Web Culture

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

James Bruce 17-10-2012

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.



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 Run Windows Applications on Linux (or Mac) With WINE Read More 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 HP TouchPad Update: More Things To Do With Your WebOS Tablet It’s true that WebOS is stagnating, less and less apps appear on the official HP App Catalog and there are fewer patches, tweaks and third-party apps turning up on Preware too. While you should not... Read More  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 [Broken URL Removed], 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 How To Install Android Ice Cream Sandwich On The HP TouchPad In Minutes As slick, smooth and functional as webOS is on the HP TouchPad, and wherever the future of the platform may lie, there remains a problem – the shortage of apps. The fact remains that there... Read More instead.

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  1. Mandava Koteswara Rao
    October 24, 2012 at 5:58 am

    We never heard of all these OSes. Thank you for your article.

  2. Vardaan Thakur
    October 24, 2012 at 5:52 am

    really worth reading article

  3. David Gonzalez
    October 23, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    What about SKY OS, anydoby have news about that one, last time I used was a good 8 yeras ago, I might go to google that up after work see how those guys are doing.

  4. Wayne
    October 23, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    What about the OS they all copied: AmigaOS?

  5. BEC
    October 23, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    Dead? I use eComStation (IBM OS/2) for my webserver, I run webOS on my Pixi and my TouchPad, I have a netbook that boots Haik/beOS and ReactOS, and at one point I was even using SkyOS :D

  6. hotdoge3
    October 23, 2012 at 10:05 am

    64 bit not new

  7. Asriel Allolinggi
    October 23, 2012 at 3:34 am

    I like ReactOS..
    I wish the team could make it more "Windows like"..:-)

  8. Siddhant Chaurasia
    October 23, 2012 at 12:54 am

    The Good old days

  9. Howard Johnson
    October 22, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    I still have my certificate for being an Irix Administrator, ah the good old days.

  10. Shubharup Ganguly
    October 22, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    Some of the cyber cafes here have Windows 98 on the computers. Partly because I'm 14 and partly because I probably wasn't born when those OS's were in use, I hadn't heard of any of them.

  11. Lisa Santika Onggrid
    October 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm

    Wow. I've never thought there are so many relics of dead operating systems...I guess some of them passed their legacies to various flavor of Linux in today's world, eh?

    IRIX does look pretty sharp.

  12. Phil
    October 22, 2012 at 11:15 am

    Didn't Alan Sugar have a Windows/Mac style OS on his first Amstrad PC's called GEM. I think I can remember doing battle with it back in the early 80's.

  13. Andreas Beer
    October 22, 2012 at 11:13 am

    Risc OS was amazing, I still miss many of its features in Windows 7. Other OSs copied many features from Risc OS, like the taskbar, but I wish they would steal even more!

  14. Peter Everett
    October 21, 2012 at 12:01 am

    I know it's been mentioned several times already in the comments but the Amiga Workbench OS was awesome! I loved using that GUI OS and particularly loved and spent many hours creating cartoon animations on the art program.. what was it called?? it had a sphinx on the box??

  15. Declan Lopez
    October 20, 2012 at 9:25 pm

    webOS may be forgotten by most people but it is being ported to many devices now that it is open source

    • Muo TechGuy
      October 20, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      Heh, lots of things are ported; doesn't mean they are actually used or useful though.

      • Declan Lopez
        October 29, 2012 at 2:14 am

        yeah, the only thing it might be useful for is the computer in the lobby of a hotel.

  16. Franz Heidler
    October 20, 2012 at 4:45 pm

    Thank you very much for taking us down memory lane after so many years James.

    I think you will remember about loading DOS 6.22 then load NORTON QUICK and then Windows 95 (on stiffies or 1.44MB disks) onto NORTON. Then you could just delete windows 95 when problems would emerge and load windows 95 from NORTON QUICK again. Computer was a IBM 386 with a 33 MHz Cpu and 8 Mbyte Ram.
    I also remember trying writing game programs for the Commodore 64 computer in the early 80`s.

    Franz Heidler
    Johannesburg South Africa

  17. Marc Carrion
    October 20, 2012 at 4:05 am

    While I haven't used many of these OSes I have heard of quite a few of them. Crazy to think how many OSes there were since now it's either Windows Mac or Linux.

  18. Jérémie Fortin
    October 20, 2012 at 3:39 am

    Humm WEB OS. Why don't you die already ?

  19. Roger Caldwell
    October 19, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    Two of my favorite oldies were CP/M (cut my teeth on that one) and GEM. Yeah, the old DOS-based GUI for AOL. Was then, and in some respects still is, far superior to Windoze.

    • Neeraj Bhatt
      October 20, 2012 at 12:29 pm

      Hey Roger, I like your avatar image. Could I use it, too? Please?

  20. Abidhusain Momin
    October 19, 2012 at 4:04 am

    Above mentioned all OS I heart first time.. As a System Admin and IT Geek, Today I feel like I don't have anything knowledge about Operating systems.. :( :( ;(..

    Thanks for very good Information.

  21. Abhishek Rai
    October 18, 2012 at 11:21 pm

    i have use none of them,to my memories i only remember DOS used by my family members. But this article has raised a question in my mind that if computers cant be operated without an os than how the first generation of computers run without an interface or atleast before any os has come into existance Can anybody please explain ????????????????

    • Neeraj Bhatt
      October 20, 2012 at 12:36 pm

      In the same way, that oil was extracted and refined without oil-powered (petrol-powered) machines. Buddy, technological progress is a slow process.

      If you are really interested, then study Electronics and Electricals because they are the 'father' and 'grand father' of Computing.

      Anyway, your understanding that "computers can't be operated without an OS" itself is flawed. Have you seen a digital watch (Casio) or worn one? It is a digital computer which doesn't have an "OS". Same with calculators. These are what remain today of earlier designs.

      Look up 'ENIAC' on the Wikipedia to expand your knowledge about this subject, if interested.

    • Dave Anderton
      October 20, 2012 at 10:22 pm

      An operating system provides an interface between the instructions and the hardware controls a cpu provides. But the very first computers were hand programmed - operators literally turned switches on or off to form binary commands to the cpu and then submitted them using other switches. As far as my understanding goes, then such things as paper tape were introduced and (eventually) magnetic storage. The concept and use of assembly language was introduced to make putting the instructions together more human-readable. From here progamming languages and OSs evolved. This is a very loose overview and no doubt I've got it wrong, but it isn't a chicken and egg situation - there is a logical progression.

    • dragonmouth
      October 24, 2012 at 9:55 pm

      Look up Charles Babbage and his Analytical Engine. Also look up Jacquard Loom.

  22. Superbrain31
    October 18, 2012 at 8:29 pm

    2 more candidates to add to your roster of forgotten OSs - how about THEOS and PICK. PICK is still used (somewhere!) and THEOS was a nice multi-tasking multi-user improvement over DOS and CP/M. Also Concurrent CP/M, MP/M and later Concurrent DOS. There were several retail systems that were dependent on Concurrent DOS as it partitioned memory into usually 4 desktops.

    • Steve
      October 19, 2012 at 5:24 pm

      remember the GEM windowing on cp/m en cdos

    • Michelle
      October 20, 2012 at 2:56 pm

      Yes! THEOS was the fastest operating system I've EVER encountered! We used it to run a database for managing the form and other details for greyhound racing.

  23. Randy
    October 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Don't forget SkyOS http://www.skyos.org/

  24. Pat Wiegand
    October 18, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    I have fond memories of the Amiga and its workbench operating system. At one point I had tricked out my Amiga so it could run the Mac OS and with a i86 card run Windows as well.
    Even more obscure was FORTH. Primarily for microcomputers, it was both a language and an operatings system in one. Not a GUI, but you could define new commands with short sentence-like microprograms using a real-time interpreter. Geek quotient was through the roof!

  25. Dimal Chandrasiri
    October 18, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    I've seen some of them but, this is pretty neat. good article and good information. thank you.

  26. josemon maliakal
    October 18, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    some of them are very new knowledge to me ..thanks

  27. gpvprasad
    October 18, 2012 at 10:01 am

    But at least they gave a Idea of how and what is computing means.

  28. Gurpreet Singh
    October 18, 2012 at 7:35 am

    Still some dell laptops come with dos.

  29. Dave Anderton
    October 18, 2012 at 7:32 am

    Great article, will be checking out a couple of these OSs. But I always thought it was Chris Curry and Herman Hauser who founded Acorn. Wasn't Clive Sinclair responsible for the Spectrum and QL computers while Curry and Hauser were responsible for the BBC Micro?


    • Franz Heidler
      October 20, 2012 at 4:48 pm

      I think you have a point there Dave.

      • Dave Anderton
        October 20, 2012 at 10:06 pm

        I'm not as knowledgeable as I'd like to think, but was kind of brought up on BBC micros and Acorn Electrons (both of which I have, sans the OS for each - just what's built in - still on the lookout for copies), and I have to say that while time prohibits me from playing with them, I still think that for the time they were machines that still deserve huge recognition, along with the operating system they used - RISC. But then again, after (probably) getting some of the comments I made on makeuseof's forums wrong maybe people will disagree. I've tried most OSs, from Windows (here I might be on dangerous ground) - eeeurgh! through most of the Linux variants, but not BeOS or IRIX, and was a bit of a DOS guru (not that that was difficult) for a while at college, but for me the power that seemed to be behind RISC was something else when you take into account the memory and storage that was around at the time.


  30. Andrea Bonini
    October 18, 2012 at 6:16 am

    you made me want to come back on my sunsparcstation :D

  31. Nicholas Green
    October 18, 2012 at 4:38 am

    I would suggest the Amiga Workbench. A windowed GUI interface that in it's early versions booted of a floppy and allowed pre-emptive multitasking in 512 kb of RAM. Of course as it is is still available (http://www.amigaos.net/), I guess it does not qualify as forgotten.

  32. Tom Bogan
    October 18, 2012 at 4:35 am

    As with most everything that IBM touched, the climate there was always to the corporate user. They lost the PC to others due to not understanding the private home consumer, which was the fruit companies ground with them placing macs in the schools.
    Since IBM did not understand the consumer, a lot of good software and equipment was never advanced.

  33. Alex Downs
    October 18, 2012 at 2:15 am

    WebOS sounds great :D (Note the sarcasm)

  34. Bishal Mahat
    October 18, 2012 at 1:41 am

    I have not used any of them but heard little little

  35. Drew Butler
    October 18, 2012 at 1:32 am

    webOS is fluid like iOS, open source like android, and true multitasking like no other mobile OS.. this is all just my opinion of course..

    • Muo TechGuy
      October 18, 2012 at 7:29 am

      And dead, like DOS. ;)

  36. Drew Butler
    October 18, 2012 at 1:27 am

    awesome :)

  37. Rafael
    October 18, 2012 at 1:08 am

    What about DeskMate 1, 2, and 3 for Tandy computers? I grew up with a Tandy 1000TL. It had a bunch of applications bundled with it, came with GW-BASIC programming language and you could get a SDK to create DeskMate apps of your own in C. I taught myself to program with it using GW-BASIC. Recently I put it on my phone but don't use it much since I've moved on to C++. The Tandy never crashed on me or gave me trouble like windows. It outlived all of my windows until the disketts and their backups got water spilled on them.

    • Muo TechGuy
      October 18, 2012 at 7:29 am

      Pro-tip: Googling images for "deskmate" turns up quite unrelated results ;)

  38. Rajaa Chowdhury
    October 18, 2012 at 12:40 am

    Another lovely mention is the Silicon Graphics IRIX for their workstations (workstations meant very high-end graphical environment during those days based on MIPS or RISC architecture as opposed to the CISC architecture of Intel desktop for those yesteryears).

    A honorable mention of Santa Cruz Operation's Xenix / Unix platform was also desirable as it was a popular platform at one time with lot of enterprises. Was it based on Berkeley Unix kernel or AT&T. Forgot!!! :(

    • Rajaa Chowdhury
      October 18, 2012 at 12:48 am

      I guess Berkeley and AT&T are one and same thing. I am getting confused now. :)

      BTW, I guess a lot of Banks and their ATMs still run on IBM OS/2.

  39. Rajaa Chowdhury
    October 18, 2012 at 12:36 am

    IBM OS/2 Warp was a fantastic operating system and much ahead of it's time during the rudimentary days of the beloved Windows. However, the first release was rushed through to the market and support was not forthcoming. The initial euphoria got lost in the dilemma of the switch-over and lost ground was never recovered. However, it does not still takeaway any credit failure to properly market and support it. When 16 bit OS was a standard, OS/2 gave us the 32bit flavor in 1992. I guess I still have a IBM OS/2 Warp 4 box lying somewhere in the cupboard. There are still some enterprises whose critical backend 24X7 operation is running on the OS/2 platform without a single shutdown for years now. That is the ruggedness of OS/2.

  40. Lee
    October 18, 2012 at 12:24 am

    ReactOS really hasn't been worked on since the '90's? I remember downloading an ISO and messing with it because I wanted an alternative to Wine for running Windows apps on Linux. Needless to say, it really didn't work well at all.

  41. Greg
    October 17, 2012 at 11:55 pm

    FreeBSD is another OS to use today, but Linux is a lot easier to use

    • David Gonzalez
      October 23, 2012 at 9:57 pm

      Try PCBSD, all the BSD goodies with KDE :), easy to use can mean many things, personally I like the developing mode on PCBSD to build on top of what it is, I switch to try, after the change from kde 3 to 4 on linux the first time, then I did defently when gnome 3 came to play, I really like the evolution of linux, but for workhorse computer sometimes too many upgrades are annoying, I prefer to find the good old core/interface with improvements than a whole new thing to get used to. but that's me I guess.

      • Greg
        October 23, 2012 at 10:15 pm

        Actually I did try PCBSD but it wouldn't work with my hardware very well and the installation takes SO LONG!

        • David Gonzalez
          October 23, 2012 at 11:03 pm

          I guess that's tru, honestly I can't remember how long that took, I was very exited about the idea, that everything when smooth as far I can remember, that was 2-3 years ago, my original haddrive died, one thing I really love about BSD was the self-recovery function on the filesystem, it aloud me to use the drive till the very end(when I get some cash to buy a new one), then just a clone of the drive with gparted did the trick, I was up and running in like 30 min, since then I have been using the same desktop at home, I did some improvements like a couple of video cards and ram, just to be hable to play in my winblows box, via virtual box, am a very happy home user of PCBSD, is the only harddrive that still working after almost 3 years, I think I have shout it down 3 times when I move, and a couple times that the ligh shouts down, but as far as resources goes same pc, running ubuntu was a bit slower, with backtrack was pretty much the same, in my laptop I have Mint Cinnamon, winblows and the good old debian just in case, but I keep a usb with Linux rescue, couse I have grub errors ebery once in awhile, other than that even my kids like linux better, or the penguin computer which is how they called.

  42. Terry
    October 17, 2012 at 11:00 pm

    Nostalgia... AmigaOS (Intuition) with Magic WorkBench.

    Also Atari ST's GEM. It was built entirely into ROMs. I installed it for a friend who broke everything. She did mess it up once. Changed the color preferences to white text on a white background and somehow managed to save it to a disk or two. Still an easy fix though.

    • James Bruce
      October 18, 2012 at 7:31 am

      I'm not sure why Amigas completely passed me over; we went from Amstrad CPC-64 to an IBM386-SX, and Windows was upon us. Things went so quickly back then.

    • Rosella A. Alm
      October 22, 2012 at 1:54 am

      Thanks for mentioning the Amiga! One of the earliest and still the best of the OS with GUIs ever.

  43. Slashee the Cow
    October 17, 2012 at 10:53 pm

    "WebOS was the radical new system developed by HP for their TouchPad tablet devices."

    Umm... actually it was made by Palm for its Pre and Pixi phones (since by this point Palm OS was ancient and Windows Mobile, which they had been using, was a joke), then HP bought Palm and made the TouchPad.

    • James Bruce
      October 18, 2012 at 7:32 am

      Thanks for the correction Slashee.

  44. Mulder
    October 17, 2012 at 10:52 pm

    You mention NeXTSTEP, but you didn't say anything about why it's so good, post a screenshot, or a link, or even mention that it's still in use on both NeXT black hardware and Intel hardware. Software is still available for it, too.

    • James Bruce
      October 18, 2012 at 7:33 am

      "still in use". This was about dead OSes ;)

      • Mulder
        October 18, 2012 at 2:09 pm

        No, this isn't about dead OSs, it's about forgotten OSs, as the headline clearly states. There's a vast difference between the two.

        • James Bruce
          October 18, 2012 at 2:13 pm

          Well, I clearly forgot about NeXTSTEP then...

  45. Bengt Lindblad
    October 17, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    CP/M on 8080 and Z80.
    Cromix on Z80 and 68000 by Cromemco - first Unix-alike I saw before PC-DOS/MS-DOS.
    VAX/VMS, RSX on DEC's PDP-11.
    the list goes on

  46. mcsey
    October 17, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    BeOS was good, stable, and usable for about 6 months or so in '98. It stayed stable, but once the updates stopped...

    My favorite BeOS trick was to pipe all the tracks of and audio CD through the sound card at once. Cacophony galore! Also BeOS ripped to mp3 really fast. mp3 was the default audio format for the OS, and they had some great software ninja stuff that made compression fast (for the time).

    • James Bruce
      October 18, 2012 at 7:33 am

      That's a pretty impressive feat; I wonder what every track on Meatloafs Bat out of Hell II would have sounded like together? 14x awesome I expect.

  47. Todd Mountjoy
    October 17, 2012 at 9:34 pm

    What about GEOS? Worked great with a 286 or 386... When it came out it was much better than the Windows version of the time.

    Also, I fondly remember DR-DOS... Oh, those were the days....

    • Sean Padlo
      October 17, 2012 at 10:35 pm

      These articles never seem to ever mention GeOS! I find that so annoying.
      I had it on my Commodore 64

      • James Bruce
        October 18, 2012 at 7:34 am

        Wow, that really does look primitive. Good call though, we should've mentioned it.

  48. Darren Reynolds
    October 17, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    IBM O/S2 was horrid nightmare to use

  49. Joshua
    October 17, 2012 at 9:11 pm

    Some of these operating systems are not truly forgotten. SGI IRIX is still a live with in the Nekochan community. Haiku is pretty much BeOS. And IBM OS/2 can be found still in used with some IBM Mainframes that are still in use.

  50. Lawrance Courtney
    October 17, 2012 at 9:05 pm

    nice... man thx for the memories

  51. Lawrance Courtney
    October 17, 2012 at 9:04 pm

    nice... man thx for the memories

  52. Andrzej Krol
    October 17, 2012 at 8:48 pm

    I used once IBM OS/2 before installing Windows 95 on my old PC.

  53. Gilberto Ledgard
    October 17, 2012 at 8:46 pm

    I can remember a propietary OS: NS-DOS, in a NorthStar Computer (late 70's, early 80's) and, of course CP/M.

    • John Dawson Sr
      October 18, 2012 at 7:25 pm

      I still have my Kaypro II which runs CP/M. Two floppies, no hard disk. No GUI or graphics of any kind, but does have 80 chars/line and upper & lower case letters. Haven't tried to boot it (from a 5 1/4" floppy) in years.

  54. Chuck Mace
    October 17, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Never even used any of them!

  55. Adrian Rea
    October 17, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    Very warming article. It is surprising how fairly quickly we forget those past OSes. At least Linux has been a viable option as open source.