New developments - RISC OS 2 and the revised Archimedes (1989)

Following the third major release of Arthur (version 1.2), Acorn started working on a new, much more advanced, release of Arthur, provisionally known as Arthur 2. When this was finally released in April 1989 it had been renamed to RISC OS 2. (This name change is rumoured to have been prompted by the release of the Dudley Moore film "Arthur 2 - On the Rocks".)

RISC OS 2 was a vast improvement over Arthur. For a start, RISC OS allowed multitasking of programs to occur, with certain limitations. (It wasn't possible to format a floppy disc and use another program at the same time, and only one BASIC program could be executed at a time.) However, with properly written windowing applications, which conformed to the programming specifications, multitasking was possible. The application suite provided with Arthur was also completely rewriten. The Draw, Edit and Paint applications were introduced, along with an upgraded version of Maestro. A selection of other software was also supplied, including the "Patience" card game, a simple calculator, a magnifier and an alarm clock. An updated version of the Model B 6502 emulator, 65Host, was also included, and a new emulator, 65Tube, was introduced, which emulated a BBC Master Turbo and allowed Tube-compatible programs to be run. A large number of bugs in Arthur 1.2 were fixed, and a new 800 Kb floppy disc format, "E", which was more tolerant of disc errors, was also included.

The launch of RISC OS 2 marked the point at which the potential of the Archimedes range finally started to be realised, as more and more new software was written to make use of the new features of RISC OS 2.

Between May and July of the same year, Acorn restructured and revised the Archimedes range. The A305 and A310 were axed, and replaced by a new machine, the A3000. The styling of the new machine was similar to the BBC Model B - the computer circuitry, keyboard and a 3.5" disc drive were enclosed in one box, with the monitor as a separate unit. The hardware inside the new machine was very similar to the previous A3xx models, with the main difference being a new version of the memory controller chip, the MEMC1a, which meant that the machine ran about 10% faster than the A310. The standard A3000 was provided with 1 Mb of RAM.

Because of the much smaller case, expansion was also more limited than the A3xx machines. One full size (external) podule connector was provided, together with a smaller internal "mini-podule" slot. The A3000 could also accept a standard Econet interface. The standard graphics connectors, parallel and serial ports and headphone socket were provided, although an upgrade was required to activate the serial port.

At the same time the A3000 was introduced, the A4xx range was also reshuffled. The A440 was rebadged as the A440/1, and fitted with the new MEMC1a and a larger 53 Mb hard drive. The 410 (which had never really been introduced) was split in to two models, the 1 Mb hard disc-less A410/1 (although a hard drive interface was provided on the motherboard) and the 2 Mb A420/1, which was supplied with a 20 Mb hard drive. All the A4xx/1 machines were provided with a four-slot backplane.

To appeal to the education market, a special version of the A420/1, called The Learning Curve, was introduced. This featured a standard A420/1 bundled with the First Word Plus word processor, Acorn Desktop Publisher, Genesis hypermedia application and Acorn's software 80186 emulator.

When introduced, the A3000 cost £649 excluding VAT, while the A410/1, A420/1 and A440/1 cost £1199, £1699 and £2499 respectively (all excluding VAT).

Despite the relatively high price of the A3000, the machine became very popular with schools, in part due to an educational discount scheme that reduced the price to around the level of a BBC Master and disc drive.

Next: Further UNIX developments: The R260 and R225 workstations (1990).

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Robert McMordie

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