Sunday, 11 October 2009

Old School Computing, in its most truest sense.

Recently, I posted about the excellent machines that a rejuvinated Acorn Computers are now selling on the Internet. It got me thinking, anyone who went through an English school suring the late 80's and early 90's should have at least some distant memory of these rather fine machines.

For those that don't know, Acorn was one of the UK's only computer builders, a lot of people wont even remember them these days, but the ones who do will no doubt have fond memories of the BBC Master and probably playing Chuckie Egg on it.

Acorn made computers from 1978 to 1998, when they finally succumbed to the dominance of the PC architeture. There is loads about them on Wikipedia:, there are loads of these machines about now, mainly because of the sheer amount that were installed in schools across the country for so long. The first ever computer I owned was an Acorn Electron back in the early 80's. My parents thought that it might improve my hand/eye coordination to play games on it!! I think what many people wont realise is the lasting and prominent impact Acorn Computers have had on our everyday lives. Not only did they build their own computers, but they made their own OS, architecture and hardware. Acorn are resposible for developing the ARM processor, a peice of hardware that pretty much everyone carries around in their pocket, powering their mobile phone. It would be a fair bet to make that there is also one in your set top box at home, powering Sky, Virgin Media or your freeview/sat tuner. It doesnt start and end there either, ARM processors powered another venerable computing device towards the end of the 90's, the PSION Series 5. This is a very notable device as it was the precursor to the S60 mobile phone platform, the OS that powered it was called EPOC and it pretty much turned into Symbian - now things should start to be recogniseable!

With that said, I have now in front of me an original Acorn A7000+ desktop computer from a school down in England. It should run, I have powered it on and got the desktop up and displayed on my monitor. I plan to rennovate this UK computing relic to get it back up and running properly. I remember schools were using these machines right up until 2001 in some parts of the UK, this one I have here is a clear indication as it comes with an all important ethernet adapter.

One of the notable things about these machines is that they don't really need hard drives, the entire OS and all its supporting applications are stored on ROM. When you want to upgrade the OS, you simply replace the ROMs with your new set. This isn't something we see at all these days in a desktop computer, unless you are running a setup with embedded Linux.

I recall from the last time I saw an Acorn machine in operation, that it had a fully functional web browser. So, my plan right now is to get this bad boy up and running and connected to the Internet so that I can try and do some simple things like email and facebook. The example I have here, an A7000+, has a hard drive installed, as well as a CD writer, so this means I will be able to install software to it if I need to. From what I can see from the boot up screen, this machine is running RISC OS 3.7. From what I can remember, this was the last main release of the OS prior to Acorns demise, however since then there have been three seperate releases of newer OS's. In a rather different move to the normal distributions of Windows and Linux etc that we see now, a new company was formed in 1999 to release RISC OS 4. Not long after this, a seperate company release a RISC OS 5 for a seperate line of devices, but as far as I can tell this version of the OS is only for machines made by a company called Castle. This confuses me a bit, as far as I can tell this version of the OS has never really been available seperately.

But, a further twist is this, a new OS has been recently released, RISC OS 6... I have no idea how much of a departure this will be from the RISC OS I know and love. One thing that is very notable about RISC OS is that it pretty much introduced the concept of the task bar (as far as I know). This is very familiar to Apple users and now, to Windows 7 users, its a feature that Acorn introduced in 1988 though... As soon as I get this one up and running, I will start to get some screen shots up and running.