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Anyone who experienced the UK education system from the mid '80s to the mid '90s would no doubt have experienced Acorn computers (BBC and later Archimedes). At the time, these computers were almost the pinnacle of 'un-cool' for someone my age (wrt to computing), and aside from some WYSIWYG desktop publishing (which was quite advanced at the time) and some educational games (predominantly BBC era games, later still run on the Archimedes), I don't remember being used for much else (it did have some nice versions of some games, but limited library and mostly ports from other systems at the time).

I only knew of a single person who had an A3020 at home, pretty much everybody I knew who had a computer at home had Amigas or C64s predominantly for the huge library of current games and rebellious Pirate/PD Scene that they had.

Home ownership of BBCs and use outside of schools seemed to be very different to that of the Archimedes as a number of people had one at home (relatively speaking), and I remember watching numerous Open University programs in which various establishments would be seen using BBC's in a professional context. However I never once remember seeing an Archimedes used in business or professional context outside of school (and my single friend with one).

It was a good 10 years before hindsight kicked in, and the true power of the Archimedes with its elegant clean RiscOS and silky smooth !lander performance, that was easily taken for granted at the time, was realised. Surely their use would not have been reserved/limited for educational purposes?

Can anyone give me examples of these machines being used outside UK education and give me an idea of how they were used? I can't help but wonder that these machines were extremely powerful at the time and provided unusually decent graphics capabilities (with mouse!) so businesses or certain technical establishments would have found them extremely useful tools, but unlike BBCs, don't ever remember seeing one in an office, factory or lab anywhere?

I appreciate this was about the time that PCs were starting to be favoured as the computer of choice in business, but the Archimedes had been around for a good number of years prior to this and boasted features and UX/UI that PCs only really started gaining in the early to mid '90s (Win 3.x/95) and they were very cheap compared to PCs. Also most young adults going into work around that time would have had computer experience with Archimedes and not PCs so surely familiarity would be important for businesses then?

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    The Archimedes was an obvious upgrade from the BBC Micro for hobbyists, but much like a stock Beeb cost at least twice as much as the C64 or ZX Spectrum, the lowest-spec Archimedes cost more than twice as much as an Amiga or Atari ST. So they were about as common as Beebs in homes, i.e. not very.
    – pndc
    Jan 16, 2023 at 11:48
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    I'd rather tell you how it was NOT used, so a comment, not an answer. A bit of context: french guy here, born '77. I was (still am) very into computers back then, and definitely saw the Acorn / Archimedes trying to make it in the business. But it never managed to achieve. As far as I know, at least for us geeky froggies, the AA was a dream of something else, not exactly an Amiga, not exactly an Atari ST - and definitely not a Mac ! - that lingered in the preview pages of video game magazines (TILT microloisirs), and disappeared without a bang.
    – Olivier
    Jan 16, 2023 at 13:29
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    For some reason I remember seeing some Archimedes in the London stock market on the BBC 6'oclock news. They looked like the R series running RISC iX (UNIX).
    – user19862
    Jan 16, 2023 at 13:36
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    I came from an Acorn background (Electron). However I chose Amigas for my next home computers. An Amiga 500 was £399 and plugged into a television set. Where as a BBC A3000 was around £699, plus £299 colour monitor, and probably even I would need VAT on top of that. Also I was fed up of having a computer with a limited software library. I would have loved to have an Arc but I only had time and money for one machine. No regrets though, Amigas was shit hot!
    – user19862
    Jan 16, 2023 at 13:42
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    Finally I just want to mention education. At school (1989) I asked the head of the IT department why he was replacing the BBC's with 286 based RM Nimbus's instead of the more powerful Archimedes. He said we would be much more likely using PC's when we leave school and get jobs. Fair enough, he's right of course.
    – user19862
    Jan 16, 2023 at 13:49

8 Answers 8

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One early killer app for the Acorn Archimedes was Sibelius 7, a score-writing program. It was so good that many musicians, composers etc. bought Archimedes computers just to be able to run Sibelius. Of course the corresponding market is limited, but this is one way Archimedes computers were used outside education.

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    I know of one composer who imported an Archimedes to the USA so they could engrave their own (highly technical) woodwind scores. They used Sibelius (later on Windows) for around two decades
    – scruss
    Jan 16, 2023 at 21:07
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    It is, by the way, still one of the market leaders today. Jan 17, 2023 at 9:16
  • (Conversely, the first machine I bought was an Atari STE, because of Cubase…)
    – gidds
    Jan 28, 2023 at 13:20
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Omnibus Systems in the UK used the Acorn Archimedes (and later Risc PC) hardware for television on-screen graphics overlays, intended for use in live broadcasts. Millipede systems built the Alphalock hardware for a similar use case; the BBC used an internal system for TV games played over the telephone and broadcast live (in programmes like "Going Live!") and for the graphics for the UK National Lottery.

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    I was going to add that only time I saw an Archimedes outside of education here in NZ was in a TV production company. They had ability to overlay basic graphics and text over videos they produced. As a Comp Sci student, I was interested helping the company to write some code to improve the titles (fades/moving text) but other than BBC Basic, development tools and support was really lacking on the Archy
    – GrantB
    Jan 18, 2023 at 18:38
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    "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" was originally produced on a Millipede system and, when the format was sold around the world, the condition was they used the same graphics - so a number of Millipede systems (based on Risc PCs) were sold to drive it Jan 18, 2023 at 22:48
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The late Chris Bell used an Archimedes to control a custom CNC machine that milled EGGrings high performance bicycle chainrings. Chris was a former teacher in the UK, and founded the company just at the time the Archie was getting established.

RISC OS's cooperative multi-tasking is well-suited to real time CNC control: no other process can interrupt pulse timing to stepper motors until the user's process is finished.

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    Windows was also cooperatively multi-tasked in versions 1 to 3.11. In fact I believe Windows 3 had a long tail of use in embedded and machine control applications precisely because of this feature.
    – Steve
    Jan 17, 2023 at 1:31
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    @scruss Your last paragraph is incorrect. What you actually mean is that you need a machine which doesn't do multitasking. And for that, you could use any 8-bit micro, or any PC running any version of DOS. You only need cooperative multitasking if multitasking is there in the first place, and this wasn't common until the mid 80s. (Apart from servers, of course.)
    – Graham
    Jan 17, 2023 at 10:12
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    @Graham - no, you misunderstand cooperative multitasking. It's perfect for this application (as long as you're okay with other processes not running). You could use an 8-bit micro (there's an 8-bit micro-controller running steppers in my 3d printer right now), but Chris used an Archie for his own reasons. You couldn't run CAD very well on an 8-bit, but you could on an ARM machine
    – scruss
    Jan 18, 2023 at 0:31
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    Cooperative multi-tasking is great when a single process/task needs to effectively hang all other tasks until it has finished. Of course, it may not feel like multitasking to the user, when the mouse, or cursor stops reacting constantly, but in the case of milling, it's exactly the sort of control you require.
    – Neil
    Jan 19, 2023 at 12:44
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My dad bought an Archimedes after the QL and the ZX81 because he was scientist and was interested by Archimedes maths specifications of 32 bits. My neighbor was very rich. He was jealous at the time, they had a 3 million pound house and no computer, so he bought an Archimedes too. We were 2 neighbors with 2 archimedes. It was a very good computing system with very limited game copies. It came with a physics-based 3D hovercraft game called Zarch and a platformer called Ibix the Viking, which were the best 2D graphics until I played commander keen 4 and the best 3D until I played doom in 94-95, and the best physics until 4D stunt racing, probably a lot better. The games were as easy to copy as NES cartridges, so basically the only games we owned for 18 months prior to getting a PC. We were bored within a year.

It was so inanimate/boring that one of the only programs was to display the photo of a motorbiker on the 8 bit graphics card, which was half as good as a TV image, so I didn't get the point. I was told the image of the biker was amazing and loaded it at least 14 times to figure out why it was amazing and it wasn't.

The 256 colors was very good for games in 1987, however there weren't games. 640x512 in 16 colors, or 640x256 in 256 colors. the sound was fairly good.

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I bought a BBC micro on starting work (it was either that or a Sinclair QL, I made a good choice!). I designed expansion hardware for the machine, used it for word processing and learning 6502 machine code for my hardware. Later on I bought an Acorn A310, and built expansion hardware for it - using a PC MFM disc controller in a home made external ISA bus rack that supported a full size 5.25" 16 megabyte hard disk drive. This was used for DTP, I had a play with Sibelius on the machine, and used it a lot for web browsing. I had the Acorn C compiler for it so I worked on porting open source software to the platform , e.g. a port of Make .

Later on I bought a RISC PC and used this for desk top publishing and internet browsing.

We also had an A3010 when that appeared, my wife used that as a general computer.

I learnt a lot about ARM assembly code from my hardware efforts , and this later gave me job openings developing ARM based products, like the McMurdo A8 EPIRB..

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I upgraded to an Archimedes A3000 from a BBC B Micro using an inheritance I got when I turned 18 in 1988.

It was my daily driver for a number of years for gaming, DTP, graphics and programming during my HND computer course.

I was handy having a slow but usable software PC 8088 emulator on it, so I could run some of the DOS applications which were part of my course at the time.

It was a while before I "upgraded" to a LC475 Mac and then Pentium.

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I allow me to give you 2 examples

  1. i was part of a team, which supplied Acorn RiscPC to an university in Germany, working on project to make calculation on satelite maps for the oil industry in northern africa. The department used PCs, but the storage bandwidth was a problem, as it handled mass of digitized maps from that regions. Several RiscPC were used which provided with latest SCSI cards using 32bit DMA sockets to push the Barracudas to the limit. The project has been unfortunately driven by applications written in Fortran, which could not been ported to RiscOS.

  2. i was part of a team which installed Acorn machines on the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong. it was used mainly to display data. But i assume there were used on other stock exchanges as well.

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This happened in the UK back in the 1990s, I was working on writing programs for Automatic Test Equipment (computerised testing of electronic circuit boards). We were approached by a customer (can't remember who) that wanted somebody to write some test programs for their in-house tester which was an archimedes running Forth.

I remember they chose the Archimedes because it was the fastest computer at the time and Forth was the fastest high level language available on it.

I did the quote for the job because I was the only person in the company (of about 50) that had an Archimedes and I had an interest in Forth.

We didn't win the job unfortunately.

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