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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Whatever will be will BeOS

In 1991, when Apple released its PowerPC reference platform so hardware vendors could make Mac clones, one company had another idea. Be Inc. decided to port its own operating system, BeOS, to the Mac platform.

Perhaps Be was anticipating that Apple would never quite deliver on the promise of Copland, its Holy Grail of a next-gen operating system, and that it might want to buy Be's off-the-shelf alternative instead. Perhaps Be was just trying to find a market for the operating system it had designed for a failing product line. Whatever the company's motives, BeOS became one of personal computing's favorite near-miss stories.

In 1990, an ex-Apple exec, Jean-Louis Gassée, founded Be Inc. to develop a new computing platform starring BeOS and a machine called the BeBox. But the AT&T Hobbit processors at the core of the BeBox were discontinued, so Be had to redevelop the platform to run on PowerPC processors.

When cash flow dictated that the company couldn't market its own hardware anymore, it retooled BeOS to run on other companies' PowerPC and Pentium platforms. The fact that this multithreaded, media-friendly OS could run multiple videos without a stutter or crash on clunky old Pentium IIs wowed many digital media developers and enthusiasts.

Sadly, Be didn't capture a lot of money. BeOS did attract interest from Apple in the mid '90s, but its price tag didn't. Be was firm on its asking price, Apple was firm on its offer, and the difference had a lot of zeros after it -- at which point Apple cozied up to NeXT and its OS instead.

And so Be shot for the moon, missed and was eventually sold to Palm Inc., in 2001. Palm halted development on the platform, and it died.

However, Be enthusiasts kept the beast alive online at sites like BeBits.com. After Palm abandoned them, they began to improve their favorite OS in a series of reverse-engineered open-source projects unofficially called OpenBeOS. On Linux or BSD kernels, they built Be-compatible APIs and gave the results winking names like Blue-Eyed OS.

Palm wasn't keen on trademark infringement, so the Be fan community picked a name that wouldn't offend: Haiku. And it's in this guise that BeOS lives on. Without actually being Be, Haiku certainly seems to be Be -- and with the real thing on ice in Palm's vaults, that's as good as it's going to get.

The Spirit of '95

Oh, we know what you're thinking: The Windows 95 phenomenon was a lot of fuss to make over a steppingstone between 16- and 32-bit computing. The technical aspects of the thing were washed away in a marketing tsunami -- and on the subject of flooding, it cost more to develop than 1995's other bloated headline-grabber, the Kevin Costner film Waterworld.

But we appreciated Windows 95 back then, and we still think of it fondly. It enabled people on home PCs to name their files with something more flexible than an eight-character name and a three-character extension.

And it was the first time Microsoft had given consumers a graphical operating system with a decent foundation. Up till then, mainstream (that is, non-NT) Windows was just an operating environment -- an easy-to-navigate structure that was built on stilts over the wet-sand footing of DOS. The whole structure had a nasty habit of collapsing right before you'd clicked the Save button. Before 95, Windows really was the dog that ate everyone's homework.

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