A review of 20 alternative operating systems
During my search for alternatives I couldn’t let go of the thought: ‘Why do all the mainstream operating systems need so much memory and processing power? Back in the old days, and I mean way back in my Atari ST days 512 kB was enough to run a graphical operating system and graphical apps. Why is todays minimum memory requirement for most operating systems then a thousand times more (512 MB in most cases).’ Admittedly the Atari operating system TOS was single user and could not do multitasking. But that shouldn’t account for the 1000 times increase. Also a TCP/IP networking stack and some Hardware Abstraction Layers to manage the less strict hardware of the x86 platform shouldn’t have caused this increase either.
So my conclusion is that the mainstream operating systems we mainly use today are just bloated with features because the hardware development allowed for it. But that also means I can’t use these systems on some of my older hardware.
Searching the web I came across 2 great articles both reviewing some of the alternative operating systems out there. Techradar’s ‘10 best alternative operating systems‘ and Pingdom’s ‘10 amazingly alternative operating systems and what they could mean for the future‘.
Let’s try and review them all one by one. Here’s a table with all details. The individual reviews are below.
Memory usage after boot
Memory usage after browser start
Memory usage with 4 tabs open
Acid3 test result
|Haiku||R1 Alpha 4.1||99 MB||124 MB||crash||crash||crash|
|ReactOS||0.3.15||87 MB||57 MB (but very slow)||< 30 MB||99/100||crash|
|Damn Small Linux||4.11-rc2||19.9 MB||39.8 MB||152 MB||54/100||unable to run|
|Puppy Linux||Slacko 5.6||151 MB||170 MB||unresponsive||100/100||unresponsive|
|ICAROS Live||1.5.2||69.4 MB||148.2 MB||crash||100/100||crash|
Haiku is mentioned in both articles a being very promising. Haiku is an open source reincarnation of the BeOS operating system and is therefore also compatible with software written for BeOS.
Version: R1 Alpha 4.1
Minimum system requirements: 128 MB memory, Pentium II 400 Mhz, 700 MB hard disk space
I first tried downloading the ISO image and burning that to CD. But while booting on my old laptop it wouldn’t go past the boot icons and would just hang. So I tried the ‘anyboot’ image on an USB drive. That would go past the boot icons, only to crash with a panic message. Not very promising so far.
As a last resort I tried the Haiku VirtualBox image on a more powerful workstation. Finally I was able to boot Haiku and give it a try.
The memory usage by the system immediately after boot is about 99 MB. That’s more than 50% of what I have available on my old laptop (and more than most lightweight Linux installs use). So that gives me a ‘bloated’ feeling already.
The included web browser is called ‘WebPositive’ and bumps the memory usage up to 124 MB by just displaying the default welcome page. And when opening the acid3 test page (http://acid3.acidtests.org) the complete system will just hang.
Verdict: Haiku is definitely still Alpha software and not production ready given the booting problems on real hardware. Also, the ‘real’ memory requirements to browse the web are much more than the published 128 MB if you don’t want the system to crash on the first website you try to open. Definitely not a suitable option for older hardware.
This operating system is mentioned in both articles as well. It’s an open source OS that tries to be compatible with Microsoft Windows. That means you should be able to run your Windows software and use Windows hardware drivers with this free OS.
Minimum system requirements: 64 MB memory (recommended: 256 MB), x86 or x64 processor, 350 MB hard disk space
After the booting problems with Haiku I decided to just skip to using VirtualBox with ReactOS. Using the downloaded image ReactOS boots up just fine.
Straight after booting ReactOS uses about 87 MB of memory. I’m puzzled. Didn’t the minimum system requirements say 64 MB? How come it’s using way more than that then?
Let’s try browsing. Using the ‘ReactOS application manager’ I installed Firefox 3.6 (I tried Firefox 23 but that crashes the system immediately after installation). After starting Firefox the used memory strangely drops to 57 MB (??). The Acid3 test score of Firefox 3.6 is 99/100. Which is fairly good and should allow for browsing most of todays web sites. So let’s try some by opening 4 tabs for Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia and cnn.com.
Loading the websites for some reason takes forever, especially loading my Facebook timeline after logging in takes about 5 minutes. But the great thing is: the reported memory usage after loading the web pages is < 30 MB!
Verdict: Definitely worth investigating on real hardware. Seems to release quite a bit of used memory a few minutes after booting and runs Firefox 3.6.