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.

Oh, we still had our gripes, and Windows 95 certainly didn't solve them all. We had been promised no more UAEs (unavoidable application errors), and we were annoyed to discover that something that looked and quacked like a UAE was still a regular guest -- but now it was called a GPF (general protection fault).

And it would be two more revs of Windows before we could make reliable use of those spiffy little USB slots that were beginning to appear.

But Windows 95 was a turning point in the world of Windows, and it brought us where we are today. Of course, there have been a few missteps along the way (Me? Vista?), but perhaps Windows 10 -- I mean Windows 7 -- will open new vistas for us.

Forgotten but not gone: X marks the spot

We know... the X Window System, or X Window for short -- or just plain X for shortest -- is not actually an operating system. But its creators started out with a manifesto, so for that reason alone, we can't ignore it.

While IBM and Microsoft and Apple were conducting parallel revolutions out in the marketplace in 1984, MIT boffins Bob Scheifler and Jim Gettys were crafting a work of philosophy: Cut away complexity. Don't get bogged down with every cool idea you can bolt onto your system. Leave the actual user interface to the user. Just make it work.

Consider these Ben Franklin-style nuggets of wisdom, laid out by Scheifler and Gettys:

"Do not add new functionality unless you know of some real application that will require it."

"If you can get 90% of the desired effect for 10% of the work, use the simpler solution."

"If a problem is not completely understood, it is probably best to provide no solution at all."

X ended up doing exactly what it set out to do: make a Unix operating system kernel and the user interface work together. So it's surprising we don't hear a whole lot about it anymore.

Or perhaps it isn't so surprising. The pace of development hasn't exactly whizzed by recently: In its first four years, X went through 11 iterations. In the following 21 years, it slid glacially up to release 11.7.4.

But don't think that X has actually gone: It's just lurking beneath the surface. And it lurks everywhere -- most famously beneath all of the free Unix and Linux releases, and the Panther, Tiger and Leopard branches of the Mac OS X family. And long may it continue!

Many thanks to the Personal Computer Museum, GUIdebook, Amiga Future and Wikimedia Commons for providing images for this story.

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Matt Lake

Computerworld

1 Comment

Anonymous

1

We tend to take multitasking

<cite>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.</cite>

OS/2 did not fumble around multitasking. It was very good at it, on par if not better than the Amiga.

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