back to article Why Microsoft is Acorn and Symbian is the new CP/M

Today's glut of mobile platforms is surprisingly reminiscent of their proliferation on desktops during the 1980s: an analogy which might show how things will develop over the next few decades. Comparing the operating systems running on today's phones with those of yesteryear is curiously easy - it fits too well to be just …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Look a bit further, why don't you

    The explosion of OSes for handsets is a characteristic of every upcoming market. If you would look a bit further you can see the same thing with video recorders and, especially, automobiles. Eventually a market will settle on a small number of major players, each finding their proper niche.

    Personally I don't think Android will rule the roost come 2030. For one very simple reason: nobody wants it. Google really doesn't care about Android apart from a tactical weapon to ward off Apple in the entertainment sector. Handset makers don't care about Android and are doing their best to differentiate themselves from the competition. Users don't care (apart from the zealots who will decry I'm an idiot), they just want a smartphone that's not an iPhone (for whatever reason: cost/carrier/lack of style). Carriers don't care, except they will, once Android assumes your analogy and will give birth to Android Windows with all the viruses and malware that go along with it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Is this an analysis

      or rather a wishlist ?

    2. Steven Knox

      Nobody Wants Android?

      So why does it currently have 25.5% of the market, then?

      1. Chad H.

        @ Nobody Wants Android?

        For the very reasons stated in his post. They aren't buying the phone because its *android*, they're buying it for what the phone does, the fact that it's running android isn't a part of the purchasing decision.

        All PC's today have an F10 button, but you don't buy it because it has an F10 button.

      2. ThomH

        I know people that want an Android phone

        I mean normal, non-technical people. Reasons tend to be that they're cheap, have a pretty good browser and can run Angry Birds.

        The article doesn't seem to discuss the way that this market differs from that of the 80s: the increasing delivery of functionality through browsers. If you bought an MSX then you were in an entirely different ecosystem to someone with a Commodore 64. But if you buy an Android phone then you're probably going to use it to interact with 80% of the same material as someone with an iPhone. Ditto a bada, webOS or Windows 7 phone.

    3. Sam Liddicott

      linux story

      Linux became popular with unix server vendors because it was the one choice that was not their competitors baby. They could all support Linux, whereas only HP would choose hpux, only DEC would choose ultrix, etc.

      Only Apple will support iOS, only Nokia will support Symbian (if that), and so on.

      Android may be the second best, but it can be universal - allow carrier and manufacturer specialisation without the sort of fragmentation that we have had and that J2ME and cousins could not fix.

      Android will win like windows won; it will run everywhere and well enough to get the broad support.

  2. Neil 6


    You're comparisons fall over with MSX. Microsoft led the MSX project. In the mobile world MS are working on Windows Phone 7, and not competitors OS's.

    1. xperroni

      Matsushita Sony X

      Wrong. The MSX standard was conceived by Kazuhiko Nishi, and commercialy led by Matsushita and Sony; purportedly "MSX" was an acronym for Matsushita Sony X ("Cross") – that is, a cross-over between the otherwise bitter rivals – though Nishi himself conceded in an interview years later that "MSX" meant nothing in particular, and that he sometimes came up with different meanings to appease the various companies involved with it.

      Microsoft did take a part early on in the project by providing an MS-DOS port, which became known as MSX-DOS – but apart from that and undeservedly taking credit for the whole project, just to deny it later when it lost interest, MS had little to do with MSX. It certainly wasn't nowhere to be seen by the time the MSX2's and MSX2+'s reached the market, and had long forgotten about it when the TurboR's arrived.

  3. Martin Brennan

    Acorn grew into the new Intel

    Surely Acorn spun out into ARM and ARM is the new Intel in this space

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      are you...

      ...JB7 man?

      If so, why did you put your glasses on? Early adverts didn't have them

      1. Martin Brennan

        JB7 man

        Yes I am - glasses - no particular reason - I think I needed a photo with more pixels and that was to hand - Martin

  4. Chris 211

    The anti-user world of OS

    The OS world has always frustrated me with its infighting and obvious blocking of features its never been user focused as a collective. This is why I left 'computers' and went into networking.

    Were, giants get together, form groups, forums and design and implement standards, while complying to standards individual's add a little extra proprietary options for value add; BUT support the standards.

    So even 10 years ago as well as now you have Cisco connecting to Nortel/bay using PPP. Any kind of router that supports OSPF, works together. Proprietary formats rise and fall or fold into standards. RFC's describe in detail how these things work.

    Interoperability is rare and questioned, "Why doesn't X work with Y, we need a work around or a fix!"

    I see none of this in the OS industry, they are petty, incompatible, uncooperative, closed (mostly). Shame on this industry, failing the end users with your squabbles. The only OS worth supporting is Linux/Android which needs reminding to stay open and compatible.

    1. Alan Firminger

      That defines the microprocessr

      Intel win again

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Symbian as CP/M?

    No wonder I ended up with a symbian phone. Though its promises fulfilled to promises made ratio is worse than for CP/M, at least in my experience.

    Maybe I just don't see it, but there'll remain room for phones that are just phones and therefore it doesn't matter what they run. For smartphones with apps attached you need some sort of developer base, and there mindshare is important. But what it so far hasn't is a killer app with a proprietary format blocking interop with the rest. Certain parties might (with a high degree of predictability) try again, but if there's enough factors to stop it, then there'll be enough room for several OSes.

    And monocultures even effective ones in all but a name, are extremely damaging for long-term stability and innovation in the field. So we should insist on open standards for interop and refuse to be locked in, or suffer the consequences. We ought to have learned that lesson by now.

  6. lurker

    "Early Mac Users"

    "Early Mac users suffered accusations of brand slavery and overpriced hardware, just as iPhone users do today"

    You make it sound as though that's an allegation which couldn't be levied against current Mac users. How strange.

  7. Anonymous Coward


    So where is the c64 and amiga? They were by far the most popular choice for most home users, at least here in europe. The PC was for business (hello RIM) and commodore made the machines of choice for the consumer (probably apple right now?). Then commodore arsed their business up, and the PC spread into the home, so they kind of change places.

    So, at the beginning, microsoft is RIM and commodore is apple. Later, microsoft is google, and commodore is nokia.

    The good old speccy should be in there too!

    1. Khephren


      I'm not so sure there is an equivelent now, but certainly in the past. The Amiga was years ahead of the opposition, most of the phones offer (roughly) the same level of advancement now.

      Perhaps the early Symbian (re: EPOC) would be a contender?: early multitasking smartphone OS, that punched above it's wait while consuming small amount of resources, but offering great software, and lots of games....but slowly lost the lead by failing to inovate like they used to.

      1. Zolko Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        MeeGo ?

        Not only RIM with QNX, but also Nokia with MeeGo was forgotten. And HP with WebOS.

        And no mention of the Internet-as-OS, that didn't have any equivalent in the 80'.

  8. TeeCee Gold badge

    RIM? Easy!

    IBM PC-DOS. It could have been the ubiquitous OS, but it's tied to specific hardware and thus almost entirely restricted to the corporate market.

    It'll stroll along in the background with a healthy user base until its makers trot out their new, be all and end all upgrade (OS/2) which won't work with any existing apps or hardware and will have a learning curve like the North Face of the Eiger. RIM will die the death of a thousand cuts as the corporate holdouts gradually migrate to Android.

  9. Dan 55 Silver badge

    Education and business were the key then, they're not now

    Education and business standardised on MS-DOS/Windows with a niche market for Acorn and Mac OS. They then improved and moved into the consumer space because it often made sense to have a machine which could do both home and business/education tasks in the home. Acorn sadly got crushed under the US juggernaut.

    Mobiles are different because there's no particular mobile operating system which deals better with business or educational needs now. Education simply isn't done on mobiles and as for business, WM6.5 has committed suicide and Blackberry is not that much of a step above the rest. Businesses will also supply you with a business mobile which you carry around along with your private one which does what you want.

    So homogenisation of mobile OS's in the same lines as the 80s-90s desktop systems is not guaranteed.

  10. Vulch

    RISC-powered Archimedes

    The Acorn RISC Machine, or ARM, processor in fact. So does this mean that in 20 years time there will (still?) be a bit of Microsoft technology equally ubiquitous?

  11. Craig Chambers

    Ello tosh, got a Toshiba?

    I remember the Tosh advert well, but recall the advert line slightly differently as:

    "What *happens* next year when it's out of date? No *chance* Dad, this is MSX mate!".

    Regardless of the actual words, I remember thinking at the time how incredibly ironic that was likely to be in the UK with the C64 and Speccy so firmly entrenched.

    Tosh -iba, Tosh-iba, Tosh-iba...

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    MSX may have flopped in the UK and US but...

    ...apparently MSX *was* a success in its home market of Japan, as well as the Netherlands (possibly due to Philips' involvement?)

    Of course, the Reg's comparison was based around the UK market of a quarter-century ago, so I wouldn't overdo the point, but it's still worth noting, if only for the differences (the market is far more global now...) and the similarities (...but not entirely, some formats/devices seen as failures in most markets still do very well and often dominate elsewhere).

    1. Daniel B.
      Thumb Up

      Metal Gear

      That's the reason that the first two games in the Metal Gear series were made for the MSX2. In fact, those games themselves are the reason for me to have an MSX2 emulator.

  13. Caff


    No mention of webos...........

    might not be as stillborn if hp can make something of it.

    1. DZ-Jay


      Tsk! I'm a Spanish speaker, and "webos" reads like the colloquial phonetic pronunciation of our term for bollocks. Must be Friday.


      1. Arthur Jackson

        Fried or Scrambled ?

        Stop egging him on - give him free range to express himself instead of poaching his post.

  14. Anonymous Coward

    Android hardware requirements

    > Android is clearly an apt inheritor of MS-DOS's crown - cobbled together features doomed to endless instability by the requirement to support a disparate range of hardware ..

    32MB RAM, 32MN Flash Memory, 200MHz Online Processor

    1. sT0rNG b4R3 duRiD


      In all fairness, I never did find MS-DOS unstable.

      It was simple, predictable and it worked. It ran and crashed predictably. If it crashed 99.9% of the time it was my fault.

      Quite honestly, as some of you probably already know some people out there run fairly mission critical apps on MS-DOX boxes without too many problems even to this day.

      Windows... Now windows was very unstable. I guess it's a little better now, hey?

  15. Matthew Revell

    Acorn led to ARM

    Would it be pushing the analogy too far to note that Acorn's Archimedes platform led to ARM?

    I wonder where WebOS fits in the analogy.

  16. Doug Glass


    My pitifully ancient and uninspiring Palm Pre Plus makes and receives calls and texts perfectly, surfs with acceptable speed, has all the applications I want and provides me a hot spot when I need it. Oh frelling well.... the both of us are old farts and seem to get by nicely. Think I'll just keep what works and continue to chuckle at all the tussling among the elite. Reminds me of elephants mating: takes place at a very high lever, accompanied by a lot of bellowing and grunting and take two years to get results.

  17. jonathanb Silver badge

    Blackberry as OS/2?

    OS/2 was very popular in the banking sector and a few other big corporates. I get the feeling Blackberry occupies a similar niche.

    Of course Blackberry is also popular with teenage girls who like the fact they can chat with their Blackberry owning friends for free on Blackberry Messenger, a market segment that never really existed in the pesonal computer market, so the analogy isn't quite identical.

    Then again, Android phones have Google Talk, and apps are available for all the other IM networks, so that could tempt them away from Blackberry.

    1. yeehaw....

      The One Thing...

      ...That I like about RIM and their Blackberries is that they seem to piss off other countries with their encryption. That's a huge selling point with me and it makes me smile.

      The iPhone... well, Mr. Jobs is one of those people that, for some reason, you want to punch for absolutely nothing at all - you know of what I speak, some stranger walks by and the hair stands up on the back of your neck? There you go. You tend not to purchase for salescritters you don't like.

      Android. Looks like a possible avenue and would be useful to me, but I still haven't seen anything at Verizon (VZ has the best coverage in East Tennessee - ATT is great out West but sucks monkey balls here) that has as big a screen/real estate as my Storm 2.

      The asbestos overcoat with the BB Server Express manual hanging out of the pocket... I feel a heat wave coming.... lol

    2. Robert Hill

      Very good...

      I was going to suggest RIM as Altos, but I think OS/2 is a much better comparison. Perfect actually.

  18. Andrew Oakley

    Acorn, whatever happened to them? THEY BECAME ARM!

    Um, the author of this article does know that Acorn went on to become ARM, the designer and patent-holder of the CPUs used in almost every smartphone and low-power device on the planet, right?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Not strictly...

      ..true. Acorn went on to become Element 14, purveyors of set-top boxes and associated tat. They set up ARM as a joint venture with Apple and VLSI in 1990.

      So now you know.

  19. JobsAngryOrgan

    MS-DOS unstable?

    Really? It didn't really do enough to be unstable from what I remember. Time may have dulled the pain but I generally felt "Windows" was the unstable OS.

    As much as they are tempting, the comparisons here are largely bogus. Not withstanding that new business sectors often follow a pattern of having a bunch of competitors at the beginning and consolidate later on.

    My key criticism of the analogy is that (arguably) the PC war was over before consumers rather than business got into buying PCs and that happened as a result of Microsoft cornering the desktop business application market.

    Is that in anyway analogous to the smartphone market? Not really, the killer apps for smartphones remain voice, data services (esp. text) and now the browser. As much as some companies (like Nokia) keep making a pigs ear out of the browser, this seems like an environment which is much more open to having a wide variety of platforms.

    1. RichyS

      Windows an OS

      Windows wasn't an OS until NT came along.

      Anything up to 3.xx was a GUI shell on top of MS-DOS. And even then, the whole 95-98-ME line was the same.

      1. George 24

        windows an os?

        Windows 3, 95, 98 is a gui for dos, same a mac os is gui for unix. The other variant in mobile world domination is the current stronghold of Ms in the enterprise market. This will force many to use win7 phones and in 2030 it may well be the no 1 mobile. In th 80's, enterprise were running mainframes, not exactly what your average home User would have in his lounge room.

    2. DrXym

      Don't remember MSDOS being unstable either

      MSDOS was an incredibly primitive, retarded OS but there was so little of it I don't ever recall thinking of it as unstable. Crap yes, unstable no. If a game / app crashed, you blamed the game / app because its interaction with the OS was minimal. Mostly I remember the perverse pleasure of optimizing my autoexec.bat and config.sys to maximize the amount of memory

    3. Captain Save-a-ho

      Short memories, eh?

      I remember being fairly happy with 3.3 and later 4.01, but 5.x was complete shit in terms of stability with the introduction of EMM, Himem.sys, et al. Went straight from 4 -> 6.2 when it came out without really missing a beat. Who could afford a hard drive over 100MB anyway?

      Mine's the one the <strike>floppies</strike> drink coasters in the pocket...

  20. AndrueC Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    What goes around comes around.

    I learnt this a long time ago. The person who interviewed me for my second job back in 1991 was an ex-IBM employee. He showed me that most of what the PC industry was going through had already happened to the mainframe industry.

    Only the details of the technology change. The overall trends just come and go so if you wait around long enough your expertise will be back in vogue.

  21. Mage

    not quite


    Win Mobile < 7 = MSDOS

    Win Mobile 7 = OS/2

    Kin = Win ME

    NOKIA (and deserting friends)

    Symbian = BSD free + X-Windows...

    Maemo might be Linux ... or OS/2 Warp :-)


    iOS = Mac OS

    Palm = BBC Micro, then they did WinMo for while I think? then with new OS = Archimedies

    RIM = CP/M. This is why they bought QNX OS

    BADA = MSX for sure!

    Mines the one with the DR MultiDOS manual in one pocket and Minix OS boot Floppy in the other.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    If other dont have any problems, how can it be Android that has the problem?

  23. Dave Fox

    "Archimedes" didn't catch on...

    Whilst it is technically true that the Archimedes didn't have the same level of success as the BBC Micro, we shouldn't forget that the CPU designed specifically to power Acorns "next generation" of computers (which became the Archimedes), is now the all pervasive ARM chip we find all over the mobile space today.

    With that in mind, clearly the legacy of the Archimedes was far greater than that of the BBC Micro.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Surely not

    Ctrl O 4 4 to enable the printer.

    J 103 <return>

    I'm getting old. What an epic operating system C/PM was. I loved my school's RM380Zzzzzz I wrote so much file based assembler, including a rudimentary space invader game and a dating site. I

    Am I old? Am I sad?


  25. RichyS
    Thumb Up

    RIM Job

    Surely the Blackberry is the typewriter of the 80s world.

    Based on very old tech (the original Crackberries used the pager network FFS); have a proper keyboard (just like your old electric IBM typewriter!) and surprisingly difficult to dislodge from the office of the 80s. And, like typewriters, Crackberries only really do one thing well.

  26. Surur
    Jobs Horns


    The people who wish Windows Phone 7 dead are also the same people who say Microsoft will die without a mobile platform.

    If this is true, why exactly should the company, with $40 billion in the bank, not spend every cent to ensure their survival?

    Windows Phone 7 will succeed, even if Microsoft has to pay $100,000 to buy every app in the iPhone app store (and they will still have change left over).

    1. jonathanb Silver badge

      Re: Paradox

      I don't *wish* Windows 7 Phone dead. I just think it is a statement of fact. MS won't die without a mobile platform, as all the other mobile platforms have Exchange Activesync as their preferred email protocol.

      The reason Windows 7 Phone will die is that it is simply too late to the game. It isn't going to get to the same level of functionality as other platforms until probably about v9, and by that time, it will be too late. The network effect will work against it. Developers won't write for a platform that nobody uses, and people won't buy into a platform where there are no apps available.

      Microsoft will continue as a niche player in the server market - with Exchange, Sharepoint and Small Business Server as their strong products, and as market leader in the desktop market, though tablets will make inroads into the home market and the mobile worker market.

      1. Surur

        Too late?

        Was it too late for RIM when they entered the market? Was it too late for Apple when they did? Or Android when they did? Too late for Firefox, or for Google Chrome to get any market share?

        There is no such thing as too late.

    2. Chemist

      Re : Paradox

      A well-run company should return the $40 billion to its shareholders if it thought it had to spend all of it just to survive

      1. JBowler

        That's what Acorn and Microsoft did - right?

        Acorn dissolved because, at least with the marketing strategy it had at the time, it had no future and yet it's market capitalization (shares * share price) was less than the value of the 50% stake it held in ARM Ltd. So it dissolved - Acorn shares became ARM Ltd shares, and Acorn's IP was transferred to Pace.

        Likewise Microsoft hit an expansion brick wall - not caused by the total incompetence of its marketing department, as I personally think Acorn's problems were caused by, but because it couldn't expand beyond 100% of the market... so on 2 December 2004 (by my records) Microsoft issued a massive one time dividend to clear a substantial amount of its cash balance.

        Unlike other high tech companies both ARM Ltd and Microsoft do currently pay dividends, albeit small ones - about 0.6% for ARM Ltd and about 2% for Microsoft. Unfortunately the analogies pretty much stop there - they are very different companies with very different limitations.

  27. David 84

    Smartphone OS wars

    Times have changed quite dramatically from when MS, CP/M, Acorn were all tiny companies. Market muscle and $ counts far more now.

    Also MSFT has at least learnt from its past and is dictating a hardware platform for WinPhone 7. Android is clearly suffering from market fragmentation that can only get worse rather than better.

    Apple has achieved an amazing turn around in its fortunes but the distinctions between the iPhone (and the iPad which is just a large iPhone) and other smartphones are becomming hard to detect.

    I really like my iPhone 4 but I am an MS developer - the Win Phone architecture is clean and easy to work with - game on (especially XNA :-) I think...


  28. W. Anderson

    Mobile market comparisons

    The authors completely forgot to pigeon-hole MeeGo, the Linux-based Mobile software from Nokia and Intel.

    It has been reported that many auto manufacturers in Europe have already endorsed MeeGo for their entire lines of automobiles.

    Plus, with some inherent compatibility to Android via the Linux kernel, this should prove an interesting categorization.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      "It has been reported that many auto manufacturers in Europe have already endorsed MeeGo for their entire lines of automobiles."

      Care to name them, or cite the reports?

      "Plus, with some inherent compatibility to Android via the Linux kernel, this should prove an interesting categorization."

      You obviously don't understand system design, and use long words to cover this up.

  29. Steven Jones


    Surely a completely pointless and inappropriate analogy. Things are what they are, and mapping some surrent circumstance to an arbitrary past one in such a loose manner is not exactly telling us anything apart from about the author.

  30. Livlondon

    Isn't RIM just IBM?

    OS/2 was found on most corporate machines (manufacturing, banks etc..) and even had that nice consumer push with O/S2 Warp.

    Ahh they were the days.....

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Not convinced

    Desktop PCs of the 80s were rare enough to get excited over, whereas Mobile phones are like modern PCs in that everybody has one and therefore they are no longer "special".

    As far as the RIM comparison - I would say IBM.

    - A few years ago a smart phone was a Blackberry

    - In the 80s a PC was an IBM PC (later IBM compatible)

    - They started the revolution, but where beaten at their own game by others offering either better features (such as apple...) or lower prices for similar functionality.

    1. FreeTard
      Thumb Up

      Ah yes

      IBM should make MS stop using "I'm a PC" adverts which annoy the hell out of everyone.

      Thy should sue them and force them to remake them as

      "I'm an IBM or an IBM compatible PC".

  32. Christian Berger

    Will the OS even matter for most people?

    I mean in a few year, we'll be able to run complex applications in the browser, possibly even with regulated access to the local hardware.

    My guess is, that in the end it'll end like in the desktop computer days, one operating system for people who don't care (Windows=>Android), one for people who want to be "Apple" (MacOSX=>iOS) and one for people who actually want to get some work done (Linux/*BSD/Unix=>Maemo/MeeGo).

    And of course there will always be the fringe markets like the Amiga market today which will probably translate to Windows Phone. Both are essentially limited purpose machines (Amiga: video processing, games; Windows Phone: Outlook synchonisation) which got overtaken by cheaper and more versatile platforms, even though a few die hard fans still stick to it.

  33. Spearchucker Jones

    Backfired comparison?

    IMO "Business use" consists of (at a minimum) creating and reading Office documents, pulling documents from SharePoint, and synchronizing email, contacts and calendar with Exchange. Which makes Windows Phone the business tool winner.

    RIM only does secure Exchange. iPhone, Android, Maemo and Symbian do a subset of Exchange (basic messaging, contacts and abysmal calendar).

    Sure, Windows Phone does music and games better than any other mobile OS, and that's solidly in the consumer space. But it's the business users that want consumer phones. Consumer phones that work with Office, SharePoint and Exchange.

    Guessing working at the Reg office means using Macs and iPhones. The Windows Phone/Acorn comparison is a good one.

  34. Anonymous Coward

    Bad analogies

    "cobbled together features doomed to endless instability by the requirement to support a disparate range of hardware." - sounds more like Linux than DOS to me!

    Wait a minute, Android IS Linux! I think that analogy has just collapsed into a tautology...

    And CP/M "technically superior"? Superior to what??? Toggling in a bootstrap on a front panel?

  35. DrXym

    MSX probably more comparable to Android

    Technically the concept of MSX was sound, but in practice it was doomed. It was launching into a crowded marketplace, the computers were expensive and from unfamiliar names, they didn't offer any significant advantage over the existing machines and there were doubts about how compatible MSX computers were with each other.

    I dimly recall seeing an MSX once or twice in stores but it's clear they never went very far. They were relegated into the failure pile with the Atari 400/800, Oric 1 / Atmos and Dragon 32/64.

    If you had to draw some comparison then Android is akin to MSX in the sense that different manufacturers share the same OS but differentiate with tweaks to the UI and in the supported hardware.

    Ultimately Android also faces some of the same issues as MSX. In order for the nomenclature to mean anything, Android devices need to share a large degree of compatibility with each other. In the handset space this is true because handsets strive for compatibility certification so they can use the Google apps.

    It isn't true for tablets, PMPs, ereaders, settop boxes etc. For example Archos PMPs are not compliant because no spec exists to say what hardware a PMP should implement. Only some tablets are compliant and they do so essentially by being giant phones. I hope Google intend to fix their CDD soon because the situation is going south rapidly. I think they will pull things back, but the example of MSX is there to illustrate what happens to standards which no longer serve their purpose.

    1. Gian

      1/2 Right

      on the common Hw & Sw base that enabled many consumer electronics brands jump on the micro market you're half right.

      But indeed was only marketing, inside the machines where just a shallow imitation of C64, without its huge sw library, and without any innovation path.

  36. The Fuzzy Wotnot

    Apple sneaking into the education system

    I know of two schools in my local area who have just recieved roughly 40-50 iPod Touch systems each for the kids to learn about technology. ( Tech study from locked down toy?! )

    The big thing I have spotted is the number of kids running out of the school gate, after the toys arrived, asking Mum or Dad for iPad/iPod/iPhone for Crimble this year.


  37. Jim Preis

    Kilimanjaro, Everest

    "Android works great for some, but others discover their shiny new handsets simply won't download applications from the Marketplace or refuse to pick up a 3G signal, though others have no such problems."

    Are you higher than me?


  38. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    webOS = amigaOS

    great to use, ahead of its time, advanced multitasking, amazing community, and slowly vanishing due to odd decisions made by its parent company

  39. Daniel B.

    Blackberry OS

    As someone else noted, it probably fits into the role of OS/2. A crapload of ATMs were still using OS/2 Warp well into the 2000s. It is preferred by businesses and power users.

    Of course, at least in my country it is also being quickly adopted by the masses, the Blackberry Messenger being a selling point for them. Unlike Gartner, I don't quite think that the BB OS will go away though; the QNX thingy might actually turn up to be a game changer. Of course, it could also be the perfect analogy for OS/2 Warp... but only time will tell that.

  40. /dev/me


    Mostly ignored in summaries and lists of Operating Systems, although people who use it tend to like it. It has its limitations, but its still a good effort. I don't expect it to conquer the market, but I'd hate to see it fall into oblivion. And it's been recently bought by a huge company who may or may not try to turn it into profit...

    ...WebOS reminds me, at least on a subjective level, of Solaris.

  41. Kevin Davidson


    Surely the Commodore PET?

    Big, ugly, functional. Doomed?

  42. fch

    If Mobile phone operating systems were airplanes ...

    Android Airplanes:

    The entire cabling diagrams, engine manufacturing plans, specifications for seat row distances and thickness as well as material of seat padding is freely available as result of a research project done by one of the highest-renowned ivory tower league mechanical engineering universities. Once a year an update of the big book full of high-glossy prints is released with an update (as PDF file). It's up to the actual manufacturer to figure out how to shoe-horn the whole thing into a cargo airplane, a fighter jet, a solar-power-driven ultralight or (as rumors have it) into a supersecret drone to be used by the CIA. It's so easy to do. And they all fly. Some of the time at least.

    Windows Mobile Airplanes:

    We used to build steam locomotives; well, honestly, we still build steam locomotives very successfully and have the market cornered, so we're sure all those content passengers in carts driven by our engines will be more than happy to jump on the windows mobile airplane. Trust us we've been building mechanical transportation facilitation devices for decades, here's all your specs (and don't you dare deviate) to build one. Well yea we know an airplane isn't a steam engine locomotive but you know it's all about the experience. And we've done that in the past. Yah, hasn't worked but we've tried harder this time !

    Symbian Airplanes Inc:

    We've build airplanes for a long time. In fact, you could just as well say we are the airplane. 90% of all airplanes build in the past use our airplane designs. We've prototyped carbon fibre composite airplane bodies at a time when other manufacturers neither knew what an airplane was nor anyone had heard about carbon fibre composites. And you'll definitely find one of our airplanes to be comfortable, since we've build strapdown-harnessed paragliders as well as 1st-class flat bed simulators (it's not our fault that noone ever licensed that from us to build an actual airplane). And just wait till you see how our hyperspace-folding superplane-to-be will beat the holy cr*p out of the others when we release it in 2007 (oh wait, that'll be 2009, nah, rather likely 2010, 2011 for sure !).

    It's Friday, after all. Cheers !

  43. danny_0x98

    History, Like DNA, Repeats, But It's Always Different

    While many of the elements of 1981 are present, quite a few manufacturers trying to enter into a growth field, I think it differs in some very clear ways.

    When IBM entered into the personal computer market it gave an endorsement to the idea of the personal computer at business. The IT departments were quite relieved that here, finally, was a company with grown-ups that was going to last. PCs in the 1980s were expensive and when the clone manufacturers came along a few years later, the people with the money, businesses, were running PC-DOS and would not have tossed over the (also expensive) software they had bought in order to buy a desktop PC with an allegedly better operating system. When the clones arrived, and manufacturers were fighting on price, that was the day MS-DOS became essential and went from doing well to winning big.

    So today, we have a similar constellation: consumers and manufacturers. But we have new stars. Google, giving away an operating system because its bread and butter is maximizing network traffic and harvesting the relations and visits in order to provide an accurate demographic to advertisers. They still get what they need when I use my iPhone with Google apps installed.

    Patents are another "star" in the firmament. Microsoft extracts revenue from manufacturers using Android via patent enforcement. So two major players get money when you use the competitor's os.

    We also have carriers who may interpose between the user and the apps.

    Phones are cheap: this isn't a battle over businesses that spills into the consumer market because people have started to take work home and have to run the same software which generally means the same os and processor as the workplace. (The thinning separation between work time and not-work time being an emergent consequence of the PC.)

    Unlike 1981, everyone has phones and computers, we are talking about selling enhanced phones. We have services delivered in os-agnostic ways. It is difficult to imagine how another phenomenon of the 1980s that was killed by Windows in the 1990s, the SGI workstation, would manifest in the smartphone world.

    I think it was the application install base that anointed MS-DOS as the 1990s dawned. Apple did well because of the desktop publishing advances of 1987 or so. Microsoft, of course, went into overdrive when it finally delivered a graphical interface that was usable with Windows 95, and the application writers bought in. Hardware was making rapid advances and the consumer was quite happy to chuck WP5.1 in order to run Word95 on a system that was massively faster.

    In 2010, though, smartphone apps are priced like candy bars. When the two year contract is up, do the apps, and experience familiarity and loyalty, keep the consumer on their platform or do they move from platform to platform without worrying about re-buying key apps?

    We are also overlooking that the tech consumer is now all over the world and not just in the US and Europe. Being a typical parochial American, I am ill-equipped to speculate. Being atypical, I shall not, but it's another level of complexity not found 30 years back.

    So, I don't know. I appreciate that the patterns have clear similarities. I guess I'm not ready to say that, of course, it's Rocky IV, only this time Balboa is running around Russia and not Philadelphia.

  44. Dazed and Confused

    Right brand?

    > or refuse to pick up a 3G signal

    I thought you were talking about Android?

  45. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Damn, and I so had my hopes up!

    I thought you were going to announce the availability of CP/M on the iPhone.

    Oh well, I guess I'll have to port my Start Trek game to IOS.

  46. Martin Usher

    Acorn Lives!

    Acorn's BBC micro was a dud (IMHO) and their Archemedes may have not gone anywhere but Archemedes reinvented itself as ARM. ARM may not be a household world but its in just about everything out there that isn't a conventional computer -- at a guess I reckon its the most common processor in the world (except, maybe, for one-chip microcontrollers).

  47. Peter Durkee


    It's not a perfect analogy, but I vote that RIM is Wang. Both are platforms that came into their markets from a different direction than the everyone else, email in the case of Blackberrys, and Word Processing in the case of Wang, and then had to merge into the mainstream. In both cases they leveraged their strength in their previous role to keep them afloat while they performed the merge, and for now it looks like RIM is having better luck at it than Wang did.


  48. Conrad Longmore


    Ummm.. I don't think it really matters which mobile OS is like which 1980s computer platform, the gist of the article seems to be entirely accurate. A few platforms will do well (and we can make a fair guess at which ones they will be), some will fade into obscurity and be almost forgotten, some will hold onto their niche markets and stay there..

    ..and some will make an unexpected comeback. Remember that both Android and iOS are based in part on a project by some ex-Honeywell guys working for AT&T labs called Unix.. and most phones run on a processor descended directly from the Archimedes..

  49. Stuart Halliday
    Thumb Up

    I see what you're getting at...

    but a lot of people posting here obviously haven't.

    I almost cough out my Tea over my keyboard when I saw your silly 'buy line'. But I had to smile at how ti worked.

    Acorn people really didn't like Microsoft and the IBM platform.

    We still don't really....

    Still we in the UK are proud of what ARM have achieved.

  50. Tron Silver badge


    In the 80s, an over-competitive overcrowded market ensured that nobody could make any money and almost everyone went bust.

    Yeah. That's a plan. Let's do that.

  51. Gian

    Microsoft today is the '80 IBM

    Your parallels fit very well, for most of them I had the same thoughts.

    I would add that all no-US efforts were destined to oblivion, because.. that's it! With the beautiful exception of ARM, that now beats at the hart of all our phones.

    And remember the IBM at that time: THE EMPIRE.

    It was reknown that for every shit IBM pops out, evrybody goes buying it.

    It reminds me of MS today; even the recent huge lineup of WM7 is similar to the launch of PS/2 system PCs (1987?).

    Is was intended to regain market from the sea of compatible boxes (think of the ocean of Android marks of today and tomorrow) with more strict intellectual property (think of the suits against HTC & MOTO).

    Still today the IP regulation is so clippled that the suer (MS) is robbing from Android the idea of integrating the phone with its online services: HOtmail, BIng...

  52. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Unpredictable market.

    Agreed w/ Conrad Longmore, I don't feel it's sensible to try to map each phone OS to some 80s platform, it just doesn't make sense. But in broad strokes the market is similar.

    One side-comment -- I wouldn't say CP/M was technologically superior to DOS -- DOS was basically a CP/M clone after all. The one part where I think DOS went wrong (but worked out in practice) was the video BIOS being *SO* slow that everyone started writing directly to video memory. But that's only ugly from a design standpoint, it worked out OK in practice. And regarding DOS being buggy -- on it's own it was fine. It's just that an unruly app could lock the box hard, but that was true of almost every desktop OS of the 1980s.

    Anyway, what I take from this is I have noticed the phone market is very similar to the computer market of the 1980s. I didn't try to map phone OS vendor to 1980s computer vendor though. What I take away from it is 1) There probably will be consolidation eventually. 2) The winners will be hard to predict. In the 80s, there was no reason to think CP/M wouldn't dominate (until it suddenly didn't), and there were several other systems that had every early indication of taking right off, then didn't. Frankly, from how things look I think Android will dominate, but even it could flame out if something better comes along.

  53. Roen

    Other Players

    Is RIM equivalent to OS/2

    What about PC/GEOS, GEM, BSD?

  54. Caipirinha

    Where is Meego?

    Hmm... I'm surprised you didn't mention Meego, a potential dark horse in the race for mobile OS supremacy. With the weight of Intel, AMD and Nokia behind its development, I doubt it will be in a flash in the pan.

    If done properly, Meego can definitely eat into RIM and WinP7's market pie.

    Anyhow, it's exciting and breathtaking to see the mobile/phone OS intensify as we approach the end of 2010. Expect the competition to spill over into slate devices, mobile computers, car GPS navigation devices etc. A no holds barred fight to the death!

  55. Anonymous Coward

    @chris 211 re the standards process

    "giants get together, form groups, forums and design and implement standards, while complying to standards individual's add a little extra proprietary options for value add; BUT support the standards."

    Sounds good, certainly the telco/network sector's formal standards processes through IEEE, ISO, ETSI, and whoever are far more sensible and succesful than the vague, antiquated, and therefore obviously unreliable Internet RFC process, that's why OSI networking is so succesful today (it solved problems 20 years ago that IPv6 hasn't even had yet), right? (Mind you at least DSL seems to mostly just work...).

    Your description also sounds quite like a description of the technology acquisition process for the Open Software Foundation's OSF/1 OS specification (the Open Software Foundation included the great and the good from the UNIX world(s) of the early 1990s).

    Now, how many OS/system vendors can readers name that actually delivered an OSF/1 product? And exactly where are its users now? (Hint: Probably one vendor, DEC on their Alpha systems, users in deep brown stuff since HP took over DEC (via Compaq) and dropped OSF/1 and Alpha in favour of HP/UX and Itanic, ffs).

    Anyway, the nice thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from. And that applies just fine to mobile Linuxes :(

  56. crayon

    Faulty analogy and analysis

    The competing OS's of yesteryear were basically incompatible with each other so when one OS reached a critical mass it will dominate because everybody wants to be "compatible".

    The OS in today's mobiles provides:

    a) the ability to call and talk with other phones and send/receive SMS

    b) the ability to go online and do your email/surfing/etc

    No matter what OS your phone has you can still call and talk to other phones.

    No matter what OS your phone has you can still do internetty stuff.

    Because of this interoperability (real one not MS's version) the likelyhood of any one OS completely dominating the market is slim.

  57. ordinaryjoe

    The Acorn RISC architecture didn't catch on??

    Eh... are you sure.? That made me giggle

    I just looked up the numbers, back in2008 ARM (from Acorn Risc Machines originally)... their sales of ARM cores went through the 10 Billion barrier, who knows what it is today?

    Last time I checked there were only 6 Billion people on the planet.

    In fact, trying to avoid ARM is like trying to avoid Starbucks or Reality TV. Even if you were to ensure that your PC, your nettop and your phone were all free from ARM, as a Reg reader you'd probably stll own 2 or 3of the things,in your router, your USB hub, or your car.

  58. JBowler

    Three in every washing machine

    The analogy doesn't hold on any level:

    Microsoft, 1980's: "one one every desktop"

    Microsoft, 2004: "ok, done that, what next?" Oops.

    Acorn, 1991 or 1992 (internal coffee machine conversation [Hugo]): "one in every washing machine"

    ARM Ltd, around 2004: "ok, done that, what next?" "Three in every washing machine?" Ok, that'll work.

    As numerous people have pointed out, Acorn morphed into ARM Ltd, possibly inspired by that bit in the Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy where the Marketing People end up on the First Ship. Microsoft hasn't morphed, it's stopped, ceased up.

    Meanwhile, for every PC sold one copy of Windows goes with it, and one Intel CPU and, oops, several ARM CPUs and, oops, every flash card and every hard drive has another one...

    So, the Microsoft Model of corporate success depends on continuing to develop new and more interesting ways of using the worlds second most complex OS, while Acorn's (now, devoid of the mis-marketing guys, ARM Ltd) depends on someone else finding new and interesting ways of using the worlds most complicated operating systems.

  59. andy gibson


    Nothing to contribute to the argument, but just wanted to say I still use Wordstar on CP/M - on a Spectrum +3 with external 3.5" floppy.

  60. ElBastardo

    The analogy works but....

    The analogy works but you can take it further and argue why Microsoft won and android will probably win.

    A big part of Microsoft's victory in the desktop OS market was software written by third parties, users chose windows because there was a larger choice of software. VHS beat betamax because there were more films, HD DVD lost in part because the studios backed blu-ray.

    App developers will play a big part in this, and if recent Reg reports are correct then they are swinging Android's way too, I wrote a bit about it here back in July:

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