The Great Archimedes Debate (Part 4)
by Steven Flintham (15A)
Yes, yes, I know I'm having more than my fair say on this issue, but it's
something I feel quite strongly about - and anyway, I like arguments!
Firstly, I'd like to comment on the subject of PC's. Yes, I know you can get
all the popular business packages for them - but this is not just an
argument against buying an Archimedes, is it? You can just as easily use it
against every other model of computer on the market. And there's not really
a lot that can be done about it - whether or not PC's are easier to program,
in my opinion, they only get the best software written for them because they
sell so well, and they only sell so well because they get the best software
written for them - not because of their inherent brilliance as computers.
And, while Mr Miller complains about Computer Concepts applications using
enormous amounts of memory, from the PC magazines I have read I gather that
the situation with most PC software is even worse. It seems common to have
at least 4Mb in a typical PC running Windows, and I gather that a lot of
programs can use 6-10Mb of hard disc space each. Hard discs are virtually a
necessity with a PC, but it's not impossible to run an Archimdes on just one
floppy, and with two a hard disc becomes more of a luxury than a requirement
for most tasks - although I would not deny that they do help.
As regards programming PC's in Visual Basic, this probably is very easy. But
I believe Helix Basic on the Archimedes is roughly equivalent (although I am
prepared to be proved wrong on this point), so this is not really a
convincing reason for buying a PC. Furthermore, in my very limited
experience, I don't like Windows very much. Of course, I'm biased, but I
feel that the Archimedes DeskTop is a lot nicer. However, I suspect that
WIMP systems are like everything else - you grow to love whichever one you
Despite all the above, I do agree that if you want to just do "business"
tasks, you probably are better off with a PC - although in my opinion, this
is largely on grounds of price.
Anyway, that's enough of the PC issue. Mr Miller's complaints about the
Archimedes were also, in my opinion, a little unreasonable. Of course
there's only one processor, one keyboard and one VIDC - but that doesn't
make the multitasking pointless. If it was not just an illusion of several
programs running at once, it wouldn't be multitasking - it would be
concurrency, which is not very common on the present generation of desktop
machines (yes, I know the BBC second processors do this, but it's more
parallel processing than concurrency and it seems fairly limited).
Yes, I will admit that QRT is a bit slow when it comes to multitasking, but
this is largely because of the way in which it is implemented. Because the
multitasking on the Archimedes is co-operative, each task has to relinquish
control of the CPU before another can continue. The delays with QRT are
casued because it calculates for too long before giving up access to the CPU
- not a criticism of the programmer, because it's difficult to do this
anyway, but it must be even more difficult when converting a program from
It's true that a pre-emptive multitasking system would avoid these problems,
but pre-emptive systems are far more complex and would, I suspect, be a bit
of an overkill on a small machine. This added complexity would probably give
an increased probability of crashing, which is fairly rare on the present
I believe the Amiga uses a pre-emptive multitasking OS and the early
versions at least were prone to crashes when running two pieces of software.
This may have been sorted out on later versions, but I'm not too sure
because all my Amiga-owning friends are extremely sensitive to queries on
this - perhaps they are trying to hide something!
And I still feel that multitasking is valuable with programs that don't
require huge amounts of processing time. It might seem a bit silly to have
Edit, Paint and Draw running together, but doing so allows you to do simple
DTP. You can edit text in Edit and the sprites in Paint and then drag them
straight into Draw. Imagine having to load Edit, write/modify your text,
quit Edit, load Draw, load the text, check it and repeat this every time you
found an error. Just because you aren't DOING anything with the programs
yourself it doesn't mean that you don't derive any advantage from having
them loaded. Yes, it is true that in this case you could use a system where
they were all loaded but had to be switched between manually, but the
multitasking allows you to use background tasks which calculate in small
chunks. For instance, I've written a fractal fern generator which runs in
the background without causing a significant loss of performance by just
doing a small amount of calculation each WIMP poll and a similar program to
do floating point Mandelbrots in spare bits of computer time.
The "you need 2MB to do anything" argument is quite common, but I'm managing
quite well on a basic 1MB, two floppy system. I will admit that RISC OS 3
seems to make 2Mb is far more important - one of the reasons why I haven't
upgraded yet, because RAM expansion is the biggest fault on the A310 as it
wasn't really planned for and so it costs more than on all the other
I'd like to draw a conclusion, but to be perfectly honest I can't, because I
don't really seem to have done anything in this article except defend the
Archimedes against various complaints. All I can really say is that I do not
regret buying an Archimedes, although I do occasionally wish I had bought a
model other than the 310 simply for the easier RAM expansion.