Before the Windows-Apple-Linux OS wars became a daily occurance, IBM fought a similar war with Microsoft through its OS/2 operating system, and lost. But could the technically superior OS (back then) be headed for a revival?
Read on to find out more.
For most computer users today, the words ‘OS/2’ might sound like some alien language from the distant planet of Zargok 9, but for many PC users who hailed from an earlier generation (think Gen X), it brings back nostalgia about an OS that was extremely advanced for its time, and more importantly, how a technically superior desktop operating system lost against the average Windows 3.0 of Microsoft.
But first, a little history lesson for those unfamiliar with this little operating system; back in the mid 1980s, IBM and Microsoft signed an agreement to jointly develop OS/2 into the latest, best-est operating system for both client PCs and servers.
Unfortunately, by 1990, the relationship was on the rocks: Microsoft was complaining that IBM was too focused on developing the OS for their own hardware instead of supporting all PCs, and that IBM’s code was too bloated (the irony). As a result, OS/2’s hardware support was much weaker than what Windows 3.0 had to offer. The result was that Microsoft decided to stay with Windows, while IBM continued its own development of OS/2. Microsoft won.
However, OS/2 was extremely popular among its small userbase. And when IBM discontinued development of the OS, the community had attempted to revive or recreate the operating system with little success. Until now, that is, because rumour has it that IBM itself is determined to reintroduce its former flagship OS to the desktop again, albeit in a different form.
According to SearchDataCenter.com, IBM’s plan is not to resume development of the 20-year-old OS, but rather, to “repurpose OS/2’s services atop a Linux core”. Very few details about the plan has been mentioned, making it extremely difficult to comment on its validity, but it does bring up an important question: why is IBM still interested in OS/2?
To some, the answer may seem obvious: after all, despite its age, OS/2 is still being used in various niche areas such as ATMs , banking and payroll systems, while some devoted users still run it as a desktop OS. Reviving OS/2, even if it means porting over most of its services and capabilities over to a Linux core, might allow IBM to capture a small slice of the desktop OS pie.
Furthermore, the OS/2 graphical user interface (GUI) known as Presentation Manager has been widely credited by many to be the superior GUI, surpassing even the most recent versions of Gnome and KDE, and is believed that it could be one of the major factors that would see even more people moving over to Linux.
Except that it might not be as simple as that. Sure, OS/2 was extremely advanced, but one should not forget that Microsoft, Linux and Apple had not been sitting still these 20 years: Windows NT had advanced and matured to a point where it has surpassed OS/2, and the same can be said with Apple’s OS X and the Linux kernel. Even if OS/2’s services had not been completely obsoleted by then, it would take a significant amount of effort just to get them up to speed in today’s computing standards and requirements.
Furthermore, the move to port all the services to a Linux core only adds on to the developers’ workload, as extra testing has to be done to ensure that the services work properly on a Linux core. And given the intuitiveness of many open-source community developers, most of the services which made OS/2 so popular will have been already been reverse-engineered or cloned into various Linux distributions, thus further negating any real benefit of porting OS/2’s features into Linux.
That’s not to say that a plan to layer OS/2’s features and services over Linux is dead before it even began. However, with so little detail about IBM’s rumoured intention for the operating system and no official statement given about it, the odds of IBM really taking an interest in OS/2 again are just too low to consider. But we shall wait and see.