You know what’s fun? Making claims on the internet about how something or someone was first with something or someone – if you catch my drift. You know what’s also a lot of fun? QNX, the microkernel realtime operating system that powers just about any possible piece of kit you can think of. As it turns out, QNX was the first operating system to support a hard drive on a PC. On a related note, a new pre-release has been released of QNX 6.5.0.
The claim is made by Paul Leroux, who works for QNX. He recalls the tale of how, in the early ’80s, he came across an IBM XT, with a whopping 10MB hard drive. “The XT in question used MS-DOS, but DOS wasn’t the first OS to support a hard drive on a PC,” Leroux recalls, “That honor belongs to QNX, which in 1982 introduced support for a 5MB Davong. If that sounds small, you’re right: it’s just enough to store a single photo from one of today’s low-end digital cameras.”
QNX also had other firsts. For instance, it was the first realtime operating system to support 286 protected mode. It appears that even back then, QNX was insanely awesome: “Due to amazing forethought, most programs ran in protected mode unmodified,” wrote Mitchell Schoenbrun, a QNX veteran, “In fact re-compilation was not even needed. Remember all the recompiles for other OS’s to switch between modes? Following a few simple rules, even drivers could run in either mode.”
The constraints these guys had to deal with – the first commercial version of QNX ran in 64k of RAM, and supported multitasking. “Amazingly enough, 64K was enough memory to run the OS, a shell, and actually compile programs,” Schoenbrun recalls, “I believe it was even possible to do a few background chores at the same time, like printing a file.”
Of course, now it’s up to teh interwebs to either prove or disprove these claims. I’d love to take them at face-value, but if there’s one thing I learned during my time here, it’s that absolute claims like this rarely stand; someone else is always first. Something always did something earlier. Come on guys and girls, don’t let me down!
By the way, Leroux is dedicating an entire series of posts to the 30 year anniversary of QSSL. It contains gems like these photos of the very first QNX-based computer, or the very first QNX newsletter from 1984.
On a related note, the QNX Software Development Platform 6.5.0 has been released. Yes, I, too, long for the days you could download an installable copy of the operating system for on your desktop without any hassle, with up-to-date software. Those were the days. I think that‘s something QNX could look at providing, now that they mark their 30 year anniversary.