back to article ArcaOS 5.1 gives vintage OS/2 a UEFI facelift for the 21st century

In the OS/2 world, ArcaOS 5.1 is a long-awaited release which enables this 32-bit OS from the late 20th century to run on modern PC hardware. The first version of Arca Noae's distribution of OS/2, ArcaOS 5, was released in 2017, and 5.1 is the ninth release since then. The previous update, version 5.0.8 came out in May, and …

  1. Chris 190

    Shouldn't this be 64GB?

    > Alongside OS/2's own HPFS filesystem, it also supports IBM JFS, which allows volumes of over 64MB.

    1. Zolko Silver badge

      nah, that would be HiMem. Who needs more than 640kB of RAM anyway ?

    2. katrinab Silver badge

      That's what I thought too.

      The first computer I bought with my own money, in 1996, had a 1.2GB hard drive. My parents' 486 at the time had something like 200-250MB.

      64MB was tiny, even back then.

      1. Gene Cash Silver badge

        "had a 1.2GB hard drive"

        LOL. My first hard drive at work was 40MB and was the size of a cake box. Pragmatic/Fujitsu PD-40M

        1. bpfh


          My first PC was a DEC Rainbow, liberated (with their permission) from the skip of a aviation related civil service, running DOS 2.1 and CP/M, with a 20mb hard drive, same cake box format that could get you arrested in London today as a deadly weapon. Dont drop it, it may go through the floor....

      2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        [Author here]

        > 64MB was tiny, even back then.

        Huh. Well, the first MS-DOS version I used, DOS 3.3, was limited to a maximum of 32MB -- yes meg, not gig -- per partition.

        (It replaced DOS 3.2 which only allowed 2 partitions: one primary, one secondary. So 64MB per disk was the maximum!)

        I configured a 3Com 3+Share server using it. The server had drives C: D: E: F: G: H: I: J: K: and a small L:. 330MB hard disk, you see.

        Yes it's real. Yes it's a thing. No it was not all that long ago. I am not dead, not retirement age, and my first child is not yet old enough to go to school.

        I did make a mistake, yes. It's fixed now I think.

        But it was a plausible one! :'(

        1. jake Silver badge

          The first HDD I sold was an 18Meg drive that set my customer back $4,200 in July of 1980. It was a North Star HD-18, plugged into a parallel port on a North Star Horizon to supplement the overloaded two year old stock 5Meg drive. The system ran a proprietary, home-built inventory and invoicing system for a local indy auto parts store in Mountain View, California. A guy from North Star arrived with the unit to swap out firmware, update the OS, and make other changes so the machine would accept the second drive ... there was no charge for his services, including travel from Berkeley. It worked quite well for about a decade.

          In 1981, Apple debuted their first HDD, 5 megs for $3500. I laughed, already owning a 31Meg DEC RD-52a.

          In 1986 my Sun workstation at work had a bottomless pit of a drive for user space. It was a 300 megabyte CDC Wren IV SCSI drive. It cost US$14,000 ... that's just the drive, mind. The computer cost around $65K. (The "user" was a database archiving network statistics, if anybody's wondering.)

        2. katrinab Silver badge

          "then" being 1990s 32 bit machines, back when OS/2 was as mainstream as it was ever going to get, not 1980s 16 bit machines.

    3. David 132 Silver badge

      If Wikipedia is to be believed, the max volume size on JFS is 32 Petabytes.

      So yes, technically both you and the article are correct… it does, indeed, support volumes of over 64MB/GB :)

      (Edited for typos. The Iphone keyboard sucks big floppy donkey bits.)

      1. katrinab Silver badge

        I have no doubt that JFS supports volumes of > 32MB, it is the implication that HPFS does not that I have a problem with.

    4. TrevorH

      64GB is correct

      As a long time OS/2 user I can confirm that HPFS has a hard limit of 64GB per filesystem. JFS allows for larger volumes and quicker chkdsk times but I've also lost data to it so large is not always good!

    5. jake Silver badge

      Yes, that's 64GB.

    6. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      [Author here]

      > Shouldn't this be 64GB?

      Whoops, you're right. I'll poke the editors.

  2. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. karlkarl Silver badge

    Actually quite interested in buying a copy. Arca Noae just as a "Contact us" but does anyone know of a hardware compatibility database? As a bonus, providing a listing of Laptops.

    I have a decent Thinkpad T23 (actually 5 of them) for this kind of stuff, but the S3 Savage GPU is a bit of an unknown.

    1. Ilgaz

      I believe IBM licensed Scitech GRADD drivers which are kind of a VM to run graphics but you should check with Arca.

    2. jake Silver badge

      For hardware compatibility, try:

      Their phone support is excellent once you have a copy.

      Over the years I've tried to convince them to make it available for free to home users, but it would seem that IBM, in their infinite glory, wants nothing to do with that scene.

  4. 897241021271418289475167044396734464892349863592355648549963125148587659264921474689457046465304467

    @Liam Proven - Install it on your Sony VAIO P! Perhaps you'll need to remove the tiny hard dive and start the installation on a desktop PC or laptop utilising a ZIF to SATA converter, then complete after shoehorning it back into the VAIO P? Bear in mind ZIP retaining clip plastics that old can easily break...

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      [Author here]

      > Install it on your Sony VAIO P!

      I am considering it. The main snag is the very poor wifi support; the Vaio P has no Ethernet port. (I bought the optional dongle, but it doesn't work.)

      I must try to see if ArcaOS can drive a USB Ethernet adaptor...

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. 897241021271418289475167044396734464892349863592355648549963125148587659264921474689457046465304467

        > I bought the optional dongle, but it doesn't work.

        My combined ethernet and VGA dongle worked better, after the I gave the proprietary connector a good external clean using 90% isopropyl alcohol. Sometimes their connectors to the VAIO P corrode a tiny bit - they don't look corroded, but gleam after a clean; the residue becomes apparent. The same happens sometimes with my USB cables, SD cards, USB thumb drives, rechargeable AAs etc. Of course, avoid touching the internal pins of the connectors with anything.

        Or you might have the wrong dongle, or the dongle, the dongle's connector, or the connector of the VAIO P could be damaged? I'd inspect the pins through a big magnifying glass or jeweler's loupe. Some phones have good macro lenses, and can be effective when given enough illumination. It's all so tiny and densely packed chance of damage is high, especially given it's age.

  5. Bitsminer Silver badge


    It would be fun to play if there was a C or C++ compiler available for it. Or can you cross-compile with gcc?

    1. TrevorH

      Re: Compilers?

      The entire gcc toolchain is available for OS/2 but there are also compilers from IBM and Borland though finding copies might be tricky.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Compilers?

      I've been using gcc with OS/2 for decades. Works fine.

      Note: That's assuming you know something about programming.

    3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Compilers?

      Microsoft C Compiler Version 6 and Microsoft OS/2 SDK - for a nostalgic trip down 16bit memory lane

    4. Bill Gray

      Re: Compilers?

      I've used OpenWATCOM 1.9, cross-compiling to OS/2 from Linux. However, that compiler hasn't been updated in some years, and some limitations may apply.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        Re: Compilers?

        I used to use Open Watcom for OS/2. It's much nicer than the Linux version.

  6. Scotthva5

    Use case?

    I was a rabid OS/2 user back in the mid to late 90s until Linux wooed me and eventually swept me off my feet. It was, indeed, the better DOS and Windows that IBM promised and was a literal godsend for my use case of managing a mid-size Novell network over both ARCnet and TCNS with Windows clients aplenty. I'm aware that many banks and ATMs used OS/2 in its various incarnations until the mid 2000s but is it still being used in a professional capacity today at a volume worthy of keeping alive? Being stuck at 32 bit (which was hailed as a revolution at the time) severely limits its use today except for hobbyists like me that will buy a copy. That said, I'm glad OS/2 is still around and getting the love it deserves.

    1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

      Re: Use case?

      I won a copy of OS/2 in a mag competition in 1996. I had to upgrade to 4 MB RAM. Cost me £120 (now £240), about five times the cost of the software as I remember. The real killer was having to buy all the applications again.

      I am older and wiser and now know that FOSS rules!

      1. ChrisC Silver badge

        Re: Use case?

        I bought my own copy of Warp 3, probably not all that long after it was released given the dates involved here, for my home PC setup I was using to do postgrad work, because I was so incenced by how utterly useless Win3.1 multitasking was [1], especially when trying to run certain bits of software [2] which seemed to treat the concept of co-operative multitasking as something only other bits of software needed to bother themselves with, and how much of my time was being wasted as a result, that I was quite happy to spend my own money on something that would resolve it. Even in the cheaper redbox variant, I still recall it being a fair sum of money to be spending back then, but the reviews all said it could do what I was hoping it could, and I simply couldn't put up with Win3.1 any longer, so I picked up a copy the next time I was in town (oh, the good old days when you had actual physical stores selling physical boxed copies of software) and hoped for the best...

        ...and the first time I managed to get it up and running and able to fire up a Matlab session in one window, then seeing how responsive the system remained, made me realise I'd made the right decision.

        [1] I first came into the PC world in '91 having spent the previous 4 years being seduced by the way multitasking worked on the Amiga, and simply couldn't fathom how hardware that had so much more raw power even then, let alone 4 years later when this anecdote was set, could possibly be this bad at running more than one thing [3] at the same time...

        [2] Most notably Matlab, which once let loose on a calculation (given the work I was doing at the time, these could take an hour or two to complete) rendered the entire PC unuseable until it finished.

        [3] I also used to harbour similar thoughts towards the Mac SEs I'd been using at school around 89-91, so looking back on it all now makes me realise just how far ahead of the game [4] the Amiga was then, and also how readily those of us fortunate enough to have used one simply took for granted its capabilities without necessarily realising that this really wasn't how home computers generally behaved.

        [4] With the notable exception of the Archimedes. Even as an Amiga owner, that impressed the hell out of me, and still does.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Use case?

          The only time I sort of used os2 was with a video editing system. The software was Windows based, but for performance it was recommended to use Windows under OS2 as it was faster than native windows!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Use case?

            Microsoft Flight Simulator ran better under OS/2 DOS than it did on Microsoft Dos/Windows.

            1. bpfh

              Re: Use case?

              OS/2 Warp, installed on a pc with 4 meg RAM. I think I very vaguely remember - my OS2 certification is but a distant memory - that the included copy of Windows 3.1 was actually 32 bits, with code changes allowing the windows kernel itself to pre-emptively multitask (so even if an app in the windows "shell" locked up Windows, you could still switch back to the presentation manager and kill Windows on the fly and restart it, without affecting any other OS/2 app (or even DOS sessions).

              There was also a sort of "virtualisation" function which allowed you to run "un supported" os'es (as long as they ran on the underlying processor), and I did have a screenshot (possibly now on an old 1.44 diskette and I dont have a drive for those anymore) where OS/2 PM was running, with windowed Windows 3.1 (itself running an MS-DOS command prompt), IBM DOS 7, and 2 launched windowed machine images, one with MS-DOS 1.2 and the other with Linux Slackware.

              That did after 20 seconds of successfully launching linux in the PM end up with a trap D, but possibly more to do with running out of ressources on a 4 meg 486 Aptiva!

  7. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Multiple boot used to be fine with eComStation but you had to chain bootloaders. As I recall, I had OS/2's Boot Manager starting either OS/2 or Grub, which started either Linux or Windows.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      [Author here]

      It is *capable* of dual booting, yes.

      What it does not handle well is being installed on a drive with any other OS on it, except perhaps a single copy of DOS.

      There are two issues.

      Either it complains that the partition map is corrupted -- OS/2 requires partitions to be aligned to the nearest disk cylinder (even on SSDs which don't _have_ cylinders), whereas almost all other OSes align to megabyte boundaries.

      Or, when I can coax it past that, it starts but never progresses past 0%.

      1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

        What it does not handle well is being installed on a drive with any other OS on it, except perhaps a single copy of DOS.

        As I thought I implied, I had no problems running OS/2 (and later eComStation) alongside Windows and Linux, all on the same disk. It's some time ago, but as I recall the order of installation is important, and you must use OS/2's installer to install OS/2. But it all works.

  8. demon driver

    Looking forward to that "more in-depth review"!

    I kept using OS/2 up to eComStation 2.1 on my personal desktop machine until deep into the noughties, before reluctantly going to Windows. And I even held on to OS/2 (eComStation) on a production internet server for web and mail until 2017 (I had no idea at the time what a great liberation would come through the final move to Linux there – it went so well that I moved my home server from Windows to Linux soon after that, then thought why not try Linux on my desktops and laptops, too, and that was that).

    I'm still missing the "quirky" deskop, though. Until today, I still think nothing comes close in usability, configurability and extendability, including all the nice Linux desktops I tried.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Looking forward to that "more in-depth review"!

      I went from OS/2 to Win2k, that being the first version of Windows that was half decent. But I miss OS/2.

      I used to embed OS/2 headless on VME boards. It was actually pretty easy to do this oneself. At a time when Linux was not ready for anything, really, and other embeddable OSes were very expensive, OS/2 was a pretty good option.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Looking forward to that "more in-depth review"!

        "I went from OS/2 to Win2k, that being the first version of Windows that was half decent."

        Win2K was peak Microsoft. It's all been downhill from there.

      2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

        Re: Looking forward to that "more in-depth review"!

        [Author here]

        This is a bit strange, because I'm half tempted to strongly agree and half tempted to strongly argue. :-)

        > I went from OS/2 to Win2k, that being the first version of Windows that was half decent.

        That's a good path. W2K was the first version of Windows which not only equalled and exceeded OS/2's technical merits but its UI as well.

        > But I miss OS/2.

        Me too.

        (But TBH using it for a while the feeling swiftly passes. ;-) )

        > I used to embed OS/2 headless on VME boards. It was actually pretty easy to do this oneself.

        Gosh. Never tried that. I never tried building a GUI-less OS/2 but I did evaluate OS/2 1.0 which didn't have one yet.

        > At a time when Linux was not ready for anything, really


        > and other embeddable OSes were very expensive, OS/2 was a pretty good option.

        Not just embeddable. For a brief golden window, OS/2 2.0 was the best PC OS for a single-user workstation, bar none.

        In 1992, roughly.

        It came out about the same time as Windows 3.1 and was effortlessly superior... but quickly Win3.1 got the apps. But that was OK, OS/2 easily and quickly caught up and surpassed Windows 3.1.

        The problem is that in 1993 Windows NT came out, and it was at the technical level a better OS.

        Rubbish UI, vast hardware requirements, stability not all there yet. No "DOS from a floppy" VMs here. But very solid for a v1.0 product, and bundled with good networking in the box.

        OS/2 2.0 had no networking at all as standard.

        NT 3.5 was better: smaller, faster, more solid. Long filenames on FAT16, too.

        NT 3.51 was better still: it further improved on 3.5 in the same ways. And then later that year, Windows 95 appeared.

        By that point, the writing was not only on the wall, it was in giant letters of fire.

        If you had money to spend and wanted rock solid enterprise robustness, you bought a high-end PC specced to run NT, with 16 or 32MB (!) of RAM, and you ran NT 3.51 on it. Rubbish old Windows 3 UI but customisable and very fast. DOS compatibility not great, no DOS drivers, but it ran all the businessy Windows apps better than Windows 3.

        More robust than OS/2 Warp 3, much better networking, no huge config files, no fragile setup process. Install from DOS!

        If you didn't have the money for a new high-end PC and all new apps, and instead you had cheap kit put together from cheap commodity bits, then Win95 was there. Cheap, much more compatible with DOS stuff *including drivers* than OS/2, ran well on low-end kit, and TBH a better UI than OS/2. Reliability pretty close to as good, sad to say. Also no giant fragile config files, also a dead easy setup process, also runnable from DOS.

        So, kudos to you if you stuck with it through the whole 1990s. I am afraid I didn't.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Looking forward to that "more in-depth review"!

          Could Win2K virtualise hardware ports like OS/2 could?

          As for NT your history is revisionist: it only got faster by moving more things into kernel space, which made it inherently less stable. Microsoft should have bought DEC and stuck with Alphas! ;-)

        2. bazza Silver badge

          Re: Looking forward to that "more in-depth review"!

          1992 was the pivotal year - that's when I first got it!

          >> I used to embed OS/2 headless on VME boards. It was actually pretty easy to do this oneself.

          >Gosh. Never tried that. I never tried building a GUI-less OS/2 but I did evaluate OS/2 1.0 which didn't have one yet.

          I recall (dimly now) that I looked at how the OS started up the WPS desktop, and edited it (a text file somewhere) to start my (console only) application instead. It was pretty easy, and worked a treat. Having a proper, pre-emptively scheduled 32bit OS with excellent compilers (Watcom) was something of a luxury. I wrote a ton of code for OS/2 for this kind of thing.

          >So, kudos to you if you stuck with it through the whole 1990s. I am afraid I didn't.

          It wasn't easy towards the end, especially with the Web taking off in a big way, and by the time Win2k came along I was definitely, absolutely and totally ready to get off OS/2. By then the antiquity of the software I'd got on OS/2 (probably all for Win3.1 if it was closed source) meant that starting afresh on Win2K wasn't too painful.

          Win2k was a relief as much as anything else, though HP announced they couldn't be bothered to do Win2K drivers for the Inkjet printer I'd got, despite it being nearly brand new. Haven't bought anything from them since!

          The embedded stuff I was doing I transitioned to "proper" embedded OSes such as VxWorks, which was veeeeeery nice, definitely worth the money. I wouldn't have been able to convince the bean counters of the worth of things like VxWorks, had it not been for the earlier work done on and success experienced with OS/2. By using "cheap" OS/2 for a while, that also allowed for the settling out of the market in embedded OSes. By the time came to move off OS/2 early candidates like OS-9 were definitely on the wane. So that saved taking a wrong step in "stepping up" our game.

  9. Anonymous Anti-ANC South African Coward

    Would love to have a copy for evaluation, but the Rand/Dollar exchange rate is making it next to impossible.

    I've used OS/2 2.1, Warp and Merlin, and would love to try the newest and latest out on modern hardware, just to show that it can kick Win11 ass with 4Gb of RAM.

    1. bpfh

      Thank you!

      OS/2 4 was Merlin. I was racking my brain for the last 20 minutes!

      The presentation manager was built with icons designed by/licenced from Apple and made it a swanky looking desktop compared to previous iterations.

      I did look at eComStation a few years ago, and although the multi desktop feature was good, I found it looking more like a discount linux than the OS/2 of yore, although until a few years ago before Credit Agricole upgraded their ATM's of some of their "out in the boonies banks, I had a pang of nostalgia when pulling out cash and seeing the OS/2 "travel alarm clock" icon appear when the computer running the ATM was "thinking"!

  10. RichWalsh

    I'm glad that this review had a positive tone but a lot of it is wide of the mark. Full disclosure: I used to work for ArcaNoae and developed some of the bits and pieces in this new release. And, unlike anyone else, I've been running a late beta of it exclusively in UEFI mode since last November, so I have a bit of hands-on knowledge...

    Here's what I find amazing about ArcaOS 5.1: ArcaNoae took an OS that relies on BIOS calls to boot and hasn't a clue what GPT is, added _6_ new files, and now has an OS that boots under UEFI and fully supports GPT. Even more amazing (to me, at least), is that I can toggle between a BIOS/CSM boot and a UEFI boot simply by changing 2 lines in its configuration file ('config.sys'). And, moving my installation from an MBR disk to a GPT disk (or vice versa) requires nothing more than having the OS change the partitions' drive letters. How easy is that?

    Note: GPT disks can't be booted under BIOS due to a bug in the GPT driver. Fix that and an AOS 5.1 partition image could be copied to MBR or GPT, then booted under CSM or UEFI, and "just work". Are other OS's that versatile?

    BTW... all this stuff about a finicky disk management system is obsolete if you use GPT. AOS 5.1 is happy to use GPT disks and partitions created by Win or Lin. The only caveat is to avoid editing existing OS/2 GPT partitions using 'gparted'. It is wildly non-standards-compliant and damages OS/2 partition entries (fortunately they are fixable).

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      [Author here]

      > BTW... all this stuff about a finicky disk management system is obsolete if you use GPT

      I dispute this. I tried on GPT as well -- of course! -- and I found it every bit as bad. I was not able to get installation to get past 0% on GPT and UEFI.

      The *only* way I was able to install 5.1 *at all* was as the only OS in the only partition on MBR and BIOS.

      But, saying that, yes, I was partitioning with Gparted. It is my standard tool. What else do you suggest?

      1. desmodronic

        Installed it (Arca Noae 5.1) this afternoon on a Asus WS-Pro X570 Ace with a Hynix NVMe drive. GPT, UEFI, CSM disabled and Secure boot set to Non Windows OS. It does not like having an Intel Optane 905P active in the system though (PCIe or SATA modes)

        I built my second PC to OS/2 2.1 supported device specs in 92/93 and it was rock solid, it was just faster, better and more capable than anything MS had. Warp 3 (95?) brought the Internet, 4 brought Voice recognition and a reasonable suite of apps and later on you got the server kernels through service packs. UI wise? Stomped all over Win 3.1, 3.11, Win 95, NT 3.5, NT 4.0 - you can't compare a windows desktop *.lnk icon with a Workplace Shell object, well you can but you would be a very wrong. PM Chess still works :)

      2. desmodronic

        Don't touch Gparted - listed as being incompatible with LVM. If it were me, I'd perform a secure erase, boot from USB, get to partitioning stage, it should recognise the empty drive and allow you to tag as MBR or GPT, select GPT - then into the manage volumes and install the EFI partition (256MB), save that, then install the boot loader thingy, save that, then create a new volume (D Drive) and it will reboot. Back in again and format the D: as JFS and it will select the EFI volume automatically.

      3. RichWalsh

        >> BTW... all this stuff about a finicky disk management system is obsolete if you use GPT


        > I dispute this. I tried on GPT as well -- of course! -- and I found it every bit as bad. [..]

        > But, saying that, yes, I was partitioning with Gparted. It is my standard tool. What else do you suggest?

        While gparted can allocate the disk space, it is currently incapable of designating it as an "OS/2 Type 1" partition and incapable of assigning it a drive letter. For both of these tasks, you need to use the native partition editor 'MiniLVM' which shows up several places in the installer. Select "Set name and letter" from the partition's context menu to set both items. Creating the partition using MiniLVM avoids these issues.

    2. demon driver


      Thanks for the hint regarding gparted. Do other Linux partitioning applications like gnome-disks have similar issues?

      I'm asking because the topic reminds me of my attempts to install Linux on a cheap Chinese x86 tablet that came with an Android plus Windows dual boot setup, and after each attempt to just *look* at the machine's partitioning table after booting up some Linux live system from thumb drive, Android\ was rendered unable to boot up and I had to re-flash the whole system. (It's Linux-only now...)

      1. RichWalsh

        Re: gparted

        > Thanks for the hint regarding gparted. Do other Linux partitioning applications like gnome-disks have similar issues?

        I just booted into Kubuntu22 to re-examine current versions of gparted and Kde Partition Mgr. It's not as bad as I remember - just don't change anything on the "Manage Flags" popup.

        The problem is that these utils have conflated two separate data fields ('Partition Type' and 'Flags') into a series of check-boxes. Changing most any option rewrites the entire 'Flags' field in the mistaken belief that only flags they know about are valid. As it happens, the high-order Flags bits are Partition Type-specific.

        The spec says tools shouldn't modify these bits if they don't recognize the partition-type but gparted fails to honor this. So, because gparted doesn't know what it doesn't know, it wipes out the drive letter ArcaOS's GPT implementation stores in those high-order bits. This can be fixed by booting into the installer and using the native partition editor to reassign the drive letter but it's an unnecessary and unwelcome inconvenience.

        1. demon driver

          Re: gparted

          I see, thanks for the addendum.

          Along those lines I remember that I still must have a copy of the excellent DFSee utility lying around somewhere, which I remember once enabled me to recover a big JFS volume that was spread across disks in at least three parts - and as it seems the project is still alive. Nice.

    3. PhilipN Silver badge


      OMG - where's the Vallium.

      P.S. Thanks for the heads-up

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    OS/2 and IBM?

    OS/2 (ecomstation and ArcaOS) still a tech jewel even today. I really don't understand IBM wanting to bury this OS and not investing anything in it. In this he really makes a bad impression. After all, IBM has buried technologies such as opendoc, via voice, lotus smartsuite, Visual Age for C, Visual Age for Basic, Power PC... one could go on for hours. In Italy it was a pleasure to see OS/2 in railway network projects until a few years ago. Even in Bank of Italy there were OS/2 servers. I remember the IBM consultants being confused when they were instructed to uninstall OS/2 and install Windows NT on their laptops. sigh!!!

    If IBM at least releases the OS code in some open source form, I'm sure that would be a smart move.

    As per ArcaOS, it cost too much. A lower price would attract for sure more developers.


    I enjoied the artcile.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: OS/2 and IBM?

      [Author here

      Thanks for your comment! I am glad you enjoyed it.

      > I really don't understand IBM wanting to bury this OS and not investing anything in it.

      It was the right move, sadly, and it was a solid business decision.

      IBM spent _billions_ on OS/2, and had thousands of developers labouring on it for years.

      I hate to say it, as a user and a customer, but Win95 had a better UI and NT was a more robust pro-grade OS. Once it put those two things together (which was NT 4), it was all over.

      IBM kept flogging the dead horse for a long time but it was never going to win the race.

      > If IBM at least releases the OS code in some open source form, I'm sure that would be a smart move.

      It can't and it won't.

      And also:

      As for the price: for what you get, in terms of developer effort, it's good. It's not Arca Noæ's fault that there are so many great freeware and FOSS OSes these days.

      1. Dan 55 Silver badge

        Re: OS/2 and IBM?

        IBM kept flogging the dead horse for a long time but it was never going to win the race.

        At OS/2's launch, IBM was big enough to price-match or beat Windows on price until the heat-death of the universe, they just decided not to.

        Perhaps IBM didn't want to set a cheaper market price for their OS than the $200 they had in mind, but by not being competitive they eventually ended up setting that market price anyway - $0.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: OS/2 and IBM?

          At OS/2's launch, Windows didn't exist.

          IBM in the 1980s was a complete mess of a company that had lost all notion of customer focus. This is why, despite an abundance of trained and talented engineers, it outsourced software development to the upstart Microsoft in the first place and kept renewing the contract even though Microsoft was working on, and prioritising, a rival product.

          By the time IBM was in a position to do the development itself, the race was essentially lost. OS/2 was the better Windows, so much so that it was better at running Windows, which meant companies stayed with OS/2 to maximise the return on it but they continued to buy software for Windows. Lou Gerstner, CEO of IBM at the time, realised this wasn't a race worth winning and did the right thing. Even now, thirty years on, the Windows API dominates application development.

      2. bazza Silver badge

        Re: OS/2 and IBM?

        >It was the right move, sadly, and it was a solid business decision.

        Agreed, but I'd argue that IBM's lack of vision created the circumstances in which killing it was the best move. I know there's a complex early relationship between IBM and MS with OS/2, but had IBM decided early enough "this is a war we're going to win" and put the resources and imagination in to win it, they could have. By "early enough", I mean at the time they decided to bork OS/2 by supporting 286. Had they been resolute in heading towards 386 and 32bit, saying "this is the future" (a bit like Win NT did), things now could have been very different. But instead, the boring, business orientated thinking within IBM killed off any prospect of that; talk about missed opportunities. OS/2 never properly recovered from having supported 286.

        1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip

          Re: OS/2 and IBM?

          I'd say it's a great deal more complex than that. IBM made several large mistakes

          1) Trying to recapture the PC market and make lots of money doing so

          1a) Trying to capture *everything* by going PowerPC

          2) Concentrating solely on business

          3) Continually half arsing OS/2 architecture

          4) Targeting the 286, driver support, etc

          OS/2's competitor was not Windows NT, it was primarily Windows 2.x-3.x with a smattering of NT.

          I don't have the time today to do a fully thought out post I suspect very few people will read or discuss, but in short :

          Memory requirements were a real thing in the early days of OS/2 and NT. 16 bit Windows for all its faults side stepped this.

          Application and driver support were a real issue.

          OS/2's 16 bit architecture is to say the least, odd. There are reasons for this. Unfortunately when 32 bit OS/2 was created IBM did not architect for the future like NT did, they implemented a mostly 16 bit kernel with a user land that was in part 32 bit (it became more 32 bit in later releases) that was equally as odd.

          If IBM had re-architected OS/2 properly, ditching the synchronous message queue, simplifying the driver model, probably also implementing some win32 support it may have lasted longer. It's very debatable how achievable this is in retrospect.

          Application support was and is always the largest issue. Windows captured it first, I'd say it was lost as early as 91-93, in 91 IBM were still floundering with OS/2 1.3. There were some innovative programs created for OS/2, but in the main the large players either stayed on Windows or created half arsed versions, often later than the Windows equivalent (see : e.g. Corel Draw which I understand was a good app, but half the programs were win16, and Corel Draw 2.5 OS/2 when released was then behind Corel Draw 3.0 for Windows).

          OS/2's driver model was a mess, and the install program was awful. Architecting this properly from the start might have helped.

          I don't think NT by itself was as large a threat as people thought. In the long term an NT architecture OS was always going to win, but the need for multiple users, proper services and so on was less critical until the late nineties. By that stage OS/2 had already lost. NT was memory hungry, had few native (32 bit) apps, lacklustre DOS support, a very basic interface, and wasn't very good at running games. OK as a server OS for the time, no good for consumers.

          It was '95 that ate OS/2's lunch, and the writing was on the wall well before then with win32s. '95 was good enough, and ran the latest software. OS/2's Windows compatibility ended at v1.25a of Win32s.

          It's a hot mess of an operating system. A load of interesting (for the time) but not entirely finished features, wrapped in a package that penalises as it rewards you.

      3. AmigaBlitter

        Re: OS/2 and IBM?

        I remember IBM consultants (working together with Microsoft consultants) uninstalling OS/2 from their own IBM laptop cause they received the "order" to remove OS/2 in favor of Windows.

        Really interesting fact is that is that certain Microsoft employee with whom I worked in that time, where part of Team OS/2 ( promoting OS/2. They were aware, believe me, of the OS/2 superiority.

        In the same period, i collaborated with one of the IBM Via Voice authors, wonderfull software that was integrated in OS/2 too. He told me so many thing about wrong decisions taken by the company...

        Someone may remember that Via Voice was slowly surpassed by Dragon DIctate. And about this there would be a whole other story to tell..

        OS/2 was ahed of it's time. Ever tried to say at microphone: jump to Or launch a java app directly on the desktop?

        I have quite the impression that IBM was more interested in producing patents rather than exploiting it in the right way.

  12. Sanguma

    Some time ago, I read online that one of the OS/2 developers had leaked his copy of the OS/2 source tree in protest at IBM's burying OS/2. Does anyone know if this was ever true, or just a rumour?

  13. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip

    Finding it completely painless so far

    I'd been running a couple of copies of 5.0.x but decided to go for a 5.1 upgrade. Burned a CD, booted from it (on a Dell Precision T7400), selected upgrade, let it reboot a few times - and done!

    Currently running an MBR based disk with a combination of the Airboot boot manager, HPFS, JFS, and a FreeBSD partition - didn't find that tricky to do. However I do have another machine with Warp 4, DOS, Linux, and OpenBSD, and a 486 with OS/2 1.3, 2.1, 3.0, PCDOS, and NT 3.51 so it can safely be said I have history with doing multi boot.

    I'm impressed at what Arca Noae have done, but it's still an enhanced mid nineties OS whichever way you look at it. I've got multi monitor working with SNAP graphics, but it doesn't play well with some apps (they just see one large desktop), and modern ArcaOS does not play particularly well with SCSI. Frankly having SMP, JFS, NVMe, UEFI, and GPT is a worthwhile trade off!

    I did use OS/2 right up until 1999, but was determined not to go into the new millennium running OS/2. It was great for about five years (93-97/98), but the lack of game support, and Python really started to bite, so I jumped ship first to NT 4 running Object Desktop NT, and then to Windows 2000.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Re: Finding it completely painless so far

      [Author here]

      > so it can safely be said I have history with doing multi boot.

      Yes... but me too. I was dual-booting PC DOS 3.3 and Xenix 286 in 1989 or so.

      I have tried a *lot* with ArcaOS. The absolute best I've managed so far is PC DOS 7.1 plus ArcaOS.

      Even with 2-3 other _empty partitions_ the installer for 5.0.7, 5.0.8 and 5.1 stalls at 0%.

      1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip

        Re: Finding it completely painless so far

        I didn't do anything special in this case - it has a Primary HPFS partition, then an extended partition with logical HFPS and JFS drives in it. Following that is a primary A5 FreeBSD partition - I think I created it with the FreeBSD install program rather than doing so in OS/2 and fiddling with partition identifiers.

        Finally there's a 2GB primary FAT16 partition I created after trying to run VistaPro under a DOS VDM and finding it threw up its hands at installing to larger partitions (the other way around it is to set up the requester, share a drive, and twiddle bits so it only shows 2GB but I couldn't be bothered doing that).

        Is reaching out to Arca Noae for support an option, or is it an unsupported configuration?

  14. Mockup1974 Bronze badge

    Does it have any modern and up to date browser?

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      [Author here]

      > Does it have any modern and up to date browser?

      Firefox 45 is included. It works well.

      Allegedly the cross-platform Otter browser is coming:

    2. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip

      ish. Google for 'Dooble OS/2' - probably your best bet at the moment. Otter should be coming later.

      Unfortunately it's been affected by the Ukraine war (Otter), and Rust support for building Firefox.

      Firefox under OS/2 does work well, but it's out of date.

  15. Luiz Abdala

    Wait a minute...

    What happened to that Linux distro/skin that looked like a Windows XP, for all intents and purposes?

    Can you do that (already)?

  16. bitwise


    Every few years I check the OSFree project

    No updates since 2020 or so, but in the length of this project not so bad considering how long they have been going (I think there were 5 year gaps before).. I'm semi suprised that on downloading an ISO and booting in a VM, it does.. well, something??

  17. Kev99 Silver badge

    Wonder if they'll ever try to port it over to 64 bit.

    1. david 12 Silver badge

      It's written in Assembler, so that's never going to happen. Next best thing would be to just fix the memory manager -- PAE enables it to allocate 4GB memory blocks from 64 bit memory. As MS learned, it would probably have to report less available memory to avoid problems with drivers.

      1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip

        The question here is 'why'. OS/2 uses very unusual memory layouts for compatibility reasons and its code layout (kernel with a lot of 16 bit code, mostly 32 bit userland).

        I can't remember what access Arca Noae have to the OS/2 source code - if the answer is 'none' (enhancements all through published interfaces) perhaps they're stuck but it would probably be enough for a restricted set of programs to be able to allocate and manage PAE memory as you mentioned through new interfaces. Most programs don't need that much support, and realistically OS/2 is unlikely to greatly grow its number of available programs now.

  18. HobartTas

    AV software for this?

    So is it safe to go on the internet with this because I can't really imagine there would be any AV software available.

  19. Stuart Castle Silver badge

    I was a longtime Amiga User, but needed a cheap PC for my degree (I preferred the Amiga, but was learning computing science and realised I would likely have used PCs in any future career (as I do). I didn't really know my way around the hardware, so went for the cheapest pre built I could buy (being a student, money was a concern).

    I bought an Escom 486 mini tower. It outlasted Escom, although that wasn't really an impressive feat.

    I don't really remember the specs, but it came with a hard drive (likely 250 or 512 meg) , and a 486DX2 66. I bought an Aurel Vortex 2 sound card. It came with Windows 3.1 and OS/2 Warp. I loved OS/2, but sadly had to use Windows and DOS for my studies, so eventually the PC got reformatted and I only installed Windows.

    Unfortunately, I don't have the OS/2 CD anymore.

    It's good to see OS/2 back in some form, but I doubt I'll install it anywhere. I might play about if it's free, but I can't justify spending money on a new OS with very little softwre.

  20. Smartypantz


    Looks good. everything is clearly readable, contrast is good and elements are easily identifiable? How strange when you're used to the sandblast my eyeballs with poorly designed light-on-light, jarring fancy-of-theweek train wreck of windows 10/11

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