Collapse OS, an operating system for after the apocalypse

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Forth! I haven’t used that since early Macintosh days, where MacForth was a cheap and easy implementation (but couldn’t create standalone apps). It did, however, provide a nice way to get to new ROM routines that weren’t generally available quickly to other dev environments such as Turbo Pascal, as you could write interactive assembler code – and disassemble them for inclusion in said Turbo Pascal.

Knowledge of Forth also is a good first language before tackling Postscript.


Someone would have to dig down through layers of cell phones, modern consoles and PCs to reach that strata.


So, Windows 10? I mean, that’s what I’m using now.


Having to use Forth wouldn’t soften the blow, it’d rub salt into the wound.


Without second-guessing the project’s ingenious creators, aren’t there vastly more later machines lying around? And aren’t 16-bit CPUs more practical in general as a technology of last resort?

I’ve been following CollapseOS a little bit, since I find it kind of a charming idea. I think the main focus is really on microcontrollers, despite retrocomputers and such getting a lot of the press.

There are billions (maybe trillions?) of 8-bit microcontrollers in the world. Your fridge probably has three in it, two more in your washing machine, a dozen in your car, etc. 80% of them are AVR or PIC (and now increasingly ARM). They are easily as powerful as 1980s home computers were, so the idea that you should be able to harvest them and rebuild general purpose computing from there is pretty reasonable.

Once you support those systems, porting to actual retrocomputers is plausible because the horsepower level is comparable, so why not.

I like “fantasy OS” projects like this. :grinning:


A fascinating project from both technical and societal perspectives. I’ll be sharing this with several acquaintances. Thanks for posting!


What’s all this going to be plugged into? We’ll have better odds with a meat-based OS (like a mind).


You have my deepest sympathies.


Hmmm, Thats an interesting idea. Could this also be used for 3rd world countries and/or makers? I meand there are probably a few pre-apocalyptic applications for this.


Related: fascinating paper on how long we might keep the computers running in this apocalyptic scenario:



I think that’s probably apocollapse, now.


Jay Doscher’s back7 blog has a number of interesting “cyberdeck” projects, including this (theoretical) post-apocalypse RPi. Not 100% sure about true practicality PA, but I do like the design aesthetic and engineering approach.

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They address the 8/16/32/64 bit issue directly on their site:

Why go as far as 8-bit machines? There are some 32-bit ARM chips around that are protoboard-friendly.

First, because I think there are more scavenge-friendly 8-bit chips around than scavenge-friendly 16-bit or 32-bit chips.

Second, because those chips will be easier to replicate in a post-collapse fab. The z80 has 9000 transistors. 9000! Compared to the millions we have in any modern CPU, that’s nothing! If the first chips we’re able to create post-collapse have a low transistor count, we might as well design a system that works well on simpler chips.

That being said, nothing stops the project from including the capability of programming an ARM or RISC-V chip.


Also, low-power systems like the Raspberry Pi 400 would make for especially good “apocalypse” computers - or more realistically, they’re good for an “in a pinch” situation like your desktop broke down and you need to get online with something other than a cell phone, or when your electrical supply is off-grid. ARM is the MIPS-per-watt king, and is very well-suited for an electricity-starved environment.

As much as the idea of salvaging microcontrollers appeals to me, there would be plenty of computers that can be salvaged directly. However, it’s all subject to the availability of electricity, let alone networking, printers, or storage media.

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My gut tells me that there is a big problem with this…

Salvaging the processors and building motherboards for them… actually fairly easy. You can probably wire wrap or breadboard a Z80 style processor!

The problem is that there will be no standardization on parts or motherboard design because you’re using the parts that you can find…

Which means you’ll need to write device drivers to use the software on the motherboard. And I’m having a hard time thinking that very many people will do that…

Honestly, sealing some Raspberry Pi 4s with complete, working OSes on SD cards into mylar bags with desiccant and anti-ox tablets, then putting them into a metal box with a grounding strip and burring that might be a more practical apocalypse computing plan.

I’m of two minds. Thinking about what’s around my house, if I had to… I’m thinking that 12 volt is probably the easiest thing to do. Batteries would probably be pretty easy to find or make out of broken batteries, and you could probably rig up a charging system with a 12 volt motor or if you could find a working alternator from a car and some kind of rotational energy source, like a water wheel or a wind mill. If you can find some solar panels, most of them are set up for 12 volt too. Ironically, USB is probably the best bet, with lots of car chargers.

You might be able to do 110, if you can get an inverter or salvage a genset off of a generator; but the batteries kind of build in voltage regulation on their own, which is nice.


Doris Lessing’s otherwise realist novel, The Four-Gated City, ends with a letter written after an unexplained apocalypse in which all the machines have stopped working. The humans who are hyper-sensitive to others’ thoughts, who were previously considered crazy, have become the new internet.

The book also has a nice riff on sci-fi writers who don’t believe their own fictional plots are possible. After this book, Lessing herself turned to writing highly-literate sci fi.


I’m a big fan of design fiction, and hacking, and Forth, but at this point the “apocalypse” trope gets two thumbs down with a triple eye roll and a fart noise from me. Purely as YA fantasy, it’s not even a dead horse at this point – you’re just beating dried-out glue – and if it is supposed to have some relation to actual reality, then please miss me with that sub-QAnon nonsense. I mean:

[8-bit CPUs] will be easier to replicate in a post-collapse fab


If all you middle-class people trying to secede from society get your wish, there is not going to be an internet. There will not be multibillion-dollar fabs or a global supply chain or flush toilets. Finding ways to play Frogger will not be your concern. If you really honestly think that’s going to happen, then focus on growing vegetables and making chastity belts out of aluminum siding, because that’s going to be a lot more relevant to your interests.

Perhaps this “collapse” framing is meant ironically – god I hope so – but even then, it feels pretty tasteless at a time when society really is endangered by a shortage of exactly the kind of adult brainpower these folks are expending on their vanity OS. It’s like raising money for a food bank with a hot-dog eating contest.

(also it doesn’t make much sense even on its own terms, since it calls for a scenario where hardware is widely available but software somehow isn’t)

I feel like ten or twenty years ago the trendy rationale would have been “it’s for people in the Third World”, which was just as spurious, but at least the question it failed to answer was based in reality.

Better yet, why not foreground the imaginative aspect and call it a project to reproduce the OS from the Minitel system of a 19A0s fictional socialist nation, or something. If you are doing something for fun it is OK to make it fun.


You reminded me of Cory’s When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth.


So much THIS. Galt’s Gulch is fiction, and not even good fiction.

Indeed, that goes further - the idea of reusing old-but-functional computers by sending them to developing nations, while well-intentioned, really doesn’t help anyone. Such machines tend to be energy hogs (Netburst-era Pentium 4 anyone?), and who wants creaky old castoffs when there are up-to-date options that don’t cost a whole lot and use a lot less power?

What we really need is recycling, but separating all the materials you’d find in that old PC or television set is a nightmare. We need to figure it out, though. I have two old PCs that work fine, but use too much electricity to be worth running. There’s not much I can do other than pitch them or let them continue taking up space.