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How old are operating systems?
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-08-01 23:09:59

Today, it hit me that iOS is already ten years old. I consider iOS a relatively new and fresh operating system, but can we really say that at ten years old? In order to figure that out, I quickly threw together a little graph to visualise the age of both current and deprecated operating systems to get a better look at the age of operating systems.

It counts operating system age in terms of years from initial public release (excluding beta or preview releases) to the last release (in case of deprecated operating systems) or until today (in case of operating systems still in active development). I've included mainly popular, successful, consumer-oriented operating systems, leaving out more server or embedded oriented operating systems (such as UNIX and QNX), which tend to have vastly different needs and development cycles.

As far as the nomenclature goes, Windows 9x includes everything from Windows 1.0 to Windows ME, and Mac OS covers System 1 through Mac OS 9.2.2. Windows CE is currently called Windows Embedded Compact, but its line also includes Windows Phone 7, Windows Mobile, and Windows PocketPC.

Red indicates the operating system is no longer being developed, whereas green means it's still under active development. The only question mark in this regard is Windows CE; its latest release is Embedded Compact 2013 in 2013, and while I think it's still in development, I'm not entirely sure.

This graph isn't a scientifically accurate, well-researched, quotable piece of information - it takes many shortcuts and brushes several questions aside for brevity's sake. For instance, looking at the last official release doesn't always make sense, such as with Windows Service Packs or Mac OS X point releases, and I haven't even been entirely consistent with these anyway.

On top of that, the graph doesn't take months or weeks into account, and just counts everything in terms of years. Linux shouldn't technically be included at all (since it's just a kernel), and you can conceivably argue that, for instance, Mac OS X is older than its initial release in the form of 10.0 since it's so heavily based on NEXTSTEP. Amiga OS is also a bit of a stretch, since its development pace is slow and has even died down completely on several occasions. You could maybe possibly argue that BeOS is still in active development in the form of Haiku, but I consider Haiku a reimplementation, and not a continuation.

In any event, I originally wasn't planning on doing anything with this, but I figured I might as well publish it here since it's an interesting overview.

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Years are messed up??
By number9 on 2017-08-02 01:41:37
Thom, have I gone mad? I was using MS-DOS waaaay before Linux, and I started using Linux the year Linus released it to try to get myself off of minix.

I thought MS-DOS was released in 1982 (as in, I was there, man). That would make it 36 years old.

If memory serves, and sometimes it does not, BeOS was released in 1995 as a friend purchased a BeBox in 1995 and made a big deal about the OS...

I think some of these years in the graph are off...
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Some large inacuracies
By Windlord on 2017-08-02 01:47:12
While I understand some of the shortcuts and choices, I think some are not really easy to justify: Windows9x for example includes versions that where no real operating system (from 1 to 3.11) as they ran on top of versions of DOS, while 95 to Millenium stayed on its own without the dependency. So Windows9x should be cut down to just 5-6 years (from 93-94 to 2000)

Edited 2017-08-02 01:47 UTC
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RE: Years are messed up??
By judgen on 2017-08-02 01:56:28
Technically the initial release of MS-DOS is just a renamed 86-DOS by Tim Patterson, whom cont9inued his work at microsoft after the sale of the software by SCP.

So by that metric DOS in it's unbroken chain would have to be counted from late summer 1980 until MS-DOS8 (realeased in 16 September 2000) so roughly 20 years, give or take a month or two.

I bet that it is listed as 19 years, since there is a month left for it to reach 20 full years. But one might consider Q-DOS as well, and then it reaches above the 20 year mark.

Edited 2017-08-02 01:58 UTC
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RE[2]: FreeDOS missing
By The Lone OSer on 2017-08-02 02:10:51
I'd not include ReactOS or Haiku because they are both pre-releases... However yes.. OS/2 forsure esp. since there was ecomstation and now Arca Noae.
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IOS and Android
By Windows Sucks on 2017-08-02 02:46:05
Are Android (And more so iOS) even separate operating systems since they rely so much on Linux and Java in the case of Android and BSD and OSX in the case of iOS?
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RE: Some large inacuracies
By malxau on 2017-08-02 02:46:53
> ...Windows9x for example includes versions that where no real operating system (from 1 to 3.11) as they ran on top of versions of DOS, while 95 to Millenium stayed on its own without the dependency...

Win95 to Millennium bundled their own versions of DOS. It was always there.

All of these systems are hard to categorize, but this particular one seems the hardest. Consider the timeline: Windows 1 & 2 are real mode graphical interfaces on DOS; Windows 386 uses a protected mode memory manager and has to thunk back to DOS when its services are needed; Windows 3.1 uses a protected mode disk driver to do pagefile IO without DOS; Windows 3.11 uses a protected mode file system so it could do file IO without DOS; Windows 95 used the protected mode file system almost exclusively except where TSRs are present, and implemented long names there; Windows Me removed the UI to exit back to DOS. All had DOS underneath, it just transitioned from implementing half of the functions applications needed to being completely bypassed.

(Random trivia: if you shut down Windows 95 and are left with the "It's now safe to turn off your computer" screen, it's really a DOS prompt with a bitmap. Run "mode co80" to see for yourself.)
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RE[3]: FreeDOS missing
By bryanv on 2017-08-02 02:57:27
What about SkyOS? Lol.
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RE: ProDOS 8 for Apple II
By dcantrell on 2017-08-02 02:57:46
Except that release isn't really a release in the sense of it being under active development. ProDOS is done, though the hobbyist market keeps using it. The release you're talking about was made by patching the last release from Apple and contributions from the hobbyist community, but probably more important for this chart is that it wasn't an official release from Apple in any sort of supported capacity.
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Interesting Chart, Include More?
By dcantrell on 2017-08-02 03:09:12
Aside from the number of years and questions posted by others, I'd like to see some additional entries. Focusing on consumer-grade operating systems, I'd say OS/2 is missing. OS/2 is arguably still maintained and just made a release this year.

I question the validity of 31 years of AmigaOS.

Some point out 19 years of MS-DOS, but I'd say that's technically correct given it's original release in 1981 and final release in 2000. I think it's too easy to conflate "supported by the original developer" vs. "still in active use in some capacity".

FreeDOS is worthy of listing as well. It's certainly been around for a long time and sees use in many applications.
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Nice idea, but it is too hard to set good criteria ...
By MacTO on 2017-08-02 03:15:21
It is easy to establish a timeline for some operating systems: they were released on a particular date and development (more or less) ended on a particular date.

Yet Amiga OS, and many operating systems that were not mentioned, raise red flags. Did the development of Amiga OS ever stop? Are long periods with only minor updates considered active development? I am not terribly familiar with the story of Amiga OS, but what little I know sounds remarkably similar to the story of RISC OS: it was under active development for a time, the operating system switched hands with different parties developing different branches, and there were long periods with very minor updates. The one thing that I do not know about Amiga OS is whether development was halted for periods of time. (In the case of RISC OS, it was.)

As for Windows 9x, my main quibble is nomenclature. At a technical level, Windows 9x was quite different from Windows 3.x. In terms of development, it was the direct descendant of Windows 3.x. I am fine with using the latter for categorization, but labeling it as Windows 9x makes it sound like a technical distinction. Perhaps calling it Windows, or Windows (non-NT) would be better.
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