back to article IBM snubs OS/2 open source plea

IBM has dashed the hopes of a bunch of software nostalgics by refusing to open source its coulda, woulda, shoulda OS/2 platform. Online OS/2 community OS/2 first petitioned IBM to throw open the OS back in 2005, when the firm stopped selling the product. It gained just over 11,600 signatories. It followed up last …


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  1. Andy Turner

    The problem is...

    They can't just hand it over and say "here you go guys". They'd have to spend a *lot* of time going through it all, tidying it up, getting rid of all the bits/comments/whatever not intended for public consumption. There might be things in there that would result in lawsuits, copied code, deliberate nobbling of competitor apps etc...

    And if there are businesses out there running OS/2 installations, I don't know as they'd be happy for the security of their systems to be massively compromised in this way, since it's from an age where it's probably got loads of buffer-overrun style loopholes in it, and publishing the source will make them all the more easy to find.

  2. j clarke

    reUsed in vista

    OS/2 was littered with MS trademarks from days when they were bedfellows.....MS probably still use code logic from the IBM 'partnership', (ha ha, now called vista).

    /* checking coat pockets for old .dll's

  3. kevin elliott

    Happy memories

    OS/2 multi-tasked so well... I remember running 20 different lotus spreadsheets concurrently - just to impress an interviewee. If they open sourced the code, we may finally get a version of WIN that would multi-task properly.

    I remember changing the colours in the task bars.. Amongst other places

    On a security front, my bank's ATMs still run OS/2. Imagine the hackers/crackers paradise if the OS was open-sourced...IBM would have to produce more patches than M$ just to stave off the hacking onslaught.

    Good idea, but I guess it has to be a non-starter.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I am not an OS/2 fanboi, but it's not coulda, shoulda, woulda...

    ... OS/2 has been a very stable, if finicky, OS. Many ATMs (holes in the wall) run on OS/2 and still do a fantastic service. They crash less than the XP or 2K ones that I've seen.

    Nothing like watching a LloydsTSB ATM reload after a system crash... be prepared to wait for 10 minutes of amusement.

    I never had the chance to try OS/2 v4 after running v3 (Warp) on a Twinhead 486SLC (yes, a Cyrix chip) laptop...

  5. Carl

    If I recall...

    As an ex-IBMer...

    OS2 2.1 used a certain amount of assembler in order to try and wring pre-emptive multitasking out of what was available at the time - ie 16Mhz 286s. So much so that I suspect the "source code" is by now obsolete gobbledegook.

    It would be interesting to see what those scallywags at SCO would make of this given the IBM/OS2/Microsoft/Xenix/SantaCruz/SCO/IBM circle.

  6. Brian Miller

    Goodbye OS/2, hello Linux

    Come on, guys, I love OS/2, too. It is still a superior OS compared to Windows. But the OS is strangled by Microsoft licenses, etc. If they actually put out only the code that IBM wholly owned, I don't think that we would have a working OS at all. Time to let the the good dog die.

    The only replacement we have is Linux, or Solaris if you want something that has real commercial backing.

  7. Nick Cassimatis
    Gates Horns

    M$ code

    There's a LOT of code "owned" by M$ in OS/2. I know the HPFS386 filesystem, shipped with the OS/2 Server versions, was almost exclusively theirs, so it didn't come with the "regular" versions.

    I can remember running multiple Win3.1 apps, each in their own Windows shell, having one crash (as they often did), and NOT bring down the others. "A better Windows than Windows" was right on!

  8. amanfromMars Silver badge

    Just a Ponder on a CheckMate

    Was Bobby Fischer, Parallel Coder in Chief? If he was, then IT lives on in Seventh Heaven. And only a handful of Souls would know if that be true and the Real Thing.

  9. david gomm

    to j clarke

    I think you've hit the nail on the head with the MS reference

    I worked for a firm during the mid 90's which developed software for the OS/2 platform, our biggest problem with IBM was always the MS code they couldn't release or talk to us about.

  10. Dave

    Still Going...

    I have a real, working OS/2 machine at home - it runs my mail server and spam filter. I have on my to-do list a task to port the filter (highly tweaked over the years for personal use) to Linux and hook it into Postfix or Sendmail but I haven't quite managed it yet. So the machine still runs, and runs, and runs.

  11. Vaino Vaher

    Better than the rest

    OS/2 did a better job of being a single-user, multitasking, operating system than any of the current ones. It also ran on hardware comparable to a simple cell phone. A superb tecnical achievement!

    In addition, it later got a GUI that is far, far superior in design to what Microsoft has today.

    And therein lies the problem: IBM and Microsoft co-own the (c) to the code (some of it is even owned exclusivelly by MS). Don't expect this to ever become public domain (less MS goes belly-up).

  12. Alan Parsons
    Thumb Down

    Tape libraries

    I'm pretty sure that a lot of IBM tape libraries still run OS/2 on their library management console.. And ATMs... Wow - I'd quite like to buffer overrun an ATM. :)

  13. Peter Kay

    It'll never happen..

    It's been repeatedly documented for many years that OS/2 will never be open sourced, and it's only the mad zealots who refuse to understand.

    There's too much third party code from Microsoft, Micrographx (OS/2 2.1 Gpi subsystem) and others for it ever to be open sourced.

    Even if OS/2 was open sourced, it would need major restructuring to modernise the architecture. The last chance was lost after the release of Warp Connect v3 due to the OS/2 PowerPC fiasco.. OS/2 uses some very odd bits of x86 architecture in order to work, parts of the code are *very* ugly, and changing all that without breaking things would also be non trivial.

    I still have an OS/2 box - it's a 300MHz cyrix system, and that's the era it should be left in. Despite the fact OS/2 is a 32bit OS, several parts of it are still 16 bit (there's plenty of code in the kernel, all the network drivers, many other drivers although 32bit driver models exist..).

    As an ex hardcore OS/2 user (Is 'Dave' Daveake by any chance? Hi Dave!) I suggest the best option is to add a compatibility layer to *nix or Windows; the API is now utterly static, and doing this would remove the need for some of OS/2's nastier kludges. I wouldn't even bother touching SOM and DSOM until very late on in the game (if ever), and who knows, things like accelerated OpenGL could be implemented much more easily than under real OS/2 (apart from the fact there were naff all applications that actually used OpenGL, apart from toys like EscapeGL)

  14. stizzleswick

    Still good for retro-gaming

    If you want to play old, DOS-based games (e.g. Discworld, Return to Zork), then OS/2 is probably the quickest way to get them running -- giving a DOS app the full 640 k RAM is a neat trick that saves a good amount of fiddling with autoexec.bat and config.sys to free up memory for greedy games.

    Plus, I still remember Warp w/WinOS/2 fondly for running MS-written 16-bit Windows applications rather more stably than DOS/Windows did...

  15. Luther Blissett

    NOOP of a programmatic kind

    For 18 years I have had a continuation to smack someone who wrote OS/2 due to difficulties of getting decent API docs for it, an experience not unlike getting blood out of a stone - and my company was supposed to be friends with IBM. I now realize how absurd, because PM was really the scheme of the Beast - which then ran away, cackling horribly, and proceeded to grow and feed, feed and grow. Now finally closure. And return.

    May all your gotos have a safe target. Unless you work for the Beast, in which case a pox on all your houses.

  16. Peter Kay

    Bad API docs? They were excellent!

    No idea what you were on, but on my planet the OS/2 API documentation was fantastic - streets ahead of Windows. The IPF based docs worked really well, and there were several decent books around at the time - at least in OS/2 2.x/3.x/4.x days. The OS/2 API naming scheme is *still* more consistent than Windows (To create a window you select the right api family (WINdowing) and then guess what function it might be (create window). What do you know, there's WinCreateWindow or WinCreateStdWindow!)

    As long as you stuck to Dos*, Win*, Gpi* or MMPM/2 calls, anyway. As soon as you touched ioctls, vio and various device drivers documentation became a bit more shakey, admittedly, and SOM/DSOM was always bloody complex and buggy.

    It was easy : you subscribed to developer connection, and got disks full of toolkits, docs and example programs. There was Watcom, C/Set++/Visualage C++ and (eww) Borland for C/C++, plus various Fortran/APL/Pascal/REXX etc dev products. It wasn't necessary to use the raw API, if you didn't want to.

  17. Steve


    Now wheres that copy of Amiga OS/ QNX./Beos/WarpOS/MorthOS lol

  18. Chris Hedley Silver badge

    Assets shall be leveraged and bollocks shall be spoken

    IBM PHB: "[...] how these assets and services could be leveraged."

    Does anybody actually know what this means? More importantly, should we really have expected any particularly helpful decision from somebody who apparently thinks that this sort of thing makes any sense, or at least believes that the Great Unwashed will be impressed?

  19. John J. Urban

    I am not just a *diehard*

    My company sells an OS/2-eCS- based turnkey system. We have been selling this system since the '90s. We have many prestigious customers who are very satisfied because, under OS/2 or eCS there is no problem with viruses, trojans, worms, etc. Our systems just run, and run and run, for years and years without problems.

    I am a legitimate IBM Business partner.

    My product, under any other Operating System, Windows, Mac or any flavor of Linux, would be inferior to its current capabilities. No system handles multi-tasking and multi-threading like OS/2 - eCS!

    IBM is screwing not only me as a developer, but my customers who legitimately purchased a great system based on an IBM product, now a Serenity Systems product.

    And you know what? IBM is screwing *you* too by withholding this technology from you. You would benefit from its release, whether you know it or not.


  20. Luther Blissett

    @Peter Kay

    > " It wasn't necessary to use the raw API, if you didn't want to."

    It was my job to make that so. This was at the pre-release stage of PM, when the M$ C compiler was inferior to Lattice's (another M$ fatality) and before Watcom came out. As for C++, che? it was just a preprocessor on Unix then. My Stroustrup first edition must surely be a collectors item by now - bids anyone?

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @john / others

    I would love to see OS/2 open sourced, but you have to realise that there are many (mainly financial) systems which require OS/2 to remain static and stable. Many banks still use OS/2 on their legacy ATMs and in legacy branches, indeed if you look in any major bank's datacentres you will hard pushed to find one without OS/2 systems. OS/2 can therefore not, under any circumstances, be open sourced until the last customer has migrated from it. This is for two reasons (not to mention any legal probs):

    1) The banks are fucked if IBM compromise the security of OS/2 by making it open source. Basically a system that has never had scrutiny from 'modern' hacking techniques (buffer based attacks etc) would be laid open to all to poke around, with no scope for official IBM updates. This will affect the end user just as much as the bank.

    2) IBM won't open source OS/2 as long as banks are the remaining active customers as they don't want the Z, P and I series and Lotus Notes/Domino markets to vanish overnight. Let me assure you if IBM open source OS/2 the banks will drop them and all of their products, hardware or software as soon as they possibly can. After all - if they are prepared to open source a still used product, what else would they do?

    It's a shame but it'll never happen.

  22. Simon Lyon

    If they could do it for less than $1m then I'm sure they would ...

    ... it'd be worth that purely for PR value, given how firmly they've pinned their business model to the Open Source mast.

    But no one can blame IBM for looking at the multi-year due-diligence exercise they'd face and saying "Sorry guys, not in this lifetime!".

    Given their shared parentage, there has to be swathes of code and patents shared between OS/2 and Windows.

    Some of that may be owned by IBM and licensed to Microsoft (maybe exclusively). Or the other way round. Or jointly owned by the two of them.

    But even if someone from IBM was to get Billy G and Steve B high as a kite one night and persuade them to sign away all possible claims over OS/2 in perpetuity - I'd bet big money that there's code in there licensed from dozens, possibly hundreds, of other third-parties as well.

    Remember what Linus Torvalds has said about trying to move the Linux kernel from GPL2 to GPL3:

    Regardless of his own (admittedly somewhat negative) opinion on the new license, he also really doesn't want to go through the nightmare of contacting every single person who's ever contributed code to it to get their agreement.

    And that's something that's already open source!

    Rather than trying to get IBM to throw the whole thing wide open, I'd say OS/2 die-hards should concentrate on a more modest goal:

    Ask IBM what help they could give them in running it on more modern systems - maybe they could open up some of the hardware/driver levels of the code without too much grief.

    As for the rest of it - I'm sure that the really useful stuff will make it into the open at some point or other.

    Can't quite remember what bit of technology it was, something file-system related I think, but:

    Some months ago IBM depth-charged yet another of SCO's wild allegations that something they'd contributed to Linux had been pinched from Unix - by pointing out that it was actually a subsystem that was developed for, and lifted from, OS/2!

    So they're doing it - just a bit at a time!

  23. Simon Lyon

    Seconding, and thirding, Fraser above ...

    When I left it, about three years ago, every single terminal in every single branch of the bank I worked for (one of the "Big Five") was still running OS/2.

    Maybe, and I stress maybe, excepting the Manager's PC. But more likely that PC would still be an OS/2 box but running a Citrix ICA client to get a remote Windows session.

    Given that the speed of any significant technological change in said bank makes the geological progression of glaciers look positively whizzy! - I suspect that the planned replacement (by web-based front-ends) is still proceeding at a leisurely pace.

    And even then it may very well be running in IBM's own OS/2 port of Mozilla/Firefox, on the same old kit, even where it has been rolled out!

    Furthermore, the same bank [appears to] staff its IT Security dept solely with people who have been turned down from jobs as traffic wardens, wheel-clampers and tax men - on the basis that they're too paranoid , obstructive and just plain ornery!

    I'd pay my life savings to be in the same room as them if IBM made the hoped-for announcement!

  24. Test Man

    They won't ever open-source it

    Why anyone thinks they would or they could open-source their parts of the source code is anyone's guess. It's entirely feasible that IBM wouldn't want to open-source their own code simply because it is their intellectual property. Just because they don't sell it today doesn't mean they won't use the code to work on it or something else in the future. In other words, no one has the right to the code apart from IBM themselves.

    So lets just forget about it.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Sorry guys, I just can't take anyone seriously who does that M$ thing, or in fact any mutation of a company name. It just comes across like this console fanboy arguments where they refer to "gaystation" and "fagbox", etc....

  26. Peter Kay

    Oh c'mon Luther - it was pre-release!

    You were developing for a pre-release version of PM and you expected decent docs? Pre-release systems, by definition, tend to have crap documentation :).

    Once OS/2 had been around for a while, the docs were fantastic.

    I'd also reflect on what others have said about security. OS/2 is not a particularly secure OS, even with the obscure security subsystem. It's a single user system, where processes do not run at different privilege levels. Unless OS/2 has been fully patched, there are various bugs and buffer overruns in some programs. PM's design is even more vulnerable to abuse than Windows, and I've no doubt there are exploitable bits hidden away in various other API functions.

  27. John

    OS/2 in ATMs

    It's my undestanding that OS/2 in the ATMs was/is 1.x (16-bit). This is not what we want.

    And afaik ATMs are not accessible from the public Internet. Cracking one from the Internet is not a trivial undertaking. Picking one up with a forklift is still the easiest way in.

    OS/2 has been used in IBM mainframes (and midrange computers, i think), with an imbedded thinkpad to control the box: think of it as being about equivalent to a PC's BIOS. I think they're using Linux these days.

    Amdahl's service processor ran some Unix varient.

  28. Peter Mc Aulay

    "Leveraging assets" indeed

    " their IBM representative to discuss how these assets and services could be leveraged.”

    That always sounds to me like something to do with a server, a lever, and an office rooftop...

    Ah well, OS/2 is burdened with too many patents and proprietary code owned by other companies for it to ever become open source (at least before, say, the 22nd century). Too bad, it was pretty good at the time.

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Triumph of Marketing over Substance

    Ahh -- the days of OS/2. I was introduced to it when we purchased some Ambras and they booted OS/2 (along with Windoze). I was won over doing PC-CARD development. At that time, the drivers were really DOS drivers. If something went wrong under DOS, you lost a lot. If something went wrong in a virtual DOS-box, you just opened another one. That was bliss. (Also amusing was when some Windoze fan in the office created a huge MS Word document that would crash Word whenever he tried to reload it. I was able to load it running Word under OS/2.)

    Once again, superior technology lost out to marketing muscle.

  30. Johan Silver badge

    Rewrite it

    Where are all the aspiring OS developers when you need them? Write an open source clone of the thing a la ReactOS. Call it Linos/2, FreeBS/2 or HAL9000/2. Write drivers. Write secure code. Generations to come will thank you.

    As we like we say down here: "uMchini Wami" -- Bring me my machine (gun).

  31. Edgar Scrutton

    The Right tool for the Job.

    For me, eComStation is the right tool for the job. The job is simple word processing/DTP with Lotus WordPro. My browser is Seamoney which includes email, Composer, and IRC. My company of 21 years runs it's books on MESA2 the best spreadsheet for OS/2 that is customizable (as are all OS/2 apps) with REXX scripts. I personally and singly manage several million dollars in sales using the $75.00 app. Why not switch to EXCEL? Well, I tried but a copy of the 200 row x 13000 column database/spreadsheet just runs too slowly on Windows to be functionally useful. My fax machine is PMFAX which has for 10 years done hundreds of thousands of receipts. . When I need a Windows 2000 program I run it under Innotek's Virtual PC for OS/2 as a Guest OS. When I develop Windows apps I do so in a VPC , then if it hangs I just reboot the virutal machine. I run W98 so that my parallel port AGFA SnapScan 1212 will work. That's leveraging your assets.

    The point is, this the tool fits the needs and is 100% reliable. Nothing beats the Work Place Shell, although Linux comes close.

    So, gentlemen/gentlewomen choose your weapons ... just remember it's nice to have choice.

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Who is the customer?

    Maybe one does not sell OS2 to the high street but looks for more corporate clients?

    If so, then that is why OS 2 will never, ever go open?

    It needs its security for its security users.

  33. colin campbell

    Happy days

    I've got to comment here guys. I spent 5 years supporting then selling OS/2. Most of the comments here are close to mark. OS/2 was fantastic as a DOS management platform. lots of Virtual DOS machines was bread and butter.

    Thats why the banks stuck with it because thats what they had along with terminal emulation. Where it couldnt hack the pace was keeping up with windows, and 32 bit windows killed it as a going concern.

  34. David

    They don't need to open source OS/2

    IBM has already contributed what it can to Linux which sparked the whole SCO thing.

    So IBM has already shared their code.

    We also do not need another Open Source OS. Linux and BSD are enough. No need to spread Open Source resources to cover another OS.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Still spot it occasionally

    The tram ticket machines here run OS/2, and last time I saw my bank counsellor, the PC was running OS/2. No idea what they do to get support though.

  36. Charles Manning

    OS/2: What happened to the other half?

    Well since M$ were mixed up in the early develppment there are no doubt legal challenges to releasing OS/2 code.

    I agree with David. The world does not need more open source OSs. We already have some just lying around rusting in the scrap heap (Hurd et al). What it needs is more focussed work on fewer projects. The only reason for having another OS around is if it brings some new and interesting/valuable architecture/feature to the table. From what I have seen, OS/2 has none of these.

  37. Perry

    OS/2 Tricks

    I remember when creating CDs under Windows NT, it would make a coaster usually 50% of the time. It was really touchy.

    Since I *never* made a coaster burning CDs under OS/2, I tried to see how far I could push it. I set up an FTP server on an OS/2 box and mapped the CD burner as an accessable drive. Then from four other computers I initiated a FTP connection and uploaded files directly to the burner, all simultaneously. Worked perfectly.

    I've never seen that trick duplicated under Windows. OS/2 was awesome.

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