I just managed to resurrect an old 80286/10MHz PC with 2 MB of RAM that had died from an expired PSU capacitor. I am looking for an operating system that could run on that hardware. Preferably something with networking capabilities, since I have an old ISA NE2000 card installed. No graphical interface needed, but multiple user support would be nice.

I am aware of quite a few historical OS that I could try, such as:

  • MS-DOS + Windows 3.11 - the popular choice of the time that still has me running screaming after all these years.
  • Coherent - I actually had the chance to use this once back then, before Mark Williams Co. went belly up.
  • Minix 2.x - I had this on a virtual machine for some time.
  • Xenix
  • ...and a significant number of other commercial Unix variants for the 80286.

While these OS are interesting from a historical standpoint, I am more interested in something that would be more "useful" (or as useful as anything on a 80286 can be) these days. More specifically I am interested in finding an OS that has seen some development in, say, the last decade.

That requirement has significantly limited the potential choices:

  • FreeDOS - a very nice effort that is still quite active, one that I actually use routinely.
  • ELKS - this one seems abandoned and will probably have quite a few rough edges.
  • Minix 2.x - an OS that I am somewhat familiar with and has a relatively full set of features, but the 80286 support was dropped during the move to Minix 3.

Are there any other operating systems that I could look into? Perhaps some NetBSD derivative stashed somewhere?

PS: Before people start screaming, I am not going to turn an 80286 into a 24/7 server. I am interested in the possibilities on what I can do with it, not in making the power company happy...

closed as too localized by Dave M, Shinrai, Linker3000, bwDraco, Gaff Nov 4 '11 at 1:56

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    Windows 3.1 was awesome. You should be ashamed. ;) – Shinrai Nov 3 '11 at 20:47
  • All you can do is make the power company happy. The lack of modern power management features, reduced power supply efficiency, and higher operating voltages will make the performance per watt of this box orders of magnitude less than a modern system. – David Schwartz Nov 3 '11 at 22:06
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    @David Schwartz: true, but the sentiment per watt of this box would be off the charts :-p – thkala Nov 3 '11 at 22:10
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    OS/2? I think that was designed for the 286. – Paul Nov 3 '11 at 22:35
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    sourceforge.net/projects/opengem OpenGEM is a DOS GUI that seeks to combine FreeDOS and Digital Research GEM into a complete OS for low end machines. Good luck. – Linker3000 Nov 3 '11 at 23:00

Not at all current, but as far as sentiment:

  • DESQview on top of DOS
  • NetWare 286
  • +1 for NetWare 286 - I wonder if I can get that version to talk to Linux+MarsNWE – thkala Nov 3 '11 at 23:40

OS/2? I think that was designed for the 286 - if you can find a version old enough to support it.

  • +1 Interesting! OS/2 1.x should support the 80286 and apparently some editions even had TCP/IP support... – thkala Nov 3 '11 at 23:16

If you are looking for something with good networking capabilities, a *NIX OS would probably be a good idea. Personally, I would use either MS-DOS or FreeDOS because I am more familiar with that system.

What exactly do you mean by "useful"? Ultimately, what you are going to use it for the most would determine what OS you choose

  • Minix is the only relatively recent Unix-like OS that I know to support 80286. FreeDOS is an nice choice, although I am not sure how much of an OS anything inspired from DOS can be ;-) – thkala Nov 3 '11 at 22:57

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