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Acorn didn't license enough, decides Hauser

By Chris Williams. Published: 29th Apr 2004, 16:10:19 | Permalink | Printable

Oh yeah, that was probably it

Acorn logoIn an interview this month with CustomPC magazine, Acorn co-founder Hermann Hauser took great pleasure in dissing Microsoft, Apple and also RISC OS. While the interviewer ribbed the Archimedes for being that 'nerdy school computer', Hermann revealed a few things about the early Acorn era that he helped found with Chris Curry.

Hermann admitted that Amiga was more popular outside of school, at the time, because Acorn had chosen to market their machines as educational computers. He also fondly recalled that the BBC Micro was faster, better and cheaper than the Apple II, which was probably why the little 8 bit beast won Acorn the BBC computer contract at the start of the 1980s. Acorn also turned down using MS-DOS, in favour of their own OS, because it lacked a sensible approach to networking: having hooked up a machine to an Econet network, logging in and using the network was pretty straightforward, which is ideal in a classroom environment.

As for the down fall of Acorn, Hermann blamed Acorn's decision to keep all their technology to themselves - it's nice to see he's realised this 10 years after the decline of Acorn: "IBM set a standard with the IBM PC, which no one expected to work at the time. But with hindsight, of course, lots of people approached us to license our technology - our operating system and Econet in particular. Commodore, for example, approached us and at that time we thought this makes no sense - this is clearly a competitive market and we should hog the technology rather than license it. We should have had a licensing strategy."

And while Hermann praised the ARM processor, he probably won't be buying an Iyonix or Omega anytime soon: "There isn't a lot of development going into RISC OS right now. It'll live on for some time, but it's hard to see it becoming a major operating system again."

Here's to that 'some time'.


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Cheers for the support, Hermann. Unbelievable that he won't support his own platform.

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 29/4/04 4:13PM
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Sad he won't. If he put some of his money back into the platform, it could become an Apple.

 is a RISC OS Userarenaman on 29/4/04 5:16PM
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Perhaps someone should invite him to attend the Qercus presentation at Wakefield: "Pride in what our Acorns have become"? ;-)

Another interesting article, Chris. Ta!

 is a RISC OS UserStewy on 29/4/04 5:30PM
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I don't find it all unbelievable he won't *support* it, people are allowed to move on in life you know. He's certainly under no obligation to support it. I thought his views were entirely pragmatic.

And as for becoming like Apple, although they struggled, Apple never slipped from the public conscious like RISC OS has. It lost a lot of its core market to the Windows world, but there was still a large number of companies using Macs for certain key tasks, like graphics work. In short, it was still a main stream company, unlike what's happened to RISC OS.

Also, as much as a lot of Mac people despise it, Mac OS has always had Microsoft Office :D

 is a RISC OS UserDougal on 29/4/04 7:13PM
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Hermann has said previously that Acorn should have licensed stuff, he hasn't only just realised!

 is a RISC OS Userjohn on 29/4/04 7:46PM
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Honestly, RISC OS only works on ARM, doesn't have PMT, etc., etc., but it is still the most pleasant OS to use by a mile. Nothing else feels quite like RISC OS.

RISC OS could 'come back' in some form. Here's how:

Castle licence RISC OS to a consumer widget multimedia maker with a household name. Word gets round that the widget is a fun desktop computer if you hold down the power button and tap channel one three times - up pops the RISC OS desktop. Cult hit. Fan websites. Nerd nirvana. Etc.

Consumer widget is rebadged by Castle as an Iyonix Lite for 500 and the few thousand regular RPC users can finally upgrade at a sensible price. Friends and family start buying them too, like in the mid-90s. Risc OS market is small but suddenly very healthy.

So there you go.

Oh, and I'll say it again - someone needs to dredge up the Acorn brand. Yeah, it has the nerdy school computer thing, but then it has the lengend of computing history thing too. Apple had a reputation for being an overpriced, overhyped spent force used only by a few w***y turtle-necked (un)creatives among some people too. But would you toss a brand like Apple in the dustbin? Of course not.

Live the legend - Acorn.

 is a RISC OS UserJessFranco on 29/4/04 8:30PM
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Oh, did anyone read this months's Retro Gamer magazine? They had a big Acorn feature. Sadly, although they mentioned Castle in the 1998 context, you wouldn't realise RISC OS was still a going concern.

 is a RISC OS UserJessFranco on 29/4/04 8:33PM
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To JessFranco: Didn't Acorn try to this themselves? Or are you already forgotten about the Oracle fiasco?

In fact I still believe that the Oracle's backstabbing is the major reason to speed Acorn's demise. But I wont go into details about this anymore. I already made my point as how the Oracle and Acorn mariage was. bBesides ppl think I'm paranoid whenever I explain this.

However I do agree that we should embrace The Acorn brand. Because many ppl STILL refer to RISC OS machines as Acorns. Just as ppl still refer to PowerMacs as Apples.

In that respect I definitly think that the Iyonix PC lacks visibility and Castle should have profitted further from using the Acorn brand. Especially since the legally own it!

Also it's sad to see that the former ppl who build Acorn don't care about it anymore. Though I find it curious that only Mr. Hauser mostly comes into view. What about Mr. Chris Curry? And the others?

What about the ppl who went from Acorn to E14 and to Pace? What are they doing? They can't all be vanished, can they?

Manu T

 is a RISC OS Userepdm3be on 29/4/04 9:29PM
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Herman seems to be a man who can't be bothered any more, probly got an XP box on his desk.

He probly knew they should have gone license, but got greedy, truly my image of him has degraded

 is a RISC OS Userem2ac on 29/4/04 9:40PM
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Just can't find the review on CustomPC website :-( Their search engine can't find anything related to HH. Anyone has a direct link ?

 is a RISC OS UserRoono on 29/4/04 10:15PM
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epdm3be: I understand what you're saying. But what Acorn, then later RiscStation, never managed to work out, is that you can't just decide that a given company or individual will look after you, and thus everything is sorted. When the company or individual changes their mind, you're sunk. That's what happened to both Acorn and RiscStation.

No amount of enthusiastic reviews in a popular (at the time) magazine, generate sales if you don't have a decent saleable product.


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 29/4/04 11:09PM
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I look forward to a future history of technology book titled "The Fall and Rise of Acorn"

 is a RISC OS Userpipalya on 29/4/04 11:24PM
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Interesting about Mr. Hauser's comment regarding the Amiga. As an advisory teacher in 1990, Commodore sent a team to show us the value of having Amigas as the educational computer of the future. They did their demo, including BBC Basic. We showed them RISCOS. They left. They were very unsuccessful in the education market, but of course they did try marketing. Perhaps Acorn should have taken marketing seriously. After all, Microsoft did. And they've done quite well!!

 is a RISC OS UserDaveW on 30/4/04 7:02AM
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For what it's worth I think the main thing Acorn got wrong was their pricing strategy and how they spent their income when times were good. You need high initial prices which the "early adopters" will pay but then you need to increasingly have special offers, such as free give aways with the product, effectively steadily cutting the price. You need to capture market share.

Acorn wasted so much money trying to break into the American market and developing stuff that was only a marginal improvement on what was already around. Why the electron rather than a cheeper BBC-B ? Why Pheobe, rather than kinetic in a reduced price RiscPC ?

Castle are doing much, much better. With the Iyonix, the key issue is to wait for a much faster CPU before investing heavily in an Iyonix II. A laptop would be nice, but is probably the sort of distraction that Acorn would have wasted resources on for minimal return rather than getting the effective price moving steadily downward to keep drawing in new customers.

What really galls me about Apple was when they asked Bill Gates to invest in them in order to save their company. Bill went for it to protect his sales of Word etc to Apple users. Talk about swallowing your pride...

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 30/4/04 9:11AM
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So much to say here! ;-)

epdm3be: "In fact I still believe that the Oracle's backstabbing is the major reason to speed Acorn's demise."

If I remember correctly, Acorn abused their contract with Oracle and thus got it terminated. Having re-read various Bondar statements recently, I can understand exactly why Oracle would have wanted nothing more to do with Acorn - I've worked with people who've come across like Bondar did in his communications, and most of them have been idiots.

DaveW: "They did their demo, including BBC Basic. We showed them RISCOS. They left."

Yes, we could now look into why the Amiga failed. ;-) Hint: poor desktop experience.

martin: "Why the electron rather than a cheeper BBC-B ?"

A really good question, especially if you read the comparison between the BBC-A and Spectrum in Acorn User vol. 2. Acorn should have planned ahead and redone the BBC-B, taking advantage of the inevitable progress in technology.

But really, Acorn's downfall does share similarities with that of Commodore. Whilst the Amiga didn't provide a decent enough desktop experience (in contrast to the RISC OS Desktop), Acorn also failed to follow an important paradigm shift: from the single-tasking model of microcomputer use to the multi-tasking model of a networked computer.

Consider the way most people use computers today: it isn't a case of sitting down at the wordprocessor and having the radio on in the background; instead, users have their wordprocessor open, send and receive e-mails and messages, play audio, surf the Web, and so on. RISC OS (like classic Mac OS) can just about manage this, but it's an act that has never been completely convincing.

We can all go round the nostalgia circuit again (Bill Gates' "What's a network?" and so on), but had Acorn successfully made the paradigm jump as described above, people would have been pestering them about licensing well into the 1990s. Perhaps they would have been able to have learned from (and taken advantage of) their mistakes by then.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 30/4/04 10:54AM
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Well, it's no good thinking what might have been. The fact is HH could do a little investment now and transform the market. In my opinion, software development and marketing is where money is needed.

However, he is not obliged to do anything. It's his money and Acorn the company no longer exists. He might simply think it's a dream that is not realistic, or he might just be leaving it to people on the Internet who know how to run things better than any MD that was ever in the market!!

 is a RISC OS Userarenaman on 30/4/04 11:31AM
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Seeing as he's worth 120m, he could invest just a tiny percentage of that and make a difference.


 is a RISC OS Userrusst on 30/4/04 11:34AM
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Nice (but maybe sad?) to consider stuff with hindsight, but what might be a way forward ... ? Soemehow, (and it's just an opinion!) I believe that RISC OS' future needs to run alongside and associate more with the growing success of Linux - ARM Linux specifically!? Linux 'needs' a 'RISC OS desktop experience' [AFAIR Steve Streater wanted to head this way some years ago! ] Yes I know about ROX and other initiatives, but I'm thinking something more 'mainstream' with specific 'RoS features, administration, application' and installation support - kind of like GNOME/KDE, but possibly with paid for support. Maybe this could be a non-GPL product to buy from 'someone' in the RISC OS commercial world - and perhaps only available for ARM based hardware? Anyway - just my ha'penny's worth! - Linux + Apps/ ARM cpu's / RISC OS + Apps 'somehow' coming together ?

 is a RISC OS UserCASW1 on 30/4/04 12:12PM
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Nothing new in what Hermann Hauser said.

Didn't anyone here read the book - The Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin

One large chapter on Acorn there.


RISC OS will only get bigger if people advertise it. No one does so there you are....

to - guestx & martin: "Why the electron rather than a cheeper BBC-B ?"

Because the Electron WAS a cheaper version of the BBC B?

Technology at that time was limiting Acorn in what they could do. Teletext was only available as an expensive set of chips. So Acorn removed Teletext..... The 3 custom chips that the BBC B used were expensive, so Acorn put most of the features in to one big chip. Trouble was, it was programmed different to the way the BBC B did things so software broke. Acorn didn't have enough Electrons for sale by Xmas 198? and so missed the boat. Hindsight is so wonderful isn't it?

 is a RISC OS Userquatermass on 30/4/04 12:33PM
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Hindsight is wonderful, yes, but the trends (memory, components becoming faster, cheaper) were surely well known at the time. Still, at least Acorn managed to deliver mostly reliable equipment without resorting to the bizarre or exotic hacks that Sinclair and Apple were up to back then.

And it's also great to learn from such business. Do you plan a big project with lots of fancy components to make things work, or do you hold off until off-the-shelf components and better technology make it all much cheaper and more reliable? Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you round X of the Iyonix vs. Omega debate!

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 30/4/04 12:47PM
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Acorn, like Apple, also had the 'wrong CEO' thing going. Bondar was at least an Acorn man but seemed a bit of a maverick (smashing up PCs?), Boland meanwhile was a work-experience kid from the beancounting school left in charge of the company.

Boland not selling the Workstations division to Steven Streater was another killer blow as if was the last was a last chance for Acorn machine to remain visible in the UK IT big league. Streater could've been the Acorn Steve Jobs. He even had the same idea - solve the 'underdeveloped OS' problem with Unix.

 is a RISC OS UserJessFranco on 30/4/04 12:56PM
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In reply to Quartermass Yes, but it wasn't just the cost of developing and bringing the Electron to market. Then time, money and effort went into the Plus 1, then the Plus 3 (when really it was the BBC that needed a built in 3.5" floppy), converting software etc, etc. And all into something running at half the speed of the existing BBC and without teletext.

What could the price of a BBC B been reduced to without all of those unnecessary overheads ?

Of course the electron missing a launch in time for X-mas : It was a turkey !

(And I bought one because I couldn't aford the BBC B at the unnecessaryily high price at that time)

The electron cost 199 the BBC B, 499. With just the BBC B, surely that gap could have been closed.

 is a RISC OS Usermartin on 30/4/04 1:40PM
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Out of curiosity has anyone ever seen an advert for a RISC OS product, whether it be hardware (in all its guises) or software, outside the RISC OS press ?

I vaguely remember a tv add about 10 (?) years ago but apart from that nothing.

 is a RISC OS UserCol1 on 30/4/04 2:00PM
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Yes, I remember seeing a TV ad as well - for the A3010 I think.

 is a RISC OS UserPhlamethrower on 30/4/04 2:30PM
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Yes, I remember seeing an add for the RiscPC in New Scientist with a RiscPC behind bars and the slogan along the lines of: Unleash the power of the RiscPC. It was a small letterbox sized ad at the foot of the page.

 is a RISC OS Userj5m1th on 30/4/04 3:02PM
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If only Acorn had held on. Here's an exercise: get a 1999 copy of Wired magazine, open it, turn the pages and for each advert for a dot-bomb company which no longer exists, rip the page out. I bet you'd have a slim leaflet, approximately as thick as an equivalent vintage Acorn User at the end of the exercise. ;-)

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 30/4/04 3:48PM
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I remember seeing the mind blowing/mind growing advert, showing Saloon Cars and some educational software. The RISC OS games at that time were technically superior to anything else around. The ad was just crap.

 is a RISC OS Userksattic on 30/4/04 6:15PM
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> (smashing up PCs?)

I was at that AW. Am I the only person here who really enjoyed that?

 is a RISC OS Usermoss on 1/5/04 6:28PM
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moss: No, from what I saw there were quite a few dozens of people watching it rather enthusiastically, plus a few actually participating.


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 1/5/04 8:23PM
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Oh, I know there were at the time. I just wondered whether most people these days have decided it was a bad idea ;)

 is a RISC OS Usermoss on 1/5/04 11:40PM
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