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).

When cash flow dictated that the company couldn't market its own hardware anymore, it retooled BeOS to run on other companies' PowerPC and Pentium platforms. The fact that this multithreaded, media-friendly OS could run multiple videos without a stutter or crash on clunky old Pentium IIs wowed many digital media developers and enthusiasts.

Sadly, Be didn't capture a lot of money. BeOS did attract interest from Apple in the mid '90s, but its price tag didn't. Be was firm on its asking price, Apple was firm on its offer, and the difference had a lot of zeros after it -- at which point Apple cozied up to NeXT and its OS instead.

And so Be shot for the moon, missed and was eventually sold to Palm Inc., in 2001. Palm halted development on the platform, and it died.

However, Be enthusiasts kept the beast alive online at sites like BeBits.com. After Palm abandoned them, they began to improve their favorite OS in a series of reverse-engineered open-source projects unofficially called OpenBeOS. On Linux or BSD kernels, they built Be-compatible APIs and gave the results winking names like Blue-Eyed OS.

Palm wasn't keen on trademark infringement, so the Be fan community picked a name that wouldn't offend: Haiku. And it's in this guise that BeOS lives on. Without actually being Be, Haiku certainly seems to be Be -- and with the real thing on ice in Palm's vaults, that's as good as it's going to get.

The Spirit of '95

Oh, we know what you're thinking: The Windows 95 phenomenon was a lot of fuss to make over a steppingstone between 16- and 32-bit computing. The technical aspects of the thing were washed away in a marketing tsunami -- and on the subject of flooding, it cost more to develop than 1995's other bloated headline-grabber, the Kevin Costner film Waterworld.

But we appreciated Windows 95 back then, and we still think of it fondly. It enabled people on home PCs to name their files with something more flexible than an eight-character name and a three-character extension.

And it was the first time Microsoft had given consumers a graphical operating system with a decent foundation. Up till then, mainstream (that is, non-NT) Windows was just an operating environment -- an easy-to-navigate structure that was built on stilts over the wet-sand footing of DOS. The whole structure had a nasty habit of collapsing right before you'd clicked the Save button. Before 95, Windows really was the dog that ate everyone's homework.

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Matt Lake

Computerworld
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