Gone but not forgotten: 10 operating systems the world left behind

AmigaOS, CP/M, OS/2, DOS -- which OS do you miss the most?

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By that time, OS/2 Warp 3 was plugging along nicely, gaining ground in large and stable industries like banking, insurance and telecommunications. It powered tens of thousands of ATMs across the world throughout the 1990s and well into the new millennium. It kept accounting and auditing companies running.

But somehow, it failed to create a buzz among consumer-level software developers. They were spitting out Windows programs, which OS/2 Warp ran like a pro, but many people failed to see the advantage of getting Warp when Windows was pre-installed on their PCs.

OS/2 soldiered valiantly on until IBM pulled the plug at the end of 2001 and withdrew support five years later. We may not see it at work when we pull cash out of the money machines anymore, but those of us who liked it still have the box on our shelves for old time's sake.

What NeXTStep?

By 1989, the brave new world of windows, icons and menus was getting a bit stale. Then Steve Jobs came along with the NeXT Computer, and we took a collective intake of breath so deep that our ears popped from the loss of air pressure.

NeXT hardware -- the original NeXT Computer, a.k.a. "the Cube," and its younger brother the NeXTstation -- was black, sleek and beautiful. The machines' gray-scale displays were so subtle and clear that we could get up close and stare at them without hurting our eyes.

And the operating system, called NeXTStep, was frankly exciting. Its graphical interface was built around Display PostScript, so it was sharp and scalable. Underneath, it was built on a solid structure of Unix, including a Mach kernel and BSD code. And for the developers, it had an object-oriented application layer and tool kit. This made it much easier to code for than other platforms.

NeXT hardware didn't take off as meteorically as Jobs had hoped, but it did find a place in higher education and academia. In fact, it was a favorite at a Swiss research facility called CERN, where an English researcher named Tim Berners-Lee used NeXT products to develop a little project of his called the World Wide Web. NeXTStep has earned its place in the stars on the strength of that alone.

NeXT's sluggish hardware sales meant that applications developed for this cool platform had fewer computers to run on. So the company focused its attention on developing a cross-platform operating system. This is how NeXTStep was reborn for the ages.

In collaboration with Sun, NeXT turned its NeXT-branded operating system into OpenStep, which could run on Sun Solaris systems and other hardware. OpenStep's spec was made public in 1994; this development became the linchpin of a 1996 deal that brought Steve Jobs back to Apple. OpenStep was the model for Apple's impressive new operating system, when the lurching old Mac OS classic gave way to Mac OS X.

And when folks at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center wanted to port their NeXT applications to another hardware platform, NeXTStep was re-reborn as GNUstep. Instead of rewriting the applications, they rewrote the NeXTStep object layer, which they laid on top of Unix code and glued together with X Window. Presto! A more open OpenStep than OpenStep.

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