The Archimedes range was powerful for their cost and offered a viable alternative to the Mac and DOS/Windows computers of the time. However, marketing, perceived abilities plus some god-awful business decisions meant they remained a minnow to other formats. A legacy does, however, exist in the form of the ARM processing architecture, used by a huge proportion of mobile tech today. ARM, meaning Advanced Risc Machine used to stand for Acorn Risc Machine.
As a quick comparison, here are three screenshots, showing the desktop systems of 1993:
|Windows in all of it's glory, still residing upon DOS|
|System 7 for the Mac|
|Risc OS 3.11|
Modern day Risc OS
Hardware wise, I only ever owned one Archimedes, the A3000, picked up as a surplus machine when my old school was disposing of them. Although large compared to the similarly styled Amiga 500/Atari ST, it was built like a tank and the example I had still worked perfectly even after several years service.
|The A3000 - not the one I owned.|
As with the Amiga, there is still a Risc OS community in being today, with quite a few hardware options from the likes of Armini and Raspberry Ro and the operating system itself is supported by two vendors, one covering version 4.29 and 6, whilst the other covers the more open sourced version 5. Version 5 seems to be the most up to date and available version of the OS, which may seem strange but there was a fork in the OS history when two companies developed separate versions and they have kind of travelled in parallel. There is also CJE Micros, who stock an exhaustive range of Risc OS related hardware and software.
Modern hardware is based on ARM based dev boards or the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi. Basic systems can be had for a couple of hundred pounds and it's not beyond the ken of many to do it yourself - source a Pi, grab a download of the OS (which is very cheap) and then off you go. The Raspberry Ro Lite is the aforementioned £200 system and whilst it may lack in the area of storage (easily remedied) and Wi-Fi (Risc-OS doesn't have support for this yet), it's a good beginners option and it can form the basis of a decent main system. The low cost of the hardware makes this a tempting hobby machine for anyone interested in alternatives to Windows, Mac-OS and Linux. If you want something more substantial, the Titanium board based systems can be bought which, if you must have the best, are a very good choice.
Personally, I am tempted by the Ro Lite, it being cheap enough but well-spec'd enough to act as a hobby/secondary system to tinker and get to grips with. And, unlike the Amiga, replacement hardware (the Pi) will never be extraordinarily expensive.
What has struck me with the retrospectives on the Amiga and Risc OS is that both formats remain, to this day, very capable alternatives to the mainstream formats. That is not to say you should bin your existing PC, as there are several areas where even the most up to date versions of OS4 and Risc OS 5 cannot compete It is, however, interesting that despite the passage of time since their originating companies closed their doors, there remains a substantial hobbyist market that keeps these older operating systems ticking along. Certainly, I will be keeping an eye on both formats in future.