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10 amazingly alternative operating systems and what they could mean for the future

This post is about the desktop operating systems that fly under the radar of most people. We are definitely not talking about Windows, Mac OS X or Linux, or even BSD or Solaris. There are much less mainstream options out there for the OS-curious.

These alternative operating systems are usually developed either by enthusiasts or small companies (or both), and there are more of them than you might expect. There are even more than we have included in this article, though we think this is a good selection of the more interesting ones and we have focused specifically on desktop operating systems.

As you will see, many of them are very different from what you may be used to. We will discuss the potential of this in the conclusion of this article.

Enough introduction, let’s get started! Here is a look at 10 alternative operating systems, starting with a familiar old name…

AmigaOS 4.1

This month (September 2008) AmigaOS 4.1 was released. Although AmigaOS is a veteran in the field (many have fond memories of the original Amiga computer), its current version is a fully modern OS.

AmigaOS only runs on specific PowerPC-based hardware platforms. The company ACube is currently marketing and distributing AmigaOS and is going to bundle the OS with their motherboards.

Source model: Closed source

License: Proprietary

Platform: PowerPC

State: Final

Read a review of AmigaOS 4.1 at Arstechnica.

Haiku

Haiku is an open source project aimed at recreating and continuing the development of the BeOS operating system (which Palm Inc. bought and then discontinued). Haiku was initially known as OpenBeOS but changed its name in 2004.

Haiku is compatible with software written for BeOS.

Source model: Free and open source

License: MIT License

Platform: x86 and PowerPC

State: Pre-Alpha

Read more at the Haiku website.

ReactOS

ReactOS is an operating system designed to be compatible with Microsoft Windows software. The project started in 1998 and today it can run many Windows programs well. The ReactOS kernel has been written from scratch but the OS makes use of Wine to be able to run Windows applications.

Source model: Free and open source

License: Various free software licenses

Platform: x86 (more under development)

State: Alpha

Read more at the ReactOS website.

Syllable Desktop

Syllable is a free and open source operating system that was forked in 2002 from AtheOS, an AmigaOS clone. It’s intended as a lightweight and fast OS suitable for home and small office users.

Source model: Free and open source

License: GNU General Public License

Platform: x86

State: Alpha

Read more at the Syllable website.

SkyOS

SkyOS is a closed source project written by Robert Szeleney and volunteers. It originally started as an experiment in OS design. It’s intended to be an easy-to-use desktop OS for average computer users. Well-known applications such as Firefox have been ported to run on SkyOS.

Source model: Closed source

License: Proprietary

Platform: x86

State: Beta

Read more at the SkyOS website.

MorphOS

MorphOS is a lightweight, media-centric OS build to run on PowerPC processors. It is inspired by AmigaOS and also includes emulation to be able to run Amiga applications.

Source model: Closed source

License: Mixed proprietary and open source

Platform: Pegasos, some Amiga models, EFIKA

Read more at the MorphOS website.

AROS Research Operating System

AROS is a lightweight open source OS designed to be compatible with AmigaOS 3.1 but also improve on it. The project was started in 1995 and can today be run on both PowerPC and IBM PC compatible hardware. It also includes an emulator that makes it possible to run old Amiga applications.

Source model: Open source

License: AROS Public License

Platform: x86 and PowerPC

Read more at the AROS website.

MenuetOS

MenuetOS, also known as MeOS, is an operating system written entirely in assembly language which makes it very small and fast. Even though it includes a graphical desktop, networking and many other features it still fits on a single 1.44 MB floppy disk (for our younger readers, that was the USB stick of the 80s and early 90s ;) ).

Source model: Open source (32-bit version), freeware (64-bit version)

License: Menuet License

Platform: x86

State: Beta

Read more at the MenuetOS website.

DexOS

DexOS is an open source operating system designed to work like the minimalistic ones on gaming consoles, but for PCs. Its user interface is inspired by video game consoles and the system itself is very small (supposedly this one also fits on a floppy disk, like MenuetOS) and the OS can be booted from several different devices. Its creators have tried to make it as fast as possible.

Source model: Free and open source

Platform: x86

Read more at the DexOS website.

Visopsys

Visopsys is a one-man hobby project by programmer Andy McLaughlin. The development began in 1997 and the OS is both open source and free. Visopsys stands for VISual Operating SYStem.

Source model: Open source

License: GPL

Platform: x86

State: Final

Read more at the Visopsys website.

The OS future

Even if none of these operating systems ever were to “make it” and become mainstream (and admittedly, some of them simply are not intended to be mainstream), the passion behind them is real, and many have the potential to introduce new and fresh ideas.

All this independent development can act as a kind of think tank, if you choose to look at it that way. It’s quite possible that concepts introduced by a niche OS will later be adopted by a larger player on the OS market.

There are lots of interesting things happening today with the rise of virtualization and the “always online” nature of today’s computers that opens up incredibly interesting possibilities. For example, what we have read about Microsoft’s internal research OS Midori (the one that will retire Windows) sounds highly interesting.

Wherever the future operating systems may come from, be it from the already established players or some kind of newcomer, we are looking forward to seeing what the future has in store for us. We suspect that there is a significant “jump” in the evolution coming up just around the corner.

Who knows, a couple of years from now maybe all the computers here in the Pingdom office will be running the UltraMagicalSuperVirtualOS version 1.2?

What are your predictions for the future of operating systems?



115 comments
theoeverley
theoeverley

Syllable, Haiku, Kolibri and Visopsys downloaded (ISOs) in less than 1 minute, started up in less than 30 seconds on Virtualbox and worked as fast (or faster) as my host Windows 7 system (or linux systems I have tried previously).  There's something to be said for lean systems like these, despite the downsides.

v_shriram
v_shriram

I like open source operating systems. The problem is with the drivers. Which one would you suggest for Acer 4715z laptop?

v_shriram
v_shriram

I like open source operating systems. The problem is with the drivers. Which one would you suggest for Acer 4715z laptop?

GamerLinux
GamerLinux

Hellow I find most of you discuting. First ReactOS is not dead at all. It now works on real hardware and they are getting more funding to hire programers to help them. Next Linux is a good os and you don't have to use it if you don't like to. Linux is not trying to be Windows. Linux is at war with Windows, what do you expect us to do lie in the dirt. You say that it is all about price and while this is true it is also about freedom and democacy. You all use Windows because you want to, but many out there HATE Windows and only use it because they ether can't afford a Mac or they don't like Mac's. Now Aros is a good OS, it looks nice and I will look forward to useing it. Now Dex OS looks cool and I might be able to install it on my Xbox or Xbox 360 as they both suck. Now the Xbox won't be called 9 any thing as the 360 is the last consle that microsoft  and I can't say the name as I am under a agreament. Now Menuet is ok, but it does not have a good site to download it from. I like this article. I also use LH which is a os that has a GUI kernal. It has distros called compaens and distros which are buildings of compaens. It is kind of hard to explain in words. I think that have many OSes is a good thing as it enchourages compation and that protects us. I know that it will take awhile for anyone to read this as it is not a populer site.

GamerLinux
GamerLinux

Hellow I find most of you discuting. First ReactOS is not dead at all. It now works on real hardware and they are getting more funding to hire programers to help them. Next Linux is a good os and you don't have to use it if you don't like to. Linux is not trying to be Windows. Linux is at war with Windows, what do you expect us to do lie in the dirt. You say that it is all about price and while this is true it is also about freedom and democacy. You all use Windows because you want to, but many out there HATE Windows and only use it because they ether can't afford a Mac or they don't like Mac's. Now Aros is a good OS, it looks nice and I will look forward to useing it. Now Dex OS looks cool and I might be able to install it on my Xbox or Xbox 360 as they both suck. Now the Xbox won't be called 9 any thing as the 360 is the last consle that microsoft  and I can't say the name as I am under a agreament. Now Menuet is ok, but it does not have a good site to download it from. I like this article. I also use LH which is a os that has a GUI kernal. It has distros called compaens and distros which are buildings of compaens. It is kind of hard to explain in words. I think that have many OSes is a good thing as it enchourages compation and that protects us. I know that it will take awhile for anyone to read this as it is not a populer site.

efbe
efbe

ReactOS has become a bit of a joke, with Linux becoming more popular every day ReactOS is taking too long to develop and it will be obsolete by the time it's finished..Iv'e been watching them for a few years now waiting, waiting, I couldn't wait any longer so i made the switch from Windows to Linux Mint... a very friendly and easy to use Linux OS.. I won't go back to Windows or bother to wait for ReactOS.

Eh...imcool
Eh...imcool

@jam tangan: non of these have a linux base fyi

jam tangan
jam tangan

They all look like LINUX base. At least from the first impression, I just see the simple graphic effect, not like vista or seven.

Bp103
Bp103

The computer is just a fancy toy in a home setting. Game console systems are unfortunately the future they already have web browsers, media players and text messaging clients. Admit it other than a few misc tasks you use your computer %80 of the time for games, web browsing, playing movies/music and texting. The OS as we know it may be just the outdated thing in the computing world. Just wait in 10 years we will mostlikely be talikng about "10 amazingly alternative Firmwares and what they could mean for the future" and the ps8 and the xbox980 fans will still be fighting each other. =P

William Ryan Kus
William Ryan Kus

I was surprised to see so many OSes on the market. What it says to me is that it is not that hard to create an operating system. Like Bill Gates did, they started it out of their garage. Yet for some reason we have allowed a two party system with some minor independents on the side. As a kid, I would use an Amiga 500 and had many great times on it. Their graphical UI is just as good or better than another operating system. The Amiga was actually a superior graphics system but was dominated by IBM, Microsoft, and Apple. Xerox created the whole thing and they don't seem to get any credit. The first thing I thought of was that I don't need to spend $90-200 dollars (I buy OEM) for a Windows operating system that comes pre-installed with bugs and viruses and only forces you to buy more from companies whos only job is to create viruses so that they can sell their anti-virus programs. I could get all the free OSes I want and I could install as many OSes as I pleased on any computer that needed it. Especially old ones that could still be used as emulators and internet machines without having the RESOURCE HOG of the WINDOWS or APPLE systems that FORCE people to upgrade their computers. Especially for people in developing countries who can't afford an overpriced Apple or their only other alternative a Windows operating computer. Do they sell pre-made Linux computers? I don't even understand the concept really. I speak from an average person's point of view.

abraXXious
abraXXious

Lol, I think some of the idiots that commented need to realise that NONE of these OS's are mainstream, and probably never will be - THATS NOT THE POINT!!! The point is that in their owns rights they may offer features etc that make them 'interesting' to the hobbiest who is sick to death of backwards craparse Windoze and the 4 million different "almost compatible" spaghetti distros of linux! I myself use an X86 pc with Ubuntu (easiest to keep under control and up to date) and windows Vista (which takes it up the tailpipe) for any 'work', but when I want to play around with some FUN computing, I use my Amiga One with OS4.0, my Pegasos 2 with Morphos 2.3, my efika or my Aros X86. These systems are efficient, fast, elegant and fun to use, unlike Windoze. Wake up to yourself guys, no one pays $1000.00 aud for a motherboard (Amiga One / Pegasos 2) in this day and age unless they really enjoy computing, and whilst people like that exist, so will 'fun' OS's.

Bill
Bill

I'm an old man, 72, who not only missed the boat but did not know that a boat existed. Here are my non-knower comments: When technology is good I don't see it or think about it. I do recognize new technology. New technology does not work very well. Once upon a time I could not start my car in cold weather. I had to move that throttle thing-a-ma-jig in and out. I never did learn how an automobile works. Now I have an OS that constantly needs to be updated. Every company in the world asks me to give my privacy to them, and they promise to take good care of it. Vandals are putting viruses onto my computer. My keyboard works just like the ones that the girls learned how to use in high school. Here is the future that I want: I want the OS to disappear. I want the keyboard to disappear. I want the mouse to disappear. I want to talk to the computer. I want to use my computer without something or other that I have to twiddle with. It's like wanting the throttle to disappear. Do any of these operating systems point towards what I want? I hope that some of them do because I want to be included in our future society.

Steve
Steve

What about g_asOS? It asks the question: Did you ever fart so hard you ended up in another zip code?

Isma'il
Isma'il

Most people are forgetting the real reason why people choose an operating system: to run a specific program or type of programs. If the applications you want to run aren't available on a particular OS, then you don't choose that OS, unless you're an accomplished programmer that likes to write their own applications and has the time to debug them as well. Most people certainly don't fit into that category. It's like a graphic designer wanting to run Photoshop and Quark, choosing a Linux or Amiga-based OS; it's just not gonna work, no matter the "advantages" the said OS has. Said designer is either going to choose Windows or Mac OS, because they are the only choices he/she has. The operating systems in this article are simply not going to be accepted outside a select few enthusiasts because there simply isn't the wide array of software available as for Mac or Windows. My office hasn't upgraded from Win 2000 because it runs their software well.

steven
steven

It is a shame that I only use windows, and have no idea even about linux. The interface of the 10 OS you mentioned are really cool.

Corstan Garneth
Corstan Garneth

The criticisms of the article are for the most part valid; it really doesn't say enough, but it is a good starting point if you're interested in researching operating systems. I found the subsequent comments to be as valuable as the article itself. Overall this has been a fascinating read. Many thanks for this information.

Shack Nickzam
Shack Nickzam

My predictions for the future of operating systems is 1.operating systems and information management tools will grow top-down. 2.should make life simpler 3.future operating systems will be a very simple and lightweight software that could even be offered in a way of a “firmware” to desktop and laptop computers. Cheers, Shack Nickzam

waga
waga

DexOS ROCKS!!!!

古典概型
古典概型

hello,can i translate this post to chinese??I want to post the translation on my blog....

sgtfirestorm
sgtfirestorm

My view of the future of operating systems is that most will become open source and possibly that GNU/Linux based operating systems will become mainstream to a very large scale and possibly (not saying definitely) could beat out Microsoft because of the fact that many *nix operating systems are better quality all around than Windows (most people admit that).

Injury Prone
Injury Prone

Windows 7 will beat out any of these operating systems. The BETA looks like the king. In terms of SIZE : the V2OS 32 bit OpSys in 37 KB takes the gravy.

Injury Prone
Injury Prone

What about Windows 7? This is the revolutionary OS. Beats out Vista and the basic version is scalable for 1GB pc's.

willie
willie

there are those of us who prefer to compute 'off the grid' - in a wireless world it is sometimes comforting, safe, and a bit more secure at times to avoid connecting this is why i prefer a self-reliant system that is not dependent on the 'net to function...

cybogd
cybogd

from my point of view we will have the taskbar, the dock and linux distros for a long time to come. the OS that will make a noticed impact on curent market is the one that will run windows games and softwares nativily without using emulators. let's face it and get real, the big software commpanys will stick with these 3 giants (especially with windows). a better aproach for re-inventing OS is to re-invent software programming (for ex. what is with these folders and lots of files? isn't time for softwares and games to be made up in a single file?)

Landreth
Landreth

Ehh.. different OS has purpose for different tasks; pick the OS best for the task or for what ever one are comfi with; heck I still make use of OS/2 here at my side for client mixed together with Debian for server and as well OS2 Warp Server. Of course a unit with XP as media server integrated with the audio system, etc. While OS2 is considered dead by the most and while it still struggles with keeping up with latest hardware; it still does and works. Suggestion to browse into http://www.os2world.com

Helmut Sweden Welsh
Helmut Sweden Welsh

No Reactos is dead, here is why: All real developers left in 2005 between Reactos 0.2.3 and 0.2.8 releases. As a consequence: A) Reactos have now lot of regressions: It doesn't run anymore on real hardware. B) Nobody worked on the driver model which is currently based on 15 years old NT 3.5 while Microsoft switched to new models (NT4 then Win2K WDM in 1999 and then Vista K/UMDF in 2005). C) No new drivers even based on the old NT 3.5 were introduced since 2005, no NTFS, no protection, no USB, no accelerated 3D graphics, no WIFI, no Bluetooth. This in a situation where existing GPL drivers for Windows 3.5 and Windows 4 exist (c.f. Alter.org, Zhiming's USB, and existing closely related softwares such as Captive NTFS, NTFS3G, NDISWrapper etc..) D) Why bother to develop on Reactos now when you can even look at Windows 2003 kernel, completly legally on Microsoft web site? Reactos is *not* what it is claimed currently, it's not a Windows XP/Vista/Server 2003 clone, it's a very very buggy clone of Windows 95.

Vince Massi
Vince Massi

Some time ago, my friend David Goemans recommended the Eye OS. He is correct in saying that it has a future. This system is designed to be run on an intranet system within a school or business. It won't be affected by Windows malware. It is heavy on different types of messages, is easy to use, and includes enough pro0grams to serve an organization's communication needs. They post a working demo (I have beaten their chess game two out of four times) that loads slowly, but you can run the full demo easily, without requiring a partition. Go to http://demo.eyeos.org/# and be prepared to reload the page if it tells you that it doesn't exist. Remember that the demo is very slow-loading, and you have to give the apps extra time to get running.

Seth
Seth

Excellent post. I'm going to have to try at least one of these out. I am getting sick of Windows. I have an insane amount of security on my computer but somehow my wife always seems to get a virus or malware on it...this time I can't get rid of it. I'm going to have to format and reinstall. I'm going to try one of these out. Thanks again! Seth http://fun-dad.blogspot.com/

Vince Massi
Vince Massi

I've been able to get four of the alternate operating systems on this page to run so far on my Windows XP machine. While I'm having a lot of fun, all of them are hampered by a lack of programs, except for React. Humorously enough, I was able to correct a Windows problem through React, which a very anti-Bill Gates OS.

Dreams
Dreams

Wow I didn't realize there are that many different operating systems being marketed. Does the PC need more than 3 (Microsoft, Linux, Ubuntu)? It would be crazy if one person can manage to use more than 2 at a time. Switching between MS and Mac is already hard enough.

thunderfest
thunderfest

Alistair Moir I agree with you. There is a new wave of computing coming, both in the low levels and UIs, that will make the past 20 years of computing feel trivial. Best of luck to in your future, I'm sorry others here don't see it or are set on pestering you.

Hazydave
Hazydave

The mere existence of an alternative OS doesn't necessarily make it "interesting". Yes, the AmigaOS was great, but it's been horribly mismanaged over the last, well, 14 years since Commodore failed. Their decision to support the failing PowerPC platform -- a decision I repeated tried to get SOMEONE there to question -- was a religious one, not a good engineering or marketing decision... and based on a dead religion at that. The OS4Depot is not a testament to the life of AmigaOS 4.1, but to it's death... there are 2096 FILEs there, not programs. These include skins for things, plug-ins, and a few ports of Linux and Windows programs. Nothing at all compelling here. In this day, when one can buy a Quad-Core x86 system for under $500, any OS claiming to be for desktops that cannot support this hardware is not relevant, and never will be. With that said, I'd really like to see Haiku move forward... we really do need a well designed break from Windows and Linux inspired OSs, and that's about the only one on the list with a real potential as a general purpose OS that fits that bill. As for some of the others.. if you're still in Alpha after 10+ years of development, I hope you're having fun, because there's no reason to believe other people will be using your OS. -Dave Haynie

Vivian
Vivian

What is an OS ? I have built kind of boot loaders for simple computers of only one chip. The smallest OS I ever built was 256 bytes for Z80. Was it a boot loader or an OS ? I don't know.

Sturm
Sturm

With the possible exception of AmigaOS and Haiku, all these operating systems suck. They cannot even compare with the elegence and simplicity of truly revolutionary operating systems, such as Genera, Plan9, and NeXTSTEP (in that order).

tarraguna
tarraguna

This looks like a great list. Thanks for posting it. I use Mac and Ubuntu and I have been wanting to look at other operating systems. I hope to try some of the os that you mentioned.

Nix Bood
Nix Bood

People who criticize ReactOS are very shortsighted. One should not feel threatened by an open source and free implementation of one of the most used family of programs, ever. Religious linux fanatics need to get over their "holier than thou" attitude. Seriously, the linux "community" is so completely full of hate, it makes Westboro Baptist Church envious. Just look at the comments in any topic related to linux. When they aren't attacking windows or other linux distro's that are 98% the same as their own, they are telling everyone how their distro is the best and how their distro is so user friendly that even their grandma can use it. Bullshit. Mind you, that is not to say that there are not very intelligent and nice people that offer great help (I've met and appreciated many), but they are like Majestic Galleons moving over a raging ocean of piss. Why ReactOS is worth our time: ReactOS offers a free and open way of using the hundreds of thousands of legacy programs, many of which were quite expensive, and are still in use by companies. Where I work, we still have Pentium I's that run Windows NT. Upgrading would cost money we don't have, and introduce lots of problems we don't have time to fix, everyone knows how to use windows, no one has the time or patience to get linux working or try to find or program an application to replace our current ones that are specifically tailored to the work we do. Also, GAMES. That in an of itself is good enough reason for why ReactOS is worth every effort put into it. Also, some of us *audible gasp* prefer windows to linux. I myself prefer windows, even though I agree there is a lot of bullshit. But I dislike what linux is today even more. I could tell you the reasons, but then someone would just come along and, point by point, attempt to prove why the linux way is better. Except I've heard all sorts of arguments, and none of them have convinced me. The only distro I like is GoboLinux, which is a big step in the right direction. There is a reason programs like ScummVM and DOSbox exist. I hear no one saying "jeez what a waste of time, I can't believe someone would copy something made by ~evil corporations~, they should work on linux instead" about them. But somehow the NT kernel from which many more programs are written for is just not worthy. Also, feel free to replace any reference to linux in my post with amigaOS or any operating system of your choice. Religious OS fundamentalist act the same no matter what logo is on their shirt.

PatrickGibson
PatrickGibson

You are correct in that consoles (pre set-up, uneasily modified computers) will begin to take over for the majority of common peons and consumers needs (unless you count cell phones, because I think those will boot out consoles eventually as well). Computers will go back to the deserved spot of reserved for the intellectually elite and business needs. 

PatrickGibson
PatrickGibson

You are correct in that consoles (pre set-up, uneasily modified computers) will begin to take over for the majority of common peons and consumers needs (unless you count cell phones, because I think those will boot out consoles eventually as well). Computers will go back to the deserved spot of reserved for the intellectually elite and business needs. 

PatrickGibson
PatrickGibson

Linux has a almost similar sized following as mac (kinda sorta). They do make linux pre-installed computers, but their hard to find, and it is VERY, VERY hard to right a working OS. But I get whatcha mean.

PatrickGibson
PatrickGibson

Linux has a almost similar sized following as mac (kinda sorta). They do make linux pre-installed computers, but their hard to find, and it is VERY, VERY hard to right a working OS. But I get whatcha mean.

MartyMcLean
MartyMcLean

Bill Gates didn't start out in his garage. Steve Jobs did.

 

Microsoft may force you to upgrade your software all the time but Apple don't

Yes, they remind you there are updates, but you don't have to use Safari to update your OS unlike IE with Windows, you don't need to use all the default programs in OS X.

 

And yes, Apple's hardware is overpriced, but they don't have 50 vendors to make the hardware and install their software on it. 

MartyMcLean
MartyMcLean

Bill Gates didn't start out in his garage. Steve Jobs did.   Microsoft may force you to upgrade your software all the time but Apple don't Yes, they remind you there are updates, but you don't have to use Safari to update your OS unlike IE with Windows, you don't need to use all the default programs in OS X.   And yes, Apple's hardware is overpriced, but they don't have 50 vendors to make the hardware and install their software on it. 

PrithvirajNag
PrithvirajNag

Go to youtube and search for "Sixth Sense MIT Research Pranab Mistry" and you will get your answer ! :)

PrithvirajNag
PrithvirajNag

Go to youtube and search for "Sixth Sense MIT Research Pranab Mistry" and you will get your answer ! :)

Pingdom
Pingdom

@古典概型: You've got mail. :)

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