Other Operating Systems

14 mins read
Computer OS

While the Big Three Operating Systems (Microsoft Windows, Apple macOS, and various distributions of Linux) dominate the operating system landscape, they are by no means the only choices available. Numerous other operating systems offer unique features and benefits, tailored to specific uses or audiences. Some of them are a part of the past, but deserve a mention here. On the other hand, some of them (e.g. Android) are popular today, and who knows, someday we may see one of the following Operating Systems surge ahead of others. Here are a few noteworthy ones:

UNIX:The Powerhouse of Operating Systems

UNIX, an enduring, powerful, and influential operating system, has been an integral part of the software universe for over five decades. Invented in the 1970s at Bell Labs, UNIX laid the groundwork for many of the features and design philosophies found in today’s operating systems.

Inception and Evolution

UNIX was born out of the ashes of a failed project at Bell Labs named Multics, which aimed to develop a time-sharing system. When Bell Labs pulled out of the project, two of its computer scientists, Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie, set out to create a simpler, more usable system. The result was UNIX, developed on a salvaged PDP-7 minicomputer.

The earliest version of UNIX, known as First Edition UNIX, was presented in 1971. However, it was the 1973 edition, rewritten in the C programming language by Dennis Ritchie, which truly revolutionized the system. The decision to write UNIX in C, a high-level language, was groundbreaking, as it made the operating system more portable across different hardware platforms.

Spread and Influence

UNIX’s initial spread was significantly driven by Bell Labs’ decision to license it cheaply to academic institutions. This led to a wide proliferation of UNIX in universities and resulted in the creation of a UNIX variant named the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD).

In the corporate world, UNIX was adopted and modified by various tech companies, leading to commercial versions like Sun Microsystems’ Solaris and IBM’s AIX. Each variant incorporated new features and improvements, though they all adhered to certain core UNIX principles.

UNIX’s design philosophy and syntax have directly influenced many popular operating systems, most notably Linux and macOS. In fact, macOS is a certified version of UNIX, while Linux is a UNIX clone, written from scratch by Linus Torvalds.

Key Features and Philosophy

UNIX’s design philosophy is characterized by simplicity and elegance. It advocates for small, simple programs that do one thing well and can be combined to perform complex tasks. This modularity and the ability to use ‘pipes’ to connect programs together make UNIX exceptionally powerful and flexible.

UNIX is also known for its robust security and multitasking capabilities. It is a multi-user system, meaning multiple users can operate the system simultaneously without interfering with each other, and a multi-tasking system, allowing for several tasks to be run concurrently.

Legacy and Future

Today, UNIX and its principles continue to live on in many forms. From the servers powering the internet to smartphones running iOS or Android (which is Linux-based), millions of devices run on operating systems rooted in UNIX.

The future of UNIX and UNIX-like systems remains promising. Their open-source variants, such as FreeBSD and the many distributions of Linux, continue to be developed and improved upon, ensuring that the pioneering spirit of UNIX is set to carry on its legacy in the world of computing for many more years.

UNIX’s influence is evident in every corner of the modern computing world. Its enduring success can be attributed to its adaptability, elegant design philosophy, and the vibrant community of developers that it fostered, truly standing as a testament to the power of innovative thought in the realm of technology.

Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD): The Academic Heir of UNIX

Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) is an influential branch of the UNIX family of operating systems, born out of the University of California, Berkeley. Renowned for its robustness and elegant design, BSD has been a cornerstone of UNIX-like operating systems and has spawned various derivatives that are widely used today.

Origins and Development

BSD’s origins trace back to the 1970s, when the University of California, Berkeley, obtained a license to use and modify UNIX from AT&T’s Bell Labs. The university’s Computer Systems Research Group (CSRG) then began distributing their modifications to UNIX’s source code as the Berkeley Software Distribution.

Early versions of BSD were a collection of add-ons to the original UNIX. However, with the release of 3BSD in 1979, BSD became a complete operating system in its own right, having replaced all of AT&T’s original UNIX code with its own.

4.3 BSD, released in 1986, was a particularly notable version as it was the first to be widely adopted outside of the University of California. It introduced TCP/IP networking utilities and the fast file system, which became standards in subsequent UNIX-like systems.

BSD and the Lawsuits

The 1990s saw BSD entangled in a legal dispute with AT&T, who claimed that BSD contained proprietary AT&T UNIX code. This led to a temporary halt in BSD’s development and distribution. The lawsuit was eventually settled in 1994, and the result was 4.4BSD-Lite, which removed all disputed AT&T code.

BSD Variants and Legacy

Post-lawsuit, 4.4BSD-Lite became the foundation for several BSD variants, each evolving in its own direction. These include FreeBSD, NetBSD, and OpenBSD, each with its unique focus on performance, portability, and security, respectively.

FreeBSD, in particular, has been the basis for other systems such as DragonFly BSD and the desktop-focused GhostBSD. Perhaps most famously, elements of FreeBSD form part of the core of Apple’s macOS, demonstrating the lasting legacy of BSD.

Key Features and Philosophy

BSD, like its UNIX parent, is known for its stable, efficient design and robust networking capabilities. BSD licenses are regarded as permissive, allowing for broad freedom in using, modifying, and redistributing the source code. This is in contrast to the copyleft GNU General Public License used by Linux, which requires modifications to be released under the same license.

The significance of BSD in the landscape of operating systems is undeniable. From underpinning the functionality of powerful servers to contributing to the foundation of macOS, BSD’s influence is widespread. While it may not have the spotlight like Windows, macOS, or Linux, BSD remains a stalwart representative of open-source principles, continuing to thrive and evolve in various forms. Its enduring legacy serves as a testament to the influence of academic research on the progression of real-world technology.

FreeBSD: An Advanced, Open-Source Operating System

FreeBSD is a robust, powerful, and advanced operating system derived from the original Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD), a version of UNIX developed at the University of California, Berkeley. Being under constant development for more than four decades, FreeBSD boasts stability, performance, and an array of features that have allowed it to carve out a niche in the world of operating systems.

Architecture and Design

FreeBSD uses a monolithic kernel, where the operating system kernel and device drivers run in kernel space, which allows for faster execution and communication between components. However, some modules, like file systems and the network stack, can be built as loadable kernel modules and inserted or removed at runtime.

Networking and Security

One of FreeBSD’s standout features is its robust networking stack, making it a favored choice for network-intensive tasks and server deployments. It includes advanced networking features, such as a stateful firewall, IPsec and SSL libraries, and extensive support for various network protocols.

FreeBSD also places a significant emphasis on security, offering various security-related features, such as secure levels, jail facility for process isolation, mandatory access controls, and various cryptographic libraries.


FreeBSD can run on a wide range of hardware architectures, from personal computers and servers (using the common x86 and x86-64 architectures) to various ARM devices and even the Sony PlayStation 4.

Ports Collection and Package Management

FreeBSD offers a unique system for software installation called the Ports Collection, a set of makefiles that simplifies the process of compiling and installing third-party software on your system. Each application has a directory (or “port”) in the Ports Collection that contains these makefiles. By navigating to an application’s directory and typing ‘make install clean’, you can automatically fetch, compile, and install software.

For those who prefer pre-compiled binaries, FreeBSD also provides the “pkg” package management tool, similar to apt or yum on Linux.

Community and Documentation

One of FreeBSD’s strengths lies in its vibrant community of users and developers. It is maintained by a core team of developers, and contributions are also made by the wider community. The project values code correctness and quality documentation, making it easier for users to understand the system’s workings.

FreeBSD is more than just an operating system; it’s a comprehensive platform that comes with a complete set of developer tools, libraries, and an advanced packaging system. It’s used by various well-known platforms such as Netflix for its streaming servers, and WhatsApp for its messaging infrastructure.

For anyone interested in an advanced, open-source operating system with a rich heritage, FreeBSD presents a compelling option.

Solaris: A Powerful Enterprise-Level Operating System

Solaris, an advanced enterprise-level operating system, has played a significant role in the world of UNIX operating systems. Initially developed by Sun Microsystems and now maintained by Oracle, Solaris is known for its scalability, security, and robustness.

Historical Development

The development of Solaris began in the late 1980s as a variant of the UNIX System V Release 4 (SVR4). This was the result of a collaborative project between Sun Microsystems and AT&T’s Unix System Laboratories. The first release, Solaris 2.0, came out in 1992. Sun Microsystems was later acquired by Oracle in 2010, and the OS has been developed and marketed as Oracle Solaris since then.

Key Features and Innovations

Solaris introduced several innovative features to the UNIX ecosystem:

  1. ZFS Filesystem: The Zettabyte File System (ZFS) is a highly scalable and robust file system that offers pooled storage, data integrity verification, and support for high storage capacities. ZFS eliminates the need for partitioning and makes filesystem management easier and more efficient.
  2. DTrace: DTrace, a dynamic tracing framework, allows developers to explore the inner workings of the system and applications in real-time, enabling the fine-tuning of performance and troubleshooting of complex software problems.
  3. Containers and Zones: Solaris introduced the concept of operating system-level virtualization through Solaris Containers and Zones. This technology allows the creation of secure and isolated environments in which applications run as if they were on separate systems, enhancing security and efficiency.
  4. Predictive Self-Healing: Solaris can predict hardware and software faults and automatically apply remedies to prevent system failures, increasing system reliability.
  5. Crossbow Network Virtualization: Crossbow provides built-in network virtualization, allowing multiple virtual network devices that can be used to build complex network topologies with the software.

Usage and Legacy

Solaris is generally found in environments that require high uptime, stability, and scalability, such as banking, telecoms, and other major industries. It supports both SPARC and x86 systems, allowing it to run on a wide variety of hardware.

Despite facing competition from Linux and other free Unix-like systems, Solaris has maintained its position in high-demand sectors that prioritize stability and performance.

Under Oracle’s stewardship, Solaris continues to be developed and updated. Oracle Solaris 11, the latest version as of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, brings further enhancements to system performance, virtualization, security, and cloud readiness.

For organizations seeking a powerful, enterprise-grade operating system with cutting-edge features and a focus on stability and performance, Solaris remains a compelling choice.

Haiku: A Continuation of a Legendary Legacy

Haiku OS is an open-source operating system that offers a unique and streamlined computing experience, inspired by the now-discontinued BeOS. BeOS, renowned for its simplicity and responsiveness, was an ahead-of-its-time operating system designed for personal computing in the late ’90s. Despite its eventual commercial failure, it gained a cult following, inspiring a team of passionate developers to continue its legacy in the form of Haiku OS.

A Fresh Start, Rooted in History

The Haiku project began in 2001, when a group of dedicated BeOS users set out to create a new operating system that could replicate the features and capabilities of BeOS, while also being compatible with its software. Unlike other operating systems that inherit large amounts of code from Linux, Unix, or BSD, Haiku is written entirely from scratch but maintains BeOS compatibility and spirit.

Design Principles and Features

Haiku OS stands apart with its focus on personal computing, efficiency, and clean, consistent design. It uses an integrated and cohesive design that aims to be fast, efficient, and easy to use, taking full advantage of modern hardware.

The operating system offers a unique, stack-and-tile window management system, a filesystem with database-like functionality (BFS, or the Be File System), and pervasive multithreading that allows for smooth performance even under heavy load.

In terms of applications, Haiku comes with a collection of native apps developed by the Haiku project, including a web browser (WebPositive), media player, and image editor. It also supports a variety of third-party software.

Development and Current State

As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, Haiku OS remains in a perpetual state of development. The dedicated volunteer community continually works on updating and improving the system. Haiku OS R1 Beta 3, released in July 2021, brings many updates and improvements, including better hardware support, more polished user interfaces, and a host of new and updated applications.

While Haiku may not have the wide-ranging software compatibility or extensive hardware support of more mainstream operating systems, it does offer a uniquely efficient and enjoyable user experience for those willing to try something different.

Whether you’re a former BeOS user longing for its streamlined approach or someone simply interested in exploring alternatives to mainstream operating systems, Haiku OS offers a unique blend of historic inspiration and modern innovation in the world of operating systems.

ReactOS: An Endeavor to Craft an Open-Source Windows Clone

ReactOS is a fascinating venture in the realm of operating systems, with its audacious goal to develop an open-source alternative to Microsoft Windows. It aims to mirror the design of Windows NT, providing full binary compatibility for Windows applications and drivers.

Origins and Evolution

The seeds for ReactOS were sown in the late ’90s, initially under the name “FreeWin95,” with the ambition to create a free clone of Microsoft Windows 95. However, the project quickly realized that the future lay with the more modern Windows NT architecture, and so redirected its efforts, evolving into what we now know as ReactOS.

Unique Goals and Challenges

ReactOS’s stated objective is to allow Windows software and drivers to run as they would on a Windows operating system, without requiring any emulation. This direct compatibility focus sets ReactOS apart from projects like Wine, which also allows running Windows software but does so via a compatibility layer running on Unix-like systems.

Creating an operating system from scratch that is compatible with another well-established and complex system like Windows NT is a daunting task. As a result, despite decades of development, ReactOS remains in the alpha stage, as of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021.

Key Features

Despite its developmental stage, ReactOS provides several impressive features:

  1. Windows Compatibility: ReactOS aims to support existing Windows applications and drivers directly, without requiring any modification.
  2. Open-Source: As an open-source project, ReactOS is freely available to anyone to use, modify, and distribute.
  3. Lightweight: ReactOS has low system requirements compared to modern versions of Windows, making it possible to run on older hardware.

Usage and Development

Given its alpha status, ReactOS is not recommended for everyday use or on production systems. However, it can be a fascinating system to explore for those interested in operating system development or who wish to contribute to the project.

ReactOS’s development is ongoing, with regular updates and improvements made by the project’s dedicated community of developers. Its long-term goal remains to provide a robust, fully compatible open-source alternative to Windows.

ReactOS is an ambitious undertaking that offers an intriguing glimpse into what a Windows-compatible open-source operating system could look like. Its continued development underscores the passion and dedication of the open-source community.

Chrome OS: A Cloud-Centric Approach to Computing

Chrome OS is a unique operating system developed by Google that’s designed to offer a fast, simple, and secure computing experience. It leverages the power of cloud computing and gives users access to their data and applications wherever there’s an internet connection.

Evolution and Design Philosophy

Introduced by Google in 2009 and officially launched in 2011, Chrome OS sought to reimagine the traditional operating system. The driving idea behind Chrome OS was to create a lightweight, robust, and secure system that caters to the ever-growing cloud-based lifestyle.

The operating system was designed to be lean and fast, offering quick boot times and a streamlined user interface. The focus shifted from heavy local storage and desktop software to cloud-based applications and services, with most user data stored online rather than on the device itself.

Key Features

One of the defining features of Chrome OS is its web-centric approach. The centerpiece of the system is the Google Chrome browser, which serves as the primary interface for users to access applications and services.

Chrome OS supports web applications, including Google’s suite of productivity tools such as Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides. Moreover, Chrome OS devices can run Android apps and Linux software, greatly expanding their software ecosystem.

Automatic updates is another distinctive feature. Chrome OS updates itself in the background, ensuring that the system is always up-to-date with the latest security patches and feature enhancements, without causing disruptions to the user.

Security and Simplicity

Security is a cornerstone of Chrome OS. The operating system features built-in virus protection, sandboxing, verified boot, and encryption, offering multiple layers of protection against threats.

Simplicity is another strength of Chrome OS. The operating system offers a clean, distraction-free user interface, allowing users to focus on their tasks. Setting up a Chrome OS device is straightforward, requiring just a Google account to get started.

Use Cases and Devices

Chrome OS is primarily found on Chromebooks – laptops that are designed to be affordable, portable, and long-lasting. These qualities have made Chromebooks popular among students and educators, leading to widespread adoption in educational institutions.

Moreover, Google’s push for Android and Linux app compatibility has broadened the appeal of Chrome OS, making it a versatile platform for a wider range of tasks.

The Future of Chrome OS

As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, Google continues to develop and evolve Chrome OS, regularly releasing updates that enhance its capabilities. With the ever-increasing shift towards cloud computing and remote work, Chrome OS is well-positioned to cater to the needs of modern users.

In conclusion, Chrome OS offers a distinctive take on what an operating system can be, emphasizing speed, simplicity, and security. For those who spend most of their computer time within a browser and rely heavily on cloud services, Chrome OS presents an appealing alternative to traditional operating systems.

Android: Revolutionizing the Mobile World

Android, a name that resonates with billions of smartphone users worldwide, is an open-source operating system owned by Google. It powers a diverse array of devices, from smartphones and tablets to televisions, cars, and even wristwatches. Android’s flexibility, large user base, and developer-friendly environment have made it the undisputed king of mobile operating systems.

Birth and Rise to Prominence

Founded in 2003 by a team of technology visionaries, Android Inc. initially aimed to develop an advanced operating system for digital cameras. However, seeing the vast potential in the smartphone market, they pivoted their focus towards creating a mobile device operating system.

Google acquired Android Inc. in 2005, recognizing the potential of its approach. The first commercial version, Android 1.0, launched in 2008, powering the HTC Dream smartphone. Android’s journey from then to its dominant market position today is a testament to its innovative design, openness, and the vibrant ecosystem of developers, manufacturers, and users it fostered.

Open Source and Customizable

One of Android’s defining traits is its open-source nature, made available through the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). This openness empowers device manufacturers and developers to modify and expand the OS, leading to a diverse array of Android versions and device-specific interfaces, such as Samsung’s One UI and Xiaomi’s MIUI.

Rich Application Ecosystem

Android’s massive user base has spurred the development of millions of applications, available via the Google Play Store and other alternative marketplaces. From games and productivity tools to fitness trackers and social media apps, the Android platform caters to every conceivable user need.

Innovation and Evolution

Android has seen numerous updates since its inception, each bringing new features, enhanced performance, and improved security. As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, the latest version is Android 12, characterized by a revamped design called “Material You,” enhanced privacy features, and optimizations for varied device types.

Beyond Smartphones

Android’s reach extends beyond smartphones. It powers Android TV devices, offering a smart, connected TV experience, and Android Auto, providing an optimized interface for use in vehicles. Android Wear (now WearOS), brings the Android experience to wearable devices like smartwatches.

The Future of Android

As the mobile landscape continues to evolve, Android is poised to adapt and innovate. Its open nature invites continuous development and experimentation, while its massive user base ensures its relevance in the ever-changing tech landscape.

Android stands as a remarkable feat of technology, transforming the mobile world with its open, adaptable, and user-centric approach. Whether it’s in the palm of your hand, on your wrist, or in your car, Android continues to redefine our digital experience.

These are just a few examples of the diversity that exists in the world of operating systems. Whether you’re seeking advanced networking capabilities, nostalgia for a bygone era, an open-source Windows equivalent, or a lightweight, web-focused system, there’s likely an operating system designed to meet your needs.

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