Now on YouTube: The incredible 1.44M QNX floppy demo!

You have got to watch this. But before you click Play, keep this in mind: The 1.44M QNX floppy demo dates from the late 1990s and its web browser was built for the 1999 Web, not the 2012 Web. So, as you'd expect, the browser in this demo displays some error messages when it's pointed at modern websites.

Other than that, prepared to be amazed. Everything you see here — OS, windowing system, web browser, TCP/IP stack, file manager, games, etc. — fit on a single, self-booting 1.44M floppy. No CD, no hard drive. And as you'll see, the demo could even download and launch new features (including a graphics driver), all on the fly. Cool, that.

Did you know? The ISO image for the 1.44M floppy demo was downloaded more than 1,000,000 times, making it the first truly successful marketing campaign for QNX Software Systems. The purpose of the demo was simple: to show developers how much performance and functionality QNX could squeeze into a resource-constrained device.

A big shout-out to ToastyTech for posting the video!

Want to see a pic of an even older QNX demo disk? Click here.


Pax said...

I subscribed to your site's RSS feeds because I still remain a huge fan of QNX. I had the opportunity to run the demo disk when it came out in '97. I was still using DOS (and occasionally Windows 3.1) on a 386DX-40mhz with 20mb of RAM.

I was floored by what QNX was able to accomplish. It took a while for the extraction of the files to load into memory (so I guess the uncompressed files were probably in the neighborhood of 2.5mbs total). Sadly, I was never able to get onto the Internet because the system (like many Linux distros of the time) oddly had little or no support for modems out of the box.

Still... saddened that QNX never pushed forward with a consumer version. I never understood why they made the DEMO Disk, impress the hell out of geeks everywhere and pull a disappearing act (into smaller but high paying markets).

QNX is the main reason I keep tabs on RIM's Blackberry - so there is still hope.

Paul N. Leroux said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Pax. If my memory serves me well, I think your comment about compression is just about right. And admittedly, the demo disk was almost too successful! We were, for the most part, trying to show manufacturers and developers what they could do with QNX technology. But we ended up getting lots of other people interested as well.

Re your experience of the modem version, did you ever try the network version? (Mind you, you would have needed an existing LAN...)

- Paul

Pax said...

I'm pretty sure that's the disk I downloaded as it only supported LANs. I believe that was the only disk available for download too but I could be mistaken. The problem was that I was on a modem and for some reason the alternative OSes at the time (QNX, Red Hat and a few others I played around with) didn't seem to offer much modem support. There was a focus on LANs and the enterprise.

It was an interesting period, though. Not only had QNX made the splash it did but BeOS was looming over the horizon (Intel support followed QNX's demo disk). OS/2 was beginning to phase itself out around this period so those two remained the only alternative OS hopefuls I considered (not including Apple). As a PC-DOS (IBM's version of DOS) hold-out until 1999/2000, I was looking for a non-MS alternative. Such high hopes:(

"But we ended up getting lots of other people interested as well."

I'm curious. Did you guys ever consider riding this interest into something more? I often wonder if there is a feeling of a missed opportunity. There were very few people happy with the thought of upgrading their hardware to run a new OS only to achieve similar performance. Upgrades just didn't make a lot of sense back then.

Paul N. Leroux said...

There were two version: modem and network. I think!

Re missed opportunity: I was here at the time, and I don't recall anyone feeling that. Our focus was always on embedded devices, not the desktop. (Achieving any kind of presence and market success on the desktop requires billions of investment, IMHO; ask anyone who has tried to take on Microsoft.) Mind you, to attract developers at the time, we had to create an attractive desktop environment where they could work -- because developers are people, too. But non-developers found it attractive as well. We thought that was fantastic, but we also knew how important it was to focus on our key strengths and compete where we could best succeed.

Pax said...

Thank you for the insight into this. I think QNX's position was pretty clear as they never swayed from their core business model but given the new found interest after the demo disk, I always imagined that you guys might've toyed with the idea for a little bit. It would have been epic:-)

You blog certainly makes interesting reading especially now that QNX is in the spotlight again with RIM. Looking forward to future posts. Cheers!

camz said...

There were *FOUR* versions actually.

A modem/dialup version that used PPP and a dialer, and a network version that only supported NE2000 LAN adapters.

The other two versions were a christmas version of the other two that included a build-a-snowman HTML page.

I was actually one of the first outside of QSSL to see the disk, Dan Hildebrand asked me to an alpha tester for it.

The disk was also pushed by Dan H in the linux forums as a challenge for them to try and replicate. To the best of my knowlwdge the linux community was never able to pack as much functionality into < 2MB.

Paul N. Leroux said...

I remember the snowman demo -- it was sent out as a Christmas card. I also remember sitting down with DanH as he worked out some of features of the original demo; it was so much fun that I (half) jokingly asked my boss if I could move out of the marketing department and work next to Dan for a while. (If anyone reading this is unfamiliar with Dan, check out this post.)

Malte said...

Hey Paul, great find! But I don't think there are "ISO" images of floppy disks, are there? ;)

I remember running this demo on a PowerPC-based Mac, on an x86 emulator! QNX4 in this emulated environment was faster than the MacOS 7.6 directly running on the PPC!

Paul N. Leroux said...

Oops on the ISO. Thanks for the correction, Malte!

- Paul

Spencer said...

I remember I downloaded the QNX RTP demo straight after using the floppy. It was a eye opener into the embedded.

I still believe QNX can port apps from Linux/BSD platforms to broaden it's scope and application via a repository.

That's what I wanted in 2001 just out of high school that's what I still want today.

M Reale said...


That brought me sweet memories! I ran the disk demo in my 386 SX with 16 MB RAM back in 1998. That just amazed me at the time when I was starting my carrer in IT industry. The minimalistic - and at same time powerful - approach of that thing inspire me since them. Really appreciated, thanks for posting !


M Reale

Paul N. Leroux said...

You're welcome, Mauricio! - Paul

Ebs Man said...

When will the world be able to see a QNX Desktop System published by BlackBerry? I'm also willing to pay, because I'm fed up with Windows and after using 2,5 years BB10 devices I'm absolutely confirmed that a modern QNX Desktop Variation could revolutionize or at least stir up the PC market quite a lot!!!

Paul N. Leroux said...

Having a desktop QNX system would be cool. However, that would entail a total change of focus for the QNX business. Also, targeting the desktop successfully would entail an unimaginably massive effort -- just think of the thousands of device drivers that would probably have to be written. (Not to mention the billions in marketing! :-) One reason QNX does well is that it targets markets well-suited to its core competencies and where few others have the technology, expertise, and corporate culture to succeed -- the automotive market, for example.