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Acorn is..

a now disfunct, innovative british system design company - and the story of an underdog who didn't but did win, kinda. See also FOLDOC


(One of?) their first products was the Electron computer. It plugged into the television, had 16 KB of memory, and ran BASIC in ROM. You could load programs from cassette tape via a normal audio tape deck, or you could type them in. A floppy disk, even a harddrive, were available as insanely expensive expansion modules. The CPU was a 6502B, just slightly different from what powered the hugely successful Commodore64 home computer. Unfortunately, neither graphics nor sound capabilities could hold a candle to those of the Commodore64.

I had one of those.. sigh memories.. --AristotlePagaltzis


The next model was the Acorn BBC. Because they were British, schools in the UK used the BBC computers. Some schools in NewZealand followed suit. The BBC Model B also had a 6502 processor. This was probably mid-to-late 80's to early 90's.

The BBC's graphics and sound hardware were well accessible under BBC BASIC with the powerful plot and envelope command, respectively. They were both far ahead of anything any other computer in this class had to offer. What really set the BBC apart was the modularity of its operating system and its use of interrupts. There was a MOS for all the basic functions like video graphics, buffered keyboard input, vectored interrupts, buffered sound. 16k ROMs were available to accomodate networking routines and many different programming languages (BASIC, LOGO, Pascal, Forth, you name it).


This success was followed by the Acorn Archimedes. Their design was a decade ahead of most competition, at its heart Acorn's own new CPU, the ARM chip, that would later become incredibly successful. The OS, called RiscOS, had a slick GUI and well thoughtout design to match the hardware it was runnning on. Unlike much of the competition, the machine had plenty of cycles after besides managing the GUI, which was further enforced by the fact that the API was friendly enough for writing graphical applications even in Assembler. It was a joy both to use and develop for (whether that be software or hardware). The Archimedes superseeded the BBC model B micros in a lot of classrooms before the rise of the PC. Eventually, though, schools and the public started using the cheaper mass-produced drivel that still haunts us today.

I DTPed our Te Awamutu College school magazine on an Archimedes (A3000?) back when a GUI was seriously cool... --GreigMcGill


An attempt to counter the rising popularity of the then so-called "IBM compatibles" was called RiscPC? and ran the StrongARM series CPUs. These too ran RiscOS and had a novel system design consisting of modules. To update the hardware, you didn't have to open the case, you just added a new module just as you do to "update" your stereo system. Unfortunately...

The sad and happy end

In the end, Acorn Computers Ltd. was shut down (accompanied by much mourning in the connaissant geek community), as WinTel machines dominated the market and drove them out of business.

However, the CPU design was sourced out to the newly funded ARM Ltd., an IntellectualProperty only company that holds the rights to the StrongARM architecture. Even Intel have licensed it, and a huge market share of hand held and embedded devices nowadays run on StrongARM derivatives. So, in a way, "the king is dead - long live the king"...

Part of CategoryCompany and CategoryOldComputers

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