10 operating systems the world left behind

AmigaOS, CP/M, OS/2, DOS -- which OS do you miss the most?

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.

Not just any system... THE System

Ah, we remember Mac OS fondly.

Yes, we know there's still a Mac OS, but we're talking about the classic Mac OS. It ran on Motorola chips. It wasn't built on BSD Unix; it was built on itself. And it was so self-evident, we just called it the System.

Now don't get us wrong ... we love the Tigers and Leopards and the other jungle cats of the OS world, but we still have a soft spot for the versions before Mac OS X. After all, it first inspired technolust in 1984, it lasted till the end of the millennium, and it spawned a rash of imitators -- and look-and-feel lawsuits.

Of the 16 years and nine versions of the System we lived through, we'd say System 7 brings the warmest waves of nostalgia. In the heady dot-com days of the mid '90s, the System was powering a market of clone machines that rapidly expanded the Mac platform. Even though it all ended abruptly when Apple introduced System 8 without renewing the clone builders' contracts, it was an exciting time to be a Mac buff.

The clone era also gave the old System its new name with the release of Version 7.6 -- when you fired up a beige machine called a PowerPC, it helped to see "Mac OS" on the start-up screen to be sure you were dealing with a real Mac.

And, of course, System 7 was the one we were running in 1995 when bumper stickers began appearing with the words "Windows 95 = Mac OS 89" on them.

Sure, we remember having to rebuild our desktops after our systems froze, which in the System 7 days seemed to happen fairly often. And it was always a bit of a pain trying to share Mac files with other platforms. But those were minor gripes compared to the smooth running of our System of choice -- and the fun of seeing how much rougher everyone else's ride was.

Adios, Amigas

We tend to take multitasking for granted these days, but 20 years ago, it was a Holy Grail for the personal computing platforms. With its DOS foundation, Windows could only wish for it. The Mac and OS/2 fumbled their way around it. You could switch around among programs, but if one of them was actually doing something like downloading a file or recalculating a spreadsheet, it would slow down or stop cold until you turned back to it.

Meanwhile, a four-year-old gaming platform was running rings around them all. The Amiga operating system was so tightly coded that it took the big corporate computers almost a decade to catch up. By then, Amiga computers had been used to generate backgrounds for popular TV shows like SeaQuest, Babylon 5 and Max Headroom, and they were routinely being used for titling and cheesy real-time effects on live network broadcasts.

Naturally, the Amiga's video subsystem and NewTek's Video Toaster hardware deserve much of the credit for the system's popularity among video professionals, but the AmigaOS played a major part. Its multithreaded multitasking made it a natural for heavy graphics work. And it could strut its stuff in as little as 250K of address space.

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Matt Lake

Computerworld
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