does not do things without your knowledge and the safety of email and newsgroups and the stability of the platform as a whole. Granted, when they were first introduced, the Iyonix PC and A9home had some issues with the versions of RISC OS crashing the machines; but these have, in the main, been addressed over time. With Windows there are very rarely signs of improvement and problems that appear can get significantly worse before they get better.

We'll conclude this piece for the moment with the comment Louie Smith (of RISC OS Now) made: 'All I'm going to say (and Paul is about to fall off his chair at this remark) is.... Zap!!!! I love Zap (OK, I'm, still in the honeymoon stage as I only started using it recently for learning C, and yesterday was introduced to CSS (which I'm obviously missing the point of, because I can't see how it's complicated, even with nesting styles)). But anyway, it's absolutely fantastic! You can tell it what your doing an it colours all the keywords accordingly. You can do the whole inserting text thing instantly in another place (goodness knows what that's called). It's just sooooooo cool.'

'Oh, hangon, there's also Pluto. I've got news set up on the Mac and the Eee, and none of them are as efficient as Pluto for listing threads and organising or as easy to set up. So Pluto is excellent too.'

'Opps- I forgot OvationPro. I was in the apple centre the other day looking a Quark and the other one... Illustrator? Maybe not, I can't remember, but there were a few DTP packages I was looking at, and none of them were a patch on OvationPro. I can actually set up my pages in OVPRO with a bleed and cropmarks, and then I can print using pamphlet mode and it stitches all the pages together and aligns them! Ok, whatsit on the mac does that too, but what I wasn't able to establish was if it automatically aligned the pages and removed the bleed along the inner edges so the output is a print ready file. OvationPro does this and yet it costs diddly-squat by comparison to Quark or Indesign/ Illustrator! Amazing!'

' I'm not done yet! Of course we also have ArtWorks and PhotoDesk! These have already been discussed, so I won't go into these, but really, need I say more?'

'So without going into detail on the other apps, here is a list of apps that without, I would now (having been shown the light) be completely lost...'

  • TechWriter (to any engineering/ science based student this is an absolute must)
  • ChangeFSI
  • RO Tunes (have to put that in, or I'll be accused of ignoring Paul!)
  • Private Eye
  • NewsTicker
  • DataPower

The list just goes on on.

'Now, someone tell me, other than the internet (and MP4/ film stuff), which I feel we have already established as lacking points, what else does RISC OS not do as well as other OS's? And just to be clear- I use the Iyonix as a working computer, not as an enthusiasts focus.'

What does RISC OS mean to me?

That last paragraph does sum things up very well. While RISC OS may have its lacking points; what it does offer is an operating system that will compliment your workflow. There are applications available to handle the requirements of most users - professional or personal - and what is available has a significant development effort placed into it to ensure it's fit for purpose.

The software is in the main British, or at least European; if the developers are still active you can usually communicate with them directly and the nature of the beast is that it's just so pleasant to use. Perhaps that's why I love RISC OS so much. It's small, but that doesn't matter, it's a community, and it works.

David Bradforth