How PC/GEOS discovered a fifth life as an open supply DOS shell

The high-performance DOS shell and erstwhile Home windows competitor is now open supply, with plans underway to create a contemporary SDK for Home windows and Linux.

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GEOS is getting a fifth shot at life, because the 1990s DOS shell—regardless of the title, it’s not an OS, within the strictest sense of the time period—has been launched as an open supply undertaking underneath the Apache license by new proprietor blueway.Softworks. Outdated merchandise seeing an open supply revival is hardly new—Microsoft has accomplished this with the primary model of MS-DOS, the Home windows three.1 File Supervisor, and Calculator—although the trail GEOS took to obtain this new lease on life is extra advanced.

A quick journey down prolonged reminiscence lane

For individuals who minimize their tooth on computer systems just like the Apple II and Commodore 64, GEOS introduced a Mac-like GUI to comparatively lower-powered, Eight-bit dwelling computer systems. The workforce behind GEOS developed GeoWorks for PC in 1990. GeoWorks was additionally the idea of America On-line for DOS. Substantial quantities of GeoWorks had been written in fine-tuned x86 Meeting, making it decently extra performant on Intel 386-based computer systems than Home windows, which was launched the identical 12 months. This excessive efficiency in constrained environments gave GeoWorks a protracted lifespan.

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On PCs, GeoWorks had different incarnations, together with “NewDeal Workplace” from 1996-2000, and Breadbox Ensemble from 2001-2009, each of which aimed toward low-end computing and schooling markets. PEN/GEOS was a fork for Zoomer PDAs, such because the Tandy Z-PDA and Casio XL-7000, in addition to the HP OmniGo, and the Brother Geobook, a netbook/phrase processor hybrid.

GeoWorks did not fairly obtain widespread success, regardless of the standard of the product. Brian Dougherty, the previous CEO of GeoWorks, mentioned “what killed us was that Microsoft realized what we had earlier than the remainder of the trade, they went to all of their OEMs and signed them to 2 12 months unique offers to place Home windows on each machine,” in a 2010 posting at The Economist, “Bundling with new hardware is the best way you identify a brand new platform within the PC world they usually merely froze us out of the market.”

Moreover, a retrospective of GeoWorks lamented the dearth of third-party builders, noting that “early on, you wanted a Solar workstation to develop software program for the platform, a deeply ironic requirement—basically, you wanted a $7,000 laptop to develop software program for low-end PCs.”

One other shot at retrocomputing glory

Releasing PC/GEOS as open supply got here with vital hurdles, contemplating how typically the platform modified arms. “After Frank S. Fischer, the previous proprietor and very long time GEOS fanatic handed away, I labored with Breadbox’s former CTO John Howard and Frank’s spouse, as the brand new proprietor, to accumulate the rights to offer PC/GEOS a future and a brand new dwelling,” Falk Rehwagen, former Breadbox worker and proprietor of recent rights holder blueway.Softworks, instructed TechRepublic. “There at all times was the imaginative and prescient to make the expertise accessible to the group to allow additional developments, make it a residing and developable system.”

You’ll be able to obtain PC/GEOS sources from GitHub, although the method of utterly liberating it from its industrial previous continues to be ongoing.

“As a result of Breadbox Ensemble makes use of licensed non-free elements, we determined to make it accessible for registered customers solely alongside the license settlement, to maintain the system accessible to the world. On the similar time we’re separating the non-free elements and making PC/GEOS core accessible as open-source, forming #FreeGEOS,” Rehwagen mentioned. “Following our imaginative and prescient, along with making the supply accessible, we’re porting the instruments to be usable along with the WATCOM open supply compiler suite supporting 16 bit code era. This permits us to make the PC/GEOS SDK accessible for Home windows and Linux. This work continues to be ongoing, however progressing very nicely.”

Rehwagen mentioned he hopes to launch a beta of GEOS 6, primarily based on #FreeGEOS, within the subsequent few months. Modernizing the platform is a precedence: “We plan to maneuver on with integrating accessible property into #FreeGEOS as Double-Byte Character Set and Protected Mode help. Hopefully, we can allow additional developments to help state-of-the-art options and enhancements of the system,” he mentioned, with hopes of growing a newly-active group of builders and customers of GEOS.

All the things outdated is new once more

For extra on revivals of classic computing expertise, take a look at “Retro expertise nonetheless is sensible for some IT tasks,” and “Utilizing a Raspberry Pi Zero SCSI adapter to convey legacy and retro programs into the long run” on TechRepublic, in addition to “A professor discovered an Apple IIe in his dad’s attic. And it labored” on ZDNet.

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