There’s a number of ways to get started with RISC OS. Accessibility is something that hasn’t always been easy when it comes to RISC OS, but even when compared to Acorn’s heyday over two decades ago, it’s never been easier (and much, much cheaper!) to get started.

Bear in mind, all options discussed here are all modern, easily available solutions and do not include legacy systems (although you can still get hold of a RiscPC for very little cash, and you can upgrade to RISC OS 5).

The first question you’ll need to ask yourself, Native or Emulation?


Emulation

Let’s start with looking at the emulation options available:

  • RPCEmu – If you don’t want to spend any money, then emulation will be the best place to start in the form of RPCEmu. Compatible with legacy RISC OS versions (3.xx, 4.xx, 6.xx) as well as RISC OS 5. Although be aware that as brilliant as it is, RPCEmu is not fully representative of a complete RISC OS system – there are still some minor shortfalls that are not present in Virtual Acorn and native systems.
  • Virtual Acorn – This is the most stable and authentic way of properly emulation a legacy 26-bit RISC OS system upto a StrongARM RiscPC. Compatible with Windows and OS X operating systems, Virtual RPC is only compatible RISC OS Ltd’s 26-bit variant of the operating system and is not compatible with RISC OS 5. Perfect for running older software. Ships with RISC OS 4.02 or 4.39 Adjust, compatible with RISC OS 6.

Hardware

If you want to stray true to the most authentic RISC OS experience possible, then native is definitely the way to go.

Now there are two further decisions to be made if you’re going down this route, you can either opt for an ‘out-of-the-box’ solution that is already fully built and a full operating system with accompanying software is included, or you can build your system from scratch and tailor everything to your needs.

If you’re looking to run RISC OS on modern hardware, you can purchase something like the ARMX6, a complete ARM based, native RISC OS computer from R-Comp Interactive. But if you prefer the more Do-It-Yourself approach, you can run RISC OS on a number of ARM based devices, namely the BeagleBoard, Touchbook and Raspberry Pi.

There’s an in-depth list of pre-built and do-it-yourself solutions available here.


Software

Thousands of applications and utilities are available, often developed by small companies and individual users, mean that you should be able to find software on RISC OS to cater for most of your computing needs.

The main package managers are Pling Store – which offers a range of free and commercial software, and Packman (additional repositories for Packman)- which mainly consists of free and open source software, a lot of which have been ported over to RISC OS from Linux.

For what is now considered a niche operating system, RISC OS has an awfully large amount of software available for it. A lot are now old and no longer updated, but there’s still a pretty large amount that see regular and continued development to support legacy and new systems.

There’s an in-depth list of essential software for RISC OS available here.