10 operating systems the world left behind

AmigaOS, CP/M, OS/2, DOS -- which OS do you miss the most?
  • (Computerworld)
  • — 03 April, 2009 09:02
BeOS, a multithreaded, media-friendly operating system, could run multiple videos without a stutter or crash on its original BeBox hardware and on the PowerPC and Pentium platforms. Shown here: two views of the BeOS 5 Personal Edition desktop.

BeOS, a multithreaded, media-friendly operating system, could run multiple videos without a stutter or crash on its original BeBox hardware and on the PowerPC and Pentium platforms. Shown here: two views of the BeOS 5 Personal Edition desktop.

  • BeOS, a multithreaded, media-friendly operating system, could run multiple videos without a stutter or crash on its original BeBox hardware and on the PowerPC and Pentium platforms. Shown here: two views of the BeOS 5 Personal Edition desktop.
  •  An original IBM PC 5150 running PC-DOS Version 1.10. Inset: MS-DOS 4.01 on a 286-based NCR Personal Computer
  • The Mac OS "classic" operating system, introduced in 1984, powered Macs for 16 years and spawned a rash of imitators. For many years it was known simply as "the System." Shown here, from top to bottom: System 1.1, System 4.2 and System 7.0.
  • CP/M-86 Version 1.0 running on an original IBM PC 5150 (top left and right); CP/M 2.2 on an Osborne 1 (bottom left); CP/M 2.2G on a Kaypro 10 (bottom right).
  • From top to bottom: Amiga Workbench 1.2, 2.0 and 3.9, which ran on Motorola processors, and AmigaOS 4.0, which runs on the PowerPC.
  • Windows 95 was a turning point in the world of Windows, greatly improving the operating system's stability. Windows 95 also marked the debut of both the Start menu and the taskbar
  • OK, the X Window System isn't actually an OS; it's a graphical interface. It's not really gone, either -- while the world may have forgotten about it, X is still alive and well beneath the surface all the free Unix and Linux releases.
  • Born of a partnership between IBM and Microsoft, OS/2 quietly provided computing power for the banking and insurance industries throughout the '90s, but it failed to capture the interest of consumer software developers. Shown here: OS/2 2.1 (top) and two views of OS 2 Warp 4.
  • GEOS, originally a Mac-like operating system for eight-bit Commodore computers, was later ported over to the PC platform as GeoWorks Ensemble, which ran on top of DOS. Shown here stacked: GEOS 1.2 for the Commodore 64C (top); GEOS 2.0 for the Commodore 128 (middle); GeoWorks Ensemble 1.2 (bottom).

A decade later, look-and-feel lawsuits were won on less evidence than that. Too bad the lawyers back then were not as far ahead of their time as Gary Kildall.

A DOS by any other name

DOS was dealt a death blow when Windows 95 came out in 1995, but many of us old keyboard jockeys still drop out to the command line from Windows to flex our old DOS muscles occasionally. It just feels more efficient to type a quick command than to monkey around with the mouse and menus. We may be fooling ourselves -- like the people who wait in line for self-checkout at the supermarket when the Express checkout clerk is twiddling her thumbs -- but it's all about perception, right?

Of course, DOS wasn't a single homogeneous operating system. It came in many flavors from several different vendors. Even the iconic PC-DOS, introduced to the world in 1981 along with the IBM PC, didn't come from one vendor: It was branded by IBM and developed by Microsoft from its MS-DOS, which was in turn licensed from Seattle Computer, where it was called QDOS -- which was by some accounts ripped off from Digital Research's CP/M.

Most old propeller-heads cite 1987's MS-DOS 3.3 as their favorite. It introduced support for more than one logical drive per hard disk and could handle those high-capacity 3.5-inch floppy disks. (You remember, the double-density HD ones with a massive 1.44MB capacity?) No matter how many bug fixes Microsoft came up with for DOS 4.0, it was shunned; 3.3 was the MS-DOS of choice until DOS 5.0 came around in 1991.

And then there were the people who used DR-DOS instead. When Digital Research's DOS 5 debuted in 1990, it left so much more memory free than any version of Microsoft DOS that it made many instant converts. Purists were quick to point out it was a Digital Research product, the firstborn son of CP/M, not like the Microsoft's versions of DOS, the clones of CP/M's clone.

And besides, DR-DOS pioneered the MOVE command, a vast improvement over MS-DOS's convoluted two-step COPY and DEL. What's not to love about that?

Some of us favored the Tandy/Radio Shack brand of DOS, TRS-DOS (called triss-DOS by its friends and trash-DOS by its detractors). Now this was a DOS with some pedigree -- and no relationship to MS-DOS at all. It appeared in 1977, and its popularity may have had something to do with the fact it came on cheap retail machines four years before IBM entered the PC arena. Or perhaps people just liked TRS-DOS's dramatically named KILL command, which beat MS-DOS's more prosaic DEL hands-down.

But by any of its names, the DOS family was never for dummies. So if you miss it as badly as we do, pretend it's still around on your Windows machine: Hold down the Window key, press R, and type in CMD for old time's sake. Or go all the way and try out FreeDOS, an open-source project that's bringing DOS back to life on modern PCs.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Matt Lake

Computerworld
Comments are now closed.

Latest News Articles

Most Popular Articles

Follow Us

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Resources

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Compare & Save

Deals powered by WhistleOut
WhistleOut

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?