A key aspect of the NES’ success was its design, which mimicked a simple VCR rather than a computer. Of course, modern game consoles take the opposite path. They look and feel like computers, all the way down to their overly-complicated and disorganized operating systems.
Obviously, the NES didn’t have an operating system. But what if a time traveler went back, held a gun to someone’s head, and demanded a desktop OS for the NES? A developer named Inkbox, who clearly lacks a time machine, decided to bring this idea to life.
Inkbox’s operating system for the NES, called NESOS, utilizes a Windows-styled GUI. And while NESOS is very constrained by the NES hardware, it’s still fairly impressive—there’s a functioning word processor, a toolbar, multiple desktop background options, and desktop shortcuts for files.
Now, you could probably argue that NESOS is more of an application than an operating system. It can’t load new software or perform the complex tasks that define DOS, Windows, macOS, or popular Linux distros. But it’s still an interesting experiment.
I should also mention Family Basic, a Famicom (Japanese NES) application that allowed users to write and save BASIC programs to cassette. While Family Basic isn’t an “operating system,” it’s an interesting example of how Nintendo participated in the PC market during the mid-1980s. With this context, NESOS doesn’t feel like such a crazy idea.
You can test NESOS for yourself using an emulator. The ROM is available at Inkbox’s software page. Note that NESOS will also work on a real NES if you have a flashcart (or the ability to print a NES cartridge, I suppose).