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Sunday, 18 March 2018

Can you use RISC OS as your main computer?

The short answer is yes, sort of, but mostly yes.

The RISC OS desktop on Raspberry Pi showing the 'pinboard' and 'iconbar'

In my post on using the BBC Micro as your main computer, we decided that for a computer to be of any use, it must be able to do the following well:

  • Connect to the Internet and have a fast, secure browser.
  • Provide applications for workflow.
  • Provide applications for playing media files.

We'll look at these in turn, but first some information about this Operating System.

RISC OS was originally developed for the Acorn range of 32bit RISC computers in the late 1980s. That makes it older than 'Red Nose Day', GCSE examinations and the movie 'Die hard'. It was a time when plaid shirts were fashionable for men. If you turned on the radio you would suffer songs by Bros and Enya. Whereas you need not suffer Bros and plaid shirts anymore, RISC OS has continued to be developed to this day and is available for RISC architecture machines including the Raspberry Pi. In this post, I will be referring to RISC OS running on my Raspberry Pi 2.

This operating system is an advanced GUI-based operating system although many of its features will appear strange or unexpected to a modern user who has, perhaps, become habitually used to Windows or Linux. Nevertheless, despite its quirks, RISC OS is a joy to use. But can it be your main computer?

The Internet

The Raspberry Pi does indeed connect to The Internet, however, RISC OS will only support wired ethernet connections. The onboard wireless adapter will not work here.

Many of the applications for RISC OS are available through the online Pling store or the package manager. Some of these applications use network connections with little difficulty as you might expect from a modern OS. Sadly there are no applications for linking to your DropBox, OneDrive, Google or other cloud services. I use a second Raspberry Pi as a home file and web server and this serves files to the RISC Pi with ease.

The default web browser is NetSurf which is a little underdeveloped. Most modern web pages fail to render properly. JavaScript does not run and you can forget about Flash, other plugins and all your favourite browser extensions. It is possible to install a version of Firefox, however, it requires several dependencies that I am repeated failing to install properly. After a few hours of trying I have finally given in, but I may return to that at a later date.

My Blog as shown in NetSurf


Workflow

What your RISC machine can do here really depends on your workflow, however RISC OS is more capable than the BBC Micro so I shall cover some of the capabilities you might need.

For word processing, spreadsheets, text files and database work, RISC OS has a number of applications that are free (as in free pizza) to download from the Pling Store (or indeed, might even be bundled with your software distribution). Most notable applications are Fireworkz, PipeDream and StrongEd. It is worth noting that I don't do much word processing on the RISC machine, and none of these applications beat the Microsoft Office 365 suite on my Windows machine. Nevertheless, all of these applications are capable enough of being your workhorse. Fireworkz can open Rich Text Format files, so if you need to open your world domination plan from MS-Word, you may need to do some editing or conversion first.

Unless you are migrating thousands of files from Office 365 to RISC OS, you will find that your Raspberry Pi will be totally capable of most jobs here so I'm going to call it a 'pass'.

It is worth mentioning that I use my RISC machine to take and keep various notes. This can easily be achieved as an OS task. Simply hit CTRL+F12 to bring up a task window and type:

*build <filename>

Press ESC to finish.

A demo of Fireworkz as a spreadsheet program

If your workflow includes image editing or audio editing, then there are a number of applications available for you here, although nothing to beat your professional applications on your modern PC. Also, don't expect your favourite open source applications (GIMP, Audacity etc) to be available under RISC OS. That said, your RISC machine will perform this kind of workflow well, so it's another 'pass'.

It is highly likely that you will want to read a PDF document on your RISC machine. This is possible under the public domain PDF file viewer for RISC OS, however, I have noticed that it has failed to render some files that work perfectly well under Adobe and Edge on my Windows PC. Having said that, most documents have opened without problem on my Raspberry Pi, so we shall call this a 'pass'.

RISC OS PDF viewer showing a couple of PDF files displaying beautifully on my Raspberry Pi 2.

Media

I will skip to the end. It is a surprising 'pass'. In fact, I use RISC OS primarily as a media machine. The NetRadio application is perfectly capable of handling your internet radio needs, as well as being able to play MP3 format files. I think I once wrote a post about how I threw my DAB digital radio over the side of my ship after installing RISC OS.

Net Radio, perfectly capable of catching the BBC 4 puzzle for the day over your cornflakes as it is playing your pirate metal songs in the evening.
As for video files. I have managed to get MPG format files to work perfectly. Other formats with some difficulty or not at all.

My Pi


There are plenty of other applications available for RISC OS with many in active development. I generally have WeatherUK open at all times for my three-day forecast.

WeatherUK for your UK weather needs. Yes, it is snowing today, in March.

One of many useful apps for RISC OS
BASIC

One of the best features of RISC OS is that the BBC BASIC language is built right into the operating system. Whether you want the system to learn to program, so you want to write applications to get the computer to do what you want it to do, then BASIC is a good option. Simply press F12 and type:

BASIC

To exit the BASIC terminal and return to your desktop, type:

*DESKTOP

I have already covered BBC BASIC in RISC OS in another post, so I won't go into details here. You can also install a version of RISC OS (Pico) which boots directly into the BASIC prompt without any of the graphical 'fluff' discussed so far in this post.

Well, there it is. RISC OS will quite happily serve as a main computer based on the criteria we specified at the top of the page. If you haven't already explored it on your Raspberry Pi, then I thoroughly recommend it. You might find that you have other needs that I have not covered in this post, and you might also be equally surprised to discover that RISC OS has your back here as well.

If you enjoyed this post, and even if you haven't, then you might like (or hate) to read some more RISC articles on this blog. Maybe you just want to write a sticky note and pin it to a virtual board on the internet? Maybe you just want to kill some orcs?

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