Tuesday, July 26, 2005


Rest in Pieces, OS/2. Of course OS/2, though officially disavowed by IBM, is not really dead. The German company eComstation maintains the code and sells you an OS/2 if you want to buy one, though a bit pricey for my taste. I remember buying OS/2 1.1, or trying to. I was grilled by IBM people on the phone, threatening that I would “lose all my programs” if I installed it, asking what I’d do with it, suggesting I could just loan a copy from work until they located a supply in the Netherlands. My answer on their “why” question was that I would like to develop for it; this was met with a sad silence. But did I know it ran DOS programs very badly?
But seriously, I loved OS/2, and still boot it occasionally under Virtual PC, if only to hear the “whoop” sound if a folder is opened - remember sound on a pc was new then. A bug in OS/2 Warp sounded uncannily like an old Amsterdam tram. WPS was far ahead of its time, and of course OS/2 was the first worthwile and stable multitasking pc operating system. It allowed Rexx to enter millions of living rooms and corporate offices, where previously it was mostly confined to VM and MVS. I have the Microsoft OS/2 1.2 API books, which were of course (and deliberately?) incompatible with the IBM development kit. MS also fought to exclude Rexx from OS/2 SE, because it knew that it ate Basic alive. Later on I was involved in a leading edge OS/2 project that needed weekly builds of the OS to stay ahead of the bugs we uncovered; it only grew stronger. Twelve years later, Windows still needs 256M for what OS/2 did in 16M. OS/2 became useful in release 1.3 when IBM rewrote most of it in assembler. Also, in this version it finally could print. The 32 bit 2.0 version really was a better Windows than Windows, forcing Microsoft to release a bogus device driver architecture in W95 to break compatibility. Even that was trapped and emulated by IBM OS Wizards for most applications that “needed” it (all three of them).
When the company I worked for all those years decided to go Windows (undoubtedly inspired by cowardly IBM sales persons), we had to roll out Office in OS/2 Warp, because the then current hardware base did not run NT.
What IBM did to OS/2 is a crime perpetrated by management against their engineers and to the general public that was deprived of any competition until others came around.
It sold its pc’s halfheartedly with the wrong video drivers installed for OS/2, until every small nephew of my wife knew that you had to scratch this “o-esse-dos” thing immediately. And we are not even talking about marketing it with a stop-sign logo and nuns in a convent, or even naming it ‘half an OS’. It did not react at all when MS employees were astroturfing the OS/2 Usenet fora in working hours - this was the time that IBM Legal could have just shut down MS waving unspecified patent or publicizing MS fora mores. Sometimes I have dark images of IBM doing this deliberately to finally put a stop to all these antitrust cases the US Government foisted upon them.

Don't forget to sign the OS/2 Open Source petition! It will never happen though.

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