The Great Operating System Games

They may not be the fanciest computer games of all time, but untold billions of hours of productivity have been lost to them over the past four decades.

Operating System Games

Since the dawn of computers, games have been an entertaining way to demonstrate a system's capabilities. Manufacturers like DEC distributed them as early as the 1960s: They were as powerful sales tools with universal appeal. The tradition continued with some of the earliest PCs. Simple (but often addictive) games are bundled with operating systems to this day.

Here's a look at notable games that have shipped with OSes through the ages-including ones written by a few of the most famous programmers of all time.

Unix and descendants

Operating System: Unix and descendants
Year: 1971-present

The first edition of Unix, released in 1971, shipped with four games: blackjack, chess, moo (a guessing game), and tic-tac-toe. All were primitive and text-based. Since then, just about every Unix-like OS has shipped with text games to be played via a shell console. Today's popular "bsd-games" package includes ASCII classics like Adventure, Trek (seen here), Snakes, Hunt the Wumpus, and more.

TRS-80 Level I BASIC

Operating System: TRS-80 Level I BASIC
Year: 1977

The TRS-80 Model I shipped with two demo games written in BASIC and supplied on cassette: backgammon and blackjack (inset), both seen here. The backgammon board and pieces and cards had to be approximated in the TRS-80′s low-res monochrome character set. Radio Shack stores across America ran these two games as sales demos, introducing many people to computer games for the first time.

Apple DOS 3.2

Operating System: Apple DOS 3.2
Year: 1979

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak designed the Apple II's specifications so he could reproduce Atari's Breakout in software. The resulting software was "Brick Out," a program written by Wozniak in Integer BASIC (also coded by Wozniak).

Brick Out made its informal debut on a prototype II at a Homebrew Computer Club meeting in 1976, then debuted commercially in a new version ("Little Brick Out") programmed by Bruce Tognizzini that Apple released as part of DOS 3.2 in 1979.


How many games has Bill Gates written? At least one, and you're looking at it: DONKEY.BAS. With the help of Microsoft employee Neil Konzen, Gates coded this whimsical donkey-avoidance game in a late-night BASIC session on an IBM PC prototype. Microsoft included it as a demonstration program for its BASIC that shipped with early versions of PC DOS (the IBM equivalent of MS-DOS, also developed by Microsoft).

Apple Macintosh System 1.0

Operating System: Apple Macintosh System 1.0
Year: 1984

Versions of Macintosh OS had tiny applications called "Desk Accessories" - programs roughly equivalent to today's gadgets/widgets that could be run on top of another application (this was before the Mac could multitask). One such widget was the first Macintosh game,Puzzle, coded by Mac legend Andy Hertzfeld. Based on classic sliding tile puzzles, the player's goal was to re-arrange the tiles into numerical order.

Microsoft Windows 1.0

Operating System: Microsoft Windows 1.0
Year: 1985

The first ever release of Windows shipped with a single game, Reversi, which Microsoft also included with Windows 2.0 (1987) and 3.0 (1990). The classic disc-flipping game-also known as Othello- finally got cut from Windows 3.1 in favor of Minesweeper.

Tandy DeskMate 3.69 w/ MS-DOS

Operating System: Tandy DeskMate 3.69 w/ MS-DOS
Year: 1990

The DeskMate GUI ran on top of MS-DOS and shipped with Tandy computers of the early-to-mid 1990s. DeskMate 3 included an implementation of the classic children's game Hangman that many DeskMate users recall fondly.

Screenshot by Nathan Lineback

Microsoft MS-DOS 5.0

Operating System: Microsoft MS-DOS 5.0
Year: 1991

MS-DOS 5.0 and higher shipped with QBasic, Microsoft's most advanced BASIC programming language interpreter at that point. With it came a handful of demonstration programs, including two games: Nibbles (seen here) and Gorillas. Nibbles was a QBasic version of the classic "Snake" game where you consume dots/numbers and avoid crashing into your ever-lengthening body.

Microsoft MS-DOS 5.0

Operating System: Microsoft MS-DOS 5.0
Year: 1991

Gorillas was a QBasic programming demonstration included with MS-DOS 5.0 and up. Microsoft crafted a whimsical interpretation of classic artillery games where players take turns entering angles and power levels to launch projectiles (in this case, bananas) at each other. These bananas were explosive and would blow up whatever they touched.

IBM OS/2 2.0

Operating System: IBM OS/2 2.0
Year: 1992

While Microsoft was about to release Windows 3.1, IBM launched its own advanced 32-bit OS, OS/2 2.0. It shipped with an impressively large selection of games for the time: Chess, Klondike Solitaire, Cat and Mouse, Reversi, Scramble, Blox, and Jigsaw Puzzle. Future releases of OS/2 would carry on this generous tradition.

Screenshot by Nathan Lineback

Microsoft Windows 3.1

Operating System: Microsoft Windows 3.1
Year: 1992

The world-famous king of OS games, Windows Solitaire, first shipped with Windows 3.0 in 1990. As mentioned previously, Windows 3.0 also included Reversi. In 1992, Microsoft released Windows 3.1 (seen here), which finally killed off Reversi in favor of the addictive puzzle game Minesweeper. World productivity dropped by 10%.

Apple Macintosh System 7.5

Operating System: Apple Macintosh System 7.5
Year: 1994

In 1994, the traditional Mac OS sliding-tile desktop accessory got the boot in favor of a more colorful and sophisticated jigsaw puzzle of a world map that included three difficulty levels. It paled in comparison to Solitaire, but I suspect Mac users got more work done as a result.

...Well, at least until System 7.6, which included Eric's Solitaire Sample.

Microsoft Windows 95

Operating System: Microsoft Windows 95
Year: 1995

Ah, Freecell. How you torment me. This addictive and heavily skill-based card game first appeared with Win32s for Windows 3.0 in 1990, then later shipped as part of Windows Entertainment Pack 2 in 1991. However, Freecell first gained widespread recognition when it shipped with Windows 95 in 1995. It also shipped with Windows ME and XP and was revamped with new graphics for Vista and 7.


Operating System: OPENSTEP/Mach 4.2
Year: 1996

The NeXTSTEP operating system debuted in 1988 with the all-black NeXT Computer, the first machine produced by Steve Jobs' post-Apple company. From 1989 on, NeXTSTEP included a Chess game application: After NeXT stopped making hardware, the OS became OPENSTEP.

Version 4.2 of OPENSTEP, seen here, included the games Chess, Billiards, and BoinkOut (a Breakout clone). Interestingly, still persists to this day in Mac OS X, the evolutionary successor to NeXTSTEP.

Microsoft Windows 98

Operating System: Microsoft Windows 98
Year: 1998

3D Pinball: Space Cadet was a stripped down version of a commercial pinball game developed by Maxis. It first appeared in Microsoft Plus! for Windows 95 but was included with every copy of Windows 98, NT, ME, and XP sold from 1998 to the present.

Apple OS X 10.0 – 10.6

Operating System: Apple OS X 10.0 - 10.6
Year: 2000 - Present

Apple acquired NeXT in 1996 with the aim of using NeXT's OPENSTEP operating system as a replacement for their aging Classic OS. OPENSTEP became the Rhapsody prototype OS, which became Mac OS X Server 1.0, which grew into the Mac OS X we all know today. Through it all, OS X has kept many vestiges of its NeXT past, including

To this day, OS X ships with Chess, although the game received a fundamental overhaul with the release of OS X 10.3 Panther in 2003.

Microsoft Windows ME

Operating System: Microsoft Windows ME
Year: 2000

The much-maligned Windows ME, released in 2000, included a large number of new pack-in games. Among them was a suite of Internet-enabled board and card games: Internet Checkers, Internet Chess, Internet Hearts, Internet Spades, Internet Backgammon, and Internet Reversi.

ME also included the new Spider Solitaire and Classic Hearts and stuck with old familiars like Pinball, Minesweeper, Freecell, and Solitaire. Microsoft included almost all of these games in Windows XP (2001) as well.

Ubuntu 7.04

Operating System: Ubuntu 7.04
Year: 2007

We've previously seen how text-based games traditionally shipped with Unix and Linux distributions. In the past decade, however, distros have commonly cut text-based games in favor of graphical XWindows-based games - more specifically, those tailored to the Gnome and KDE window managers. Ubuntu, in particular, has always included a large variety of GUI-based games, some of which are seen here in its 7.04 release.

Screenshot by Nathan Lineback

Microsoft Windows Vista

Operating System: Microsoft Windows Vista
Year: 2007

Since Vista showcased a dramatic graphical overhaul, it made sense that Microsoft would decide to ditch all the old game applications (with legacy artwork) it had been collecting since Windows 3.0 in favor of newer, flashier versions. Here are the new versions of Solitaire and Minesweeper.

Vista also included new versions of FreeCell, Spider Solitaire, and Hearts. It introduced three completely new games (Chess Titans, Mahjong Titans, Purble Place) and one mostly new one, InkBall, which first appeared in Windows XP Tablet PC Edition.

Microsoft Windows 7

Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7
Year: 2009

There exists a major disparity between the number of games included with the two major commercial OSes. Here is a list of 11 games that ship with Windows 7 Ultimate Edition. Mac OS X ships only with Chess. (As commenter Dan points out, it also includes "Tile Game," a Dashboard widget that's a modern version of the Mac's first OS game.)

Does game inclusion say something about the nature of each OS? Does it reflect personalities of each OS's creators and users? What do you think?

Game nostalgia on Technologizer:

Game Boy Oddities
Fifteen Classic Game Console Mistakes
Patentmania! The Golden Age of Electronic Games
Forty Years of Lunar Lander

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