If OS/2 Had Lived

  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times
Why was OS/2 a better operating system than Windows 3.0? Why did it fail to win its fair share of the marketplace?

Who cares anymore? Well, maybe the old fogies, stalwart IBM fans, or the enemies of Bill Gates! Especially since, last week, IBM reaffirmed the formal dates when it will drop support of OS/2.

Though nearly a decade has passed since IBM released new software for OS/2, IBM has continued to maintain support and supply fixes for known bugs. Good old IBM!

Yet, according to recent announcements, IBM will continue to deliver fixes only until December 31, 2005. Then, in December of 2006, IBM will remove fix packs from its Web site, stop providing defect support, and close the cover on OS/2.

Entering the IBM Technological Graveyard

At that moment, OS/2 will enter the netherworld of the IBM Technological Graveyard (ITG) in which the bones of old operating systems and computer hardware lie bleaching in an iridescent glow of flickering computer room light, somewhat like the mythological elephant burial grounds.

Probably the best description of the ITG was written by Richard Mirth in the historical novel The Silverlake Tapes.

Imagine a place where all these various architectures come together--a place haunted by the ghosts of aborted jobs and the tailings of library members left too long in the QTEMP libraries, where the flapping and screeching of unidentified indicators leap from storage dumps and the howling of phantom user error messages echoes plaintively because they can never be reproduced. This is a place where our feeble understanding of software and machinery skitters on thin ice. This universe is vast and confusing. For not only are the "great" IBM machine models and architectures hidden here--the System 360s, the System/3s, and so forth--but here as well are every machine model prototyped and every line of code debugged by the industry giant. From the greatest water-cooled mainframe to the PCjr Chiclets keyboard, if IBM's geniuses have conceived it, then it exists here. Not as rotting junk, but as hot, running, functioning machines and software, still vibrant, still alive, still dreaming of success. And this is that confusing place where we've been propelled: the IBM Technological Graveyard, or ITG.

Mirth's humorous description of the ITG reminds us all that the importance of technology is always temporal: Yesterday's great innovation is tomorrow's obsolete piece of junk, except of course in the ITG.

Nevertheless, the demise of OS/2 causes one to consider what might have happened had it lived longer and thrived. Would our networks be more secure? Would the rate of software obsolescence be greater or smaller? Would we have such a successful e-business infrastructure?

The Requirements for e-Biz

Certain things are required for the success of an e-commerce or e-business infrastructure, including, but not limited to, the following :

The standardization around some form of user interface or platform

  • A generally accepted, redundant networking architecture
  • High-speed telecommunications
  • An acceptable security mechanism
  • A mechanism for connecting to back-end computing systems

Of course, today we think we have most of these things in the form of browsers, the Internet, broadband routers, firewalls, proxy servers, and WebSphere or .NET applications. But back in the early 1990s, the Internet as a medium for e-business communications was an idea whose time had not yet come. Customers that needed to connect their information infrastructures to other companies--to begin the processes of establishing the new technology called Electronic Data Interchange (EDI)--were forced to build alliances with the largest equipment/service providers simply to establish a basis of internal standards.

Meanwhile, the race in computer technology had become a race to develop a multitasking PC operating system that could take advantage of the inexpensive Intel microchips. The larger concept of e-commerce--or "e-bidnez," coined by IBM's Lou Gerstner years later--seemed like a pipe dream at the end of a very, very long length of pipe. In other words, companies were in the very first phases of e-commerce development--what IBM now identifies as "Phase One of Deployment" in its On Demand schematics.

Standards, Standards, Standards: Just Pick One!

Just as importantly, the late '80s world of technology was rapidly filling with hardware and software products that could barely communicate with themselves, much less with one another. The problem was not that there were no standards but that there were too many.

It was into this realm that IBM tried to introduce OS/2 in 1987. Microsoft was supposed to be the coauthor, but some IBM engineers later complained that Microsoft only provided its "dumbest" personnel for the task. Microsoft too wanted a multitasking operating system, these engineers speculated. What could they learn from IBM?

In "A Short History of OS/2," David Both (president and founder of Millennium Technology, Inc., who at the time was involved with OS/2 at IBM) says: "By late 1990, Microsoft had intensified its disagreements with IBM to the point where IBM decided that it would have to take some overt action to ensure that OS/2 development continued at a reasonable pace. IBM, therefore, took over complete development responsibility for OS/2 1.x, even though it was in its dying days, and OS/2 2.00. Microsoft would continue development on Windows and OS/2 3.00. Shortly after this split, Microsoft renamed OS/2 V3 to Windows NT."

Nevertheless, for IBM, personal computing was still just a growing niche market that was somewhat separated from its mainframe business. IBM had severely underestimated the size of the PC market (originally expecting to sell half a million, tops), and to IBM, PCs were still just appliances. And though they were proving to be powerful motivators for personnel and corporations, they were not really "network appliances." And networking the world to IBM mainframes was what IBM's grand business plan was all about. If IBM could build an infrastructure of networked machines, it could lead the industry in business-to-business commerce.

But IBM had so many products--most of which could not communicate--that it decided it would need an overweening architecture of standards to pull them all together. That architecture had a name: Systems Application Architecture, or SAA.

SAA, as we all know, was abandoned as an IBM initiative after the company suffered its worst economic setbacks in history. Microsoft went on to make a harvest from the work with IBM and others and released Windows NT as a new product line.

After the Divorce

IBM went on to release OS/2 Warp and Warp Server.

Warp Server, released in early 1996, was a landmark product that combined the power and functionality of Warp 3 with the network server capabilities of IBM's LAN Server 4.0 product. Warp Server included many features that would cost extra with other server operating systems. In fact, OS/2 Warp Server delivered one of the first integrated platforms for the emerging application server environment as well as a complete set of traditional file and print services.

Warp 4 was released in September of 1996. It had a significant facelift for the OS/2 Workplace Shell, and there were many new features, including, most importantly, the availability to use Java. IBM called Warp 4 the "Universal Client" because of its unparalleled network connectivity. Customers could connect to anything, including LAN Server, Warp Server, Windows NT Server, Novell NetWare, NetWare Directory Services, PCLAN Program, IPX-SPX, LANtastic for DOS or OS/2, Warp Connect, Windows NT Workstation, Windows 95, Windows for Workgroups, TCP/IP (including DHCP, DDNS, FTP, TFTP, Telnet, SLIP, PPP, SMTP, and SNMP), SNA, and NetBIOS. And because Java was built into it, there was no need for additional software to run Java applications locally or right from the World Wide Web.

E-Business Without OS/2

The point is that, step by step, IBM had gone on to invest in OS/2 to deliver the services and the security elements that were required for the development of e-commerce, despite the lack of economic success of OS/2. OS/2 stayed way ahead of its time, even though it could not gain the popularity at the desktop that Microsoft had won. For this, IBM deserves plaudits for advancing technology that many would ultimately use but few would buy.

Today, the loss of OS/2 from the IT infrastructure will not greatly diminish the growth or vitality of the industrywide e-business initiative. Instead, it merely represents one more element of IBM's final exit from the PC arena. Still, as the vision of e-business continues to grow, much of it will be based upon the legacy that branched off of the original IBM/Microsoft development process for OS/2. Microsoft may have won the PC operating systems wars, but OS/2 won our hearts.

And in the minds of many technical experts, had OS/2 lived a longer, more prosperous life, many of the security issues currently plaguing Microsoft e-commerce implementations would have been more quickly and quietly resolved by IBM. They base this assertion on IBM's experience with building secure architectures--something that Microsoft has had to learn the hard way.

There was a rumor that IBM might release the code of OS/2 to the open source community. Unfortunately, because of the IBM/Microsoft history of development, IBM quickly laid that speculation to rest.

So it will be that on December 31, 2005, OS/2 will start its year-long journey to the IBM Technological Graveyard. No doubt it will find existence there much more sustaining.

Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press, LP.

Thomas Stockwell

Thomas M. Stockwell is an independent IT analyst and writer. He is the former Editor in Chief of MC Press Online and Midrange Computing magazine and has over 20 years of experience as a programmer, systems engineer, IT director, industry analyst, author, speaker, consultant, and editor.  


Tom works from his home in the Napa Valley in California. He can be reached at





Support MC Press Online





  • White Paper: Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization

    SB Profound WP 5539

    If your business is thinking about modernizing your legacy IBM i (also known as AS/400 or iSeries) applications, you will want to read this white paper first!

    Download this paper and learn how Node.js can ensure that you:
    - Modernize on-time and budget - no more lengthy, costly, disruptive app rewrites!
    - Retain your IBM i systems of record
    - Find and hire new development talent
    - Integrate new Node.js applications with your existing RPG, Java, .Net, and PHP apps
    - Extend your IBM i capabilties to include Watson API, Cloud, and Internet of Things

    Read Node.js for Enterprise IBM i Modernization Now!


  • Profound Logic Solution Guide

    SB Profound WP 5539More than ever, there is a demand for IT to deliver innovation.
    Your IBM i has been an essential part of your business operations for years. However, your organization may struggle to maintain the current system and implement new projects.
    The thousands of customers we've worked with and surveyed state that expectations regarding the digital footprint and vision of the companyare not aligned with the current IT environment.

    Get your copy of this important guide today!


  • 2022 IBM i Marketplace Survey Results

    Fortra2022 marks the eighth edition of the IBM i Marketplace Survey Results. Each year, Fortra captures data on how businesses use the IBM i platform and the IT and cybersecurity initiatives it supports.

    Over the years, this survey has become a true industry benchmark, revealing to readers the trends that are shaping and driving the market and providing insight into what the future may bring for this technology.

  • Brunswick bowls a perfect 300 with LANSA!

    FortraBrunswick is the leader in bowling products, services, and industry expertise for the development and renovation of new and existing bowling centers and mixed-use recreation facilities across the entertainment industry. However, the lifeblood of Brunswick’s capital equipment business was running on a 15-year-old software application written in Visual Basic 6 (VB6) with a SQL Server back-end. The application was at the end of its life and needed to be replaced.
    With the help of Visual LANSA, they found an easy-to-use, long-term platform that enabled their team to collaborate, innovate, and integrate with existing systems and databases within a single platform.
    Read the case study to learn how they achieved success and increased the speed of development by 30% with Visual LANSA.


  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    LANSAWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • Why Migrate When You Can Modernize?

    LANSABusiness users want new applications now. Market and regulatory pressures require faster application updates and delivery into production. Your IBM i developers may be approaching retirement, and you see no sure way to fill their positions with experienced developers. In addition, you may be caught between maintaining your existing applications and the uncertainty of moving to something new.
    In this white paper, you’ll learn how to think of these issues as opportunities rather than problems. We’ll explore motivations to migrate or modernize, their risks and considerations you should be aware of before embarking on a (migration or modernization) project.
    Lastly, we’ll discuss how modernizing IBM i applications with optimized business workflows, integration with other technologies and new mobile and web user interfaces will enable IT – and the business – to experience time-added value and much more.


  • UPDATED: Developer Kit: Making a Business Case for Modernization and Beyond

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Having trouble getting management approval for modernization projects? The problem may be you're not speaking enough "business" to them.

    This Developer Kit provides you study-backed data and a ready-to-use business case template to help get your very next development project approved!

  • What to Do When Your AS/400 Talent Retires

    FortraIT managers hoping to find new IBM i talent are discovering that the pool of experienced RPG programmers and operators or administrators is small.

    This guide offers strategies and software suggestions to help you plan IT staffing and resources and smooth the transition after your AS/400 talent retires. Read on to learn:

    • Why IBM i skills depletion is a top concern
    • How leading organizations are coping
    • Where automation will make the biggest impact


  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using as a pre-built development environment



  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.



  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.



  • Encryption on IBM i Simplified

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDB2 Field Procedures (FieldProcs) were introduced in IBM i 7.1 and have greatly simplified encryption, often without requiring any application changes. Now you can quickly encrypt sensitive data on the IBM i including PII, PCI, PHI data in your physical files and tables.
    Watch this webinar to learn how you can quickly implement encryption on the IBM i. During the webinar, security expert Robin Tatam will show you how to:

    • Use Field Procedures to automate encryption and decryption
    • Restrict and mask field level access by user or group
    • Meet compliance requirements with effective key management and audit trails


  • Lessons Learned from IBM i Cyber Attacks

    SB PowerTech WC GenericDespite the many options IBM has provided to protect your systems and data, many organizations still struggle to apply appropriate security controls.
    In this webinar, you'll get insight into how the criminals accessed these systems, the fallout from these attacks, and how the incidents could have been avoided by following security best practices.

    • Learn which security gaps cyber criminals love most
    • Find out how other IBM i organizations have fallen victim
    • Get the details on policies and processes you can implement to protect your organization, even when staff works from home

    You will learn the steps you can take to avoid the mistakes made in these examples, as well as other inadequate and misconfigured settings that put businesses at risk.



  • The Power of Coding in a Low-Code Solution

    SB PowerTech WC GenericWhen it comes to creating your business applications, there are hundreds of coding platforms and programming languages to choose from. These options range from very complex traditional programming languages to Low-Code platforms where sometimes no traditional coding experience is needed.
    Download our whitepaper, The Power of Writing Code in a Low-Code Solution, and:

    • Discover the benefits of Low-code's quick application creation
    • Understand the differences in model-based and language-based Low-Code platforms
    • Explore the strengths of LANSA's Low-Code Solution to Low-Code’s biggest drawbacks



  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

  • Comply in 5! Well, actually UNDER 5 minutes!!

    SB CYBRA PPL 5382

    TRY the one package that solves all your document design and printing challenges on all your platforms.

    Produce bar code labels, electronic forms, ad hoc reports, and RFID tags – without programming! MarkMagic is the only document design and print solution that combines report writing, WYSIWYG label and forms design, and conditional printing in one integrated product.

    Request your trial now!

  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    FortraRobot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    FortraRobot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.