Exploring Microsoft's forgotten Unix distribution

Days of XENIX

Article from Issue 246/2021

It might seem surprising today, but before Linux arrived on the scene, Microsoft was a leading player in the Unix world. We look at XENIX, Microsoft's lost Unix distro, and show how you can boot up XENIX in a virtual machine.

As strange as it may seem, there was a period when Microsoft was advertising Unix as being "the microcomputer operating system of the future," and the company was even a big player in the Unix business.

Home computing at the time was dominated by 8-bit microcomputers, and Microsoft was planning for the next stage of computing, providing the OS for 16-bit microprocessors. After analyzing all available choices, Microsoft was expecting Unix to be the operating system of choice once home computing became sufficiently powerful.

Development and Launch

Seeking to make its own Unix adaptation, Microsoft bought a license from AT&T for Unix Version 7 in 1979. In August 1980, Microsoft announced their product would be available for 16-bit microcomputers, highlighting the fact that it would be a multiuser, multitasking system.


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