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Alas, Poor OS/2; I Knew it, Horatio - page 4

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy

  • May 20, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

OS/2 had run up against a lot of obstacles, not the least of which was the Microsoft preload agreement structure that required original equipment manufacturers to pay for DOS and Windows for every processor shipped--this took a lot of the incentive out of paying for and shipping another OS, too. It was part of what led the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division to investigate Microsoft in the early 1990s. The DoJ folded and agreed to a settlement so flimsy that U.S. District Court Judge Stanley Sporkin refused to approve it. (Justice and Microsoft filed and won a joint appeal, which is why the whole thing is being relitigated now, though too late to help OS/2.) But no one who has studied the sad history of OS/2 would hold IBM free of fault in its demise.

In the late summer of 1997 I had occasion to talk with a number of IBM executives in a position of power over OS/2. Reiswig had been blown out of Personal Software Products in late 1995 and IBM entirely early in 1996, probably for having tried to get mere people excited about the product, though the reason given was the failure to port OS/2 to the microkernel that ended up being abandoned anyway. The news in 1997 was not good: They were advising OS/2 users--the ones who asked--to find themselves some other operating system. They didn't publicize this, and it wasn't covered, but OS/2 was dead. The IBM software execs were all excited instead, about something called "Workspace on Demand," a client-server arrangement not unlike the old mainframe-terminal days, only graphical. I never heard of this thing being actually adopted and used by anybody, though I'm sure they sold it to someone. But OS/2 was dead.

Its users, that Team OS/2 crowd, either continued to use what it had or migrated to Linux. It's surprising, the number of OS/2 alums now in the ranks of Linux users. Or maybe not--where else was there to go? You can pick them out, the veterans of the OS/2 war. They're the grizzled characters who have taken the place of the "I remember when we used punchcards" crowd in the newsgroups. (Well, okay, there are some major old Unix hands there, too, and their bona fides are at least as good.)

But now it's official. OS/2 has been pronounced dead. No rumor can revive it. A first, or at least the first since CP/M.

A sad day, for an operating system that deserved better. And that provided desktop innovations that no operating system has yet equaled.

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