What are the most famous operating systems for non-x86 computers? I mean, most famous OS which have different instruction set architecture.

Background (to better understand my task):

I ask this question because currently I working on a paper which describes the difference between hypervisors and emulators. It have a passage which looks like:

You could install Windows 95 on Windows 7 with hypervisor, but you cannot install <...> on Windows 7, because these operating systems are developed to use different instructions sets. You will need emulator for it.

"<...>" is the name of OS which I ask for.

  • 2
    I wouldn't like to see this sentence in a cs paper. this is probably for a "background" section, so just explain, what a hypervisor does and that a direct consequence is that guest operating systems must target the host's architecture / instruction set... that said, nowadays, there's arguably no "famous" OS that doesn't have an x86 port. Back then, there would be many, e.g. all these 68k systems (classic MacOS, AmigaOS, etc). Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 14:06
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    But then, this question doesn't really seem to be about retrocomputing at all :o Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 14:06
  • @FelixPalmen "at all" - well, probably. Some questions should be answered, but it is very hard to decide where to find people who really understand them..
    – john c. j.
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 14:10
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    This is way too broad to be useful as the simple short answer is that almost all operating systems do not use an x86 architecture. x86 is a small minority in terms of type.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 15:25
  • The question have -3 votes and closed. I agree, the question is bad, but answers and further discussion are great. That's why I hope it will not be removed from site.
    – john c. j.
    Commented Feb 7, 2019 at 20:22

4 Answers 4


(Too long for a comment, sorry)

This question is way too broad to give any serious answer (beside collecting meetoos with whatever favorite OS).

I suggest you go for Wikis OS list (which is non exhaustive anyway) and pick some random.

And then there is maybe a tiny misconception in your assumption. Installing an OS is not only an issue of an instruction set, but a machine structure as well (if not more).

  • An OS made for some non-IBM-PC x86 computer will as well not boot under a Hypervisor providing a PC-type virtual environment
  • As an OS for a exact PC style hardware using a non x86 CPU won't either.
  • And even more, an OS requiring a 'newer' version of a x86 will as well not work.

A further misconception could be that a Hypervisor does not do emulation. But isn't that the whole point? It emulates certain devices for each guest and then merges the results into a real one (think Disk or Network). Similar, many provide emulation layers to present a certain hardware as some other, maybe more simple type. Think a NE2000 hardware level emulation when the actual network interface is a total different one.

P.S.: Somewhat unrelated, but maybe helpful: If you have to write a paper, you should only use analogies that you can defend on your own. 'the internet said' doesn't always work well.

  • Great answer. "A further misconception could be that a Hypervisor does not do emulation." As I understand:
    – john c. j.
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 13:56
  • 1
    1st point: Virtualization is a process of separating resources, while emulation is the process of imitating resources (this is how most people talk about it).
    – john c. j.
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 13:56
  • 3rd point: As a consequence from 1st point - that's why we can "fake" RAM and HDD size with hypervisor, but we will need emulator to imitate the CPU cycles.
    – john c. j.
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 13:57
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    @johnc.j. Machine structure is to mean everything past the CPU. What interfaces are present, at what addresses, how they are to be handled, this includes as well memory. A hypervisor, like any other OS is fited to a certain machine or group of compatible machines. Thus it will not run on machines not build the way it expects. Much the same way as a OS under a hypervisor will not run if the hypervisor doesn't present the machine as the OS expects it. Long story short, the question has been closed as it does not make sense in the first place.
    – Raffzahn
    Commented Jan 1, 2020 at 21:28

The most famous operating system which you can’t install on a non-binary-translating hypervisor in Windows is probably ... Windows, in one of its non-x86 incarnations (Windows CE, Windows RT, non-x86 Windows NT, or ARM64 Windows 10).

There are many other possibilities:

  • one of the Unix versions or Unix-like systems on non-x86, going back to the original PDP-7 Unix;
  • pre-x86 releases of OS X and MacOS, on PowerPC and Motorola 68k;
  • VMS, on VAX systems;
  • any of the mainframe or mini or (non-x86) super-computer operating systems;
  • many micro operating systems, such as Atari TOS, AmigaOS...

These are just a few examples, there are hundreds of others. Determining which one of these is the most famous is probably a matter of context and opinion.


Here are some examples:

  • @UncleBod Sure. Also CP/M had a 68000 version as I recall. Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 13:56
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    @UncleBod I would argue that CP/M did have an x86 version. There was a very clear migration path (used by many applications - e.g., WordStar; and by many manufacturers) from 8-bit CP/M & MP/M to 16-bit CP/M-86 & MP/M-86. Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 15:14

IBM OS/360

This is the system that led IBM to dominate the mainframe world. Succeeded by OS/370 and one could easily argue that the later dominance of Windows was a direct outgrowth of MS/PC-DOS dominance which in turn came from the IBM PC. The IBM PC was a largely mediocre machine but it was from IBM and that's what mattered most.

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