back to article Where were the bullet holes on OS/2's corpse? Its head ... or foot?

My last piece on OS/2 was in part a mea culpa, a history of my part in its downfall. However, I can't claim all the credit. In fact, if I'm honest, there were hundreds of reasons why OS/2 failed, and most of them had nothing to do with me. So, here are some of the real corkers. Once upon a time, IBM made extraordinary money …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    "Installing OS/2 wasn’t very hard, but you couldn’t guarantee it would work on your hardware, and at about a thousand bucks a go this was an expensive experiment."

    Sorry, but that's not entirely true. There were plenty of lists supplied which provided in every detail which hardware components were and which weren't supported. It was relatively easy to look this up before you started. Even the IBM OS/2 website was very easy to use when it came to finding these lists (which was pretty much amazing considering how a lot of other information was burried between huge amounts of totally confusing links and pages).

    Still; if your hardware (-components) was (/were) mentioned as being supported then 9 out of 10 cases it would easily work. The only time I had major issues with OS/2 was when I actually bought myself an IBM (iirc an Aptiva) with the sole purpose of running OS/2 on it. I mean; if I got myself a /real/ IBM computer, surely it should do wonders with OS/2? Guess again!

    Which was partly my own dumb fault; I assumed IBM cared. Which IMVHO is what really killed OS/2; IBM themselves. They didn't seem to care one bit. Take the Aptiva; did it come with OS/2 drivers? No; only Win95. The 486 Compaq I once had supplied drivers for just about anything; /including/ OS/2 (not directly but on demand; I recall purchasing a huge amount of drivers and support software; 3 boxes of 3.5" disks which also included plenty of OS/2 drivers).

    I even contacted IBM support with this (considering how I was entitled to support through purchase of my new PC). Needless to say, but they didn't quite manage to get beyond "We think it should work...".

    But its the weirdest thing; on the other hand IBM did quite a bit of good. I for once was very impressed how Sun's Java (back then a rather new environment) had found a rock solid home within OS/2. Not sure about OS/2 3 ('Warp') but Merlin (the one with the nice pull down menu) supplied Java right out of the box. That was impressive for those days, at least IMO.

    There IBM did manage to do the right thing; Java support really managed to extend the stuff one could do with OS/2; now you weren't merely "limited" to your common DOS batch, OS/2 cmd or Rexx scripts. (not that you were really limited; man... I still vaguely recall the stuff one could do in a cmd file. Sjeesj!).

    No, if only IBM would have cared a bit more; imagine OS/2 under the supervision of IBM as an open source project, but not in a way where it would only cost IBM money (like Sun did), but in a productive fashion... That could have easily become a power player which could have gone toe to toe with Windows today.

    IMVHO of course.

    1. dogged

      Re: uhm...

      I used OS/2 3 Warp. In the Netherlands. At... IBM. They were the only place in the universe that actually ran the fucking thing. How was it? Well. It sort of worked. Mostly. It wasn't any quicker than Windows 3.11 and not even IBM could get it to print to an IBM printer but most of it worked. More or less.

      Further, the development we were doing was Java via NetBeans which was such a truly foul experience that it's soured me on Java forever.

      IBM. The only company in the Netherlands that (at the time) made you wear a tie to work.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: uhm...

        Dunno which bit you were in then but where I was the ibm nl dress code was most definitely beard, sandels and absolutely no ties. Mind you i was working on crusty mainframes and not this new fangled pc malarkey.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: uhm...

          I don't think I ever saw any ties in Dynatos - I did see moustache, short shorts and sandals (yes, worn by the same person).

      2. Stoneshop


        IBM. The only company in the Netherlands that (at the time) made you wear a tie to work.

        Well, at DEC FS my manager repeatedly insisted very, very strongly I'd wear a tie, but he did stop short of forcing me.

        "What do you think a customer prefers, a FS engineer with or without tie?"

        "One who fixes his broken stuff, I'd say" (which I undisputedly did)

        Which made it the last of his attempts.

        1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

          Re: @dogged

          " manager repeatedly insisted very, very strongly I'd wear a tie...." I had an ex-IBM manager like that when I was contracting. All the internals lazed around in jeans and t-shirts but he insisted contractors had to wear a dark blue or charcoal suit (only those two colours allowed!), white or light-blue shirt and a dark-coloured tie. On the first day I turned up in jeans and told the manager, if he liked my suit so much, I'd have it couriered in and he could hang it over a chair and ask it how to fix his problems, but if he wanted my brains then he would have to put up with more casual attire. I had a clause in my contract that I'd sneaked past their HR bunnies that I could choose to wear "suitable attire" - his staff dressed down so he couldn't argue a suit was necessary. He refused, I walked, his boss called to ask me to come back the next day. I went back in jeans. Moral of the story - an employment contract is a two-way street, make sure you get what you want. If it's not in the contract it's not enforceable unless required by law.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: uhm...

      In 1990 I was working for the market leading supplier of graphics chips for PCs. From our perspective, IBM were completely unhelpful on graphic driver development support. We responded with the minimum of time and effort put into performance optimizations for OS/2 drivers. It was perfectly clear OS/2 was going nowhere with this attitude and a relief when IBM dropped out of the picture for OS/3 (aka NT).

    3. DrXym

      Re: uhm...

      By 2.1 it was usually very easy to install OS/2 on random software. I somehow persuaded IBM to send me a copy for evaluation and I had no issue installing it on a Evesham Micros no-name box at home or on several PCs I tried around my workplace.

      The biggest issue was actually not installing the software but keeping the bloody thing stable and up to date. IBM were notorious for shipping broken software and expecting people to download and apply an unending series of Corrective Service Diskettes (CSDs). They seemed to flow like water for OS/2 and C Set++ which I used for development.

      OS/2 3 also introduced a weird ass floppy format called XDF which to this day must cause people issues, especially those who fancy the idea of installing OS/2 in a VM for a bit of nostalgia.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: uhm...

        At least you got C++, we (a world top5 university) couldn't get a copy of any sort of compiler out of IBM for OS2.

        Their attitude was basically, if you want to buy a mainframe - fine, if you want to buy any other IBM product go **** yourself.

        Eventually we gave up, switched to buying Dec-Alpha PCs running NT, wiping them and installing linux. Why Dec alphas running NT were a fraction of the cost of Alphas running VMS or Ultrix is the reason Dec isn't around today either.

        1. SDoradus
          Thumb Up

          Re: uhm...

          Right, and the Red Hat 7.3 boxed edition for Alpha came with a really really cool Intel Fortran compiler that our researchers lusted after. And under Linux they could log in remotely so more than one researcher could use the machine...

    4. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: uhm...


      If I remember rightly IBM came up with Aptiva (and later Ambra) as sub brands that would sell to consumers, without cannibalising their much more expensive corporate PC market. So it's possibly that there was no OS/2 support due to it being a different division, accident, incompetence - or even deliberate decision, so you'd have to buy the most expensive IBM PCs to get it.

      My first PC was an Ambra, because it was very cheap. That's the last time I bought a PC by simply going through the pages of PCW and ripping out all the adverts that looked to be a decent buy. Took ages, buy going online wasn't an option. That was in the days when PCW was a 600 page behemoth, with only about 100 of those being editorial. Many many adverts, some with things stuck to them, so the magazine would fall open on their page and others with fold out pages (for the same reason). Some cheapskates trying to stick whole catalogues in about 2 pages of 6 pt type, in black on blue. Ugh!

      Happy days...

      1. Gwaptiva

        Re: uhm...

        It was worse. IBM The Netherlands actually concocted an OS/2 + Windows in DualBoot crAptiva, and sold it to its retirees!!! Disaster! I did tech support on the bloody things, and guess where my nickname comes from :)

        There were also quite a number Choose'n'Lose machines: You booted the first time and had to choose an OS: Windows 95 or Warp... guess the shock if someone called in that actually had chosen Warp... invariably by accident.

        Mind you, Compaq shipped pre-installed OS/2 Warp long after IBM actually discontinued the product.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        accident, incompetence - or even deliberate decision

        "it's possibly that there was no OS/2 support due to it being a different division, accident, incompetence - or even deliberate decision"

        I used OS/2 for about 3 years before I joined IBM and I did some work with IBM PSG (Personal Systems Group) at the close of the last century; I'm willing to bet no decision was made, incompetence was involved and the only accident would have been if they did work together.

    5. henrydddd

      Re: uhm...

      I had a project to construct a BBS as well as let people do normal office functions on the same computer. The computer was a 486 and had Windows 3.10 installed. I put RBBS on it and it worked, but when I started Microsoft Word, the modem would not function due to the fact that Win 3.10 had cooperative multitasking. I purchased os/2 (I think 2.1) which had preemptive multitasking. It also had the capability of running Windows 3.10 at the same time. The whole thing worked perfectly. The BBS ran well and the office work could be done at the same time. I remember os/2 as being an operating system ahead of its time. Perhaps the reason for its demise was that Microsoft saw that too.

      1. Allan George Dyer

        Re: uhm...

        The pre-emptive multitasking encouraged me to choose OS/2 Warp over Win95. The ability to open a DOS box and make a new connection to your Novell server was also very handy when an admin task [i.e. user needs a password reset] cropped up while you had lots of stuff open.

        Eventually moved to NT4 when the ability to read incoming Office documents and handle Chinese forced the move.

    6. John Angelico

      Re: uhm...

      ...I understand your broad point, but the writer of the article was not doing what you describe.

      He was trying to emulate the ease of installation of Windows with almost any hardware that happened to be hanging around, and which may have been literally thrown around the office.

      MS-Windows was then very forgiving of dodgy quality hardware, whereas OS/2 was far more finicky, but once installed it took a while to bed itself down - a bit like the old days of "running in" a car.

      I still run eCS 2.x having started with OS/2 for Win (aka "Ferengi"). It's about time I upgraded - this box has been here with minimal attention for about 4 years. The only thing that doesn't work is the SATA DVD writer - testament to my impatience.

      And yes, I am an OS/2 zealot.

  2. Paul Johnston


    " I was one of the fools who didn’t realise that English is the most terse of all major languages"

    I'm learning Mandarin which makes English seem so flowery and over elaborate.

    1. xperroni

      Re: Terse?

      It depends on your reference... Chinese (and Japanese for that matter) are more economical than English, but compared to most Romance languages it's a paramount of objectivity.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Terse?

      "so flowery and over elaborate"

      are you sure of that?

      are you sure?

      you sure?


      1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

        Re: Terse?

        Despite their "complexity", the CJK scripts are the easiest for UI processing, even easier than English, because there are no plurals (Japanese "counting" words excepted). Once you've solved the technical problem of managing fonts with thousands of glyphs, and for Korean the relatively straightforward task of of composing Jamo clusters, everything's simple.

        (an aside: Korean has one of the most elegant and logical writing systems in the world - a half a day's practice is enough to be able to read text out loud, although you still won't have a clue what you're saying).

        The most problematic language for UI layout is Portuguese; it's the most verbose of the Romance languages, and its particles are longer than the next-worst, French.

        The most difficult for message formatting are the Slavic languages, with their multiple number cases, which provide no end of punishment for people who still write stuff like printf("%d item%s",count, (count!=1)?"s":""); ... I used that line at the start of a training course once, and the invariable reaction was "Oh, that's a neat way to do plurals". Yes, and all CPUs are little-endian with 32-bit addresses, and characters are bytes...

        1. ender

          Re: Terse?

          > The most difficult for message formatting are the Slavic languages, with their multiple number cases, which provide no end of punishment for people who still write stuff like printf("%d item%s",count, (count!=1)?"s":"");

          Guess what? Windows still doesn't know how to do plural forms properly, resulting in Explorer telling me "Selected is this number of files: 1"

          1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

            Re: Terse?

            Heh. I can almost see the strings table:

            "%d file selected",

            "%d files selected"

            or worse:

            "%d file%s selected",


            ... It's not Windows, it's the developers. Pretty much every API is weak on this (gettext would be okay if it didn't encourage the use of natural-language text keys, and have the enormous arrogance to assume that your source language is always pluralised like English),

            Localizability was normally tacked-on a the end of projects, rather than being considered up front, and this attitude leads to exactly the "Items chosen: %d" kludge: localisation never started until after code-freeze, so there was no way to go back and fix the problem at source.

        2. SDoradus
          Thumb Up

          Re: Terse?

          He's right you know. I first noticed this while doing my BA (hons) in French language and literature in the 1990s while working as a sysadmin. Every time I picked up a 'rosetta stone' (piece of paper saying the same thing in multiple languages) from a software box, it was noticeable that English was always far and away the shortest paragraph (and French one of the longest), with just one exception: legalese. English legal warnings were much longer than their continental counterparts.

        3. Paul Johnston

          Re: Terse?

          In Chinese you have to decide between er and liang whereas we would just use two!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Up

        Re: Terse?

        "so flowery and over elaborate"

        are you sure of that?

        are you sure?

        you sure?


        Not quite the correct form for a haiku, but close. My offering:

        OS2 1.3

        No one cares

        Now long dead

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    os/2 pricing to fail

    In the late 80s, Microsoft were trying to sell DOS+Windows to OEMs,discourage use of DOS apps and encourage Windows application development. To say Microsoft were paying hardware vendors to ship Windows makes no more sense than saying IBM were paying vendors to ship Presentation Manager. IBM was not the only OEM shipping OS/2; Compaq, HP and a whole bunch of lesser known companies sold OS/2 product.

    True, that couple of megabytes or more extra DRAM needed was a big deal at the time for most of the Personal Computer market.

    The comment 'Microsoft was paying people to sell Windows' illustrates how out of touch with reality some of the IBM people were back then. Microsoft were pricing for volume and profit simple as that. IBM were indeed pricing to lose the mass market as the author suggests.

    1. InsaneGeek

      Re: os/2 pricing to fail

      I remember paying someone $100 for 1MB of used memory back at that time. The minimum requirements for OS/2 was a massive factor as to why I didn't run it even though I wanted to, I'm guessing that for a significant portion of the populace was as well.

      The rationalization for me was this: I'm transitioning from the DOS world into the cool new GUI based world... I can either run MS Windows and have enough money to buy it and a number of apps, or have enough money to buy OS/2 and upgrade my hardware but have no apps.

      1. Tom 13

        Re: I can either run MS Windows and have enough money to buy it and a number of apps

        My recollection is similar, except I couldn't even afford the fancy new MS software at the time.

        Also, MS did get some luck in the CD-ROM becoming standard gear soon after they introduced 95. I recall the shellacking PC Mag gave IBM for the number of disks required to install the first release of OS/2. But nothing was said when 95 required 4 more disks when it was initially released. While getting the CD-ROMs to work with boot disks was initially a PITA, it was worth it to avoid disk swapping and the ultimate failure of one of the disks. I mean, we almost always had problem installing WordPerfect 6.1, and that was only 6 HD 3.5 floppies.

    2. DrXym

      Re: os/2 pricing to fail

      I think the difference in attitude between Microsoft and IBM could be most seen in their treatment of developers.

      While MS had a developer program you could also obtain a Windows SDK with a compiler for nothing. You could also buy Visual C++ (and Borland C++, Watcom etc.) at consumer affordable prices. The tools were also user friendly and backed up by good quality documentation.

      On OS/2 you were expected to pay a large sum of money for C Set++ and another large sum of money for the OS/2 developer connection to get the SDK and inevitable stream of patches. And there was no IDE for the tools. Not even a decent editor. It took IBM until VisualAge C++ to get an IDE and anyone who has used VisualAge knows what an abortion it was. Borland did actually dip their toe in the OS/2 market and shipped a proper IDE, one which was actually quite good but the compiler and support libs were so buggy as to be almost unusable.

      So they severely tested their developers while Microsoft was doing everything they could to help them. And this had a knockon impact on the amount and quality of the software that each platform subsequently enjoyed.

      1. fajensen

        Re: os/2 pricing to fail

        I was running OS/2 Warp on a one of those 486 machines where you had to pay 70 quid for a co-processor and insert it yourself. I used the VisualAge C++ to compile 6-8 open source programs that I wanted to have and then I finally realised that I might as well install Slackware Linux on the thing, get the goods directly. That installation eventually took me about 3 months to get to work properly with many kernel rebuilds, but it did work, even sound and the extreme speed 19k Modem with PPP and auto connect.

        Warp was quite good, but at that time OS/2 was already cirkling the drain. Certainly, one would not drop big money on applications for it!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    At the tail of the millennium no-one thought to just go for OS/2000?

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: OS/2000

      Perhaps they had the sense to realise that most PC people associated "2000" with the millennium bug.

      Then again, around the same time Microsoft produced a version of Windows that was named after both the bug *and* a disease.

      1. Andy Miller

        Re: OS/2000

        OS/19100 would have been funnier...

  5. Matt Bryant Silver badge

    "....The French version was harder to produce than you might think....."

    Now that did bring back painful memories! One civil service project took on an hilariously sour angle when French was added to the spec at a very late date. Your's truly thought that it was a problem for the coders but it actually tuned into a project management headache due to politics - the Francophiles wanted the project to be in French so they could gift it to their chums, whilst other civil servants with more anti-European views were determined no British taxpayer cash should be wasted on pleasing our Continental colleagues. It got even worse when the French bod the Francophiles had introduced to the project insisted all the manuals and such items as stickers on the hardware had to be in both English and French. It got to the point where we had to redesign a lid for one piece of kit just to take a bigger bi-lingual sticker!

    Whilst the poor coders struggled for weeks to fit the longer French phrases and still meet the original project deadline, the war between the civil servant factions spread to include those wanting German and Spanish editions! Towards the end I was doing three meetings regarding languages for each one regarding actual project progress. Thankfully I managed to find a bod in Charles Hernu's office that confirmed there was no way the French would consider using filthy English code (I'm paraphrasing but that's pretty close to the sentiment!) and the matter ended there. Funny now but very illustrative of how often the biggest project issues are rarely technical in origin.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Re: "....The French version was harder to produce than you might think....."

      > find a bod in Charles Hernu's office

      What are you doing with the defense minister of La France?

      1. Xelandre

        Re: "....The French version was harder to produce than you might think....."

        He was the minister's joint MI5/KGB controlling agent?

      2. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: Re: "....The French version was harder to produce than you might think....."

        "What are you doing with the defense minister of La France?" Upsetting Dassault, apparently. Allegedly, etc.

  6. Mondo the Magnificent
    Thumb Up

    OS/2 my perspective

    I was in the (non IBM) mainframe game when OS.2 1.0 arrived in our company

    We liked it, but at the time we were also toying with Windows 2.1 in the pre "32 bit" era.

    From a business perspective, neither OS/2 or Windows offered us much productivity due to both desktop OSes being relatively new and lacking good productivity applications. We opted for DOS and the likes of Lotus, Quatro Pro and WordPerfect to get things done.

    Later I joined a distributor and at this time IBM was announcing OS/2 Warp. Hell, yea, something to give Windows a run for its money. A while later, the local IBM office was doing a presentation on the forthcoming OS/2 Warp! and, yes I was invited and I had to be there... The presentation was done on a ThinkPad running Windows.. WTF! That was commercial suicide at corporate level.

    It seems as if IBM has something really good up its sleeve but had no idea how to entice Joe Public the way MS did. Also, lack of application development steered OS/2 into the corporate desktop opposed to the layman's home PC, although I was informed that OS/2 had a rather good following in Germany and some of the Nordic states.. I may need to be corrected on that..

    Up until a few years back I used to pop into my local HSBC and sit down with a banking consultant whilst grovelling for a mortgage, loan or advice. That was the last time I ever saw an OS/2 screen, the banks were lat stand for OS/2 and as most banks close down branches, it seems that OS/2 drowned with the sinking ships known as local bank branches..

    This two part article by Dom Conner does shed a lot of light on the internal incompetancies that doomed IBM's desktop OS. Also, this type of corporate wrangling and bullshit at Big Blue really does make sense..

    A very infromative read to the birth and non-start of what could have been Microsoft's nemesis..if only...

  7. Flawless101

    Good article

    I enjoy reading articles like this, to get an insight to how others experience(d) the world of IT.

  8. J. R. Hartley

    Amiga connection

    Didn't Commodore license Workbench/Intuition for use in OS/2 in rerurn for REXX?

    I may or may not be correct. Please advise.

    1. JaimieV

      Re: Amiga connection

      No, REXX was an open language and AREXX was written without IBM involvement or any need for licensing.

      I've never heard of Workbench being licensed out (which doesn't mean it wasn't!).

      1. J. R. Hartley

        Re: Amiga connection

        Conflicting reports. Things like this:

        1. CoAImBRmoMdMore

          Re: Amiga connection

          RJ Mical's patent 4772882 was referenced by some IBM patents (among others). Perhaps that's the connection someone picked up as significant.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I bought OS/2 2.0 when it came out ... considered both win 3.0 and OS/2 but for me OS/2 had a price advantage - on my "home built" PC I was running DR-DOS and upto launch of win 3.0 all the reports were "win 3.0 will not run on DR-DOS" so I factored in buying MS-DOS into the win 3.0 price. In reality turned out that MS had found some DOS call where DR-DOS behaved slightly differently from MS-DOS and used this difference to ensure that win 3.0 pre-release would not run on DR-DOS and since DR were not allowed access to pre-release win 3.0 they couldn't comment on this ... in reality they came up with a patch a matter of hours after the release.

    Anyway, some people in IBM were keen on supporting OS/2 users ... I remember when one of the beta's came out commenting on usenet that I'd have to spends a evening or two downloading all the floppy images and a few hours later got an email from someone in Hursley saying if I sent them the required 20 floppies they'd copy the images and post them back to me!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      As far as I know this deliberate DR-DOS breaking is a myth. Win 3.0 alpha and beta versions were made available to OEMs for 18 months prior to release and certainly some of them used DR-DOS. I never heard anyone on the 3.0 dev team express any interest one way or the other in DR-DOS when I was in Redmond. Windows was so easy to patch around anyway its highly unlikely to my mind anyone bothered.

      1. myxiplx2

        Deliberate breaking of DR-DOS a myth?

        A myth? Groklaw says different. This is just one except of many from it's publishing of the court cases involved:


        "FTC investigators also concluded that in order to sabotage DR DOS, Microsoft had carefully written and hidden a batch of code into tens of thousands of beta copies of Windows 3.1 that were sent to expert computer users in December 1991. When someone tried to run one of these Windows 3.1 beta copies on a PC using DR DOS (or any other non-MS-DOS operating system), the screen would display the following message: "Nonfatal error detected: error 4D53 (Please contact Windows 3.1 beta support.) Press C to continue."

        To expert beta-testers using DR DOS with Windows, this message would convey that they could continue using the program, but it might cause problems. The effect would be to deter some from using DR DOS further; others would call Microsoft for an explanation of the supposed risks of using DR DOS."

        1. TeeCee Gold badge

          Re: Deliberate breaking of DR-DOS a myth?

          And the problem is what exactly?

          You have a Beta copy of 3.1, which is designed to sit on top of MS-DOS. It detects on startup that it's actually on A.N. Other DOS and issues a nonfatal warning. The only issue there would seem to be that they could have been a shade more explanatory in the error message.

          That's nowhere near being sabotage. I actually consider issuing a warning and continuing to be quite generous, given that they probably weren't entirely sure what effects might be caused and a positive result from those Beta evaluations was very important. If it had been me, I'd have had it issue an "Unsupported O/S" message and crap out on the spot.

          If they got successfully sued over that, some lawyer somewhere needs a kicking. As usual.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Deliberate breaking of DR-DOS a myth?

          I stated that DR-DOS breaking for Win 3.0 was a likely a myth, based on my personal knowledge, not what I read in some blog or other. Unsurprisingly for this site, downvoted.

          A separate point has been made that two and a half years later, a beta of Windows 3.1 issued a warning when run on a non-MSDOS system (the actual 3.1 release did not show this message).

          I was not involved with Win 3.1 at this time but it seems to me entirely plausible that there were technical reasons for limiting a beta to tested MSDOS configs. In particular the VxD and other components used to host the Windows environment and DOS multitasking on top of various versions of MSDOS and DRDOS had grown to be really complicated. All written in cryptic assembler evolved from the Windows 2.x introduction of 386 mode several years earlier. Memory extenders had to be supported. A nightmare in its necessary but obscure use of DOS calls and virtualization I don't envy whoever was tasked with updating that code for 3.1. This code was available to OEMs not hidden in-house, not some ultra secret sauce. Early versions of DOS were not supported either.

          I've not a clue whether the 'FTC investigators' studied the code and development process in sufficient depth to find any technical evidence to support their claim. I suspect the findings were simply a lawyer-type hypothesis on the 'no smoke without fire' theory that because senior MS sales people wanted to sell against DRDOS one or more developers must have unprofessionally and unnecessarily broken the beta product. Personally, I find this conspiracy theory rather suspect but without evidence its anyones guess. Is there any published evidence?

          Incidentally. When the product specification for 3.1 was evolving in 1990 there was a school of thought this was maybe the last DOS/Windows combo and Windows would move to NT kernel by mid-decade. History didn't work that way and we suffered Windows 95 etc. waiting until 2001 for XP to finally put DOS to the sword. With this context, the kill the DRDOS competition theory sounds a bit thin to me as far as any involvement of the development group goes.

          1. Tom 13

            Re: Unsurprisingly for this site, downvoted.

            Possibly because many of us have personal experience with how MS broke any non-MS software related to Windows and DOS during that time period. And yes, I was cutting my IT teeth as a power user at about that point in time. I was the DTP specialist running Ventura Publisher and buying Windows and Corel Draw with my own money to support projects. We used QEMM at the time, and MS constantly and needlessly broke their software.

    2. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      There used to be quite a bit of support via Compuserve. I remember several discussions with a chap who worked on HPFS. Doug Azarito I think his name was.

  10. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    If "OS/3" hadn't have been taken by Unisys...'d have still run in to trouble when you hit "OS9".

    1. Steve the Cynic

      Re: If "OS/3" hadn't have been taken by Unisys...

      re: OS9. Yup, Microware would have had something to say.

      Yes, kids, before MacOS had its version 9, there was an OS9 that wasn't anything to do with Microsoft, nor Apple, nor even IBM.

      'Course the original version required a 6809-based machine, but at the time I had one of those.

      (Showing my age again, I guess.)

      1. xebon

        Re: If "OS/3" hadn't have been taken by Unisys...

        Indeed; don't remember using Microware on the 6809, only 68008 and 010, and having fun with the BSD-derived compiler. There was a German-based OS/9 software house around this time (1984-5) too... but we preferred Microware's.

        1. Steve the Cynic

          Re: If "OS/3" hadn't have been taken by Unisys...

          OS9 on the 6809 --> TRS-80 Color Computer.

  11. Alasdair Russell

    Brings back memories (not necessarily good)

    My first experience with OS/2 was that Microsoft shipped a copy of it (I think version 1.2) in the box with SQL Server 1.1 (a partially implemented port of v4.2 of the Sybase product). This was because until NT they did not have a version of Windows that could actually run SQL Server (or any real server product).

    My other memory is the two enormous stacks of floppies (20 or so each I think) that I had to work through in order to install OS/2 2.0 and the first service pack on a machine (I think to run the old Lotus Notes Server).

  12. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Long story, short version

    So what it boils down to is that OS/2 was more advanced than the competition but too expensive, it needed more resources and was only designed to work with IBM hardware - any other platforms' success being just a lucky co-incidence.

    Put aside all the infighting and cluelessness about marketing, internationalisation (where I was working during this time, none of the "internationalisation team" even had a passport) and the turf wars - every new product has that. It's just lucky they didn;t have software patents to worry about.

    Given IBMs background and way of doing business at the time, I can't see how such a foray into the commercial world and with a non-IBM partner could possibly have worked out any differently.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Long story, short version

      > So what it boils down to is that OS/2 was more advanced than the competition but too expensive

      Pretty much. I remember when Win XP came out everyone crowing about it being a truly 32-bit OS. Yet I'd been using a truly 32-bit OS before even Win 95.

      It's something that happens over and over again. I've heard people crowing about C# and Winforms and saying how much better it is than C++ and MFC because it was RAD. Some of us were doing C++/RAD development with Borland builder in the late 90s. Then there's the Betamax/VHS/v2000 sequence.

      What it comes down to is that in most cases marketing trumps engineering. This is a lesson everyone reading El Reg should keep in mind. It can grow or wreck your career :)

      1. Gerhard den Hollander

        Re: Long story, short version

        Same here .. I never managed to convince myself to shell out the money to buy OS/2.

        I wanted to get Warp, becuse it could run windows better then windows itself , but I never could convince myself to spend the money on it.

        As for running 32bit, back then I was doing most of my development on SunOs (4.X) or Convex (with some dabbling on IBM AIX 3 and even a Dec Alpha (cannot remember what the model was), so 32bit was so common for us, that we failed to realize why MS was making so much noise about it :)

    2. DrXym

      Re: Long story, short version

      OS/2 was actually price competitive by the time of OS/2 Warp, especially if you bought the Red version without Windows in it. Windows didn't catch up until NT 4.0.

      However, Windows 95 had two non-technical advantages over OS/2 - it looked nice and it behaved sanely.

      It also enjoyed one technical advantage which used to piss me off no end with OS/2 - every process had its own windows message queue. In OS/2 if one process was in its WNDPROC, then every other process was blocked. If the process never returned from its WNDPROC (e.g. infinite loop, debugger breakpoint etc.) then the whole GUI hung.

      Anyway IBM's failure was 50% their own internal politics and lack of vision, and 50% Microsoft sticking the boot in, engaging in anticompetitive practices such as licensing deals where PCs paid a Windows tax whether they shipped with them or not. I remember even IBM PCs used to ship with Windows. When a company can't even persuade it's own PC wing to ship an OS, then they may as well give up right there.

      1. AndrueC Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Long story, short version

        > every process had its own windows message queue.

        We used ccMail for a time back then. It was actually quite a nice idea to have it integrated into the WPS (using the OOP features I mentioned in a previous reply) but when it locked it would lock everything as you say. But I thought the separate message queues was actually introduced by Warp. I know that one of the last version I used had the separate queues and I didn't think I used anything after Warp. Hmmm. Wikipedia says there were different versions of Warp. Warp 3 rings a bell.

        Meh. Fading away into foggy recollection as I age. Probably all for the best :)

        1. DrXym

          Re: Long story, short version

          "Warp 3 rings a bell."

          OS/2 Warp was OS/2 3.0. To my recollection it didn't fix the message queue issue. I had to use a console command called watchcat to kill processes which hung. I'd stab some key combo which put watchcat to full screen, kill the offending process (normally the thing I was writing) and proceed. Still a pain in the arse.

          I was done with OS/2 before Warp 4 (OS/2 4.0) so I didn't have any first hand experience.

          It would not surprise me at all if the single message queue thing was easily fixable, but IBM being IBM chose not to for fear of breaking badly written software which used the message queue as some kind of primitive sync lock.

      2. AndrueC Silver badge

        Re: Long story, short version

        Wasn't there also some rule that prevented IBM from advertising it's own products? I have some vague recollection that it was part of a deal with US regulators that stopped them being broken up.

      3. TeeCee Gold badge

        Re: Long story, short version

        OS/2 was actually price competitive by the time of OS/2 Warp

        Or "way too late" as we like to call it. The damage was already fatal by that time.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Long story, short version

        However, Windows 95 had two non-technical advantages over OS/2 - it looked nice and it behaved sanely

        There was one other major advantage - software availability ... I kept with OS/2 all the way from 2.0 through to (I think) v4 (the one with vocie recognition built in as standard ... sadly as I bought a copy while on a business trip to the US it only worked if I adopted a faux US accent as it had the US speech patterns built int!). It was way ahead of windows in terms of internet connectivity at that time but when in early '98 I went to California to work on a joint project my employers we doing with a company there I relented on getting win 95 so that I could run a Hauppage TV card which would allow me to keep my then 2 year-old son happy with Teletubbies VHS tapes played rom a PAL standard VCR ... however I intended win95 to be only used for that and retain OS/2 as main OS. Then I went to Fry's electronics and saw several aisles of win95 programs and 1 shelf of OS/2 utilities (only ever once saw a copy of Stardock's Galactic Conquests which was the only real OS/2 game) and I realized that it was time to give up and switch to the "not the best, but good enough" win95.

        N.b. while it may annoy the fanbois, I maintain that the iPhone success over recent years has been down to the same effect - it may be technically inferior to other options but the amount of apps available coutner weighs that. However, Android, unlike OS/2, seems to have a company behind it which is determined to make it a success

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Software was it....

          I gave up on OS/2 around the time that Stardock Systems (Brad Wardell) gave up on OS/2. By that time about the only people that used OS/2 were Germans - gods only know why.

          Software availability was so bad that there wasn't even an offline usenet client for years - the only native ones available assumed you didn't pay for dial-up local calls. Mail clients were bloody terrible until PMMail. There was a decent graphics package but I can't for the life of me remember what it was.

          The bottom line for consumer machines is software availability. If you looked hard enough and paid enough you could live with OS/2, but it was a PITA which soon became tiresome.

          Very good OS, shame IBM was a crap company at the time.....

          1. Stoneshop

            Re: Software was it....

            Software availability was so bad that there wasn't even an offline usenet client for years - the only native ones available assumed you didn't pay for dial-up local calls.

            Changi (not a Usenet client in itself, but a local news spool thingie like leafnode)

            Mail clients were bloody terrible until PMMail.

            That's what kept me on OS/2 (eCS) until about two years ago.

            There was a decent graphics package but I can't for the life of me remember what it was.


            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Software was it....

              I think it was Colorworks rather than PMView. Not 100% on that though.

              For usenet I just ran a Win-OS/2 session and KA9Q, can't even remember what the client was - probably whatever the Demon package had. Some USAF guy stationed in the UK developed a decent native OS/2 client which worked on/offline around 1997 but I can't remember whether it ever got finished or not.

  13. Mark Leaver
    Thumb Up

    A blast from the past

    I have used OS/2 2.1, Warp 3 and Warp 4 and I feel that if IBM had given their bastard child a bit more love and attention, it would have really crapped all over Windows. But the lack of driver support and application support was the killer for me. I loved that it was a proper 32 bit operating system at the time when you either had to use a 32 bit windows shell over DOS 7.0 (Windows 95 & 98) or you had to go to Windows NT 3.5/4 for a proper 32 bit operating system. NT was good but didnt have the application support from Microsoft and the majority of other application developers were still farting about writing code for DOS and Windows 95.

    In the end, Microsoft won that battle because they took all of their cool code that worked on the PC-Compatibles and put out Windows NT (Microsoft's version of OS/2 3.0). And with their access to the undocumented Windows API 32 bit subsystem, they had a lot more application support than IBM allowed.

    It's a shame really because I really thought that OS/2 had the legs to really make it.

  14. BCS

    OS/2 Warp

    Never did get Warp running on my home brewed box. Even made sure all of the hardware was on the supported list. Had all of the necessary drivers. It just refused to work. I wasted a couple of weeks on it.

    Having given up on Warp, I bought Win95 and it just worked straight out of the box. I sold my Warp disc to a friend who, eventually, got it working on his PC. Took him several weeks though, if memory serves.

    1. Stoneshop

      Re: OS/2 Warp

      Started with 2.11 on a 486/66, 8 Meg memory, ATI VLB video, Adaptec VLB SCSI card - no problem, except the tedium of shuffling those umpteen floppies.

      Upgraded to 3.0, no problem (this time from CD, yay)

      Moved to an AMD K5/450, 32 Meg memory, ATI PCI video, Adaptec PCI SCSI card - no problem again, just a bit of bother actually getting hold of a driver for an ISDN card, but it worked rightaway.

      Upgraded to Warp 4 - once again, no problems.

      Upgraded the system to an Athlon 1000, 512 Meg, moved the cards and disks - no problems

      Upgraded to eCS 1.2 - no problems once more (actually, I think I did a reinstall that time; all my apps and data were on a different disk, so except for recreating the shortcuts no big deal)

    2. Wensleydale Cheese

      Re: OS/2 Warp

      I got Warp running on an Apricot which had 12MB RAM. The first installation attempt keeled over but gave a sensible error message. Posting that on CompuServe got me a very prompt answer which solved the problem.

      But to be honest I found the colours ugly, and Windows 95 was just a couple of months away, so I lost interest.

  15. PhilipN Silver badge

    Tales of Woe

    I remember the marketing campaign for OS/2 Warp - on TV! A bunch of giggling kids watching one of their mates doing "something" supposedly on a keyboard (but they may have been watching alligators copulating for all we knew) and spouting "I didn't know you could do that on a PC".

    Then installation support. 60 days. Which sounds a lot unless you have to try umpteen times to get a new, unfamiliar OS up and running while trying to do your regular job. When I decided to give it another final try and called support the first thing the frigging IBMer said after checking my record was basically "Your 60 days are up. Eff off" whereas it had been less than 60 minutes in total. I know that is how support works but didn't IBM realize they had a fight on their hands?

    Ultimately though I seem to recall the main problem was the sales guys in the Personal Compuing division (which was hardware). They wanted to sell boxes, as many as possible, and didn't give a toss about which OS. It happened that they could sell more boxes with Windows on them. Talk about the enemy within.

    1. AndrueC Silver badge

      Re: Tales of Woe

      I remember the 'No more hourglass' adverts. They were right. OS/2 used the picture of a clock :)

  16. AndrueC Silver badge

    > I was one of the fools who didn’t realise that English is the most terse of all major languages.

    Been there got the T-shirt :-/

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      The article seems to be saying that IBM was being run by the types of management bods who think that it doesn't matter what the product is as long as it's selling.

      Short term thinkers who can't see beyond the current bottom line. Is that it?

  17. Anonymous Coward

    "OS/2 also needed a couple of extra megabytes of RAM"

    I was running Warp in 8 megs on a 486. Still, if you wanted to do multimedia with full motion video you had to fork out a few quid for "big" hardware.

    Note for the kidz: You could buy a second hand car for the cost of 8 megs of RAM in the early 90s. (Yes, I really did mean to type megs and not gigs.)

    Where's the Four Yorkshiremen icon when you need one?

    1. Wensleydale Cheese

      Re: "OS/2 also needed a couple of extra megabytes of RAM"

      Note for the kidz: You could buy a second hand car for the cost of 8 megs of RAM in the early 90s. (Yes, I really did mean to type megs and not gigs.)

      I can't remember what it cost for 8 megs for our work PCs, but I upgraded all 3 of them to 12 MB and both Windows 3.11 and Windows 95 ran sweetly in that.

      It was some £350 for the upgrade from 4MB to 12MB on my 1995 Toshiba laptop.

      At the same time a Vauxhall Cavalier in decent condition could be had for £500.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: "OS/2 also needed a couple of extra megabytes of RAM"

        I can't remember what it cost for 8 megs for our work PCs, but I upgraded all 3 of them to 12 MB and both Windows 3.11 and Windows 95 ran sweetly in that.

        I can remember upgrading my PC to the unimaginably massive amount of 16MB or RAM ... I bought 4 4MB sticks of RAM second hand via something like ..... and I paid £320 for it which at the time seemed like a bargain. Earlier this year in an upgrade I bought 8GB new for something like £30 (though then again just over 30 years ago I remember great excitement when someone at school put together a 4kB RAM *card* so that we could play the text "star trek" game on a 6800 SWTPC system!)

    2. DrXym

      Re: "OS/2 also needed a couple of extra megabytes of RAM"

      I tried 2.1 in 4MB. It ran but just barely with the VM going into overddrive to keep up. I bought 16MB for a whopping £600 to get it going acceptably. Even though Warp was a bit less memory hungry it still needed more than Windows 95.

    3. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: "OS/2 also needed a couple of extra megabytes of RAM"

      Oh yes. I had a massive 4 megs of RAM in what looked suspiciously like an IBM AT (although the fact that it RAM checked in seconds and then paused while the selection of SCSI disks inside span up sequentially[1] was a bit of a giveaway) next to my desk.

      Oh the fun you can have when you do all the PC R&M for a company and the budget for same is yours to control.

      [1] 'Cos the card could do it, it sounded cool and starting 'em all simultaneously ran the very real risk of blowing the original, honest-to-god AT PSU. That's why.

  18. SiempreTuna
    Thumb Up

    IBM - formerly the World's Biggest Plumber

    .. as I recall, in the 80s, IBM was most famous as the World's Biggest Plumber on account of all of it's big iron being water cooled.

    As well as heating universities, their other big boast was that there kit was 'proven', i.e. YEARS behind everyone else's. Not that there were many everyones out there: IBM essentiall was the computing market. The next biggest company - DEC - were absolutely tiny by comparison. And also tried to do a Windows-y O/S around the same time as OS2 - DECWindows - which also sank without a trace. Along with the company.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: IBM - formerly the World's Biggest Plumber

      Err, DECWindows was an implementation of the OSF windowing system (yet another open standards initiative wot sank) for workstations - it competed with Motif; it certainly had nothing to do with MS Windows or the PC market.

      DEC went through a number of attempts at an in-house PC, from the fairly neat (I seem to remember a dual-processor box, maybe Z80 + 6809 ?) to the unbelievably messed up (the Professional 350, because everyone wants a hobbled PDP-11 on their desk).

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    We were so disappointed.

    OS/2 Was hyped as the new thing that was going to send Windoze to a well deserved grave. It didn't require DOS, it could address a decent amount of memory, It was going to be much faster. It was going to be a true graphical OS, not a shell stuck to a command prompt. It promised the arrival of new and great native versions of WP, 123 and Symphony, Paradox and so on.

    When we finally got our hads on it, we had built custom machines for it. 8 megs of ram, a 200 mb HD, grahivs cards with 256K or 512K ram. They were so hot the guys supplying the parts thought we were building the starship Enterprise.

    Then came the disappointment. It was horrid to install, crashed every time you went for a pee, and gave you grief if you wanted to install DOS software, which you had to, because the great new native apps never arrived.

    After several months of trying to make these boxes work anywhere near reliable enough so we could demo them to clients we simply gave up and returned to MS.

    For me, OS2 was the biggest let-down in computer history. I still think it's a shame because it had serious potential. But I guess IBM never saw it as something they could flog to PC users as a product. Triple shame.

  20. dssf

    "Cornered Rat..."

    "IBM made more money out of its database sales than the whole PC division put together, and it vetoed any attempt to bring out a database that was more user friendly than a cornered rat on a house of cards."

    So saddening. My immediate thought was, "This is what Lotus Approach is goung through, buried under Domino and Notes, and AS####,"

    What a waste. IBM shows it has not learned thst CUSTOMERS make the company. I wrote in the Pt I story what i felt about the wish to see IBM release Lotus Smart Suite,. But, there will always be trotted out the excuse, "We cannot locate all the affected shareholders and royalty-eligible people..."

    They had since 1997 to prep letters of future release and options and could have advertised to every tech and consultancy over the Internet that "If you are a shareholder, investor, licensee, licensor, co-inventor of anything in Smartsuite, you have 10 years to make yourself known so we can carve out a reasonable and equitable payment or new contract with you... This "Linux thing" might take off in the future, and Smart Suite might be our springboard to grapple with or help an interested party grapple with MS...."

    All those brains in IBM, and screaming non-corporate users cannot get the time of day.

  21. preppy

    The other part was the hardware mistake.....

    Intersting article.....but no mention of IBM making a serious mistake by trying to change to a proprietary bus on the PS/2 with their Micro Channel architecture (as compared with the open architecture of the original PC and then the AT).

    Come to that, the article makes no mention of the PS/2 hardware at all. Perhaps a third part of the series could be on the relationship between OS/2 and PS/2???

    1. TeeCee Gold badge

      Re: The other part was the hardware mistake.....

      The world desperately needed something to replace that shonky, old, nail-the-bus-lines-to-the-board-and-hope AT bus.

      MCA was a far better solution than the horrific, fucked-up abortion of a compromised pig's ear that was EISA. The only thing IBM got wrong, with the benefit of hindsight, was not including a couple of ISA slots in MCA machines as became common (and still is) with PCI. I suspect that the chipset design of the period just wasn't up to it.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
        Paris Hilton

        Re: The other part was the hardware mistake.....

        The price difference. It killed MCA dead.

        And MCA add-on cards? Rather expensive or else only seen in specialist mags and hard to order.

        Seriously, has anyone really been far even as decided to use even go want to do licensing of the MCA bus?

    2. foxyshadis

      Re: The other part was the hardware mistake.....

      ISA was originally proprietary to IBM! Though the license fees to access the spec were low enough that it barely mattered, and they were eventually openly published, but it certainly wasn't that way from the beginning.

      MCA might have succeeded if it had followed the original path, but instead they jacked fees up like crazy and adoption never got off the ground. It was 6 more years before PCI was developed, sadly, a time when paying through the nose for MCA was the only alternative to the slow buggy mess that was EISA.

      1. Rob Morton

        Re: The other part was the hardware mistake.....

        MCA was killed off by marketing who wanted to sell boxes. I was at a talk by Chet Heath, the MCA architect where he talked about the "guest" card - an MCA card with a 386sx, a VGA chip and keyboard and mouse ports. Plug 3 into a PS/2 and you had a mini 4-person server. Cue massive panic in Sales. And so on.

  22. John Styles

    The closest I ever got to throwing a computer out the window...

    ... was trying to get OS/2 onto one.

    I actually quite liked OS/2 1.1. It was a shame that

    a) it was almost impossible to get it to install on computers, even IBM PS/2s.

    b) it had a habit of lovingly resuming things on reboot so accurately that once it had crashed, it would crash in the same way on restart etc.

    The deliberate confusion with having the extended edition allegedly only work on PS/2s was a big mistake.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Mmm, memories

    I still have a copy of OS/2 2.1 in the shed. I never managed to get it to do any work though it installed OK, as I recall. BUT, where OS/2 did feature in my life was in the early 90s. We had a branch network consisting of mostly 9.6kbps analogue lines used to access green-screen Pr1me applications. The network was incredibly expensive - a million a year if I recall. So when email started to become useful in head office, it was decided that branch managers should have email access. (Don't you love the way technology is used to consolidate inflated views of status? Rarely is early technology used to help actual work gettnig done.) Anyway,. my boss paid a wodge of dosh to a consultancy who tried to get MS Mail to work via a Netware connection using ppp. They scraped 1000bps on the 9.6k lines. A mate at Microsoft suggested I try Lan Manager's remote access server - RAS. To cut a lobng story short, test showed a throughput 8 times better than the consultancy, and I implemented, installed and trained the users of the entire thing, complete with horrid hand-soldered serial cables for the RAS board, for less than the cost of the consultancy. OS/2 1.3 as a server offergin seemed pretty good to me, but it was seen as a Microsoft, not IBM, product. On the basis of that, when Netware became surreally priced and just too weird, we sailed wholesale into NT.

  24. Andres

    Still in use

    Last seen on a broken Croydon Tramlink ticket machine. I stood and stared at it in shock for a few minutes before moving on. I was one of the foolish bleeding edger's who bought a copy of Warp for my personal machine. It could have been a contender...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Still in use

      A lot of ATMs ran OS/2 before the NT stampede. Support people from that era told me that it tooks years before the NT junk was anywhere near as stable.

      1. Zack Mollusc

        Re: Still in use

        There are still a few ATMs with OS/2 around ( or there were 3 years ago ) 350MHz/32Mb/4Gb machines with OS/2 are snappy and responsive compared to the sluggish laggy 2GHz/2Gb/40Gb Windows XP Embedded machines which replaced them. Yes, the mechanical ATM parts are identical. Yes, the comms and backend transaction processing are identical.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Re: Still in use

      If there are any readers in the mid-Atlantic states in the US: is it me, or does the Giant supermarket chain use OS/2 for their POS systems? Every time I go shopping I end up staring mesmerized at the remarkably OS/2-ish window chrome whilst the PFY scanning my groceries wonders what kind of nut job I am.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    IBM not paying PC manufacturers?

    Hmmm, Escom when they launched in the UK had a deal with IBM. IBM staff trained the technicians at their pre-launch conference and every machine came installed with OS/2 Warp.

    It was awful though, even in the tech class with IBM staff, it failed to correctly load on a number of machines and the IBM guys couldn't work out why. It continuously caused problems for Techies and Customers.

    Having OS/2 Warp instead of Windows pre-installed made the sales guy's life harder, the techies life harder and the customer unhappy. Less than a year later they stopped installing and gave it as an option instead.

    The OS might have been great for certain use cases and might have been far superior to Windows but it was a hard sell.

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OS/2 came into our small development shop by accident

    We replaced some generic PC boxes with Aptivas and they came preloaded with OS/2. Being game, we tried it and soon abandoned Windoze. We were developing PC-card (the ones from the PCMCIA) drivers, which were all DOS-based back then. Under Windoze, bugs took the whole box down. Under OS/2 Warp, you simply closed the DOS-box and opened up another one. Pure bliss compared to rebooting from an often damaged file system. (I also remember Borland's gui debugger -- the best I have ever seen.) We used the MKS Toolkit for OS/2 and had boxes pretty damned close to a real system.

  27. Stephen Channell

    OS/2 was doomed at the whiteboard

    From what I remember the two big failings in the design of OS/2 were graphics point-of-origin and supporting the brain-damaged 80286 processor.

    Going for the GDDM point-of-origin (bottom left of screen) instead of the Windows poo (top-left) meant that Windows programs could not be easily ported to OS/2 (the simple transform need to check which of the VGA modes the graphics was in to convert poo -> which was unacceptably slow). The irony being that mainframe GDDM applications worked much better with IBM’s existing 3278 emulation cards & PCDOS than with OS/2.

    Supporting the Intel 80286 was a mistake because while switching from real (8086) to protected (286) mode was simple, doing the other way required you to reset the processor and catch it as it restarted.. making task switching very slow. Windows never supported protected mode, cooperatively switching in real mode or extended mode in Win/386 (Win 2.1 for 386 processors). In hindsight IBM should simply have printed upgrade vouchers for the PC-AT customers.

    OS/2 Extended edition was promised at the get-go because OS/2 communications manager with shared SNA connection was seen as the best way to displace 3270 terminals & database manager was no threat to big iron because it did not even include transactions at first.

    No review of OS/2 is complete without looking at its role in bank cash-machines (where 3270 datastream to Stratus boxes was the norm).

    Had it not been for IBM, we’d all have switched to Microsoft Xenix (the Unix OS MS originally pitched to IBM for the PC), and wouldn’t have had to wait so long of a decent UI on a *nix OS

  28. Mage

    MS OS/2, Lanmanager and NT3.5

    OS/2 Warp was two years too late.

  29. AJ MacLeod

    Interesting article

    I very nearly bought OS/2 Warp for my personal machine in 1997 or so, as I had already become sick to the back teeth of Windows 95's unreliability (this was win95a, on a P166 bought in 96) I was even seriously considering going back to DOS (DR-DOS, at any rate.) WordPerfect 6 for DOS was pretty good, had a mostly workable graphical mode if required, and most games still actually ran in DOS mode rather than Windows so it was worth considering.

    In the end, the only thing that stopped me was hearing about Linux and installing that instead on a newly bought hard disk - I'm very glad that was the path I chose in the end; maybe it wasn't all plain sailing at first but what I learned in the process turned out to be very valuable indeed (got me a job, in fact) and is pretty much all still relevant now.

    Interesting to read about OS/2 again from an insider point of view - I do wonder sometimes how anything useful ever gets produced by these corporations with their massive layers of "business" people!

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    The phrase "basically delivering what you got in Windows NT but better and two years earlier." reminds me of the rows we had when told to upgrade from Novell 3.12 server to NT 4 rather than Novell Netware 4.11

    By the time Windows 2000 Server appeared trumpeting ADS I remember thinking that NDS was doing this four years ago, but knew to keep schtum.

    1. P. Lee

      > I remember thinking that NDS was doing this four years ago

      Novell, another sadly badly steered company.

      You can't charge for authentication what the client is paying for the whole OS. That won't work in a mass market.

  31. arrbee

    The main thing I remember about OS/2 is IBM trying to stop anyone else using the "/2" suffix in product names.

  32. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Death of OS/2: the waterfall development model paired with a "consortium".

    Directly from "Barbarians led by Bill Gates" by Jennifer Edstrom and Marlin Eller:

    "[In 1986] Whatever IBM wanted, Microsoft would do, even if it meant sacrificing its own products—including, perhaps especially, Windows.

    After conceding to IBM by coming up with a draft spec and documenting all of the APIs IBM wanted, in December 1986, Microsoft finally got what it wanted. IBM and Microsoft would now jointly develop OS/2 Presentation Manager, a windowlike interface for OS/2.

    (....) But in reality, IBM was still not supporting Windows, it was merely admitting it needed a graphical interface. IBM hadn't signed up for Windows, and OS/2 would not support Windows applications, but no one mentioned this.

    With the IBM deal sewn up for both the graphics and the OS/2 kernel, why was Microsoft still doing Windows? After all, Ballmer and Gates said OS/2 would take over the majority of the machines by 1990. Interviewed in 1995, Dave Weise, eight-year veteran Windows developer, explained the situation this way: "We had no respect for installed base at this time. Since DOS had taken over so well, so quickly, any new operating system that was better was going to take over even faster. So at this point," Weise said, "Steve B [Ballmer] tried to kill Windows."

    By December 1986, Wood had left the Windows project, as had most everyone else in the company. It was an orphaned piece of code that was destined for further abuse while Gates bet the company on OS/2.

    Microsoft's applications group, however, saw OS/2 as hopelessly far off. They weren't developing applications for it — they still hadn't completed any applications for Windows, their previously overhyped operating-system strategy. The term "operating-system strategy du jour" came into frequent use among all applications developers at this time. But Microsoft developers weren't the only ones shunning OS/2. Third-party software developers avoided it like the plague.

    "How do I get Presentation Manager so I can start writing software applications when OS/2 PM isn't available yet?" they would ask.

    Microsoft told them, "Write for Windows, write for Windows, write for Windows. Then when we have some OS/2 PM code you can use, you can port your application over to OS/2, and it will be simple." We hope.

    Just as Gates had convinced himself that Windows would be compatible with the Mac, he now believed OS/2 would be compatible with Windows, and this was the story Microsoft was telling. The developers, like Wood, quickly realized that working on OS/2 would be another two-year death march. Jointly developing the first version of OS/2 with IBM had been difficult when there were just two groups, IBM Boca and Microsoft. But for OS/2 PM there would be four personalities to deal with—the Microsoft OS/2 team, headed by Wood's archrival, Gordon Letwin; Microsoft's OS/2 Program Manager group; IBM Boca; and IBM."

    You can see where this is going - there was a hacky Windows before OS/2 Camelot even twitched ....

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Death of OS/2: the waterfall development model paired with a "consortium".

      "Steve B [Ballmer] tried to kill Windows."

      and after all this time, finally about to succeed.

  33. Ben Trabetere

    The really sad thing about OS/2 is it wasn't necessary for IBM's survival. OS/2 was a rounding error, and treated as such. I was a member of the Dallas-Fort Worth OS/2 User Group - for a while we met at the IBM Innovation Center, which gave us access to some truly amazing speakers and some disappointing insight into why OS/2 was doomed. I think it was at one of Paul Giangarra's presentations for what would be Warp 4 that someone asked, "This is exciting ... has IBM developed a strategy to kill it, yet?"

  34. Xelandre

    Choice of the OS/2 name?

    The text mentions one problem with the choice of the OS/2 name.

    I had another one. When OS/2 appeared I long thought it had some sort of relationship with OS (and DOS!) under System/360. Even though I had been reared in MVS, JCL, TSO, VM etc., the association between micros and mainframes was not entirely positive.

    I later used OS/2 for many years at the patent office. When it had been chosen in the early 1990s, OS/2 was very superior to Windows, but beginning with NT the advantages nearly vanished. The problem was that the word processing program (a critical application in a patent office) didn't really work well under OS/2.

    WordPerfect had been selected on the premise that a native OS/2 version would become available - which never did. Instead the Win16 version would run under the Windows emulator in OS/2, with many incompatibilities in the message management between the Microsoft and IBM models. Certain operations on the desktop would quite reliably freeze the system and force a reboot. In the mid-noughties the office migrated to Windows, but WP remained (and so did IBM networking too for a while). Then the problem was that the 16 bit application had other idiosyncracies when running under Win32. Only recently could this application FINALLY be retired.

  35. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    The IBM "paradox"

    How could the biggest computer corporation in the world run by "business people" not IT people be so s**t at PR?

    The way MS say it was they threw their heart in OS/2 with Windows as a side show. Big presentation and they are expecting a divisional VP to show from IBM.

    PFY shows up and says "Good job guys (although I'm not quite sure what it is you're doing)."

    From then on MS developed a desire to put the knife in and twist.

    Which history demonstrated they were quite adept at.

  36. bazza Silver badge

    Small point

    "Decades later RIM made the same mistake: it made a tablet specifically incapable of doing email, which its BlackBerry smart phone did so well. "

    Not true if you already had a Blackberry mobile phone. Blackberry Bridge was specifically created to give you your BB phone's email on your tablet, and was there from the very beginning. It actually gives you a multi device unified in-box/out-box/calendar/contacts/bbm system, all via Bluetooth (so it's fast - it doesn't need to cloud bounce). Once you understand it it's an indispensable feature. Plus it's a remote control for the tablet which, coupled with it's HDMI output, is really quite neat indeed. Remote control PowerPoint, no laptop needed, just a telly. In short:

    1) RIM came up with something different and clever that made a lot of sense if you were already a BB customer

    2) No one (most journalists, customers, etc) out there understood this because Apple had already 'educated' the market place that their way of doing these things was the only way.

    3) RIM's marketing department clearly didn't understand it either. It *should* have been a major selling point, but it's barely mentioned even now. They should have either said i) don't do it, we can't sell it, or ii) insisted on a native email client as well to help the cause.

    "...but really it's evident the smartphone team's management was politically more powerful than the newbie tablet gang."

    I suspect that's not true. Blackberry Bridge would at the very least have needed the cooperation of the smart phone team. To be honest it feels like some high-up decided to use it as a means to get people buying phones and tablets, but given the total marketing fail that proved way too ambitious a goal. Even today the abiding impression is that Playbooks don't do email, even though it's also had a native client for about a year now.

    In a way OS/2 had similar problems; way too new and 'weird' for the bulk of IBM to realise what it could become given the even-then-inevitable spread of PC based servers, so no one banged heads together saying 'make this work and do it properly, this is where we're going'. No wonder MS went off on their own.

    For a spell I wrote a lot of software for OS/2, a much better experience at the time than writing for Windows. I abandoned it all pretty sharpish when it became clear that IBM (and thus everyone else) didn't really care.

  37. banjomike

    OS/2 at Sun Alliance

    I worked at a division of Sun Alliance and we had an OS/2 messiah working for us. Whatever anyone ever wanted to do with a PC they were told that OS/2 would do it. We were thus forced into using OS/2 and the dreaded and loathed and crap Database Manager. The biggest problem with the early versions was that actual access to the data was only single-threaded so everything ground to a halt while each query was executed. Hundreds of workstations, one query at a tme. We were promised true multi-threading at some point in the future. It was also remarkably slow. In time, people who were conned into accepting the amazing powers of OS/2 were referred to as being "Warrington-ed" after the messiah.

  38. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    WOW in Deed indeed

    "you may not think Bill Gates was a star programmer, but he had written code rather than worked his way up from accounts. He ran rings around IBM."

    Nice One, Bill. Does IT and Microsoft Provision IBM Lead is a Question with a Great Answer when Jawel and Yes in Every Living Language. Crikey, there's a crazy idea …. YELL IT for Advanced Virtual ARG Operating Systems Control with Devilishly Heavenly Server Systems……. Rare Raw IntelAIgent Source CodeXSSXXXX Providers for Episodes that Introduce and/or Supply Extreme Needs Feeds for Seeding into Perfectly Prepared New Deeds ….. Future Events.

    cc Steve Ballmer

  39. David Lawrence

    Ahhh.... happy days!

    I worked for IBM, at their Portsmouth HQ in the 80s. I had nothing to do with OS/2 (I was a mainframe COBOL man) but I was swept along with it all..... demos, shows etc. I was there when we were all told to claim our free version of OS/2 Warp (presumably in an attempt to get some kind of 'halo effect' going, where friends and family would see it, like it and buy it too). I got mine (loads of floppy disks) but it would not install on my (non-IBM) PC. My manager was escorted off the premises when he announced he had taken a job at Microsoft. It struck me that IBM went after the corporate market with OS/2 while M$ went after the home market with Windows, although I am sure it was much more complicated than that. I was also there when they hit the buffers financially..... not a pleasant time. I got farmed out to work at client sites on money-spinning contracts. It taught me all I needed to know to become a contractor myself! I wonder how my frozen pension is doing these days...... sigh...!

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OS2 team -- thanks

    I have to give thanks to the joint efforts of MS & IBM with OS/2. It meant that when I applied for a job in the economic doldrums of the early 90s overseen by those intellectual & political titans of Major, Lawson, & ... err (thankfully I've drawn a blank that the eyebrows are haunting me in a spitting image way) damn, Lamont.

    Anyway -- the rosy promise of OS2 in an IBM shop in an EU protected cartel meant I was bought in to work on an Oracle and SCO project because it had failed so miserably. (200 desktops requiring massive RAM upgrades not withstanding) Not great for technology in the short term, possibly not in the long term, but it got me a job when everybody was complaining about how the economy had been ruined because the housing market had been screwed up by the banks.

    ...that was 20 years ago wasn't it... can't just be a 2008 flashback I've been out of the country since 2001

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