11 Extinct Operating Systems That Time Forgot

Nokia 9210 symbian smartphoneReutersThe Nokia Symbian operating sytem.

As the battle for smartphone operating-system supremacy rages on (and some would argue it’s already over with Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android on top), it’s worth noting that such power-grabs are as old as modern computing itself.

Have you ever heard of a PC operating system called Amiga? What about Inferno? Arthur?

These were all real operating systems that once tried to compete with Apple and Microsoft. And with the birth of the smartphone, there were several early players attempting to do what modern devices do today.

Let’s take a look.


Year created: 1985

Company: Commodore

What happened? Ars Technica put it best when in 2005, it wrote: 'The Amiga computer was a machine ahead of its time. When it was released in 1985, its colour screen (4096 colours in HAM mode!), four-channel sampled stereo sound, preemptive multitasking GUI, and custom chips to accelerate both sound and graphics made the year-old Macintosh seem antiquated and the PC positively Paleolithic. Steve Jobs was reported to be extremely worried about the Amiga, but fortunately for him and Apple, Commodore had absolutely no idea what they were doing.'


Year created: 1991

Company: Be Inc.

What happened? Apple offered to buy Be Inc. for $US125 million in 1995, but CEO Jean-Louis Gassée wanted $US200 million. Apple bought Steve Jobs's NeXT instead, and Palm acquired the company's assets for $US11 million in 2001.


Year created: 1985

Company: IBM

What happened? Microsoft and IBM joined to create OS/2 in 1985, but when Windows 3 became a huge hit, the partnership unravelled in 1990. Though no longer supported by IBM, the operating system still runs on many ATMs today.


Year created: 1987

Company: Acorn Computers Ltd

What happened? Developed in five months, Arthur was supposed to be a short-term scab, but it stuck around until the RISC OS was developed in 1989. That operating system is still in use, but we don't know anyone who uses it.

Desktop Linux

Year created: ~1996

Company: Linux desktops are open source.

What happened? Linux is still around, but hasn't hit the mainstream. Only the truly tech-savvy are die-hard Linux users. But it's gonna take more than that to gain traction with the average Joe.

Inferno (operating system)

Year created: 1996

Company: Bell Labs

What happened? It's an open-source operating system, so there are versions of it still out there. But they don't work above the basement floor.


Year created: 1992

Company: BAE Systems

What happened? Valued for their security, this operating system and its successors are still used in military technology.

HP's WebOS is as good as dead.

Year created: 2009

Company: Palm, then HP

What happened? Palm created WebOS as an answer to Apple's iOS for iPhone. The OS first launched on the Palm Pre smartphone and was considered to be one of the best iPhone alternatives at the time. HP bought Palm (and WebOS) for $US1.2 billion in 2010. In 2011, HP attempted to make a smartphone and tablet running WebOS, but they were both duds. HP has all but given up on WebOS and the operating system is now open source.

Nokia replaced Symbian with Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system.

Year created: 1998

Company: Nokia (bought Symbian in 2008)

What happened? Once the most popular mobile OS on the planet, Nokia decided to phase out Symbian in favour of Microsoft's Windows Phone operating system. Today, all of Nokia's flagship devices run Windows Phone 8.

MS-DOS was Microsoft's first pre-Windows OS

Year created: 1981

Company: Microsoft

What happened? If you had an IBM PC in the '80s and early '90s, you're probably familiar with MS-DOS. Microsoft bought an operating system called 86-DOS from Seattle Computer Products and turned it into an operating system for the new Intel 8086 PC. It was renamed MS-DOS, and eventually went through eight versions before development stopped in 2000.

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