Raspberry Pi is probably the biggest success in British computing since at least the 1980s. Back then, Sir Clive Sinclair’s ZX Spectrum computers ran the chicken coop before Sir Alan Sugar’s Amstrad bought them.

But beyond the headlines of silicon-based power struggles and overpriced electronics, the UK had another big hitter in the computer industry. Acorn Computers Ltd produced several computers, notably the BBC Micro, whose graphics were featured in episodes of Doctor Who in the 1980s, and developed its own operating system.

First released in 1987, Archimedes computers with an operating system RISC OS (Reduced Instruction Set Computing) and later the Acorn A7000 computers would dominate schools and colleges across the UK until the mid-1990s and Windows 95. But it’s still available today and you can install it on your Raspberry Pi.

Installing RISC OS

The main reason why RISC OS still exists is because of ARM, with which it is inextricably linked. The original name of Arm Holdings was Advanced RISC Machines.

With an ARM-based processor in the Raspberry Pi, there is a certain poetry to installing a RISC OS! And RISC OS can run on all Raspberry Pi models.

You have two options here. The first is to install RISC OS using the NOOBS installation tool. You will find RISC OS as one of the options, so just check the box and click install. The operating system will be installed on your microSD card, and once it’s complete, you can safely remove the microSD from your PC, insert it into your Raspberry Pi, and boot into RISC OS.

RISC OS download

Or use the RISC OS download for SD cards. After downloading the ZIP file, extract it and write it to your SD card.

If you are using Windows, use Win32 Disk Imager as described in our Raspberry Pi operating system installation guide. Linux users should refer to our platform-specific guide. about performing the same task, and if you are not using any of these operating systems, we have a Mac OS Raspberry Pi operating system installation guide for you too.

Whichever option you choose, you’ll also need a monitor, keyboard, and three-button mouse. A mouse with a click-activated scroll wheel is enough here — the middle button opens a menu in the RISC OS.

Explore RISC OS

Have you used RISC OS before? If so, when the OS boots up (which usually happens very quickly), a lot of what you see will be familiar. The desktop is pretty basic, but different enough from Linux, Windows, or macOS to be a little tricky at first.


Instead of launching like a Start menu or dock, RISC OS organizes applications into folders. Applications can be identified by prefix ! which in RISC OS terms is known as pling .

Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the RISC OS desktop and play around with the mouse-driven user interface. Remember that instead of two mouse buttons, you have three: left , average and right . They work like this:

  • Left mouse button: select or double click to open.
  • Middle mouse button: menu which opens the context menu.
  • Right mouse button: adjust it depends on the context.

You should pay attention to some other but familiar aspects of using RISC OS. For example, there is no standard file open/close dialog. Instead, you can double-click the files to open the associated program. To open the file with other software, drag the file onto the software icon.

In the meantime, to save the file, use the Menu button to find the Save submenu.

Finally, pay attention to the panel icon. When launched, connected drives and an application menu will be displayed at the bottom of the screen. Meanwhile, in the right corner, you’ll find icons for any open apps.

Enable Ethernet

There is currently no wireless support, so after booting into RISC OS, you will need to enable Ethernet connectivity. You will find it in the field ! Configure . Here you will find settings for managing time and date , screen , topic and most importantly, network .

RISC OS network

Networking should be enabled by default, but you will only be able to access the internet through the Ethernet cable connected to your Pi.

If you need to enable Ethernet connection, search for Internet > Enable TCP/IP protocol package then press close and Save . You can then access your network, surf the web, and so on.

Without Wi-Fi support (which is bound to come eventually because RISC desktops in the past have had wireless), you need to make sure your Pi is close enough to your router to connect the cable. Or you can use a Powerline adapter to avoid cable clutter and potential accidents.

Find RISC OS apps to try on your Pi

Once the connection is established, you can browse the web using the application ! Netsurf a link to which you will find on the desktop. Included are several other applications such as Paint , Edit and blocks clone Tetris . But if you’re looking for something new, go in ! packman, to find free software. Or, if you’re interested in finding paid apps, try ! Store .

RISC shop

There are a range of apps worth trying, from text packs to games, art packs, and emulators. With so many to choose from, it will probably take you a while to find what you’re looking for… so let’s start with that: there’s a free version elite, available for RISC OS. First Elite was released on BBC Micro back in 1984. Although this is the 1991 version for Acorn Archimedes, it has a great line to have fun with. Oh and there is a version doom too.

the risk is doomed

But RISC OS is not entirely about the past. This OS is currently up and running and is capable of much more than just curiosity based on the Raspberry Pi. The RISC OS wiki is a comprehensive collection of RISC OS software worth taking a look at.

Another way

While it may take a few minutes to get used to, RISC OS represents another path for the desktop that has been all but abandoned in favor of Apple and Microsoft taking on a mouse-driven GUI. The fact that you can still use RISC OS is a testament to its quality.

Oh, and here’s a good fact: Acorn Computers, Ltd was founded in Cambridge, England in 1978. RISC OS was developed in Cambridge and launched in 1987. ARM processor designers Arm Holdings opened their doors in 1990 in Cambridge. And the Raspberry Pi was developed in Cambridge (launched in 2012), where I met the man credited for Pi’s success, Eben Upton, back in 2013 .

Have you used RISC OS on a Raspberry Pi, or do you remember it from the old days? Tell us below!

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