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Resistance is futile ...

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This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on March 9, 2001
(Issue 1910, Alternative Operating Systems)

Or is it? The Microsoft team may believe they are as all-powerful as the fearsome Borg aliens from the Star Trek shows, but just as Federation democracy (and an unlikely plot twist or two) can ultimately fend off the robotic bloodsuckers, so can the alternatives to Windows already on the market.

New operating systems are a pain to design, write, debug and get to market – expensive, too. Thus, new operating systems don't appear all that often – but on the upside, nor do they disappear all that quickly, not after a company has invested that much into creating one. Whichever system you go with, it's likely to be around – and supported – for some time to come.


One of the best-supported alternatives to Windows outside of Linux (see column No. 1907 for coverage of Linux support on the Web), BeOS is now available as a free download. This is only for personal, nonprofessional use – but if you're tired of Windows' constant crashes, of your computer freezing up, of waiting forever for the thing to boot, you might want to give BeOS a try. The BeOS user interface is built around the same friendly desktop environment we've all been using since the Apple Lisa came out in 1983 – point your mouse and click. And unlike Linux, BeOS was designed as a consumer-friendly environment. Not as powerful or as well-supported as Linux, BeOS seems easier to use.


NewDeal is a desktop replacement that runs on top of DOS, much as Windows 3.1 did. (And, in fact, even Windows Me is still running on top of DOS, which provides the operating system support for the Windows desktop.) NewDeal is the direct descendant of an old Windows desktop replacement called Geoworks on the PC, and GEOS on the Commodore 64/128. NewDeal also now features a free download – just a trial version, unlike BeOS, but still enough to give you a feel for the environment's friendliness, stability and usefulness. NewDeal's package includes a full office suite, plus Web browser. And NewDeal will run on any DOS-based computer from '286 on up – meaning you can now browse the Web on your old '286 or '386 computer. There isn't much in the way of third-party software support for NewDeal, but their all-in-one package can be the right solution for those looking for an Internet-ready computer at low cost.

OS/2 Warp

While it's early stated purpose in life – to replace Windows in the marketplace – never materialized, IBM's OS/2 continues to be developed and supported. Now in version 4, OS/2 Warp is being positioned as a workplace server/client environment – and it's not cheap, at almost $300, more than twice what Windows Me costs.

But there is a large base of OS/2 software already out there (even if most of the consumer programs are out of print and have to be found online), and it will also run most old DOS and Windows 3.x programs as well. (In fact, from all reports, it runs those older programs better than current versions of Windows do.)


The original OS-9 – and not Apple's transitionary version of the Mac operating system that briefly stole the name – started life more than 20 years ago. It's first appearance on the home computer market came in the early '80s when it was sold for the old Radio Shack TRS-80 line of computers.

This first appearance was an auspicious one, as OS-9 offered a full-fledged multitasking operating system for 8-bit computers! It was particularly popular with operators of computer bulletin board systems (BBSs) who could run their BBS off the same machine they used for their general home computing – while callers were logging into the BBS, the machine's owner could still be writing letters on the word processor, playing a game, or balancing her checkbook.

OS-9's developer, Microware, has continued to improve the product. Today it is sold and supported mostly for use on embedded systems and not standard home computers, but it can serve as a replacement for Windows or the Mac OS – the above link will take you to an online form where you can order a free evaluation copy for either your Pentium or Power PC system.

Not a whole lot available in the way of third-party applications for home users, but for hobbyists it can be an effective way of circumventing the Windows stranglehold on the market.

Business operating systems
Operating systems

Yahoo has two different directories for operating systems – one general, under the Computers and Internet directory, and one in the Business to Business directory. There's overlap in the two, of course, but also original listings – Microware (OS-9) shows up in the Business to Business directory, but not Computers and Internet. The same was true of another embedded OS, QNX (which also offers a free download for home use).