posted by Michael Reed on Wed 22nd Nov 2006 18:23 UTC

"OS Recreation, 3/6"
Some current OSRs

Using the principals I've outlined, I'll focus on two different platforms and their corresponding re-creation projects.

OS/2

There are two projects which are currently attempting to recreate some or all of IBM's OS/2. These projects are called Voyager and OSFree.

OS/2 Itself

For those who aren't in the know, OS/2 started life as a joint OS project between Microsoft and IBM. The earliest, 1.x versions of OS/2 were 16 bit and had a front end not dissimilar to early versions of the Windows OS. The popularity of Windows grew at a rate beyond the expectations of Microsoft and as a result, they decided to concentrate their efforts on Windows and to abandon the OS/2 project. IBM on the other hand wanted to continue developing OS/2.

The 2.x versions of OS/2 represented a considerable technological departure from what had gone before. OS/2 2.0 was 32 a bit protected mode OS. The other departure from both the older version of OS/2 and the versions of Windows which were its contemporaries lay in the GUI. Amongst former users, the GUI is the most fondly remembered aspect of this operating system.

Prospects For Revival - The Bad

Whenever the matter of reviving OS/2 is brought up, I find myself asking - why? It is difficult to see which of the technologies that existed in OS/2 and could be brought back to life within a modern implementation. Many of the features, such as industry-leading DOS support, which gave OS/2 its edge, are simply no longer relevant.

OS/2 has some technological problems too. The messaging system of the GUI relies upon something called the 'single input que'. In a nutshell, this reliance upon a SIQ means that a single crashing application can bring down the entire OS. This manifests itself in a situation in which the user can see programs running but will find his or herself unable to interact with the system. The only solution when this happens is to reset the machine.

Sustainability

Even if a complete, working clone of OS/2 were to be made available tomorrow, at no cost, where would the applications come from? The uptake of this OS would have to be considerable to attract the development manpower needed to develop and maintain software. If a developer dedicates the needed amount of time necessary to create the software that OS/2 needs, he has expended that amount of effort in way that only benefits OS/2 and its users. The same could be said in the case of most operating system but at least number of Linux, Windows or Mac users is considerable.

Another problem with OS/2 is that the API used to create full GUI applications isn't very compatible with anything else. So, although it is technically possible to port full GUI applications to OS/2 from other OSes, it requires a lot of work; manpower in other words. To use a comparison: If a new Linux distribution were to be released, and if efforts had been made to ensure full compatibility with other Linuxes, the effort required to port an application such as the Firefox web browser should be somewhere between minimal and none.

Some people would point out that OS/2 has quite a lot of existing software. It does, but can anyone reading this article suggest a list of killer apps which aren't equalled or bettered by the apps on other systems?

The Good

What could be salvaged from OS/2 if it were to be re-created?

The final version of OS/2 that IBM actively and extensively developed was OS/2 Version 4. This was released in 1996; consequently, its target hardware is the hardware that was common at that time. It offers a snappy, fairly feature-rich GUI OS that can easily run on a P166 with 64megs of RAM. In extreme conditions, it can be convinced to run quite well with even more meagre resources.

I would rate the Windows 9x of the same era as barely usable in terms of reliability and also somewhat feature poor. On the other hand, despite design flaws which place limits on fault tolerance of applications and subsequent OS reliability, OS/2's stability is probably better than any of the other client oriented, GUI OSes of that time.

Perhaps a new OS/2 could be a good OS for NGOs and third world countries? Given an early Pentium and the right software, it could form the basis of a nice little word processing, emailing and web browsing station.

It's GUI contains some elements which haven't been fully assimilated into other operating systems yet. Many of the GUI concepts are rooted in the object orientated design philosophy of the OS. For example, it is possible to make any file system object into a 'template'. This object could be a blank text file, an empty .zip file, a standard letter or even a folder containing other file system objects. A web developer might, for example, create a blank 'website' template consisting of a root directory which contains an initial 'index.html' file, an '/images' directory with all of the .png files that the web developer might normally use and a standard 'robots.txt' file to guide search engine spiders. Once this object has been marked as a template, the user can create another with a simple drag operation.

Another useful feature of the OS is the integration of the REXX scripting language. Many applications feature REXX 'ports' which mean that users can add their own plug-ins created in the native scripting language.

OS/2 has a few neat features of this sort, and I think that they should live on as add-ons to other operating systems.

Table of contents
  1. "OS Recreation, 1/6"
  2. "OS Recreation, 2/6"
  3. "OS Recreation, 3/6"
  4. "OS Recreation, 4/6"
  5. "OS Recreation, 5/6"
  6. "OS Recreation, 6/6"
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