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Developer Nick Lee has figured out a way, with the help of the experimental Mini vMac emulator, to put the 20-year-old System 7.5.5 onto an Apple Watch, thanks to the beta of watchOS 2.0, which allows native third-party apps. Remarkably, the low-power S1 system-on-chip that Apple uses for the Watch is powerful enough to run the emulator and 1996-era system at a slow but usable speed, showing off the improvements in technology.
Ironically, the older system is able to take advantage of some of the included advanced tech undreamed of at the time of its debut, thanks to the emulator's interfacing with built-in elements of the Watch such as various flavors of 802.11 Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, the Digital Crown controller and the touchscreen display. System 7.5.5 required at least a Power Macintosh 5500 when it debuted, according to Apple's documentation.
I knew the PowerMac 5500 requirement was wrong b/c I remember running 8.1 on 68K Macs. In fact System 7.5.5 would run on a Macintosh Plus from 1986 or in color on a Mac II from 1987, but I wouldn't recommend it. Given the bit of overhead of emulation, the watch looks like it is running closer to 1980's Mac speeds.
I think the author has it wrong way around. The PowerMac 5500 probably required at least System 7.5.5. The first PCI-based Macs required 7.5.2 (which was an unstable piece of...) and the 5500 was not among the first PCI-based Macs.
Apple was obsessed with backward compatibility back then, and it probably held back innovation. I wonder if things would be different today if system 7 had protected memory, preemptive multitasking, and a POSIX layer.