Alternative Operating Systems - Part 1

Free Operating Systems - Just Linux? Or are there other options out there?

Let me start by introducing myself. I'm an IBM employee since about 7 years. I used to do OS/2 support "back in the day". I then migrated to AIX then to Tivoli and now I'm about to move into Security & Privacy services. I have run every version of OS/2 since 1.3 and I have dabbled in the earlier versions as well. I have even run OS/2 for PowerPC, that most elusive of OS/2 versions. Operating Systems in general has been an interest ever since I got my first computer (a Commodore VIC 20, and yes I still have one of those at home). My second computer was a PC, a Spectravideo-838 aka. XPress 16. A lowly 8088 with 640K RAM with dual 5 1/4 inch diskdrives. My current machine is a Dual Pentium II Xeon monster with 1024MB RAM.


I hope you'll enjoy this new column about Operating Systems. Are you looking for a few more operating systems to occupy space on your harddrive? Then read on!


The breadth of Operating Systems has probably never been wider than it is now. If you want to, you can fill up your entire harddisk with just operating systems and not much else!


There are some obvious choices, but lets concentrate on what you can get over the net, and for free.


Everybody and their dog knows about Be and BeOS. But if you ask me BeOS is about to take the same route as OS/2 - maintenance mode. With Be's shift in focus to the BeIA (for Internet Appliance) all new OS releases will be accidental and will always be behind what's in BeIA. Unless Mac OS X gets ported to Intel BeOS is the best way to make a PC more Mac-like. If you're serious about BeOS I suggest you buy the Professional Edition (I did).


A newcomer to the "free" game is QNX. QNX is a real-time operating system, it's POSIX-compliant and has a GUI. This means that it's a UNIX-workalike. Still the GUI, not X-based, is a bit different. It has something of an Amiga Workbench feeling over it.


For the really adventurous there's Plan 9. Plan 9 was begotten by the people who made Unix. They decided they wanted to start fresh and build a new operating system because "The problems with Unix are too deep to be fixed". Plan 9 is a distributed operating system, computing resources from many machines will look and act like the same computer as far as the user is concerned. For someone like me who started out with MS-DOS in the distant past the Plan 9 system and it's GUI, RIO, is a very cool but not easily understood beast. It has a bash-like shell which makes it easier for Unix-converts.


I haven't really touched on all the Unices you can get. Don't worry. I'll dedicate a column to them.


Let's say you're not really all that excited about installing a new operating system right now. You can still try the "look and feel" of other OSes. If you wanna get a feel for Unix/Linux I recommend 2 things: bash and XFree86/2.

Bash is one of the most popular shells for Unix and is very featurerich compared to OS/2s CMD.EXE. If commandline isn't really your thing and you want a more up-to-date look at Unix/Linux, I recommend getting XFree86/2 and GNOME/2. Whether it's simpler to just install a Linux partition than to get XFree86/2 and GNOME/2 up and running is a matter of experience.


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