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).
While RISC OS these days is very much a hobbyist operating system (although there’s still plenty of people running it in their businesses) it is not a retro operating system – it is still under active development and while you can run some retro applications and games on RISC OS 5, your mileage will vary – emulating RISC OS 3 or 4 (ROMs available here) would be your best bet if you’re strictly on a nostalgia trip only.
The first question you’ll need to ask yourself, Native or Emulation?
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.
You will get a very good idea of the overall look and feel of the operating system, and it will be useable for running applications on a daily basis, but it can feel a little slow and clunky (especially when it comes to networking I find) when compared to running RISC OS natively on say, a Raspberry Pi.
There is also an older paid-for RISC OS emulator called Virtual Acorn – it is no longer actively developed but it is still available to purchase. While it is a very complete and stable application as a whole, it emulates 26-bit RISC OS and does not fully support RISC OS 5.
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
If you prefer the more Do-It-Yourself approach, you can run RISC OS on a number of ARM based devices, namely the Raspberry Pi, Titanium and Wandboard.
There’s an in-depth list of pre-built and do-it-yourself solutions available here.
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.