Oh Where, Oh Where Has My OS/2 Gone?

The news of the demise of IBM’s OS/2 is at best premature and at worst deliberate spread of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Disinformation). Sure, IBM is no longer selling the OS/2 brand itself and stopped supporting it in 2006. However, those who got hooked on the Workplace Shell (a.k.a. WPS) can still get their fix by purchasing the eComStation operating system. eComStation is a rebranded, third party release of OS/2 that has all the good features one knows and loves from OS/2, including the WPS. eComStation, however, comes with updates to applications and hardware drivers to keep running on more modern hardware.

In the past few years there was a push in the OS/2 community to open source OS/2. There were e-mail campaigns and petitions sent to IBM about this. Finally IBM stated unequivocally that OS/2 would not be open sourced. What this means is the OS/2 kernel currently used in eComStation will not ever be able to run as a 64-bit kernel. The current kernel will be 32-bit “forever”. However, as long as modern hardware will run a 32-bit kernel then eComStation can be a viable choice for those who love OS/2 and the Workplace Shell. There will continue to be eComStation driver development and driver porting from OSS projects into the foreseeable future. There will continue to be new software for eComStation ported from OSS projects like OpenOffice.org and Firefox into the foreseeable future as well.

What does the distant future hold for eComStation (or am I going to be stuck holding the bag if I get eComStation)? Fear not, there is a project set to address this exact concern. The Voyager project by NetLabs.org may lead to creation of a kernel replacement that will possibly run existing OS/2 software as well as new software. The Voyager project is mainly to work on an open source version of the Workplace Shell written from scratch that will run on top of a modern kernel.

Is this kind of thing even possible or probable? Absolutely! This has already been realized by another company, Apple, Inc. the maker of the Macintosh computer, the Apple PowerBook and other personal computers. Apple’s OS X is Apple’s GUI on top of a BSD kernel. Apple got out of the low level operating system writing business and ported their GUI to a customized BSD. To all appearances this has been a very good move for Apple. While Apple did not have to rewrite their GUI from a blank page the idea is still viable for eComStation. It could also be a very good move for eComStation.

To find more information on eComStation go to the home page and look around. There is also a news server: news.ecomstation.nl which can be accessed through a web news portal an IRC network and an #ecomstation channel on chat.freenode.net on the freenode IRC network.

Update Sun Mar 30 16:22:18 UTC 2008: I forgot to add that one can get a Demo CD of eComStation at the eComStation Demo CD web page.

Update Sun Apr 6 19:31:22 UTC 2008: Clarify information about Voyager, specifically about a new kernel.

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Gene A.

Gene is a "Unix Guy", network technologist, system trouble-shooter and IT generalist with over 20 years experience in the SOHO and SMB markets. He is familiar with and conversant in eComStation (a.k.a. OS/2), DOS (PC, MS and Free), Unix, Linux and those GUI based systems from Microsoft. Gene is also a follower of Jesus (forgiven, not perfect), and this does inform his world view.

9 thoughts on “Oh Where, Oh Where Has My OS/2 Gone?”

  1. Hi,

    sorry – AFAIK the Voyager projects target is not a “kernel replacement”, but rather to preserve the WPS functionality into a “WPS successor” where developers have the full source code available.
    Many people tend to believe that Voyager is a new kernel – in fact, it is not. The first stage IIRC will be a WPS “from scratch” that can run on OS/2, providing everything the “old” WPS does with a lot more and – which is Open Source. This will enable to have a WPS which then can be ported/adopted to run in a “new” (?) OS that might be based upon a new/different microkernel.

    Cheers,
    Thomas

  2. I see where one would think that I meant it was primarily for a kernel replacement. I worded that part poorly. Yes, I am aware that it is mainly to create an Open Source WPS and that is what I tried to say. Thanks for the pointer.

  3. Here is a comment on Voyager from one of the developers on the eCS IRC network: “Well, Voyager is alive but you won’t see a release at Warpstock. Some code is written, quite a few specifications are done, docs are written, test apps are written. Quite a few discussions are going on. A public code SVN is available for ages though not updated with (latest) sources. Some of the code is now running on OS/2, windows and linux with OSX in the works.”

    Another developer on eCS IRC network states: “Come to DWS (for more information)” referring to the eComStation Developer Work Shop – http://wiki.netlabs.org/index.php/Developers_Workshop_2008

  4. My comment may be seen as somewhat off track, but, with a title like this one, I cannot help lamenting “Oh Where, Oh Where Has My OS/2 Gone?” every time I visit an ATM machine. They used to run on OS/2. They were safe and reliable. Solid as a rock. No longer true: They are running on Windows now. These days you never know what to expect every time you visit an ATM. A few weeks ago, a friend of mine went to the ATM and found a screen dialog box that read “Windows needs to restart. Please press CTRL+ALT+DEL to restart.”

    I experimented with OS/2 in the days of versions 2 and 3, but later got out of the OS/2 camp because it was too difficult to find drivers and applications. However, I think even today Windows isn’t as good as OS/2. I am still hoping for a comeback, if Serenity Systems gets its act together.

  5. Thank you for the comment, Sergio11. I do not believe it to be “off track” at all.

    I suspect the days are numbered for proprietary operating systems on ATMs. Likely in the not too far future ATM manufacturers will see the cost benefit of using a customized “free” operating system like Linux or one of the BSD variants. There is already a lot of adoption of embedded Linux in the technology sector. So, I do not expect to see eComStation make an “OS/2 comeback” on ATMs as the future generations of ATMs are created.

  6. Well, Gene, the problem is not that they are going the route of free Open Source operating systems, but they are going the route of Windows.

    There are four reasons for this:

    1) The big issue is that the Information Technology “experts” know very little about anything that is not Windows, and consequently, they recommend Windows to their companies.

    2) Since most companies already have Windows based networks, switching their thousands of computers to something else entails an expense of many millions of dollars, even if it is Open Source, because they have to change all their software, and on top of that, going through a learning curve for all their workforce is an added expense and loss of functionality. It may take years to regain the full current functionality after a switch.

    3) The IT departments know that operating systems other than Windows don’t need as much maintenance and therefore some of their services would not be needed any more. The IT guys at my institution have told me openly, that if they switched to another system, their jobs would be gone, that Windows gives them job security. And the director of IT Security of a very large and well known company told me that he cringes at the prospect of switching operating systems and losing his job.

    4) Microsoft is very good at helping third party companies to write software for Windows and very good at making IT professionals to feel at home and protected with their help. When IT professionals call for tech support, they get royal treatment. Until other platforms get this type of support, they will have no chance of succeeding.

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