DOS Was Not Alone: Forgotten Operating Systems Of The Past [Geek History Lesson]

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forgotten operating systemsLinux, Windows or OSX – that’s basically your choice today – but it wasn’t always that way. There used to be a huge range of operating systems in various stages of development and often drastically superior to Windows. Join me in a look down memory lane as we look at 6 of the biggest forgotten and dead OSes


At a time when Windows and Mac OS were battling it out and Linux wasn’t even conceived yet, BeOS offered a viable alternative, designed from the ground up for multimedia, multitasking, and a 64 bit filesystem; it was an incredibly capable OS, with a clean interface. With it’s roots on proprietary BeBox hardware, the system expanded to include Power PC architecture (which Mac OS ran on at the time) in the hopes that Apple might acquire it to replace the again MacOS.

After negotiations stalled, Apple went with NeXTSTEP instead, bringing co-founder Steve Jobs back to the company. How different the world might be today if Apple had gone with BeOS instead, and Steve had never rejoined Apple.

forgotten operating systems

BeOS then expanded to cover x86 architecture too, finally releasing a free and stripped version that could be launched from within Windows in 1998, called BeOS Personal Edition – though it was too late to ultimately revive the company.

If you’re interested in reliving the BeOS experience, the system was re-implemented from the ground up with completely open source code in project Haiku, the latest release being an Alpha 3 in June 2011.

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Jointly developed by Microsoft and IBM and later IBM alone, OS/2 has a varied developmental history, but let’s focus on OS/2 Warp 4, released in 1996, which was ostensibly the final version. With a version designed to run alongside Windows (which would come pre-installed on every computer back then), OS/2 was able to able to run Windows applications by harnessing the Windows kernel in a unique compatibility mode, much like you can use WINE today in Linux.

In the UK, a demo disc was distributed which contained the entire full OS and could be easily (or even accidentally) “cracked” – which was widely believed to be a way for IBM to increase the number of users and thereby stimulate app development. Though technically superior to Windows 95, IBM focused on the corporate market and lacked penetration to home users, ultimately spelling its death knell.

lost operating system

The OS was rebranded and eventually found a niche in ATMs and various embedded control systems, though even these have mostly been phased out now (semi-interesting fact – my local tram line apparently still runs this on ticketing machines).


A Unix based system developed by Silicon Graphics exclusively for their high end MIPS-architecture Workstations, instantly recognizable with their odd shapes and bold colours. Sadly I gave my own SGI Indy machine away on Freecycle a few years ago. IRIX excelled at graphics and 3D rendering, once dominating the animation and scientific visualization industries.

lost operating system

Support ended in 2006 following a move to Redhat Linux, but a small community lives on to support open source software on IRIX over at NekoChan.

lost operating system


Developed as a completely free, open source Windows-compatible OS, React was always destined to be outdated before it was even finished. After a failed attempt to clone Windows 95 that stalled in the design stages, ReactOS development began in 1998 as a clone of Windows 98. The latest unstable alpha release was in February this year, though the younger of our readers would be forgiven for not recognising the Windows 98-like interface.

forgotten os

Risc OS

Forgive me for being nostalgic, but I have fond memories of Risc OS as it was the GUI of Acorn Archimedes – computers which dominated the educational market until well after I entered middle school when they were eventually replaced by Windows PCs (Acorn computers was often referred to as the British Apple, founded by Clive Sinclair).

As one of the few people in elementary school who could actually use these, I was allowed to skip physical education classes to instruct the teaching staff. Good times.

forgotten os

RiscOS had quite an advanced GUI for its time, with painting, database and desktop publishing applications bundled. Today it lives on in the hobby sector, and is even compatible with the Raspberry Pi.

Web OS

WebOS was the radical new system developed by HP for their TouchPad tablet devices. You might remember they had a firesale on more than one occasion, leaving thousands of the things out in the wild, though HP quickly ceased production and development. They did however, open source the WebOS code, which was then taken up by HP employees and the community to continue development.

forgotten operating systems

Now, perhaps I’m calling this one a little too early, but with Open WebOS now dropping support for existing TouchPad devices, I’m predicting this will quickly fall by the wayside. Who exactly is going to run WebOS if it isn’t TouchPad owners – the most enthusiastic of WebOS fans? Perhaps a rumored TouchPad successor in 2013? Sure – let’s just add this one to the history books of forgotten OSes now, shall we?

This is of course by no means an exhaustive list; there are literally hundreds of OSes that have died out over the years, and listing them all would have my editor fuming – as would any more remniscing about Acorn computers, I expect.

Do you have a favourite forgotten operating systems that I haven’t mentioned? Or are you still crying because I said WebOS is dead? Don’t worry, you can always install Android on that TouchPad instead.

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