Oct 222018

Following the acquisition of Castle Technology Ltd by RISC OS Developments Ltd, announced earlier this month, the new owners have now revealed that the operating system is to become fully1 open source.

Under Castle’s ownership, with RISC OS Open Ltd appointed its stewards, the sources to the OS were released under a ‘shared source’ licence. This was designed such that anyone could develop RISC OS further, but if those developments were released in any way they had to be fed back to be considered for inclusion into the main source tree.

Timed to coincide with the 2018 RISC OS London Show, the official re-licensing of RISC OS is scheduled for this weekend, from which point it will be licensed under the Apache 2.0 Licence. That means it will then be possible, for the first ever time in the operating system’s thirty one year history, to use RISC OS in your own products without charge and no matter if they are free or commercial.

The move to a new licensing model has been welcomed by many in the RISC OS community, and beyond. One of the Founders of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, Eben Upton said:

RISC OS is a great demonstration of how much performance a well-tuned operating system and user interface can wring out of a platform. Starting from the position that every cycle needs to pay for itself, and able to trace its history back to a point where there were only 4 million of those cycles per second, RISC OS really flies on modern hardware like Raspberry Pi. Moving to a free open source license should bring a renewed interest to RISC OS.

One of the first operating systems to support the Raspberry Pi, RISC OS has always been a good fit for the platform, with its relatively small size and lean start-up times, not to the mention that RISC OS makes it easy to get ‘close to the bone’ and interact more directly with the hardware.

RISC OS Open will continue to curate the operating system under its new licence and Steve Revill, one of the company’s founders, said:

This re-licensing represents the achievement of the primary goal RISC OS Open originally set out to achieve. It is a key milestone for an important part of British computing history and the fulfilment of my long-held personal ambition to enable anyone to use RISC OS freely and contribute openly to its future.

Before the Raspberry Pi, RISC OS had been ported to run on platforms such as the BeagleBoard, and it has since made it to the Wandboard, amongst others – and there has even been a new hardware platform, Elesar Ltd‘s Titanium, designed with the operating system in mind.

With the new licence making it more open and accessible to the wider world, this milestone event means RISC OS could be an ideal choice for royalty-free ARM-based products with boards such as these and more at their heart. If what’s needed is a small-footprint operating system, with a fast start time and which is able to ‘be there’ when needed, and doesn’t get in the way when not, RISC OS could be ideal.

RISC OS Developments was formed in 2017 by Andrew Rawnsley and Richard Brown, both of whom are known to many in the RISC OS community through the businesses they run in the market, and their long term support. Their goal with the company is to provide investment and development for the operating system and its applications, and to bring it to new markets. This acquisition and change of licensing model is a step forward with that goal, and Richard Brown had this to say:

The open source movement plays a fundamental part in today’s software industry and its goals of promoting collaboration and sharing are exactly what the RISC OS community needs to enable its future growth.

Andrew Rawnsley added:

This move unlocks a lot of opportunities for RISC OS that were previously inaccessible due to former licence restrictions. We look forward to seeing the exciting projects that this makes possible.

This major development marks the dawn of the next chapter in the operating system’s long history, which officially starts this weekend at the London Show. RISC OS Developments is scheduled to give one of the talks at the event – so to find out more about the company’s plans and aspirations for RISC OS, that’s where you need to be.

!ReadMe (update)
1. It should be stressed that by ‘fully’ open source, I mean that the RISC OS sources that were previously available under Castle’s ‘shared source’ licence are now available under the Apache 2.0 licence. Some components are subject to different licences – some of which are already fully permissive.