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Unraveling the Utopian System that Runs All Software Imaginable Myth
The Utopian System that Runs All Software Imaginable Myth speaks of a hardware or software solution that... does it all. It seems like such a great idea, but is it?

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This myth is of the wishful thinking type, making it more of an irritating distraction from reality than devious misinformation. The myth persists because it is a populist idea that appears to solve complex problems with elegant simplicity. Simple ideas aren't always useful though.

Why the Myth was Woven
One of the oldest tech myths, it got its modern start as soon as mere mortals first began looking at personal computers in the late 70's. They found that nearly every vendor produced a product that required specialized software, and would typically not work at all with software designed for other systems.

People with no engineering background jumped to the conclusion that the solution to this problem would be... one system that could run anything. Engineers actually tried to accomplish this at various times and in different ways. They experienced varying levels of success, but had a consistent level of failure.


The first stabs at this mythical system came from systems which "also ran" other system's software. The Apple II (and many other computers of its day) found ways to run CP/M software using hardware and software emulators. After CP/M faded away, the IBM PC became the standard to copy.

IBM's PC was fairly easy to copy; the next challenge was copying Apple's Macintosh. Since a significant chunk of the Mac System Software was originally burned into the onboard memory, compatibility was first realized through pulling ROM chips from an old Mac and using the disembodied parts to gain access to the Mac Toolbox routines.

Both the Atari ST and Amiga used such a method to enable runing Mac software, and also found ways to run PC software. This versatility did not make the systems much of a success however, even though they were often cheaper.

Operating system vendors also got into the race to Utopia. IBM's OS/2 attempted to run DOS, Win16 and its own OS/2 native software, and Microsoft's Windows NT was originally designed to support DOS, Win16, OS/2, the new Win32 and, supposedly, even POSIX (UNIX) software. But the problem with "also run" software is that it didn't always run all that well.

The Myth Weavers
The idea of running various different types of software on one system seems like it should be such a good idea that everyone got into the act at one point or another.

Even Apple, which had a proud history of looking down on DOS software as being archaic and uninteresting lemming fodder, at one point offered Macs with an Intel 486 chip that enabled users to switch between the Mac desktop and a DOS mode.

Sometimes the myth is rewoven by wishful thinkers while imagineering products like a Mac OS X Red Box. Other times, the success of functional emulators like MAME for arcade games, or the convenience of solutions such as Virtual PC, or more recently Boot Camp or Parallels, reawakens a fantasy scenario where everything else just works too, and is natively built in.
Like many myths, the Utopian System that Runs All Software Imaginable is based on (or at least contains trace morsels of) reasonable ideas. Its true standing as a myth comes when such a superficially plausible idea takes on a life of its own, and drives rampant, specious speculation that feeds itself like a perpetual motion machine. Time for an unraveling!

Continued: Unraveled with Extreme Prejudice


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