A Long History

By Esther Schindler  |  Posted 2005-07-15 Print this article Print

IBMs OS/2 ambivalence has a long history. The OS/2 Warp 4 release was better known as the "Java, Java, Java" release; at the rollout in San Francisco, they mentioned nary a new product feature in the OS except its suitability as a Java client. Before that, they pulled functionality from that version, until the OS looked like a broken-down car left on the highway in a bad neighborhood--stripped of all its interesting parts within minutes.
The fact is: IBM was terribly embarrassed about OS/2. As one then-executive explained to me, "Weve been promising management for years that OS/2 is going to hit the ball out of the park. They arent going to believe us forever."
Although OS/2 users loved the technology--and they still do, with events like Warpstock demonstrating the health of the community--IBM executives tried ever-so-hard to pretend that it didnt exist. Just like a 15-year-old going to the movies with her parents, trying to pretend shes not with those un-cool people. But that doesnt matter. The reason this announcement is irrelevant is because OS/2 users had abandoned IBM years ago. While IBM has indeed sold OS/2 with a "Passport Advantage," their support "hasnt amounted to much," as one user wrote in an online forum. Many desktop OS/2 users (and some percentage of enterprises) adopted eComStation, an OEMed version of OS/2 available since the late 90s, which is actively updated with device drivers, encourages new applications (they just had a developers conference in Europe), and a viable community. If an OS/2 or eComStation user has a problem, shes more likely to post a message on a discussion list run by the Phoenix OS/2 Society or eCSs online forum. They attend events like Warpstock in the U.S. and in Europe (yeah, I helped invent Warpstock, too). If theyre hard-core and committed, they might participate in a project to clone OS/2, or to petition IBM to open-source OS/2 or a subset thereof. IBM already released Object REXX, the scripting language built into OS/2, as open source. Click here to read more about IBM pushing to make its iSeries systems more attractive to small and midsize businesses. OS/2 was ahead of its time. Some of its technical achievements, such as the SOM (System Object Level), arguably, remain unequalled in newer operating systems. However, like other users, I found it necessary to change. Although the bitranch has two live OS/2 computers, I no longer use OS/2 as my day-to-day desktop environment; Mac OS X exceeded the WorkPlace Shell, and we depend on Linux for our servers. When I relocated to a new house, I sadly gave away 300 OS/2 applications, which was probably the worlds largest collection; it consumed a non-trivial amount of space in my garage. My heart, though, remains with the OS/2 community. We made something stronger than IBM did, and it outlasted IBM. But this announcement? IBM couldnt sell OS/2 to the right audience, based on the products real strengths, even when it was trying to market the operating system. Now that they want to kill it, the company is no more effective at the job. Communities are stronger than companies. Esther Schindler used to say that OS/2 was her life. She was co-author of a book about REXX (a newer edition is still in print), wrote OS/2 product reviews and technical articles, taught OS/2 courses, and was active in Team OS/2 and the user group community. Nowadays, Esther is editor of Ziff Davis DevSource.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.

Esther Schindler has been writing about software development tools and trends since the mid-90s, and about the effect of technology on our lives for far longer. She has optimized compilers, written end-user applications, designed QA processes, and owned a computer retail and consulting business. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with a husband, two cats, and a well-known tropism for anything chocolate.

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