Ancient Operating Systems Keep Going ... and Going

Now 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.

Still, 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)

You 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.

ou 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)

I 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.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
  
Shop Tech Products at Amazon