Most of the time at MTE, we focus on tutorials, reviews, and other practical applications of modern technology. Occasionally, however, some neat new toy pops up that we’ve just got to share. Such is DexOS, and if you’ve got an affinity for custom operating systems or new ways of computing, you might enjoy tinkering with it as much as I do. It’s a custom OS written entirely in assembly, which means it’s FAST and SMALL. How fast and how small? This author has seen it start up in a virtual machine in about 5 seconds, and it can fit on a floppy disc. That’s right, a floppy disc.
What Can it Do?
You may be thinking something like “If it’s that small, it can’t possibly be of much actual use.” and if that’s the case, you may be surprised. Included in the tiny ISO you’ll find:
Games (like Pong and Space Invaders clones)
Graphical window environment
DOS-like command line
Assembler and IDE
ZIP file support
There are some other optional utilities at the home page including a (very) light web server and some additional drivers and test packages.
What Can’t it Do?
For starters, network support is VERY limited. Only certain types of ethernet are supported, and no wifi. Partly because of that, there is currently no web browser either.
Sadly, multitasking is mostly nonexistent as well, and the custom nature of the OS makes it unable to run existing software from your favorite OS.
Like I said, it’s a toy.
There are two ways of interacting with DexOS graphically, and the first is the custom UI that resembles something you’d find in video games or game consoles. It’s highly simplistic and highly stylized, but lets you access what you need.
Not everything here works, at least not in my testing. To launch applications, you can run the GEX files (similar to DOS’s EXE files. It appears that GUI apps are GEX while console apps are DEX) from the Load Program menus.
DexOS also includes a fairly capable command line interface that’s pretty similar to DOS and uses many of the same command like dir and cd (though cd displayed some odd behavior in testing).
As you can see, there are a few applications already available in the base like Pong and Invaders. Just enter the name of the program to run it.
You may have noticed WIN.DEX in the list of file in console mode. This opens the windowed desktop with a layout familiar just just about any PC user.
As there’s no real multitasking on DexOS, there’s really very little that can currently be done in this mode. In fact, most of the menu options appear to do nothing at all. This seems to be more of a demo or proof-of-concept than actual intended interface.
You won’t be using DexOS for your main operating system any time soon. There’s little (if anything) it can do that can’t be done better by a “real” OS, however projects like this are an important launching pad for new ideas and new approaches to software. I, for one, would never have expected you could pack as much functionality as this into a system so amazingly small. DexOS might not be the next big thing in desktop operating systems, but it’s a great launching pad for someone who likes to toy with their computer, or perhaps someone who’s just a geek.