The Arthur Operating System was designed specifically for the ARM based Risc computers produced by Acorn ltd in the late 1980s. It was released in 1987 on the first Acorn Archimedes and as such it is somewhat primitive to the modern eye, yet this can be forgiven when compared with it’s contemporaries.

Arthur had a fully functional GUI, complete with multitasking1, resizable and dragable windows and an iconbar a full 8 years before such a beast appeared on Windows 95.

The fact that Arthur was a rushed stop-gap to fill in until RISC OS 2 could be finalised is obvious to anyone who glances at a screenshot. Legend has it that the designers were ordered to produce “A risc based operating system before thursday” (hence Arthur) . Whatever the truth of this tale Arthur has all the elements of a great OS and a great GUI, but with all the ‘finishing touches’ implemented awfully. The colour scheme is hideous with a predominance of life-jacket orange clashing with deep blue. Drag and Drop, one of the greatest successes of the later RISC OS, is barely implemented. Scrollbars are more confusing than helpful as the scale seems to have little relation to the work area.

That said, the concepts that Arthur embodied were way ahead of it’s time and showed the seeds of the streamlined, efficient and user-friendly features that made Arthur 2.0 (Renamed RISC OS 2) the success that it became.

  • For Screenshots of Arthur and it's descendants see:



1 After posting this w/u call contacted me with regards to the nature of multitasking. To many non-techies such as myself multitasking may simply mean doing two or more jobs at once. On Arthur the user is able to work on two things at the same time, this is what I refered to as multitasking. Over to call for some clarification:-

call writes:

The term multitasking is one that covers a lot of ground in computing terms, and Arthur doesn't conform to any of the technical definitions. While the Arthur desktop allows a user to perfom more than one of what they would consider 'tasks', the Arthur desktop is in fact a single process, with a feature set of clock, notepad, filer, etc. defined entirely by the desktop program, which is a single (and single-threaded) BBC BASIC program which handles all of those functions.

In order to start up another application program, the user had to leave the desktop. The desktop would still be there when the user exited the application, but there was no way to access it without leaving the application program.

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