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Lost in Cyberspace

Alternatives to Windows easy to find on Web

This article was originally published on July 7, 1998 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

Last week, we looked at the fastest-growing operating system for personal computers on the market today: Linux, a Unix-style operating system with several desktop interfaces available, has grown from being strictly a hobbyists' platform to outpacing IBM's OS/2 as the leading alternative to Windows 95/98 for Pentium-based computers.

For those willing to look, though, there are even more operating sytems out there that will run on a variety of hardware platforms. Of course, with the Intel Pentium the dominant hardware, that's also the platform with the greatest choice of operating systems.

As with Linux, finding software to run on these alternative operating systems can take some doing. The fact is, the latest office suite or hottest game simply is not going to be available for these other environments. Still, for most of them, you can find the essentials: word processor, telecommunications program, spreadsheet, database. With any of the operating systems below, your best bet for finding software is on the Internet – see the column of May 26, 1998, "Software for the Asking", on finding shareware, freeware and public domain software online.

There are at least two sites that offer a list of operating systems with links to other sites supporting them: Yahoo's and mine. While my site lists a number of operating systems not on Yahoo's, Yahoo's is more in-depth (three-dozen operating systems) and is updated a lot more often (hey, they're a highly staffed business and I'm a misguided hobbyist).

So, what are some of these different operating systems?

There's still OS/2. It has been redesigned as a network server-client package to compete with Windows NT. Applications are getting tougher to find, but you can find links off the above page on IBM's site.

And, in a weird meeting of past and future, IBM has just issued a new Year 2000-compliant upgrade of PC DOS 7, PC DOS 2000. It will allow anyone still using PC DOS or MS-DOS (and you might be surprised how many businesses, schools and government agencies are still using DOS on their networks) to avoid the Year 2000 problems, as well as adding hardware support for new peripherals (CD-ROMs, PCMCIA, tape backups) and support for the new Euro currency symbol.

Before leaving IBM's Web site, you also might want to back up a level from the OS/2 or PC-DOS pages to their general operating system menu. There you'll find links to info on JavaOS and a handful of mainframe environments: AIX, OS/390, OS/400 and more. Useless to most of us but still interesting.

An all-in-one alternative to Windows is the descendant of the Geoworks Ensemble desktop suite, now called New Deal. New Deal runs in the Geos environment, which is more a desktop replacement than true operating system, running on top of DOS like Windows 3.1 did. But it includes a host of applications with the desktop – word processor, Web browser, database, spreadsheet and more. It will run on older PCs that cannot handle Windows 95/98 – '386s and even '286s.

A British outfit has upgraded the old GEM operating system that ran on PCs and Atari STs, and retitled it MagiC. It's available for Ataris, PowerPC Macs and Pentium-based PCs. It is a desktop-style operating system, little different from Windows or MacOS, and supposedly will run most applications for the Atari version of GEM.

And if we dare do a column on operating systems and skip Amiga, the e-mail will be nasty for a solid week. So, to learn about the Amiga OS and its Workbench desktop, visit With Gateway – yes, that Gateway – now owning the rights to Amiga and promising a new, updated version of the computer, AmigaOS may yet make a comeback.