The history of GeoWorks, upstart and rival Microsoft Windows from the 90's / SurprizingFacts

Commodore 64

In the early 90's there were no guarantees The fact that Microsoft Windows will take over the market, although thanks to MS-DOS they had a clear advantage over many competitors.

One of the iconic graphic interfaces from AOL for a while tried not to put all the eggs in one basket, and Supported the DOS-version of its pseudo-Internet software using a GUI-platform, with which few people were familiar: GeoWorks.

It was an operating system ma from the era when the modem does not seem something mandatory. It was ridiculously lightweight, thanks to its ancestor GEOS (Graphical Environment Operating System [Операционная система с графическим окружением]), the operating system for Commodore 64.

The platform was made by the company Berkeley Softworks (not to be confused with Berkeley Systems, the authors of the famous screensaver "flying toasters"). For some time, its product was one of the most popular programs for the Commodore 64 due to its functionality and ability to work on inexpensive equipment.

"GEOS did not become the first system with a graphical interface. Most of its features were already in the larger OSes of those days, for example, in the classic Mac (although not in Windows), "wrote Krok Kamen for OS News in 2006. "What GEOS could boast of, it's the work of office applications on cheap and low-power hardware. You did not need a $ 2000 computer to write and print a simple letter. "

This OS as a result Moved to the PC in the early 90's in its more advanced form, and Berkeley Softworks changed its name to GeoWorks.

Thanks to one of my childhood friends who let me play around with his Commodore 64, I had a little relevant experience. I used the version of GeoWorks for PC because it was bundled with the 386th that I was bought when I was still a child.

The computer was not very fast – it had a hard disk of 40 MB and One megabyte of memory – as a result, he was lucky to have installed a lightweight object-oriented system from GeoWorks. Operating system weighed no more than 10 MB. In the era when the connection with the world was not yet popular, the simplicity of the format played a significant role.

Among the interesting features of the platform, it is possible to recall the following.

Different interfaces for users with different levels . DOS was not a simple OS for beginners, and GeoWorks Ensemble tried to make it more friendly. It offered two kinds of interfaces: "application" and "professional", with the ability to run a shell for DOS programs, so you could easily play Commander Keen. For people who have never had a business with a PC, this strategy was ideal – the system had "training wheels" like a children's bike.

Embedded office applications . The program included many applications that roughly corresponded to what could be found from other OSes – for example, Mac could boast of a word processor, calendar and spreadsheets. Also in the OS was a program for drawing the Print Shop headers, which could come in handy if you had a dot matrix printer. In general, the offer was very suitable for home users, which Microsoft did not particularly notice at the beginning of its activity. Perhaps the program was not as bright as Microsoft Bob, but it worked much better. 194559007 [ ] Serious opportunities, low requirements . The best feature of GeoWorks was that it worked well without excessive requests to the hardware. To make Windows 3.1 work well, it needed a 486th, but GeoWorks was free and worked without problems on 286 and 386. It was stable, and despite the fact that, like the earlier versions of Windows, it was just a graphical environment for DOS

The program had a cohort of fans, especially among German users, who did a lot to maintain memory of it.

Another company, Quantum Computer Services, providing early access to Commodore 64, saw in GeoWorks the opportunity to enter the PC market, and launched its first online network, d For IBM PS / 1 computers.

"The Promenade interface makes it easy to use services for all family members without being annoyed by the need to use complex commands and functions," wrote executive vice president Steve Keys in a 1990 press release Th year. "At the same time, the program is advanced enough to satisfy experienced users of online services."

During the year, the platform was reworked in America Online, the company Case carried out through the 1990s, and in 10 years the company will be in A thicker reckless merger with Time Warner – while AOL was one of the defining programs of the Windows era. GeoWorks had its own AOL before it was considered cool – a golden opportunity to capture the PC market, especially because the first disks from AOL with The basic versions of GeoWorks were kept. This allowed modem owners to try GeoWorks for free.

But that was not enough. Outside of AOL, GeoWorks had very few third-party applications. Part of this was due to the fact that in the early stages of software development for this platform, you needed a Sun workstation. This is rather ironic, considering that to develop software for cheap PCs, a computer worth $ 7000 was required. "Family businesses" could not enter this market at all.

At the same time, Microsoft released native platforms for developing Windows, such as Visual Basic, and won the recognition of small developers.

But with these limitations one could figure out if the OS for desktop computers would have a fairly large audience. Even the notorious GeoWorks fans realized that against Windows, it has no chance against Windows because of Microsoft's great zeal.

"I was very unpleasant because this really amazing program was not given any chance , IBM and Microsoft did not allow it to develop, "wrote one such fan in PC Magazine in 1991. "I hope that software developers will see the amazing potential of Ensemble and begin to develop for it. Without third-party developers, Ensemble will not survive. "

Microsoft stood on the shoulders of giants, and GeoWorks did not reach to the ankles.

Old IBM PS / 2 with Intel 386 processor

But although GeoWorks did not manage to win the hearts of users who preferred Windows, the OS has not completely died yet. Operating systems often live a lot of lives, even if they do not take off. They suddenly appear here and there, because in certain cases software is still useful.

For example, webOS, the Palm OS, which has long been abandoned, now operates smart TVs from LG.

] The fate of GEOS was similar. Like a cow that has gone through the process of food processing and is divided into a million pieces, GEOS parts appear in the lists of ingredients in all sorts of strange products. Among the places where GEOS bones were visible, you can name:

Digital assistants. Before Jeff Hawkins, the founder of Palm Computing, came up with PalmPilot, he made the first attempt to create a platform with the light version of GEOS. Tandy Zoomer, released in 1993, did not become a hit, but the collaboration with GeoWorks, Tandy and Casio for Hawkins and his team was informative. It helped to prepare the ground for the first really successful PDA several years later – but it no longer used GEOS.

Early Smartphones. The role of GEOS in the revolution of mobile phones was not limited to Palm. In the late 90's, this OS was a key part of the Nokia 9000 Communicator, one of the earliest smartphones that was very well received. He was capable of simple work with text, he had a graphical browser, and he could even edit spreadsheets. It was not cheap, and at the very beginning it cost $ 800, and was also huge in size. "Modern users refer to mobile e-mail and web browsing as a matter of routine, but Nokia 9000 Communicator was the first device that combined all this," wrote the author of reviews of technological innovations Richard Bagul in 2013. "Perhaps it was a cumbersome and heavy device, but we still miss it."

Nokia 9000 Communicator

] Electronic typewriters . In the 90's, the producers of typewriters were hard, and Brother was not prepared for the Internet revolution. But she had something in her sleeve: GEOS. The company collaborated with GeoWorks in the production of printer options with such features as simple work with text and a desktop publishing system. It was still typewriters, but they did more interesting things than just writing text.

Primitive netbooks . Interest Brother in GEOS extended not only to typewriters. She saw in GEOS the opportunity to bring "computer to the masses", as it was written in one press release. In 1998, when GEOS already managed to forget almost everything, the company-producer of typewriters launched an alternative platform – GeoBook for $ 500, a low-power laptop, for a decade ahead of the appearance of netbooks. It could use the browser and many programs available in the DOS-version of GeoWorks, but it did not have a hard drive, because of which the cost could be kept at a low level. And, just like with netbooks, reviewers hated this device. "For the price of this device, you can easily buy a recovered or second-hand Windows computer, or maybe even a new one. He will be capable of hundreds of things that this machine can only dream about, "was explained in the negative review of 1998 in the New York Times.

Today, as far as I know, there are no such crazy projects on GEOS, but, She may be working somewhere in an ATM.

But, despite all the extra lives GeoWorks had, today its prospects are worse than ever. In particular, this is due to the complex corporate history associated with GEOS. After the breakup of the company that created the program, in the 90s, the technology was sold to NewDeal, which built a set of office programs based on GEOS, very similar to Windows 95, which took away most of the unique charm of the platform.

At some point The OS was owned by the son of Ted Turner, who was trying to spin up a low-cost PC company called MyTurn.com, based on software from GeoWorks. When Ted Turner tried to participate in the Congressional elections in 2013, his work in this company served him badly.


As a result, the OS fell into the hands of the company Breadbox, which dealt with GeoWorks as a project on which it works on a volunteer basis, and tried to turn GEOS into an educational platform that works together with Android.

But recently Breadbox froze activity. In November 2015, the founder of the company, Frank Fisher, died unexpectedly when the company was in the process of creating a software version for tablets.

John Howard, his longtime partner for Breadbox, is now working on the next stages, and talks with Fisher's family, And also with other developers interested in this platform.

"I still have some legal issues to deal with, but I'm sure that the life of the GEOS code still burns," he wrote on the Breadbox website in 2016.