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.

Small wonder, then, that the Amiga gained a fiercely loyal following. It wasn't until the late 1990s that Windows NT, OS/2 and the Mac OS were able to multitask as well -- and they required vast hardware resources to do it.

Sadly, the technical prowess of the Amiga makers was overwhelmed by cash-flow problems. Beginning in 1994, bankruptcies shunted Amiga through many owners, from Commodore to Escom to Gateway and beyond. Development on AmigaOS 4 continued on the PowerPC platform, but there's currently some kind of dispute over who actually owns the operating system, so it's in a holding pattern.

Nevertheless, Amiga users remain committed to their platform of choice, as shown by the reader responses to our blog asking if anyone still uses AmigaOS -- many say they still use it every day.

We only hope that the world at large hasn't said a final adios to Amiga. Any operating system that could bring us Max Headroom is worth seeing again. And again. And ag-g-g-g-gain.

Golly GEOS

It was two years after the debut of the Macintosh. It was the year after the first Microsoft Windows shipped -- and long before Windows was widely used. And somehow, a band of wily California programmers managed to release a credible graphical OS that would run on a 1-MHz gaming platform.

In 1986, when Commodore released a revamped version of its flagship eight-bit games machine, the company threw in a Mac-like operating system from Berkeley Softworks. The Commodore 64C could perform WYSIWYG word processing, desktop publishing and spreadsheets -- and run some kicking games to boot. And you could buy 10 of them for the price of a loaded Mac or Windows machine.

The operating system that supported this was called GEOS, and within a few years it became the third-best-selling operating system in the world. Strange, then, that few people have even heard of it these days.

GEOS suffered from its greatest strength: Because it squeezed a lot of performance out of 64K of RAM, it was associated with being a lightweight option in the ring with heavyweight opponents.

When GEOS was ported over to the PC platform in 1990, it was already a little too late. The PC version, called PC/GEOS or GeoWorks Ensemble, was actually an operating environment layered over DOS, not an operating system -- like Microsoft's Windows of the time but much more tightly coded.

But it had a killer office suite that zoomed even on 286 machines, and the company, now called GeoWorks, forged ahead into pen computing years before Microsoft. Still, GEOS never really took hold on the PC platform.

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Matt Lake

Computerworld
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