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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
bww Bitwise works has released a port of GCC 9.2 compiler to OS/2 Warp, ArcaOS and eComStation. This is a new milestone for OS/2 software development that allows the community to port more open source software to this platform. The project port is available at github.
This is a port of the QtBase module of the Qt software development framework version 5 to the OS/2 operating system (and its derivants). This port is carefully crafted and maintained by bww bitwise works GmbH (also referred as bitwiseworks). The current version of the port implements all major parts of the QtBase module and is suitable to compile and run a large amount of Qt 5 applications on OS/2. An impressive effort, but I do have to wonder – what is the benefit of running OS/2 when all of the applications you’re using are better served running on, I don’t know, KDE or Windows? Doesn’t it make more sense to direct effort towards native applications?
The role of OS/2 in the NYC subway system is more of a conduit. It helps connect the various parts that people use with the parts they don’t. Waldhauer notes, “There are no user-facing applications for OS/2 anywhere in the system. OS/2 is mainly used as the interface between a sophisticated mainframe database and the simple computers used in subway and bus equipment for everyday use. As such, the OS/2 computers are just about everywhere in the system.” At this point, we’re talking about an OS designed in the late 80s, released in the early 90s, as part of a difficult relationship between two tech giants. The MTA had to ignore most of this because it had already made its decision and changing course would cost a lot of money. It’s sad that OS/2 – in its current form available as ArcaOS 5.0 – has a relatively steep entry price, because it’s an incredibly fun and unique operating system to play around with. I’d love to set up a VM just for fun and playing around, but at $129, I really can’t justify that.
The OS/2-derived ArcaOS is now up to version 5.0.3. This latest release appears to be mainly bug fixes and hardware compatibility enhancements.
ArcaOS 5.0.3 is (again) the result of many hours of collaborative work to keep up-to-date and to further refine ArcaOS 5.0. Post-install fixes are included, and these will be made available for separate download as part of the ArcaOS 5.0 Support & Maintenance subscription. In the interim, a full download of the refreshed media image is required to obtain all of these fixes and updates.
ArcaOS 5.0.3 includes over 40 updates and fixes since 5.0.2. The USB stick image package (available as a separate download for ArcaOS licensees with current support and maintenance subscription) has also been updated to incorporate the latest changes in ArcaOS 5.0.3.
If this one hell of a lede doesn't get your attention, nothing will.
ArcaOS 5.0 has been released and it is available to be bought at the Arca Noae shop page. It is based on OS/2 Warp 4.52 binaries, and contains newer drivers for ACPI, USB, and networking, a new installer and several open source software projects such as Firefox, Qt, Libc, and OpenOffice.
The OS2World Community also posted a statement with important OS/2 community links and some remarks on the important role open source software has in the OS/2 community.
In a fascinating example of poor timing, disk images of OS/2 2.0 pre-release level 6.605 from July/September 1991 were missingÂ for over 25 years, only to show up literally one day after the 25th anniversary of the OS/2 2.0 release (big thanks to a very helpful reader!).
This is a pretty unique pre-release of OS/2 2.0, and as such, it's great it's been saved like this.
Per Arca Noae's revised release schedule, and as announced at Warpstock 2016, Blue Lion (ArcaOS 5.0) moved into beta testing stage today. The first beta release has been made available to the test team, and we anticipate a rigorous round of installation, modifications, formatting, deletion, disk wiping, and all that other fun stuff which accompanies a healthy beta test.
We do not anticipate a public beta cycle nor are we planning a gamma release or an untold number of release candidates. Instead, we fully expect ArcaOS 5.0 to emerge from beta testing at the end of March and to become generally available at that time.
As mentioned during earlier coverage, ArcaOS is a sort-of continuation of eComStation, since it's founded by several eCS developers who felt eCS had ground to a halt.
In a discussion at TypeDrawers, Greg Hitchcock (from Microsoft) shares a bit of the history regarding OS/2 table's name in the TTF font format:
Because the design of fonts between OS/2 and Windows was very similar (the same folks at Microsoft did most of the graphics for both OS/2 and Windows - with some input from IBM based on their FOCA values) we decided to consolidate the OS/2 and WIN tables into just one table - OS/2. This is why the spec says "...a set of metrics that are required by OS/2 and Windows." The parting with IBM occurred later in 1990. Microsoft had already made enough fonts using the OS/2 table that we decided it would be too expensive to rename the table to the WIN table.
Ultimately the OS/2 table has become somewhat of a catch-all for additional bits of data, which is why we are now on the 6th version of the table.