Ever wonder what the operating systems of the past were like? Find out now, online, without the need to install anything. You can try Windows 1.0, Mac System 7, Amiga OS and DOS – along with a few games – without leaving your browser.
Welcome to the world of online emulators.
The history of computers is fascinating, but reading will only get you so far. If you really want to know what, say, Windows was like in 1985, you don’t need to find a computer from that age. A variety of enthusiasts have used existing emulators to offer classic systems on the Web. Here’s where to find them.
Before Windows gained a stranglehold on the OS market, it was an upstart with a graphical user interface. What did their OS look like? Let’s let Steve Ballmer pitch it, shall we?
The year is 1985; Windows 1.0 is out. Want to see if it lives up to that ad’s hype? Of course you do. Play with Windows 1.0 at jsmachines.net, right now.
Highlights include a black and white version of paint, shown above, and – of course – Reversi.
Would you prefer to see Windows 3.0? That’s the system most people are familiar with, and there’s an emulator for that, too.
Mac OS System 7
Apple’s been making computers a long time, and it’s interesting to see how much of their early design carries over to Macs today. If you’re curious about this you should check out an older version of the operating system. James Friend offers an online MacOS System 7 emulator.
You can browse the operating system itself, or try out some freeware included with the system. Highlights include Shufflepuck, an astronomy program called Orion, and an early version of Microsoft Word for Mac.
The best selling computer in Europe during the late 80s wasn’t a Mac or a PC – it was the Amiga. Modern fanboys talk as though Windows and Mac have always been in direct competition, but Amiga was also a major player.
Wondering what that OS was like, or want to experience it again? This online Amiga 500 emulator lets you try a system from around 1991.
Included are a bunch of demos originally meant to show what the Amiga can do, presumably in a store. You can hear early text to speech, or watch a computer animated video. It’s wonderfully weird, so give it a shot.
PC DOS 5
Do you remember DOS? Of course you do. Windows users can pull up the Command Prompt to bring back memories, but if you want more you should check out this online IBM PC emulator.
It’s noteworthy for including demo versions of Wolfenstein 3D, Civilization and Monkey Island.
Want a more recent nostalgia trip? Head to VirtualDesktop.org. This site doesn’t offer emulators, but you might not even be able to tell. You’ll see interactive screenshot tours of Windows and Mac systems. Everything works as you’d expect: click start, see the menu.
It’s a great way to quickly recall how older versions on MacOS and Windows looked – and felt.
This doesn’t entirely belong in this article, but I can’t resist. Any kid who, for some reason, decided to explore the Windows 95 installation CD got a happy surprise: Hover!
You may have heard that Microsoft relaunched Hover as a web game – it’s a new version with a darker look, but it’s possible to unlock the original game on this site as well. Just type “bambi” before doing anything. You’ll see the original Hover, complete with a Windows 95 style desktop.
My favorite part is the self-deprecating “Tweet wizard”.
Well played, Microsoft. I don’t love everything you do, but credit where credit is due. This is awesome.
Even More Online Emulation
Want even more trips to the past? We’ve outlined 4 websites to play NES games for free that are built on similar technology, and fun to check out if you’re feeling nostalgic.
And I’m sure you know of a few online emulators we’ve missed. What old fashioned OS are you reliving? Provide links below.