OS/2 Archive

An actual look at Microsoft OS/2 2.0

This release marks the last time that Microsoft would release an OS/2 beta to developers, instead with the runaway success of Windows 3.0, Microsoft would remove resources from the constrained OS/2, and refocus both on Windows 3.1, and Windows NT. Thanks to one of my Patrons – Brian Ledbetter, the much-sought Microsoft OS/2 2.0 Pre-Release 2 is now available! So obviously the first thing to do was to re-create the original magical screenshot. ↫ neozeed at VirtuallyFun We already talked about this rediscovered release, but this article contains even more detailed information, this time from the person who bought the copy off eBay.

The future that never was

Just before the end of 1989, Microsoft made available the first pre-release version of the long promised 32-bit OS/2 2.0, which was intended to be the first mass-market 32-bit PC operating system. This was accompanied by a press release detailing the $2,600 OS/2 2.0 Software Development Kit (SDK). Unfortunately, the December 1989 pre-release of OS/2 2.0 may not have survived to the present day. But in June 1990, Microsoft shipped the second pre-release of the OS/2 2.0 SDK. And that version has now turned up, after twenty years of searching, and nearly a quarter century after its release! ↫ Michal Necasek at OS/2 Museum OS/2 is one of the biggest what-ifs in tech, and the whole origin story and demise of the platform is worthy of a big budget drama series. It also happens to be one of my favourite retrocomputing platforms of all time, so I may be biased.

Hobbes OS/2 Archive to shut down in three months

We’ve got some seriously bad news for the OS/2 community. Hobbes, the massive software archive for OS/2 (and thus eComStation and ArcaOS), which hosts both old software as well as more recent releases, is shutting down in three months. After many years of service, hobbes.nmsu.edu will be decommissioned and will no longer be available. You the user are responsible for downloading any of the files found in this archive if you want them. These files will no longer be available for access or download as of the decommission date. As of April 15th, 2024 this site will no longer exist. No one will be able to access this site or any information/files stored on this site as of April 15th, 2024. I don’t even know how old Hobbes is, but I feel like it’s been around for decades. Seeing it being shut down is incredibly sad to read, but also a sign of the times for whatever’s left of the OS/2 community. Two of the four listed mirrors seem to be up, namely SunSITE Poland and Infania Networks in Sweden. We’ll see how long those last, but my advice to anyone interested in OS/2 – download the Hobbes archive and store it locally.

OS/2 Warp, PowerPC Edition

Speaking of POWER – well, PowerPC – what about OS/2 Warp for PowerPC? What was OS/2 Warp, PowerPC Edition like? An unfinished product, rough around the edges but simultaneously technically very interesting and advanced and showing promise. Even though the OS/2 PPC release wasn’t called beta, it is obvious that this is a beta level product (if even that in some respects). Many features are unfinished or completely missing (networking in the first place). The kernel level code doesn’t look much like production build and prints out quite a lot of debugging output on the serial console. The HPFS support was very unstable, and the stability of Win-OS/2 left a lot to be desired. There were too many clearly unfinished parts of the product (documentation, missing utilities etc.). On the other hand a large portion of the system worked well. The user interface and graphics subsystem in general didn’t exhibit any anomalies. Multitasking was reliable and all things considered, responsiveness quite good for a 100MHz CPU and code that was not likely to have been performance tuned. The multimedia subsystem worked much better than I expected. Many things were much improved compared to Intel OS/2 — internationalization, graphics subsystem, updated console API and so on. The system seemed to have enough raw power, even if it wasn’t harnessed too well. Boot time was rather long but once up and running, the system was snappy (with some exceptions, notably the CD-ROM driver). To reach true production quality, the OS would have needed at least additional six months of intense development, probably more. I’m a tad bit jealous some people manage to find the right hardware to run OS/2 for PowerPC, since it’s incredibly high on my list. At least I have this great article to read through every now and then, until the day I manage to get lucky myself.

OS/2, ArcaOS Mastodon client in Object REXX

The spread of Mastodon clients to alternative platforms is continuing, and today, it’s OS/2’s – the one that got away – time in the spotlight. Robert Roland is working on a Mastodon client targeting OS/2, eComStation, and ArcaOS, but it’s all still early in development. The first bits of code were only uploaded yesterday, so there’s a long way yet to go – but if you want to follow along, you can go to Roland’s Mastodon account, and of course, if you want to help out, I’m sure he’d be delighted. I love OS/2 – in the form of the modern ArcaOS – and a working Mastodon client is something that’s quite high on my wish list. Who knows – maybe one of you nerds can help out with this project.

ArcaOS 5.1 released

In a first for any OS/2-based distribution, ArcaOS 5.1 supports installation on the latest generation of UEFI-based systems, and includes the ability to install to GPT-based disk layouts. This enables ArcaOS 5.1 to install on a wide array of modern hardware. ArcaOS 5.1.0 can be used for new installs or to upgrade any prior version of ArcaOS 5. If installing from USB stick, the USB install stick may be created using any major operating system at hand (Windows, Linux, MacOS, and of course, OS/2, eComStation, and ArcaOS). Once built, the USB stick can be inserted into any USB port in the target system to boot into the ArcaOS installer/updater in either UEFI or traditional BIOS mode (alternatively, the DVD image may be burned to physical media and also booted to either UEFI or traditional BIOS systems). This release, and the support for UEFI and GPT-based drives in particular, is a massive achievement by the ArcaOS team. They’re most likely a rather small team, serving a small market, and I’m not even sure how much access they really have to the source code of the various parts that make up OS/2 – is anything known about the license between Arca Noae and IBM? – and this release has taken them quite a few years. However long it took, and however much work was involved, ArcaOS can now be used on modern hardware for a long time to come.

ArcaOS 5.0.8 released

ArcaOS 5.0.8 includes refreshed driver content, updated kernel and included software, as well as installation boot fixes since 5.0.7 was released at the end of 2021. It also rolls in a few fixes that come from our 5.1.0 development work. ArcaOS 5.0.8 can be used for new installs or to update any prior version of ArcaOS 5. If you have experienced difficulty installing previous releases of ArcaOS on your hardware, 5.0.8 may address your issue(s). This is a small point release in the run-up to the release of ArcaOS 5.1.0, which will be a much bigger update, but that is currently held back by the developers having to redesign their ISO delivery stack. The wiki has all the detailed changes since 5.0.7.

The fall of OS/2

IBM had unknowingly created a juggernaut when they allowed Bill Gates and Microsoft to control the PC operating system standard, first with DOS and then with Windows. Having lost control of the PC hardware standard, IBM was determined to regain control of the operating system standard. Their weapon? The OS/2 operating system, a powerful and feature packed operating system that best case should have had little trouble overcoming Windows, and worst case should have at least been able to carve out a profitable and sustainable market share. This is the story of how IBM’s last attempt to keep a measure of control in the PC space…Failed. I don’t always link to videos, but when I do.. This is a great video – a long, detailed story about the downfall of what was, arguably, the best operating system of the 1990s, one that lost out due to illegal behaviour by Microsoft and IBM’s own incredible incompetence. They had a gem on their hands, but just didn’t know what to do with it.

The worst-selling Microsoft software product of all time: OS/2 for the Mach 20

In the mid-1980’s, Microsoft produced an expansion card for the IBM PC and PC XT, known as the Mach 10. In addition to occupying an expansion slot, it also replaced your CPU: You unplugged your old and busted 4.77 MHz 8088 CPU and plugged into the now-empty socket a special adapter that led via a ribbon cable back to the Mach 10 card. On the Mach 10 card was the new hotness: A 9.54 MHz 8086 CPU. This gave you a 2× performance upgrade for a lot less money than an IBM PC AT. The Mach 10 also came with a mouse port, so you could add a mouse without having to burn an additional expansion slot. The Mach 20 took the same basic idea as the Mach 10, but to the next level: As before, you unplugged your old 4.77 MHz 8088 CPU and replaced it with an adapter that led via ribbon cable to the Mach 20 card, which you plugged into an expansion slot. This time, the Mach 20 had an 8 MHz 80286 CPU, so you were really cooking with gas now. And, like the Mach 10, it had a mouse port built in. According to a review in Info World, it retailed for $495. Microsoft also produced a customized version of OS/2 for the Mach 20. Despite being tailor-made for the Mach 20, it still had terrible performance problems. One of my former colleagues spoke with the person who took over from him as the support specialist for OS/2 for Mach 20. According to that person’s memory (which given the amount time that has elapsed, means that we should basically be saying “according to legend” at this point), a total of eleven copies of “OS/2 for Mach 20” were ever sold, and eight of them were returned. That leaves three customers who purchased a copy and didn’t return it. And the support specialist had personally spoken with two of them. If these numbers are accurate, I believe this makes OS/2 for Mach 20 a strong candidate for being the worst-selling actually-shipped Microsoft software product of all time. We have to find this. Someone must have a copy of OS/2 for Mach 20 in a box in the attic somewhere. This is the final boss of software preservation.

Slovenian OS/2 Warp 4

Slovenia being a tiny country with a population of just 2 million, IBM OS/2 Warp 4 was one of the few non-Microsoft operating systems to be localized to Slovenian in the mid-90s and a big deal for the local IT community back then. But nearly 3 decades later, when OS/2 disappeared from the last ATMs in the country, the even rarer Slovenian version was as good as completely gone. Or was it? This is an amazing example of digital archeology, and I hope the other rare OS/2 translations are found as well. It’s difficult for small – but stunningly beautiful! – countries to maintain their digital independence, and properly localised software plays a huge role in that.

UEFI support in ArcaOS 5.1

Development and testing of Arca Noae’s support for UEFI continues. Here’s a brief recap of how this will work in ArcaOS 5.1: When the installation media boots, if the system is determined to be in “UEFI mode” as opposed to “Legacy mode” (“Legacy” here refers to the configuration which presents a traditional PC BIOS), ArcaOS will begin the preboot process using its compatibility system. Essentially, this is a 64-bit environment which will provide a rather complete BIOS emulation for the ArcaOS kernel, including VGA services for video display. I often wonder just how hard it must be for the ArcaOS developers to work within the confines of OS/2 and what must be stringent licensing agreements and NDAs with IBM. This kind of low-level programming on OS/2 can’t be easy.

ArcaOS 5.0.7 released

ArcaOS 5.0.7 includes refreshed driver content, updated kernel and included software, as well as installation boot fixes since 5.0.6 was released in 2020. If you have experienced difficulty installing previous releases of ArcaOS on your hardware, 5.0.7 may address your issue(s). If installing from USB stick, the image may be created using any major operating system at hand (Windows, Linux, MacOS, and of course, OS/2, eComStation, and ArcaOS). Once built, the USB stick can be inserted into any USB port in the target system to boot into the ArcaOS installer/updater. This is an important update, as boot issues during installation were a problem on all my machines. I’m hoping this release will address them, since running ArcaOS on real hardware, instead of in a virtual machine, makes me giddy with excitement – especially since an updated, modern browser is on its way, too.

Arca Noae’s plan for supporting GPT disk layouts in ArcaOS

Arca Noae’s approach to supporting GPT will be multi-phased, with the first phase of development currently underway and anticipated for release with ArcaOS 5.1. The design specification of our initial GPT support is to allow for partitions up to the current 2TB maximum size, with multiple partitions of this size possible on disks larger than 2TB. Our specification further provides that ArcaOS be able to create, delete, and modify GPT partitions which are identified by their GUIDs as being “OS/2-type” partitions, and lastly, that GPT support be available for both traditional BIOS (for data volumes) and UEFI-based systems (for boot and data volumes). This is one of the biggest hurdles for ArcaOS to overcome, and I’m glad they’ve committed to tackling it. Having to partition an entire disk in legacy MBR just to be able to run ArcaOS on real hardware is a major barrier to entry.

SDL2 upstreams OS/2 Support

If 2020 couldn’t get more peculiar, today the SDL2 project mainlined support for the OS/2 operating system. While OS/2 is no longer maintained by IBM and was never really a gaming platform for where SDL2 is most commonly used, this software library that serves as an abstraction layer for multimedia/gaming hardware components and software platforms has merged the OS/2 port. Neat.

ArcaOS 5.0.6 released

ArcaOS 5.0.6 includes refreshed content and fixes since 5.0.5 was released. If you have experienced difficulty installing previous releases of ArcaOS on your hardware, 5.0.6 may address your issue(s). If installing from USB stick, the image may be created using any major operating system at hand (Windows, Linux, MacOS, and of course, OS/2, eComStation, and ArcaOS). Once built, the USB stick can be inserted into any USB port in the target system to boot into the ArcaOS installer/updater. It’s a relatively minor release, but anything that improves the chances of being able to install ArcaOS I’ll take. I’ve had some major issues getting it to boot on modern hardware – despite excellent help from the ArcaOS team, we couldn’t get it to work – so I hope I can find some time somewhere to try it again.

ArcaOS 5.0.5 released

ArcaOS 5.0.5 introduces support for xHCI (USB3) controllers to install on a wider array of systems than ever before. What’s more, for updaters, even if your USB controller was previously unsupported, and you had to install or update from DVD in the past, you may now boot into the installer from USB stick to perform the update. USB3-attached keyboards and mice should work, as well. ArcaOS 5.0.5 includes over 100 updates, enhancements, and fixes since 5.0.4 was released. If you have experienced difficulty installing previous releases of ArcaOS on your hardware, the fixes and updates included in 5.0.5 may address your issue(s). ArcaOS is a continuation of IBM’s OS/2, updated and fixed for modern hardware and with modern applications.

OS/2 on Virtualbox guide

There is this interesting article about running different versions of OS/2 on VirtualBox. It offers tips for each different version, disk image conversion information and prebuilt images. When I started looking into getting it working on a virtual machine, I had a hard time finding some crucial information and files, there were steps in the install process that were not explained in the few guides I could find, it wasn’t clear to me which versions could be installed, and some of the install files were in formats I couldn’t read. Now that I’ve figured out all those problems I’ve created a guide with specific instructions on how to get all major versions working on VirtualBox, complete with sound, video and network in some cases, and you’ll find those guides below. I also created prebuilt virtual machines you can just download and press play on. You owe it to yourself to play with OS/2. It’s an amazingly fascinating operating system with some great ideas and features.

The osFree project

We’re all aware of Haiku, the open source re-implementation of BeOS. This week, I found out a similar effort is underway to recreate OS/2 Warp 4 as an open source operating system. osFree is a Free Open Source software operating system development project, aiming to replace eventually all OS/2 subsystems with Open source analogues. It aims for OS/2 Warp 4 (Merlin) as a base compatibility system, which does not mean that we will not support features of newer (OS/2 Warp Server for e-business, eComStation and ArcaOS) OS/2 versions. This includes rewriting not only user-level code but the OS/2 kernel too. The project is very much in its early alpha stages, so don’t expect to boot into osFree any time soon. That being said, they have made progress over the years, and their current status explains how far along they are. osFree project is deep in the alpha stage. At the present time the osFree project work with low-level parts of operating system like loader and related tools. We also try to develop an experimental prototype of OS/2 personality for L4 microkernel. Also we have set of command line tools like CMD.EXE and file/disk maintenance utilities. I absolutely adore OS/2, and while I understand all too well a project like this won’t be finished overnight – look at Haiku – I do love that it’s being worked on.