When Computerworld set out to reminisce about "gone but not forgotten" operating systems, we didn't attempt to be comprehensive, but instead chose to focus on 10 of the most memorable desktop operating systems -- some of which, we cheerfully admitted, are neither true OSs nor completely "gone." Many readers wrote in to laud the operating systems in our list, most notably OS/2.
Not surprisingly, we also got many responses from readers quibbling with our choices and wondering how we possibly could have left off their favorite OS. While our list focused mainly on OSs for personal computers, our readers mentioned mainframe, minicomputer, microcomputer, network, distributed and virtual machine operating systems as well.
Thanks, readers! You brought to mind many great operating systems and interfaces of yesteryear, turning a brief stroll down memory lane into an extended journey. Among those mentioned: AmigaOS, Apple DOS, AS/400, Atari TOS, Burroughs MCP, CP/M, DR-DOS, the GEM graphical interface, KRONOS, MPE/iX, MP/M, Multics, Novell Netware, OASIS, OS/8, OS-9, OS/360, OS/400, Pick, Plan 9, PRIMOS, QNX, RDOS, RISC OS, RSTS, RSX-11, RT-11, SSP, TENEX/TOPS-20, TOPS-10, TRS-DOS, UCSD p-System, VAX/VMS, VM, VOS, Xenix and more.
We've collected some of our favorite OS-praising reader comments here. As always, you can join the discussion by adding a note to the article comments.
OS/2 by IBM was a very efficient operating system. It was fast even on the older processors and it could run anything that you installed on it. If an app crashed, it was the only thing that crashed. The operating system remained running and recovered nicely. If you were the developer, you could even get dumps to help you understand why the app failed. It's too bad IBM couldn't market the thing properly. It would have been a Microsoft-beater.
The single best OS of all time is OS/2! Rue the day that IBM dropped OS/2 from its product line. I can think of no other OS, ever, that could run programs architected for different operating systems reliably without having to run those OSs. While IBM officially dropped support for the OS in the early '90s, it continued to support the OS and distribute it with its mainframe processors well past 2000. The company I work for recently installed a new mainframe processor and it came with an OS/2 PC, so there!
Loved using OS/2. It would actually multitask (unlike Windows 3.1) without crashing the operating system or bringing it to a standstill. I could format a floppy, use CompuServe, run a couple of 5250 sessions with the AS/400, and have a Windows program or two open -- all at once, seamlessly. It felt like having my own personal mainframe. Yes, OS/2 had its quirks, including problems with the single-threaded message queue that IBM couldn't/wouldn't fix. But overall, OS/2 gave me a much more pleasant "computing experience" for several years, until I reluctantly switched to Windows NT 4.0. --
The article failed to mention one of the best features of OS/2: the desktop. If I recall correctly, IBM hired some programmer/designers from Apple and charged them with creating an object-based desktop environment for OS/2 (and Warp), which they did. After banging around with early Windows for a while, the OS/2 desktop was really a breath of fresh air -- useful, intuitive and robust. Too bad it didn't survive (or get ported to Unix).
I still use OS/2 in the form of eComStation today. The truly object-oriented desktop just can't be matched even today.
This is another vote for OS/2. Warp was a beautiful OS. Each DOS machine could have its own config.sys and autoexec.bat file. Windows programs ran great, and if you did have a problem with a program, you only had to kill that program and not reboot the whole system.
OS/2 is all we use in the office here because it "just works" all the time. It is an operating system ahead of its time, even now. The other OSs are still playing catch-up to its active desktop. We have just completed an upgrade of six of our computers to the latest AMD quad-core processors. The only problems we had were caused by forgetting what was done in 1995 to set up the network as we wanted it! By the end of the year, all our computers will be upgraded and using OS/2 only -- not bad for a "dead" OS!