Old Operating Systems Don’t Die…

So you think Windows XP is an old timer? These OSes from the distant past just won't quit.

By  |  Thursday, September 17, 2009 at 1:37 am

haikulogoNow this is good tech news in its purest form: After eight years of development, a new operating system called Haiku has been released in alpha form. It’s an open-source reconstruction of BeOS, the mean, lean, multimedia-savvy OS which I really liked when I reviewed it for PC World, um, eleven years ago. (If I recall correctly, I compared it with Windows 98 and an early version of Red Hat Linux.) It’s certainly a happier development than we’re accustomed to hearing about BeOS, a product which failed to become the next-generation Mac OS back in the 1990s and was then sold to Palm for a measly $11 million, whereupon it pretty much vanished except for the occasional legal aftershock.

HaikuStill, for an operating system that never succeeded in the first place, BeOS has been remarkably…successful. It’s still embedded in at least one professional audio product, is the subject of multiple news sites and blogs, and boasts an impressive array of applications. It may not have changed the world, but it was both useful and loved. And even if Haiku is a quixotic project, it gives BeOS a new lease on life.

The Haiku release got me thinking about other once-signficant OSes, and what happened to them. Herewith, some quick updates on a few major ones from the 1970s and 1980s. Remarkably enough, they haven’t been done in by disinterested owners, obsolete technology, and legal wrangling–they’re all still around in one form or another, and it’s entirely possible that some of them will outlive us all.

CP/M (born 1973)

CP/MYou could argue that Digital Research’s pioneering desktop OS lives on in spirit every time anyone boots up Windows: Microsoft’s operating system is the successor to MS-DOS, which started out as a hasty knockoff of CP/M. As for bona-fide DR CP/M? Well, it’s apparently still available in new/old-stock form from this company for fifteen bucks a copy, although I’m not sure if anyone runs it today for any reason other than nerdy nostalgia. But CP/M never really went away–it evolved into DOS PLUS, which then morphed into DR DOS, which one-time owner Caldera open-sourced as OpenDOS. Both DR DOS and OpenDOS are still with us.

VMS (born 1977)

OpenVMSI don’t think I’ve ever laid eyes on a Digital VAX minicomputer in my life, but when I was first getting into computers, they were the gold standard of industrial-strength computing, in large part due to VMS, the OS they ran. (VMS architect Dave Cutler went on to spearhead Windows NT, and is currently working on Microsoft’s Azure cloud-computing platform.) VAXes VAXen were so popular that they not only survived the end of the minicomputer era, but also the merger of Digital into Compaq and of Compaq into HP–the last ones rolled off assembly lines in this decade. After multiple migrations by VMS to new platforms, HP is still selling computers that run the OS, which is now known as OpenVMS.

MS-DOS (born 1981)

MS-DOSYou think Microsoft is having trouble ridding itself of Windows XP? DOS, an OS that dates from early in the first Reagan administration, is still very much alive, quietly in use at businesses running an array of vertical and embedded applications. Microsoft supposedly killed it in 2001, but if you subscribe to its TechNet service for IT types, you can download DOS 6.0 and 6.22 to this day. (The company surely wouldn’t offer it unless there were folks out there who still needed it.) Then there’s FreeDOS, the DOS-compatible open-source OS that you can even get preinstalled on certain HP systems. Prediction: Long after there’s not a single soul left running Windows 7, there will be someone, somewhere happily using DOS.

Commodore KERNAL/BASIC 2.0 (born 1982)

Commodore 64Like many early home computers–including my beloved TRS-80–the legendary Commodore 64 was so architecturally rudimentary that its BASIC programming language more or less doubled as its operating system, sitting on top of some low-level software called KERNAL. Until recently, I would have declared KERNAL and BASIC to be officially defunct. But they’re not only still around, but causing controversy! Developer Manomio created a properly licensed C64 emulator for the iPhone, letting you put Commodore’s 27-year-old OS in your pocket. But Apple told it that having Commodore BASIC on the iPhone was too dangerous, which led Manomio to submit a version with BASIC disabled–except you could turn it on again if you knew how. That led Apple to yank the app, which remains unavailable as I write this. Commodore founder Jack Tramiel liked to compare his competition with Apple and other companies to war; I hope he’s watching this somewhere and deriving pleasure from the dust-up.

AmigaOS (born 1985)

AmigaEver have one of those dreams in which you discover that a long-deceased relative is alive and well, and you’re simultaneously happy and creeped out? That’s sort of how I feel about the current status of the Amiga operating system, of which I was a wild-eyed disciple from late 1987 until early 1991. Commodore folded more than fifteen years ago; its various assets have kept on changing hands ever since. I don’t claim to fully understand the convoluted post-Commodore history and legal status of AmigaOS, or why people are still running it in late 2009. But Wikipedia says that AmigaOS 4.1 was released last year, and that a “quick fix” (read: service pack) came out just last June. All I know for sure is that this version won’t run on my Amiga 500…and that I’ll shed a silent tear if AmigaOS ever ceases to exist.

OS/2 (born 1987)

OS/2“They make the Amiga users look sane.” That’s how my first boss in the computer magazine business cheerfully described OS/2 aficionados, back when it had failed to become the dominant next-generation OS that everyone expected it would be. I think we’re finally at the point where there’s nobody out there stubbornly running OS/2, grumbling about Windows, and insisting that the world will eventually come to see IBM’s OS for the gem that it is. (Actually, I take that back.) But OS/2 isn’t dead–it’s apparently still kicking around in some embedded systems and supported, grudgingly and for a fee, by Big Blue. And Serenity Systems’ eComStation 2.0, an authorized OS/2 variant, is still kicking–in fact, a silver version of release 2.0 came out just a couple of weeks ago.

EPOC (born 1989)

Psion 5Some of you are probably sick of hearing me wax rhapsodic over the Psion Series 5, an amazing PDA from the 1990s which would still be amazing in some respects if it were re-released today. Much of its amazingness came from EPOC, the mobile operating system which it and earlier Psions ran. For reasons I still don’t fully understand, Psion got out of the PDA business early in this century and spun off its software operations into a company called Symbian, which concentrated on OSes for cell phones. Eventually, Symbian ended up being acquired by Nokia, and its OS has gone open source and continues development. There are still glimmers of the Psion genius in Symbian-based phones such as Nokia’s N97, but overall, the OS not only failed to keep up with the times but actually lost some of the clever interface touches that made Psion’s products so wonderful. I was so emotionally attached to EPOC that it hurts to type this, but I’ve come to the conclusion that Nokia should probably put Symbian out to pasture and adopt Google Android as its primary phone OS.

I could go on–Microsoft’s MSX, which I thought never caught on in the first place, is still sort of extant–but I’ll end this here. Except to ask you this: Which other OSes of yore are worth remembering, celebrating, and maybe even using?



83 Comments For This Post

  1. JackAZ Says:

    Waxing nOStalgic. BeOS, there’s an OS I haven’t thought about since the last time I used it, probably around 1999. This great story brought back lots of memories. I kept CP/M alive and well on an Osbourne 1 until 1999 when I donated it to a student club.

    As for OpenVMS, well, my departments mission critical applications are still happily running on it as they have been for the past 20 years. I recently had a network engineer from another division tell me that our 99.999% uptime was impossible to achieve; he was silent when I pointed out we’d been running on OpenVMS for that past two decades.

    Ah, MS-DOS, I’ve still got that running on an old 486/DX2-66 I keep around for some embedded apps written, well, a long time ago.

    We were running one of our critical apps on OS/2 until government regulations forced the move to Windows XP a few years ago. The OS/2 platform was rock solid only requiring a reboot about once a month and even then it was usually due to an app modification rather than an OS need. Windows XP on the other hand….for the first year it rebooted itself half a dozen times a day; ok, I admit it, it locked up half a dozen times a day requiring manual intervention for a reboot. Nothing like making your users happy with that kind of performance. It finally settled into a once daily reboot schedule.

    After all that I have to say I regret not keeping at least one piece of Commodore equipment. I was one of the few who dared to experiment with the venerable Commodore Plus/4.

  2. Marc Says:

    RiscOS is my favourite. The OSX dock took a lot of inspiration from it.


  3. keidalgrim Says:

    Fun post. Thanks for the memories (most of all them, pretty bad). 🙂

  4. Big Dave Says:

    What about good old SCO Unix ?


  5. John Says:

    Nice trip down memory lane. OS/2 was the one that stood out most for me. Back then, I was one of those that felt OS/2 would be the next mainstream OS. It might have been if it had been developed by any other company. IBM has a history of poor marketing (or no marketing) and thinking that its products will become mainstream all by themselves.

  6. FutureUser Says:

    Still enjoying OS/2 and being immune from Windoze bugs, viruses, crashes, Big Brotherism, MafiaSoft fees, etc. etc. Dad’s PC has not crashed once — NEVER! — in over 12 years of OS/2 Warp 4.

    Long live OS/2!!

  7. rick Says:

    Nice summary, though to nit-pick, the colloquialism for multiple VAX systems is VAXen, not VAXes.

  8. Chris Says:

    At one point or another I’ve used most of the OSes in this list. Awesome walk through memories. I’ve been tempted to buy an old C64 from eBay just to relive its awesomeness.

    You left out TI BASIC. Not the one within their graphing calculators (which, confusingly, goes by the same name). My 1st computer was a TI 99/4A, which ran TI BASIC. I’m not sure if the OS is still in use, perhaps some remnant of the code is within my TI-89. I spent hours typing BASIC programs into that computer, and had a blast doing it.

  9. martin Says:

    You missed the Apple Newton OS!

    I’m sure there’s still people developing apps for it. I haven’t used mine in years, but I still haven’t seen (10 years later) a PDA that can turn my scrawls into text with such accuracy.

  10. Rick Ethridge Says:

    What about TRS-DOS/LSDOS for the TRS-80? Or, OS/9 for the Radio Shack Color Computer?

  11. Scott Says:

    I never used it much just a little when I was in college back in the mid to late 80’s but I was really impressed with SGI’s IRIX which according to Wikipedia the last stable release was in August 2006.

    BeOS was the OS that really wowed me when I first saw it, still remember the book demo they had on the system which allowed you to put your own videos & pictures on the pages and then turn the page and the video would still play. I have been following Haiku and running the various betas & alpha in a VM and have been enjoying the progress they have been making but still isn’t quite the BeOS I remember.

    As for IBM OS/2 I was always impressed with the operating system but was always disappointed by the lack of native software.

    I have an Amiga 4000 packed away with version 3.9 installed and from time to time I search various sites looking for a good deal on a CyberstormPPC board to bring the system back to life.

    Thanks for the article was a nice walk down memory lane.

  12. Wyrdone Says:

    I have a copy of NextStep 3.2 x86 version that happily runs in a VMWare ESX VM. Was a pet project to get it up and running with VM Tools support (and a lot of hacking from the source code drivers).

  13. Jason Says:

    One old OS that I thought you could have mentioned was Microware Systems’ OS-9. Very few would have ever used it, but any Tandy Color Computer owners surely would have used it some.

    It was a Unix(y) OS on an 8-bit PC — In some ways it was wayyyy ahead for the time. A shame the OS was written in assembler for the 6809 – it was doomed to never make it out of that niche.

  14. John Says:

    ah yes, anyone read “Soul of a New Machine” by Tracy Kidder (won a Pulitzer). AOS/VS was Data General’s (the anti-VAX) entry into super mini computers, and I still miss it. Other Data General NOVA’s are still around probably targeting missiles right now…

  15. Rich Steiner Says:

    My OS/2 box finally encountered hardware problems (I suspect a dead CMOS battery) last week. I’d been running OS/2 Warp 4 in it 24×7 since the end of 1996 (Micron made some very nice SCSI PPro towers), and I was still using it to play music via Z! and do some other basic things (e-mail via Yarn, some serve file management via Midnight Commander, etc.).

    For now I’m running a mix of Linux (VestaPup and Ubuntu) and Win2K, but at some point I plan on getting the old PPro up and running again. Even Warp 4 was very stable, and the 4OS2 command line environment has quite a few features that Linux shell authors really should consider adding to their own shells. 🙂

  16. incander Says:

    There’s one resource for such OSes, installed in emulators: OSvirtual. nostalgia revived 🙂
    There’re images with preinstalled BeOS, OS/2, MS DOS and even UNIX V5-V6-V7 for PDP-11 :))

  17. Philip Says:

    Hey Dont forget, that OS/9 wasnt just for the color computer… it was actually an embedded OS,that they decided to PORT to the tandy color computer. It’s primary platform was supposedly the 68000 processor. But I learned a lot hacking on it with my expanded 512k of memory. lets hear it for segmented memory, wooO!

  18. Raphael Jason Says:

    Não tem graça Dooley.

    Not funny Dooley.

  19. Larry Hunter Says:

    I’m older than you guys, and my favorite long dead operating system was TOPS-20 (particularly when combined with MUF – multiple user forks – and Z – the last word in single letter text editors). It ran on DEC machines in the 80’s, and was unceremoniously dumped by DEC in favor of the vastly inferior VMS (see above). TOPS-20 had long, meaningful command and file names, made palatable by autocompletion. I had figured that it was long dead, but, lo and behold, there is a TOPS-20 implementation out there on the net that anyone can have an account on! http://www.twenex.org/ There’s also a complete free distribution as well, for anyone with spare 36 bit hardware lying around: http://panda.com/tops-20/

  20. Jerry Says:

    One of my favorites was the Atari 8-bit (1979). However, like the C64, there was no real “OS” as we think of today included in the computer – what it had we would today describe as a kernel/BIOS. You needed to load extra software to get an interface of any kind, and most folk used BASIC. BASIC included commands to load files from disk and tape, and is probably why some other folk are referring to it as an OS here.

    One program you could boot, that most people would describe as an OS, was Atari DOS (“Disk Operating System”), which was a completely separate product. Computers of that vintage needed to load a DOS to provide an interface to allow you to copy files between devices.

    The Atari 8-bit has persisted on the PC (and Linux) in emulators. I recently saw an article that it was being ported to at least one of the game consoles as well. If the C64 app can get any traction, I’m sure it will show up on the iphone too!

  21. talia Says:

    Ah, OS/2…

    My first real software development project was creating something on OS/2 2.0 for tracking worker’s comp claims. It was fast (on 386-25s and 33s!), and the users loved the features. I had a problem *once* at work that wouldn’t wait until I could get home and ask someone on Compusmurf, so I called IBM. I had a pleasant tech support person say he would call me back in an hour with an answer. 59 minutes later, he did just that.

    When we had to switch over to Windows 3.1 because of a management decision, my users absolutely detested it. Slow, unstable, maybe a 1/10th of the features…ugh.

    I remembered watching sadly as IBM’s marketing department, apparently inherited from Commodore, missed the Star Trek and space-themed opportunities “Warp” presented. Instead, we got a twisted logo and a huge lighted sign on the United concourse at ORD with some grinning guy exclaiming “OS/2 Obliterates My Other Software!” *facepalm*

    Still have my Amiga 2000 and my NeXTStation (my personal favorite). Thanks, rick, I had forgotten about that! Nostalgia, so nice…

  22. Larry Says:

    My favorite was CDOS, a derivative of CP/M that Cromemco used on their S100 computers. I adapted it to work with a SASI (pre dates SCSI) 24Meg hard drive and used WordStar, Turbopascal, and other software for years until I was pried over to using Windows 3.1. My first question was “where is the programming software” of which I found all that was extra.

  23. Bryan Says:

    I still have an old copy of Coherent laying around. Yeah it was a Unix clone. Was my first look at a unix type OS when I picked it up at a swap meet in the late 80’s. It was in a box of old software and manuals and stuff that I picked up for $5.

  24. novelly Says:


    What about Novell Netware 3. something. It was a whole shebang network operating system from the 80’s. I heard that someone is still running it. Is there anybody out there…

  25. Marc Says:

    What happened to BeOS? That had real promise. It ran brilliantly on my 300Mhz Celeron circa 1998.

  26. Yaro Says:

    What about operating systems that just won't LIVE *Cough*GNU*Cough.*

    By the way, if it took this long for Haiku to JUST REACH ALPHA, I think it's safe to predict it'll never reach stable, just like ReactOS.

    Remember, succesful operating systems don't take a decade to reach critical mass, but only a few years. (NT took 4, Linux took 3, The original Windows took only 2, DOS didn't even take 1, now compare them to Operating systems that have been in development for at least a decade (GNU since 1983, which will never be completed now that RMS is now more interested in taking credit for Linux by claiming that Linux was actually meant to be GNU all along (BS, since Linus torvalds himself said he didn't create Linux to be a GNU anything years ago, directly contradicting the self-proclaimed saint of free software.). ReactOS has been in development since the Win98 days and has been in Beta for way too long. And Haiku, as I pointed out, took a decade of development just to reach ALPHA quality. These three operating systems will never be completed.)

  27. Marcos Says:

    Great article, but you forgot to mention there’s another AmigaOS implementation out there known as AROS (http://www.aros.org). It’s amazing. It deserved to be noted too…

  28. Steve Says:

    One I never used but has been around forever is Pick, evidently named after one of its creators, a fellow named Dick Pick. You’d hope it was based on a system called URNOS, but if Wikipedia is right, the actual history is even funnier:

    Pick was originally implemented as the Generalized Information Retrieval Language System (GIRLS) on an IBM System/360 in 1965 by Don Nelson and Dick Pick at TRW for use by the U.S. Army to control the inventory of Cheyenne helicopter parts. Pick was subsequently commercially released in 1973 by Microdata (and their British distributor CMC) as the Reality Operating System now supplied by Northgate Information Solutions.

    This history is stellar, at least when it comes to naming. Surely there cannot be a better OS name than GIRLS, though Pick and The Reality Operating System sure come close.

    A consultant once told me that in his view, the best reason to use Pick was that you’d always have a job supporting it.

  29. Kodi Says:

    One of my favorites was PC-MOS/386, a multi-user, DOS-compatible OS that had some really cool features for its time in the mid-80’s…. It ran on one 386-based PC’s (and even on a 80286 processor if you added a memory management card to get access to page mode) and supported up to 16 terminals, LAN and SNA Connectivity, and remote terminal sessions with shared resources. In its late releases, it also support multi-user Windows support on one 80486 box using proprietary video networking.

  30. Stephen Kuhn Says:

    Desqview and Desqview/X anyone? I was a very happy camper running a 2 to 16 line BBS on that – prior to moving to OS/2 2.11 (then to Warp3)…no one mentions Desqview anymore…(sniff)

  31. Raph Says:

    It’s probably worth mentioning that you can get BeOS installed on new laptops in price sensitive countries like CZ. Also where’s my RiskOS?

  32. McDoodle Says:

    Our phone VM system is still running on an OS/2 box in the closet that hasn’t been touched or rebooted in near 10 years. I think the last thing we used it for was deleting the laid-off employees’ mailboxes in 2002.

    I am responsible for setting up our new computers for customers with DOS. Take a Vista box, partition the HD, install Win98 in DOS mode (you get Fat32 support that way), and load our DOS software. Load GRUB to multi-boot and it works like a charm!

  33. James Says:

    Philip: OS-9 existed first on the Motorola 6809–not just on the Tandy Color Computer, but also on SS-50 bus systems such as Southwest Technical Products and Smoke Signal Broadasting systems (though SWTPC went in for UniFLEX towards the end), STD-bus and ExorBUS systems, and personal computers from Japan (FM-7 and FM-77), Wales (Tano Dragon) and somewhere in Scandinavia (the Candela?) as well.

    It was ported to the 68000 family later–from 6809 assembly language to 68000 assembly language. (I worked for a fellow solely because he had a SSB Chieftain running OS-9, and he tried out one of their 68008 boards. I hand-converted the driver for his hard disk from 6809 to 68000 assembly, and aside from a (nondestructive, thank goodness!) false start, it just came up and ran.)

    Later on, an extended version was written mostly in C; it ran on the 680×0 for (x >= 2), 80×86 (for x >= 3), Power PC, MIPS, and SH-3. That may not be a full list; I worked for Microware Systems Corporation for fifteen years, and haven’t been using the OS much for the past eight years.

  34. David Murray Says:

    The Commodore 64’s operating system is being ported to the PC hardware platform, you can see it here:


    This is not an emulation, but an actual port.

  35. Allen Says:

    Somebody mentioned Coherent; there’s an OS I haven’t thought about in a while. I too owned a copy which I bought new for either $49 or $99 (I don’t really remember, but those are the numbers that stick in my head). I may have paid extra for their X window system; all I recall is Coherent required 2 MB RAM, or 4 MB of ram if you ran X. It ran great on my 386 with its ATI Wonder graphics card and 512k of video memory.

    OS/2 is another sentimental favorite; I ran it home for years (through Warp 4), never understanding why anyone would choose MS Windows over it until I too jumped ship. That one’s still a mystery…

  36. Kyle Says:

    How ironic, I just got home from doing some programming on a Northern Telecom (NORTEL) Applications Module 4.0 that runs OS/2. The system was originally purchased in 1994. Never rebooted since then until the HD died (how many HD’s do you know that last 15 years) and I had to replace it.

    A lot of ATM’s still run it too.

  37. Anachronda Says:

    In addition to DR-DOS and OpenDOS, there’s also REAL/32, which AFAIK is still being sold. AIUI, it’s the current version of DR’s MultiUser DOS, which makes it some sort of decendent of MP/M, the multi-user version of CP/M.

    Other old OSes I’ve used that I know are still alive in some fashion are RT-11, RSX-11, and OS/8. I still see S&H on the net; I never used TSX-11, but have fiddled a bit with TSX-32.

  38. Dan Says:

    Don’t forget the GEOS graphical OS for the Commodore 64!

  39. Carsen Campbell Says:

    What about Sinclair’s OS for its ZX80 or ZX81 systems?

    I’m teaching my son LOGO on an Atari 800…and BASIC on a Commodore 16 (NOT A TYPO)

    Instant-on, DIRECT interaction with the hardware that can’t be beat by ANYTHING on today’s hardware. Any programming language that is in use today for a PC is so incredibly intermediated from what a programmer types. Drivers, OS, HAL, etc. etc. means that the direct response by the machine from the typing of a PEEK or POKE statement no longer exists. (If it does, please let me know and I’ll try moving away from what is quickly becoming rickety 20-year-old+ hardware).

  40. Andrew Edsor Says:

    Using EPOC on my Psion Series 3, 3a, 3c and 3mx in the early 90s demonstrated to me what an OS could be like. (I still have the 3mx) It only emphasised how truly hideous Windows I had to use in the office was. Thus I was determined to use anything but Windows at home. Asking around I inevitably ended up buying my f1rst Mac in 1994.

  41. TomB Says:

    OS/2 brings back memories. I remember spending 3 hours on the phone with an IBM support Rep in florida trying to install OS/2 2.1’s demo. It would not install on my hardware (Win95, Dos and Yggdrasil Linux had no problems). The tech finally ended with ‘it should work’ with which I agreed, but it did not.

    Then, when I went to work on dispatching and mobile computing systems for the RCMP, OS/2 Warp was our target platform (we needed a bunch of IBM SNA support that was not currently available for Windows). So the first generation of communications gateways for the RCMP were deployed and ran for a couple of years on OS/2 Warp (later OS/2 Warp Connect).

    The only real issues we had were some HPFS reliability issues (losing logfiles from power outages, etc) and finding command line info (we needed to be able to setup hardware cards to reset the machine and we needed to be able to do the equivalent of kill -9 from the command line, which IBM in its Presentation Manager-centric view did not document). However, some sharp cookies at Team OS/2 Germany had written a little executable using an undocumented API call which let you kill processes.

    Trivia: OS/2’s cheating with socket descriptors (global) meant that you could run a watchdog thread and clean up after other threads (closing their sockets for them). Doing that in other OSes would have been a rather different challenge!

    Eventually, the Comm Servers were ported to NT 3.51 then NT 4. No idea what they are now, have been out of that for a while. Did get a kick out of watching serve and protect and seeing our Mobile Workstation (MWS/ROADS) app help busting bad guys left, right and center.

    OS/2 was fairly stable, had decent performance, some fun apps (EPM!), and ran reliably for our mission critical uses for quite a while. It’s single failing seemed to be IBM’s PC marketroids bundling Windoze 3.1 or 95 with their product, rather than supporting their own (superior at the time) OS. The threading model and task scheduling capabilities of OS/2 were head and shoulders above the Windows iterations of the day.

    Another Trivia Note: Friend had OS/2 2.1 installed on his PC (dual boot with Windows). He was asthmatic and had a device which used a static charge to attract all the dust in the room (to get it out of the air). When you touched that device, when it was running and the PC was running, OS/2 would spontaneously reboot. Windows didn’t notice. Same hardware, only one OS was much more sensitive to whatever power issue this induced…

    Lots of good memories. I wish OS/2 had won the OS wars as they had some really innovative applications as well as a lot of business ones and they had some great underlying OS design. It took Windows quite a while to reach that level of stability and capability.

  42. Troy Says:

    YOU DISCUSSED THE COMMODORE 64 but forgot the primary alternative GEOS (graphical environment OS) which believe or not, many people are still using! It turned your C=64 into a kind of Macintosh clone – trashcan and everything.

  43. ben Says:

    dont forget MOS as used in the the bbc micro

    used in the domesday project (which is presumably stored in some museum)

    used in uk train stations for time table displays

    and according to wikipedia as of 2004 one is in use in jodrel bank

    also theres windows 3.11 which microsoft has just withdrawn support for is widley used by airlines

  44. Ray D Says:

    The PICK O/S was also running on a 8086 XT with 3 concurrent users on the system! The PICK environment has continued to grow and two database only variants of PICK call UniVerse and Unidata are sold today.

    Almost all car dealerships in the U.S. run with this environment, Credit unions in Australia, the Australian ATO (IRS), most large universities run an application called Datatel, etc.

    Even early versions of the Datastage ETL tool were based on the UniVerse database which is a PICK variant.

    Hope this helps

  45. Em Says:

    Remember p-System?

    It was the operating system that ran on a virtual processor called the “p-machine”. The p-machine ran p-code, of course. The software for this system was written in the USCD Pascal language.

    Because the p-machine was virtual, p-System was available on many platforms including the IBM PC, the Apple II, and DEC PDP-11.

    Take that, Java! (p-System predates it by at least a decade…)

  46. Unix Geek Says:

    I applied for a job a few months back for a simulator position and during the interview the guy was going over my list of OS’s I had experience with and then casually comments about the fact that they have a CPM system that is dedicated to a very specific task. I then added in that that was the first OS I had ever used, and was blown away that it was still in use in the industry. It provided “static” for some airline radio communications.

  47. Sean Harrison Says:

    RSTS/E. Still running it on my PDP 11/70 industrial. VT100 terminals, washing machine disk packs – real computing, baby!

  48. Adey Says:

    I still have a BBC Micro B and play Elite on it.

  49. Matt Says:

    What about Apple ][ and Apple /// ?

    I have been searching for Apple P.I.E. (programmer’s interactive editor) for the Apple ][ and can’t find it anywhere.

  50. Wang Says:

    How about Coherent Unix by Mark Williams and Company? That was a great x86 Unix well before Linux came to this space

  51. Storm Says:

    Excellent article. I had an Amiga 1200 which I`d ripped out the m/b and stuck into a pc case, then added a PPC accelerator card, pc gfx card, dvd-rw etc etc. Amiga OS is still the best OS I`ve ever used.

    Although I jumped to PC about 8 years ago to use the standard web and graphic design programs, I still miss the A1200 PPC.

    But, it’s still going strong as you said, with all new hardware and OS as well. Also, you can get some versions of Amiga OS running on a PC and Mac (the PPC versions run on the Mac I believe).

    Pity Commodore didn’t have the marketing and strategy brains to equal the Amiga engineers… We could be using them today instead of Windows.

  52. Rich Rostrom Says:

    TRS-DOS (pronounced Trash-doss)

    And something from even before my time: MULTICS. (Any MIT grads around?)

    Over on the mainframe side: OS/360, MVS, MVT, TSO, TSS. All presumably alive to some degree in some transcarnated form.

    OS 2200 (the current incarnation of Univac’s Exec-8) is still for sale. So is Burroughs’ Master Control Program. (26 after the merger, and Unisys is still supporting two product lines.)

    However, I wonder if anyone at all is running the OSs for the original Bull, ICL, NCR, Honeywell, or RCA mainframes.

  53. Chad Says:

    No mention of the various implementations of Forth?

    My first programming (1968) was in Fortran and assembler on an IBM 1130 (the same machine on which Chuck Moore got Forth running). The 1130 didn’t really have an operating system as we now consider them, more like a boot loader, so multi-tasking and interactive use blew me away. Forth, Inc. is still in business, and Forth is still big in embedded systems. You may have used it unknowingly, as the Open Boot (on Sun and Macintosh) systems is a Forth implementation.

  54. Shay Says:

    You forgot Mac OS 9! People still use it. (I’m using it right now, on a 14-year-old machine.)

  55. Martijn Dekker Says:

    For “MSX never caught on in the first place”, read “MSX never caught on in the United States”. In the rest of the world it was different. Microsoft ended up not being involved in it beyond supplying the BASIC dialect, and Japan’s ASCII Corporation was the driving force. It was the only home computer standard, and many consumer electronics manufacturers such as Toshiba, Sony, and Philips produced their own compatible models for the Japanese, European and South American markets, among others. In Europe the MSX models were serious competitors to the C64 and the ZX Spectrum, and in Japan MSX was wildly popular and survived until the early 1990s. A number of still-famous gaming franchises such as Konami’s Metal Gear series started out on the MSX (as did Konami itself).

  56. Martijn Dekker Says:

    Yaro: Linux is not an operating system, but a kernel. It’s useless on its own. And GNU happens to be an operating system without a finished kernel. How convenient. So that’s why most “Linux” distributions are actually implementations of the GNU operating system running on top of the Linux kernel. When you type “ls” into a terminal or go clicky on those GNOME (GNU Network Object Model Environment) icons, it’s the GNU OS you’re directly interacting with. There are good reasons for dissing Stallman, but this isn’t one of them.

  57. Ole Juul Says:

    It’s a good thing that MicroSoft doesn’t support it’s DOS anymore. If they did, it would be dead.

  58. MacroRodent Says:

    You might have mentioned that various versions of CP/M, and a lot of software for it, can now be legally downloaded from The Unofficial CP/M Site @ http://www.cpm.z80.de/

  59. Trygve Says:

    Thanks for a walk down ‘current lane'(not memory lane) as I happily run eCS(OS/2) on my tower PC(I need it to play GalCiv II and X-Wing), and the EPOC OS is used daily as I still do notetaking on my Psion S3c, and my netBook is on my bedside table.

    You are aware that ‘the Digest'(mailing list for Psioneers and other nutcases) still runs on Psion S5mx and netBooks?

  60. Name (required) Says:

    Commodore C64 *DID* have an operating system.
    Graphical one, no less!
    It was called Geos.

    Quote from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GEOS_%288-bit_operating_system%29
    At its peak, GEOS was the third most popular operating system in the world in terms of units shipped, trailing only MS-DOS and Mac OS.

  61. christian Says:

    What about Atari TOS?

    It still lives on in a couple of emulators, and if you wanted to port it:
    IFAIK all components are Open Source now (MinT, GEM, …)

  62. p23 Says:

    i’m aware of at least one retail bank with probably a few thousand seats of OS/2 for branch terminals…

  63. T.E.D. Says:

    What about Microsoft Bob?

  64. Yaro Says:

    “What about Microsoft Bob?”

    Am I the only living person who actually liked Microsoft Bob?

  65. -kjc Says:

    The Color Computer’s 6809 processor also ran FLEX.


    I built a mailing list database with it. Learned a lot with that little toy.

  66. W. Anderson Says:

    This story, and especially all the comments from “older” readers gave a a great many laughts, remembering the many Operating Systems (OS) I have tries and used successfully (and disastrously) in the past – most completely forgotten until now.

    One not mentioned is GeoWorks whose name changed a few times.
    It was a “true” multi-tasking OS and applications that outdid Microsoft DOS and Windows 98 by an ocean.

    What amazes me in this recollection by us all – is that there were really ‘great’ OSs created, but here we are in 2009 with dominance of Microsoft Vista disaster, soon coming Windows 7 [Vista slightly improved] – controlling most of the world’s education, government systems and business.

    How did we get in this rut? This is so sad.

    W. Anderson
    [email protected]

  67. Bob Roberts Says:

    Well, someone did mention TRS-DOS, how about NEWDOS-80 which also ran on their Model I. RSX-11M for the PDP-11, or PrimeOS on the PR1ME, which was written in FORTRAN.

  68. Jimm Says:

    Sinclair ZX-80 or ZX-81 anyone? 🙂

  69. Paul H Says:

    Great article and the comments were a TRIP! TY one and all.

    I grew up on a mixture of BBC Micro and ZX Spectrum OS, getting my first job doing cross-platform code that ran on Windows 3.11, Unix and OS/9. Oh, and I still have my Psion series 5 at home. MS DOS 6.22 was recently installed into a VMWare VM, and I had X-Com Apocalypse running like a charm for my wife to play … videogame nostalgia will keep old OS’s alive for me at least!

    There are definitely days when I miss the simplicity of running directly on the hardware and not inside a .NET or JVM virtual machine on a modern OS. *sigh*

  70. Chip Says:

    Glad to read that there’s more OS fetishizers than just me, and my favorite of favorites will always be VMS. The best in-OS help manual ever, plus I first browsed the internet 15 years ago using Lynx on VMS. Thanks for the shout-out!

  71. trail Says:

    Alive and well but old, old, old is IBM’s OS400, used to run the AS400 machines that many large manufacturers use for accounting and operations.

  72. Chris Chinchilla Says:

    Great post, I also remember the Amiga OS fondly

  73. Esteban Says:


    You are one of only two people alive who liked Microsoft Bob, the other being Melinda French, a Microsoft employee who ended up meeting her husband through the development of the program. I forget the husband’s name, but I hear he’s loaded.

  74. 123 Says:

    (ms) Bob’s your uncle?

  75. 123 Says:

    “forget the husband’s name, but I hear he’s loaded”
    ? Bernie french?
    Biff french?
    Byron french?
    Brian french! no?
    Bartholomew french?

  76. Michal Says:

    I’d add Domain/OS to this list. I remember working on Apollo workstations was a huge pleasure. The token ring network was fast (12 Mb/s was a lot at this time) and the OS could swap via the network.

  77. registry optimizer Says:

    It's amazing. It deserved to be noted too…

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  79. Rob Says:

    Who used or remembers IRIS by Point 4 Data Corp? We bought a Point 4 Mini (Data General clone) for our busy tire / auto repair shop back in 1984 and used it until 1995. The ONLY reason we retired it was because we outgrew the application software. IRIS was a very smart O/S for the time, Stable and very efficient.
    Only time it was ever rebooted was because of upgrades or power failures. Second system was DOS based, ok but again not flexible. Now we use Windows SBS 2003, XP clients. MUST REBOOT ALL OF THE TIME!

  80. Frank Says:

    Hi Rob, I programmed in DG basic (Originally Randal Data Systems Business Basic) for many years, and more still on Point 4's. Extremely reliable, never went down. So much fun. I recently found a bunch of old Point 4 backup tapes and I'm trying to find someone who can read them. I'd love to see the code that I spent 1000's of hours writing. Know anyone who still has a functional Point 4?( I'd be willing to purchase it), or anyone who might be able to read these? ([email protected]) Thanks!!

  81. tips Says:

    Old Operating Systems Don’t Die… […]

  82. datastage Says:

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  83. datastage Says:

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