Super UserObscure Operating Systems
[+33] [32] DLH
[2009-08-12 19:59:47]
[ operating-systems haiku ]

Do you ever get the urge to try random obscure operating systems? I think it's sometimes just fun to use systems that are not widely used. What obscure operating systems have you tried (or have thought about trying)? I've been looking into Haiku [1] lately.

Why the downvote? I've seen many similarly styled questions here on superuser. Some of them have become quite popular. This question doesn't seem to contradict the standards in the FAQ. It is certainly not subjective; it simply asks other superusers what obscure systems they have looked into. - DLH
sometimes people like to downvote because they are bored. - Stefano Borini
[+24] [2009-08-12 20:15:06] Chris Pietschmann

ReactOS [1]

ReactOS running Mozilla Thunderbird

ReactOS® is a free, modern operating system based on the design of Windows® XP/2003. Written completely from scratch, it aims to follow the Windows® architecture designed by Microsoft from the hardware level right through to the application level. This is not a Linux based system, and shares none of the unix architecture.

The main goal of the ReactOS project is to provide an operating system which is binary compatible with Windows. This will allow your Windows applications and drivers to run as they would on your Windows system. Additionally, the look and feel of the Windows operating system is used, such that people accustomed to the familiar user interface of Windows® would find using ReactOS straightforward. The ultimate goal of ReactOS is to allow you to remove Windows® and install ReactOS without the end user noticing the change.


+1 I actually looked into this one the other day. - DLH
It was based on the design of NT4 when I first heard of it :) Mind you, WINE was trying to clone the APIs of Windows 3.1 when I first heard of that. - U62
(1) It is/will be good for compatibility with old software. It is impossible for anybody to compete with MS when talking about new MS systems. - liori
(1) When it's done it'll be absolutely amazing. As of right now, it has a tendency to be more unstable than Windows 95. - JamesGecko
Very promising project, but yeah, right now stability is an issue. Most times it boots for me, but uptime is measure in minutes typically. If I had time, I'd love to join the project. - Brian Knoblauch
This would be great for running in a virtual machine... Couple it with VirtualBox and you've got a great way to run Windows apps that WINE pukes on. - redwall_hp
(1) @redwall_hp Maybe not... ReactOS shares a lot of code with WINE. - JamesGecko
[+16] [2009-08-12 20:12:28] Chris Pietschmann

MenuetOS [1]

MenuetOS Screenshot

MenuetOS is an Operating System in development for the PC written entirely in 32/64 bit assembly language, and released under the License [2]. It supports 32/64 bit x86 assembly programming for smaller, faster and less resource hungry applications.

Menuet has no roots within UNIX or the POSIX standards, nor is it based on any operating system. The design goal has been to remove the extra layers between different parts of an OS, which normally complicate programming and create bugs.

Menuet's application structure is not specifically reserved for asm programming since the header can be produced with practically any other language. However, the overall application programming design is intended for easy 32/64 bit asm programming. Menuet's responsive GUI is easy to handle with assembly language.


[+16] [2009-08-12 20:47:11] Yoann LE TOUCHE

BeOS [1]


(2) I loved working with BeOS. Gorgeous interface, unambiguous underpinnings... just divine :) - moobaa
Unfortunately, BeOS looks to be dead now. :-( - Brian Knoblauch
(3) Haiku is based on BeOS. - DLH
[+13] [2009-08-12 20:32:31] Troggy

Windows 3.1 or earlier.

I wouldn't normaly suggest any windows product for something like this. But, there is enough people now that have never seen nor touched windows 3.1 or earlier. It is a good wakeup call on how far we have come in the windows world.

And if you are really cool. Windows 3.11 for Workgroups

(4) Windows 1.03, it looked like Windows 7 does. - grawity
[+12] [2009-08-13 12:31:26] grawity

Haiku [1], a BeOS clone, is quite nice, and resembles Unix a little.


Looking forward to the Alpha release . . . soon - Boxdog
Ridiculous that they don't have WEP support, though. - new123456
Who the hell uses WEP these days, though? - grawity
(1) @grawity They have no WPA support either. You should be asking who the hell uses an encrypted network?, to which the response is Everybody. - new123456
[+9] [2009-08-12 20:38:15] bill weaver

OS/2 [1] - Great OS for its time. I believe OS/2 is destined to be the most important operating system, and possibly program, of all time. As the successor to DOS, which has over 10,000,000 systems in use, it creates incredible opportunities for everyone involved with PCs. -- Bill Gates


(2) Absolutely a superior design to Windows at the time. Took Windows years to catch up with OS/2! - Brian Knoblauch
(1) +1 as i was actively involved in the developement of OS/2 Warp, good to see it still around as eCommStation ... or as the funny folks over at L'Inq put it two years ago: OS/2 is 20 years old - dead but still walking :) - community_owned
[+8] [2009-08-12 20:15:20] Scott Dorman

Geos [1] (GeoWorks). Used by the very first versions of America Online when they changed to a graphical interface. It was a full GUI that fit on a single 3.5" floppy with room for both the OS and an application.


I used to use this at School. Awesome tetris game :p - EvilChookie
It was also used on early versions of the Nokia Communicator cellphone before they switched to Symbian. - U62
(1) Heck, I used this on a Commodore 64, way back when! :) - geoffc
[+8] [2009-09-05 22:04:15] nos

I've fiddled around a lot with Plan 9 [1]

Great OS, made by the same people that originally made Unix. It's and a research project and not that modern anymore. It's taken the unix philosophy to the next level and it's a bit sad unix didn't adopt these philosopies , aldthough a few have crept in.


I heard it was From Outer Space? - MT_Head
@MT_Head, Bell Labs is an organization secretly run by extraterrestrials (people from the viscinity of Betelgeuse). So, yes. - new123456
@new123456 - Plan 9 From Outer Space - widely regarded as the worst movie ever made. - MT_Head
@MT_Head The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - the only reason anybody has heard of Betelguese. And yes, I got the reference ;) - new123456
@new123456 - I think Bell Labs has more in common with the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation (Share and Enjoy!) than with Ford Prefect. - MT_Head
[+7] [2009-08-12 20:11:24] Troggy

Apple IIgs System 6. Impressive for its time.

Indeed. I think the Apple IIgs was actually the first computer our family owned. It's the first one I remember anyway. - DLH
[+6] [2009-08-12 20:43:29] Troggy

NeXTSTEP [1] - it only ran only thier proprietary computers for the most part, but it's cool to see where Mac OS X got a lot of its ideas/concepts from.


(1) NeXTStep 3 ran on any standard Intel PC as well as Solaris, HP, and NeXT boxes. NS easily had the best development tools I've ever used. - Graeme Perrow
[+6] [2009-08-13 06:02:07] Sam

Not everyone would consider it obscure, but OpenVMS [1] is certainly less common (In the desktop space anyway).


[+5] [2009-08-12 20:40:22] person-b [ACCEPTED]

MikeOS [1] - a nice, educational OS written entirely in 16-bit real mode assembly language!


(2) Can this question actually have any "correct" answer? :) - talonx
[+5] [2009-10-13 07:06:18] torbengb

How about Andrew Tanenbaum's Minix [1]? For anyone starting with OS development, this is a must, a classic. I'm surprised nobody mentioned it yet.


+1 for Minix. Usually popular in colleges courses where they teach OS. - talonx
@talonx we used FreeBSD as it is an OS you can find in the real world which is better documented (outside the code) than the linux kernel. - mbx
[+4] [2009-08-13 04:43:31] JamesGecko

There are a few rather graphically impressive obscure operating systems. You may have trouble actually trying the latter two. I particularly wish I had the hardware to mess around with MorphOS.

  • Syllable [1] (open source, x86, inspired by AmigaOS)
  • SkyOS [2] (proprietary, x86. In a state of flux as the author experiments with using Linux & NetBSD kernels to keep hardware compatibility up)
  • MorphOS [3] (proprietary, Pegasos, some Amiga models, EFIKA)

[+4] [2009-08-13 05:18:34] Ronald Pottol

NeXTSTEP shipped for 5 different arch (NeXT hardware (68k), SPARC, PARISC, x86 (damn, forget 5), and was in some stage of development for at least 3 (88k, Hobit, Alpha) more, an you could run app in NT (was that number 5?) and I think Solaris. It is the direct ancestor of OS X.

OS/2 was the thing, 15 years ago.

Beos was nifty, but missed it's shot. It took all of 7 seconds to go from finishing hardware boot on a dual Pentium Pro to ready for you to log into the GUI.

EROS seemed nifty, never tried it,

Booted Oberon once or twice. Nicolas Wirth's OS for 68k mac hardware.

[+4] [2009-08-12 21:11:31] Manu

I will try DexOS [1], when I get a chance. Looks original :)


From the wikipedia article :

DexOS, is a free and open source 32-bit games console type operating system for 32-bit x86 computers. It was written entirely in assembly language using FASM (flat assembler). The operating system's GUI was inspired by modern video game consoles but it also includes a command line interface. It was designed to boot from a 1.44 MB floppy disk and its kernel is less than 100KB. DexOS can also be booted from a CD, USB flash drive or hard drive.


(1) I wonder if it's possible to port interactive fiction runtimes for use with this. I'm not essentially a programmer :) but I hope it's possible given DexOS's theme. Thanks for mentioning this. - Isxek
@Isxek I'm definitely going to try something like that this summer, if I have enough time! - AndrejaKo
[+4] [2009-08-12 21:32:36] Graphics Noob

N.A.C.H.O.S. [1] (Not Another Completely Heuristic Operating System)

A small, open source, educational OS used in a lot of Computer Science OS courses


++ This has by far the best name here. - new123456
[+4] [2009-08-12 22:11:30] Joakim Elofsson

AROS [1] Research Operating System, AmigaOS clone for x86. It's based on Amiga OS 3.1 APIs. The A in AROS was originally Amiga.


[+3] [2009-08-12 20:04:50] juanjux

CP/M on my old Amstrad CPC664 (you used a boot disk), it was not unkown but certainly it was obscure.

We also had CPM on the Commodore 128 - Jim C
(4) CP/M was hardly obscure - it was the standard business operating system before PCs and MSDOS took over. - U62
[+2] [2009-10-13 07:17:04] Snark

QNX [1] was funny to play with at a time. It's a very small and light real-time OS mostly used for embedded systems, although it runs (ran?) on PCs.

They had a demo version booting from a floppy disk (1.44 Mb!), complete with TCP/IP, a graphical interface and a web browser.


[+2] [2009-08-12 22:28:45] John Fouhy

I remember running (I think) Caldera OpenDOS as a replacement for MS-DOS. A DOS with mutli-tasking!

That was before we moved to Windows 3.1, then OS/2 Warp..

(1) I did DOS multi-tasking with IBM's Topview, then later on Quarterdeck's DESQview. - Brian Knoblauch
[+1] [2009-09-06 03:38:02] kloucks

The OASIS ("Online Application System Interactive Software") Operating system written by Phase One Systems was a multitasking OS that ran on a 4mhz Z80 chip. RM-COBOL and BASIC and z80 assembler were the development tools

[+1] [2010-02-24 17:29:49] Peter M

The original and best OS-9 [1] by Microware. Not the Apple OS of the similar name. In the late '80's I was running OS-9 on a Tandy color computer with 512k of memory, on a 6809. This OS had genuine pre-emptive multi tasking. It is a great system for embedded work.


[+1] [2009-08-12 22:28:26] U62

VSTa [1]. Microkernels were quite the thing in the '90s and VSTa was a research operating system that had a decent following but never quite achieved the following of other open-source unix-alikes.


[+1] [2009-08-13 10:37:21] LKM

Oberon [1] is awesome. I've written about it here [2]. It's a text-based graphical zoomable operating system, and in addition to booting with it, you can run it as an application inside other operating systems.


[0] [2010-06-09 11:19:27] talonx

Minix. Once tried installing Minix, Win 98 (back in 2000) and Linux on the same disk. Also, Syllable OS - thought am not sure how obscure it is now.

[0] [2010-06-09 12:19:36] Mpol

UNICOS [1] - a kind of Cray's Unix.


[0] [2011-01-11 17:28:28] maxelost

I will suggest DEC's TOPS-20 [1] (aka TWENEX), popular from about 1975 to 1985. It reminds a bit about OpenVMS. The shell's user interface is interesting in particular, with immediate command help and guiding words.

An excellent emulator can be found here:


[0] [2011-05-16 07:58:22] mbx

Have you ever heard of the Cassette Aided Operation System called CAOS? It was delivered with the KC 85 [1] home computer built around a Z80 clone.


[0] [2011-05-16 08:32:36] Anuj More

Xinu [1] is a nice educational OS developed at Purdue University.

I installed Red Hat 9 a few days ago on a VM.
By no means "obscure", but amazing how we traveled from that Linux version to the current one)


[0] [2011-05-17 03:40:13] blahbaa

I haven't tried neither one of them but I was kind of interested in Singularity [1] and Xenix [2] by Microsoft. (Xenix is Microsoft's version of Unix.)


[0] [2009-09-17 20:10:36] community_owned

I sometimes power up IBM's MVS under the Hercules emulator. No real need, other than nostalgia for a misspent mainframe youth: