Collapse OS – The End is Nigh

Turn on the news and what have you got? Doom and gloom, wars and rumours of wars, famine and the collapse of the economy, Brexit, and there’s usually something hurtling through space toward us. The end certainly feels like it’s just around the corner. Good job we have an OS for that.

Hollywood and popular fiction loves to portray the end of times through a variety of different scenarios. Whether it’s a zombie apocalypse, nuclear war, cyborgs travelling back from the future, or giant purple aliens clicking their fingers. Let’s face it, we all love a good end of the world story. Living through it, however, is a different matter.

Software developer Virgil Dupras is a chap who firmly believes that our global supply chain is set to collapse before the year 2030. As he states on his website. “With this collapse, we won’t be able to produce most of our electronics because it depends on a very complex supply chain that we won’t be able to achieve again for decades (ever?)”.

Of course, other such doomsday scenarios apply. Imagine a world where, for some reason, what’s left of humanity can’t produce any electronic components, but can produce electricity. They’d have access to all the previously manufactured components, everything from an iPhone 11 to an Atari 2600, but they’ll need to retrofit those devices with an OS that can do what they need it to do without needing to access the internet, or requiring higher-end components. Think of it as a kind of Mad Max operating system.

Collapse2

Computers today, would, in such a future break down beyond repair, and since we’re unable to produce microcontrollers in such a future, we’d need something that could run on older, legacy technology; scraps of the tech that was produced in the past, but built to last.

It’s the end of the world as we know it…

This is where Dupras’ self-developed, open source operating system comes into play. Called Collapse OS, this is a basic bootstrap OS that runs on a Z80 kernel (yep, the same Z80 that was inside a ZX Spectrum, and many arcade cabinets) together with a small collection of programs, tools and documentation; enough to enable you to assemble an OS that can run on older, less resource hungry devices, while still offering the survivor the ability to edit text files, read SD cards, and produce an output.

While it’s still in its developmental stages, Collapse OS is designed to help soften the blow of humanity not being able to access the wealth of knowledge it once enjoyed. Survivors would be able to scavenge the parts necessary to create a computer, of sorts. They could install Collapse OS, then gain access to the information they wouldn’t necessarily have in the bleak post-apocalypse world. This would ultimately give that particular group an edge, enabling them to better survive where others may not.

Winter is coming…

Choosing a Z80 kernel is a cracking idea, as the processor has been in production for so long, and is present in everything from a cash register to a graphics calculator. Scavenging through the detritus of the new world will lead the survivors to such devices, and the components within. Dupras has even stated that Collapse OS will run on a Sega Master System, or Sega Mega Drive (Genesis), so at least we’d be able to enjoy Desert Strike from time to time in this envisaged dystopian future.

Fallout 2030

While we certainly hope that the collapse of civilisation won’t happen (we’d like to think that humanity may be able to come to some agreement), it’s worth keeping an eye on such projects. Perhaps, should such a case ever come to pass, we as computing enthusiasts may become more valuable in the society of the future? Armed with Collapse OS, we could help kickstart the survivors?

Mind you, it does make you wonder. Why create an operating system for a potential apocalypse that very few people would know how to install and use without the aid of an online instruction sheet? Why not just opt for a Linux distro that can run on older PCs, after all 808x chips are just as prevalent in the world as Z80 CPUs? Perhaps we need to stockpile older, more reliable machines in case everything does one day go pear-shaped? Something like a technical equivalent to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, where motherboards, memory, drives, operating systems in disk and USB, and soldering irons etc. are stored? The survivors could gain entry, and start humanity off ahead of the stone age.

To be fair, I’d probably opt for fashioning a spear and living in the forest.

More info on Collapse OS can be found at https://collapseos.org/.

Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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David Hayward

David has spent most of his life tinkering with technology, from the ZX Spectrum, getting his hands on a Fujitsu VPP5000/100 supercomputer, and coding on an overheating Raspberry Pi. He's written for the likes of Micro Mart, Den of Geek, and countless retro sites and publications, covering reviews, creating code and bench testing the latest tech. He also has a huge collection of cables.

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