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).

That is, except in one way that was impossible to ignore: It was the power behind the America Online client. Every time you installed one of those free trial floppy disks, you were in front of GEOS.

In that capacity, the operating system took desktops by storm, but only until Steve Case's crew jumped on the Windows and Mac OS bandwagon. GEOS meandered onto handheld computers and mobile phones and then dropped off the personal computing map in the early 1990s.

Or so we thought. But GEOS never quite went away. It popped up in the education market in 1996 under the name NewDeal (discontinued around the turn of the century), and again at its current owner Breadbox Computer, which is touting it as a way to leverage the potential of old hardware. It seems you just can't keep a good OS down.

Ahead Warp Factor 3

In any discussion of operating systems, it's easy to overlook the fact that beneath the icons, menus and graphics, operating systems are basically there to run programs on hardware. In that respect, OS/2 was an operating system to be reckoned with.

Did you want to run several DOS programs at once? A couple of Windows apps? One of the small but perfectly formed band of OS/2 apps? And did you want to do that on early 1990s hardware without seeing a Blue Screen of Death? Well, IBM had you covered.

Yes, considering it began life as the child of an uneasy marriage between IBM and Microsoft, OS/2 was pretty stable and well adjusted. Born in 1987, the young OS didn't lose its cool even in 1995, when its spoiled half-brother, Windows 95, came along and got all the attention.

By that time, OS/2 Warp 3 was plugging along nicely, gaining ground in large and stable industries like banking, insurance and telecommunications. It powered tens of thousands of ATMs across the world throughout the 1990s and well into the new millennium. It kept accounting and auditing companies running.

But somehow, it failed to create a buzz among consumer-level software developers. They were spitting out Windows programs, which OS/2 Warp ran like a pro, but many people failed to see the advantage of getting Warp when Windows was pre-installed on their PCs.

OS/2 soldiered valiantly on until IBM pulled the plug at the end of 2001 and withdrew support five years later. We may not see it at work when we pull cash out of the money machines anymore, but those of us who liked it still have the box on our shelves for old time's sake.

What NeXTStep?

By 1989, the brave new world of windows, icons and menus was getting a bit stale. Then Steve Jobs came along with the NeXT Computer, and we took a collective intake of breath so deep that our ears popped from the loss of air pressure.

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Matt Lake

Computerworld
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