Crypto Operating System
Crypto Operating System (COS) was the development name of a Mac-compatible operating system supposedly developed by the German company Omega GmbH in the late 1990s. Omega caught the attention of technology media with impressive specifications and seemingly serious investor and consumer information, but the operating system was never demoed publicly. The company repeatedly pushed the release date forward, gaining a reputation as vaporware or hoax. Although never admitted, COS is now popularly believed never to have existed.
Course of events
An article from the German publishing house Heinz Heise on September 25, 1997 broke the story of a new operating system from Omega. The article quotes the company's president, Manfred Schmitz, as saying that the project started out as an attempt to make the Mac OS more secure. However, that task was too complicated, so the company decided to take the reverse approach and create its own Macintosh-compatible OS. The article cited specifications for the OS, including United States B2 security classification, preemptive multitasking, the capability of running Mac OS applications at 4 times the speed of the original, and a custom QuickTime implementation. System requirements would be low; 500 KiB RAM and 12 MiB hard drive space and a 68030-processor (or better) or a Power Macintosh. The price would be 169 DM and it would be distributed as a trial shareware program.
The specifications were met by the technology world with a mixture of enthusiasm and suspicion. Although some of the least plausible claims from the Heise article were later adjusted by Omega on their website, many experts still doubted that Omega could have created such an operating system without Apple Computer's assistance.
According to an interview with Omega's CEO on German Mac site MacGadget in October 1, COS development had been going on for 7 years, originally planned as a B2 module for Copland. 20 developers in Germany and USA were currently working on the project. It did not use any Apple code, except for the Macintosh ROM.
The Heise article claimed that the first public demonstration would happen at the MacWorld conference in Düsseldorf, Germany on November 13, 1997. Heise editorial staff was offered a private demonstration prior to the conference, but it was cancelled because alleged "changed development goals" and attempts to be compatible with the Common Hardware Reference Platform. The November 13 delivery date was reiterated as "100% certain" in an October 6 Heise article. Omega prepared for the conference and even uploaded detailed installation instructions for the operating system shortly before it was supposed to be released. When MacWorld came, there was much disappointment to find that Omega's presence at the exhibition floor was limited to pamphlet hand-outs, and that no operating system became available from Omega's FTP site.
In December 1997, Omega publicly said that they were searching for a new investment partner, because their current one "was becoming impatient".
On December 31, COS topped the annual vaporware list compiled by Wired Magazine. Wired rhetorically asked, "Is the long-promised COS vaporware or an elaborate prank?", dubbing it "The X-Files operating system". The nickname was a reference to an X-Files episode (Ghost in the Machine) in which a computer called COS was trying to terminate the series' protagonists, Mulder and Scully.
Although the specifications claimed by Omega varied widely, here is a list of some of the features that the OS supposedly had:
- B2 security classification
- Preemptive multitasking
- Clustering features
- Mac OS compatibility
- Capable of running approximately 85% of System 7 and Mac OS 8 applications
- Full QuickTime implementation
- Full compatibility with all Adobe Systems applications
- No need for a Mac ROM
- System requirements
- RAM requirements of 500–4000 KiB
- Disk space requirements of 12–15 MiB
- Original Heise article — September 25, 1997, in German
- Second Heise article — October 6, 1997, in German
- A compilation of various links and thoughts related to COS
- The X-Files Operating System? — December 31, 1997, Wired article
- Vaporware 1997: We Hardly Knew Ye — December 31, 1997, Wired 1997 vaporware list