The New OS/2 Rumours Could Be Interesting

Some rumours have emerged that IBM is considering an OS/2 comeback and I'm filled with the same mixed feelings that always emerge whenever the subject is raised. Would I want OS/2 back on my desktop now? Not really. Have these rumours got me a bit excited? Absolutely. In fact, I'm willing to take a guess about what the new OS/2 might be.

I'll go out on a limb and say that the chances of IBM recommitting to classic OS/2 are close to zero. Like a lot of great systems of the 1990s, such as the Amiga or NEXT, OS/2 would look laughably out of date now next to, say, the latest KDE or Windows Vista. A lot of its advantages, such as its industry leading DOS support, are irrelevant and most of its other cool features have been equalled or superseded in later systems. In my opinion, ex-users tend to view the user interface through rose tinted glasses. It was good, for the time, but I wouldn't want to give up niceties such as my modern file manager in KDE to return to what OS/2 had.

A lot of the technology that underpinned OS/2, such as the memory management and hardware support, is now ancient and it would have to be rewritten to support modern hardware and applications. Apart from that, the whole system is proprietary and legally encumbered. Persuading people to develop for OS/2 would be nearly impossible as it's not very compatible with anything else. To put that into perspective, just think how difficult it can be convincing some mainstream developers that the Linux market is big enough to support. However, I doubt that any of this is what the new OS/2 is.

If IBM wants to get back into the world of desktop operating systems, I think that the most likely plan is for a custom Linux distribution, perhaps reviving the old OS/2 name. This is because even an organisation as big as IBM would balk at spending the resources needed to create an entire operating system from scratch, and upgrading the OS/2 source code would probably be an even larger job. However, it's probably sick of deploying the operating system of one of it chief competitors on the machines of its clients. IBM has done something like this before in form of IBM Lotus Symphony, an update of the DOS application suite, by re-branding and adding to Open Office.

This might be exciting news, depending on what you use Linux for and what choices IBM makes (if any of this even exists outside of the feverish rantings of your humble scribe). A standardised corporate Linux distribution with the backing of IBM might be welcomed by software development houses as it would help to work around one of Linux's biggest failings in the view of commercial developers, the lack of a standardised platform target. My biggest wish for this project would be that IBM keep everything open. Big Blue can make its money from the support side of things. If it does go ahead, in the manner that I've outlined, who knows what cool technology IBM could develop to make Linux more of a Windows beater on the desktop? Keeping pressure on Microsoft can only be a good thing for the consumer, after all. An exiting prospect, or yet another distribution to add to the pile?


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


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RGW's picture

Memories...too bad IBM marketing had there heads up there A$@ ...just like TokenRing/SNA..let good things slip through there fingers..including when Gates stoled the FLAG symbol of OS2 when he worked for them..SHORT lived..
Ah but OS2 had many features and possibilities..and IBM blew it..for many of us..but Linux is the big start to waking people up..

it's a rumor!!

Anonymous's picture

Sure! OS/2 is NOT coming back because it NEVER LEFT!! Back when IBM decided to stop any further development some folks approached IBM to buy the code but was refused due to the patents issue. Anyhow, they did agree to allow the folks (who are trading under the name of eComstation) to add their own code to the product and re-sell it under the name of eComstation. The big hoo-haa is the fact that ver 2.0 is now released which has taken years to get out and I understand the big hold up was ACPI.

It's still OS/2 but with added support for modern hardware. Because it still IS the most stable OS on the market, many corporate users still run it. It runs my server and POS terminals 24/7 and it's NEVER crashed or had a virus. Try that with another OS.

The New OS/2 Rumours Could Be Interesting

edurrant's picture

I think this is another case of someone picking up some information and not fully understanding it.

There IS a "new OS/2" with a fresh look, with support for at least some modern hardware and protocols - it's called eComStation 2.0 (see for details).

What OS/2 - eCS has that no Linux, MAC or Windows system has is the fully Object based desktop - workplace shell "WPS". Many times people have wished to have this feature "grafted" onto Linux to form its desktop, but it would be a major task.

Coming at it from the other side, there has been a project running for several years called "Project Voyager" to provide a Linux kernel foundation to run under OS/2-eCS to help with both 64 bit hardware and other modern hardware where there are currently no OS/2 drivers. This is a major project and I have no idea whether this will ever succeed and if so when it will see the light of day.


Yes desktop, no Linux (as it is now)

Tin's picture

Funny how the article turned from OS/2 to end on the point that linux needs commercial/professional applications. The point is sometimes painfully true, especially on the desktop part, and so I'd agree that an OS/2 branded, standards-defining/prescribing desktop alternative would be a good thing. But not based on current alternative desktop core (i.e. Linux and X). If it were to succeed, IBM would need to do an Apple - pick a solid kernel and kernel environment (personally, I would like to see it based on something other than linux, but linux could still be used if done right, although then it probably wouldn't be called Linux anymore - it needs to be desktop oriented and not driven by a "benevolent dictator" but rather by market demands and technical advancements), and then engineer or adapt an existing desktop environment on top of it, without X. Use that as a base and drive the direction of development, but keep it totally open. Only then will you have a true contender to MS and Apple. Apple has done it halfway, leaving its desktop part closed, and it turned out OK for them, so in my view to upset the balance you need a third model (closed: MS vs. open/closed: Apple vs. open: IBM) which someone with IBM resources could pull off.
Of course, companies don't do anything for free. What sells Windows is the number of applications available on it, and what sells Mac OS X is the hardware it runs on. So what could sell OS/2? Well, if IBM could play it right, what could sell OS/2 is IBM's own commercial applications for the platform - having standardized and community outsourced, but controlled core, it could focus on doing one of each family of professional applications just right (office, graphics & design, PIM & corporate desktop...) - not a small undertaking but not impossible for IBM which already has a number of those apps developed (but in need of an overhaul).
This entire ramble sounds like a pitch, but damn, would I really like to see someone break the OS duopol using a community-developed core that is both commercialy successful and technically advanced and desktop-optimized. Well, we can always dream...

Buy a distro

Anonymous's picture

Maybe they will save a lot of work by taking over Red Hat, Mandriva or Canonical?

OS/2 again...

Anonymous's picture

I bought OS/2 first as a means of getting a faster DOS to run WordPerfect V.4 or something. It was my first exposure to GUI. I believe I own every book ever printed about OS/2 including something called the "Red Book." Anyway, I'm not a technical person but my impression is this after using Windoze XP and Leopard:

Perhaps I've just not probed the depths of the current OSs, but, why should I have to? The GUI was created to be intuitive -- and I found it exactly that on OS/2, not consistent on MS stuff and like learning Mandarin Cutsy Pie on the Apple. On my OS/2 desktop I had file cabinet icons, created two stacks of paper (icons), one plain, one letterhead. Dragging either to the printer icon would open up the WordProcessor. The right button opened up a pull-down menu for each icon, always the same information. In 1993 or so, I had FAX software on it which recieved the fax in background, allowed it to be displayed AND insert text to fill in blanks. Could then affix a gif signature and send it out. The apps were useful, easy to use, never crashed. Also, in OS/2 you have TOTAL control of file placement during installs. And, it runs in a fraction of memory and on processors 1/10th the speed required for MS/Apple machines.

On the other hand, my Apple came with no real word processor but some software represented by a guitar icon. Do more people actually write music than letters? (I don't own an Ipod, wouldn't waste my time with MP3 compression. Yea, I ldo listen to music on a $25k high res audio system.) The Apple keyboard is slow, unreliable (changed once in warranty) and mouse appears unrepairable. In short, I find Apple apps anything but intuitive. So, I would welcome back OS/2, but also wonder -- what has changed in its favor to keep it viable?

I had the same experience as

ggeldenhuys's picture

I had the same experience as you with OS/2. An awesome system in its day, and miles ahead of everybody else. The WPS was fantastic as well. Drag-n-Drop was everywhere (not just for copying files), I remember creating a folder and tagging it as a "work folder" (it was called something like that) which then made it work like a project. Open the folder and all files inside the folder opens with it's respective applications right where you left off.

eComStation seems to have kept OS/2 alive (somewhat), but maybe if IBM does something like Apple did with OSX. Use Linux as the base (it's rock solid with very good hardware support), but slap an up-to-date WPS (workplace shell) on their, totally replacing the god awful and slow X11. That would be pretty neat! The worst part of Linux is by far the very outdated an slow X11 (yes I'm a desktop developer and X11 performance is crap compared to Windows or OSX or even something relatively new like Haiku).

I'd like to see this move...

Eduardo's picture


Fortran.... Golden years!! My first experience with programing at University was with a punching card machine as input for a Borroughs mainframe, good times!!!

In opposite of you, I've grew up, with the PC's and M$ OS and crap-else.

Of course, today I'm a Linux user/fan and stop to suffer!!!
I think it's enough, a good reason to see a new battle for the OS market.
Some OS/2 mixed with Linux enhancements looks like as fresh water in the face!!!


Today there is no practical

Randy Shimizu's picture

Today there is no practical reason for IBM to revive OS/2. IBM has committed itself to Linux and open source so it's hard to see why the why they would change direction after committing millions if not billions of dollars. The other issue is that Linux performs much of the functionality that OS/2 did. The only possibility is if IBM ports and open sources the Workplace shell to Linux. I kind of have my doubts since IBM is no longer interested in end user products/technologies. IBM likes to completely shut down old projects.

Great if OS/2 finally got open-sourced

Wesley Parish's picture

I'd love it if IBM opened the source of everything in OS/2 they legally own, under the GPL, v3, naturally.

I'd see the point of it then - it'd serve to annoy Microsoft, and that's no bad thing.

I cna't see it taking over from anything else, except perhaps in the embedded market, where a GUI-toting OS capable of running well in 4MB of RAM is by now a rarity.

Join eComStation community

Eugene Gorbunoff's picture

Read interviews with eComStation developers:

dumping old source code and

bfreek's picture

dumping old source code and beginning from scratch isn't a bad idea. just have a look at mac os x. when steve came back they took their time to actually reinvent the wheel. i think this was the best they've done.

Why bother..

gumBO's picture

I was an avid user of OS/2 back in the day. Went to all the IBM dealer presentations too, bought all the copies of OS/2 magazine (remember that?), but ultimately, it was doomed to fail once Windows 95 came out.

I'm not sure what will be achieved by trying to reinvent the wheel, especially if it failed previously. The technology landscape has changed so much. People just want to get on with the business of being productive, not tinkering around with tools that have had Lazarus breathed into it.

Bringing back OS/2 for me, would be like trying to bring back the Spitfire to fight in a modern day aerial battle. Exciting perhaps, but ultimately pointless.

I thought Ecomstation (Ecs/2)

Buzzfriendly's picture

I thought Ecomstation (Ecs/2) by Serenity was the “new” OS/2.

IBM Desktop Linux

AC's picture

It's the right time for an IBM Linux distribution. They have the opportunity to steal a massive amount of desktop market share from Microsoft. Many businesses, and even governments, are quite tired of Microsoft.

Your message spam filter is broken. You need to fire people, and maybe hire some competent ones.

OS/2 Resurgence

Claire's picture

Some years ago I was invited to a conference by IBM where they promoted their new allegiance with Linux as a platform leveller to replace their much respected OS/2 operating system.

Like many, I used the OS extensively and its seamless operation across various platforms up to mainframe. It had all the tools right out of the box. It was reliable and the best DOS and Windows platform on the market.

These days I use Linux extensively. it was a comfortable change given that I was already familiar with Unix and these days I also use MAC OSX which of course is a Unix derivative; and a whole lot more besides.

Nobody here and the article author seems to be aware, or has not mentioned the involvement of Serenity Systems who continued to develop OS/2 under licence from IBM, their product being called Ecomstation. This version is now approaching 2.0 release with the Beta being on offer.

I tried this following the withdrawal of OS/2 at Warp4 and Server and found it to be superb.

Going by the information on their web site, the hardware development has continued making it a viable platform for many users using open source software although I accept that persuading developers to add another platform to their development portfolio might be difficult to achieve.

I have some applications which I used for years on OS/2 which are still superb and would challenge the reliability and capabilities of many front line applications some 20 years later.

It may of course be nothing more than a rumour about IBM's intentions or involvement, but as an Operating System OS/2 in the guise of Ecomstation, is certainly not dead.

IBM Desktop Linux

AC's picture

It's the right time for an IBM Linux distribution. They have the opportunity to steal a massive amount of desktop market share from Microsoft. Many businesses, and even governments, are quite tired of Microsoft.

Maybe it will be called OS/3!

Anonymous's picture

Maybe it will be called OS/3!


Anonymous's picture

Scenario: IBM buy Novell for the Unix copyrights/patents. The sale includes leaving the MS agreements in a shell company, which they sell to a patent troll...

I'm liking how this sounds...

Anonymous's picture

I'm liking how this sounds...

OS/2 ?

Jerry McBride's picture

I loved OS/2. And I would love to see it come back. But to name an IBM version of Linux, OS/2 wouldn't be very productive.

Just my thoughts...

---- Jerry McBride

On this side of the pond

Doug.Roberts's picture

BTW, Michael. It's spelled "rumor" over here.



Colour. Traveller. Cheque.

Anonymous's picture

Colour. Traveller. Cheque. Neighbour. Doughnut. Night. Flavour. Honour. Metre. Centre. Theatre. Licence. Recognise. Analogue. Paediatric. Parallel. Programme. And, rumour. That's how they are spelt over here (Canada).


Anyway, I hope there is an OS/2 revival using a linux base. I still have an OS/2 machine in my house. It never fails.


Doug.Roberts's picture


I'll be getting a dose of Canadian English next month on my motorcycle ride to Vancouver Island. I hope I don't get a flat tyre en route.



On the dark side of the pond

Ralph Little's picture

> It's spelled "rumor" over here.

Nothing that a decent dictionary wouldn't solve.

It is spelled rumour everywhere else which is a lot bigger than the US, believe it or not.


OS/2 is alright

LaRue's picture

I last used OS/2 four years ago in college. The two computers that had it were tied to very expensive lab equipment that we couldn't replace and thus coddled. It is an alright system and it was still even getting patches back then. I found a dedicated user base that was still pushing out games and code for OS/2 Warp. There was movement to get it Open Sourced but since there was still tidbits of Microsoft code in it, they couldn't. I am all for variety in operating systems. What works for one person might be another's hated environment.


Doug.Roberts's picture
A couple of thoughts on this, Michael.  First, I missed out on the whole OS/2 vs. MSDOS/Windows wars because I was still running CP/M-based Z80A systems during much of that period.  Yes, I am that old.  I had a bunch of FORTRAN code that was still making me money years after I had written it in 1978 or so.  In fact, I pretty much missed the whole Windows phenomenon entirely, because I jumped from CP/M directly to Symbolics LISP machines, and from there to Sun-2,3,4 workstations before landing solidly in the Linux camp in the mid-80's.

Regarding the IBM OS/2 rumors, my first thought was "Why"?  Then when you suggested that IBM might be considering redeploying the OS/2 name as a custom a Linux distribution I had a couple of other thoughts.  I should warn you that I've had two substantial experiences with IBM: one was bad, and the other was very bad.  In each case the experiences centered around the fact of having purchased a Linux cluster from Big Blue.  I can probably capture the essence of both experiences as follows:
  • IBM is *expensive*.
  • IBM support of their Linux clusters is slow, and ineffective, and *expensive*.
  • IBM wants to sell you stuff., like CMS, their own cluster management software.  They don't want you to use free software, like Open PBS.
  • IBM is big, and cumbersome, and slow, and *expensive*.  If it weren't for Microsoft, I'd hate IBM.
I'm all for competing against Microsoft, but would YALD (Yet Another Linux Distribution) help in that regard? Or, would an IBM Linux distro merely make it harder for people who are finally fed up with Microsoft's offerings to make a viable choice on what Linux distribution to move to?  Personally, I'd never buy an IBM Linux distribution because, well, see above.

But I like it that IBM is trying to compete against M$.


CSM has been discontinued in favour of xCAT

Jose R Rodriguez's picture

"# IBM support of their Linux clusters is slow, and ineffective, and *expensive*.
# IBM wants to sell you stuff., like CMS, their own cluster management software.

Please read: article in The Register: "Big Blue kills off CSM clustering"

IBM has been offering xCAT, A tool kit that can be used for the deployment and administration of GNU/Linux clusters., from its Alpha technologies since at least 2002.

xCAT Extreme Cluster Administration Toolkit history: October 31, 2007 xCAT 2.0 alpha on Linux is released and xCAT 2.0 is offered as Open Source Software.

Best Professional Regards.

Metztli IT


Doug.Roberts's picture

I know that IBM offers xCAT, I even know one of the developers. But they prefer that you purchase CSM.


IBM has has discontinued CSM

Jose R Rodriguez's picture


Please (re)read the subject/content in the first link.

Best Professional Regards.

Metztli IT

It's about time

Doug.Roberts's picture

Glad to see CSM dying.

We purchased an IBM cluster in ~2002 or 2003 when I was at Los Alamos. IBM provided a bid estimate which specified xCAT as the management software, but when the actual bid came in they had substituted CSM for xCAT. We made them change it back.

In 2004 the people I was working with on another project purchased another IBM cluster. It came with CSM; not having CSM was not an option.

Best Professional Regards Back to You!


Linux wasn't around in the mid-80's

Anonymous's picture

Check your history. There is no way you landed in the Linux camp in the mid-80's.


Doug.Roberts's picture

Check my follow-up below.

You landed in the Linux camp

Peter Y's picture

You landed in the Linux camp in the mid-80s? Wow; I thought the first release was in '91.

You're right

Doug.Roberts's picture

Now that you mention it, it was in '93. I had laptop with an Intel 486 DX-2 50 MHz processor and I wanted to see how long it would take to download the 12 or so floppy disks that comprised Slackware 1.0 from my home dial-up connection. It took 8 days.


Slackware 1.0 came on 24

djohnston's picture

Slackware 1.0 came on 24 floppy disks.

No wonder

Doug.Roberts's picture

No wonder it took 8 days to download over a 24 kbs modem.

"Slackware 1.0 came on 24

Anonymous's picture

"Slackware 1.0 came on 24 floppy disks."
I remember it being only 2 floppies but maybe that was without X.

"No wonder it took 8 days to download over a 24 kbs modem."
Not quite, but downloading an XFree86 update did take longer than 24 hours. And in those days there were usually limits on how much time one could be on the internet in one session, so a downloader with suspend/resume was necessary.

I tried to install OS/2 in a

Wine Cummudgeon's picture

I tried to install OS/2 in a Windows machine once. Not the smartest thing I ever did.

OS/2 I don't think so

Pham Newen's picture

Internal to IBM the move has been afoot for years, to slowly move people who were in the right positions to use it, onto "Openclient" which was a Redhat install modified, and tweaked for the linux versions of Notes, Sametime, Symphony, etc...

More recently IBM has been VERY friendly with Canonical, makers of the Ubuntu distro. If anything, I can see IBM pushing Ubuntu, through a "uStore" in the Ubuntu Software Center, with access to Lotus products. in the near future.

Big blue certainly isn't looking to roll out Vista or Windows 7 internally, even if most of their customers are.

None of this would make me think they'll revive the OS/2 brand. It simply doesn't make sense. Marketing wise they get better brand, and traction, marketing it as Linux, Ubuntu, and Lotus. No one wants to buy a OS/2 that is either risen from the dead, or is a shallow wallpaper on top of Linux.

"Big blue certainly isn't

Leinad's picture

"Big blue certainly isn't looking to roll out Vista or Windows 7 internally, even if most of their customers are."

Crazy talk! A win7 based C4EB is on its way.

The OCDC, Open Client for Debian Community, is the closest thing to Ubuntu (Ubuntu can be used and OCDC added on top) that's available.

There is also an extensive Mac pilot, but that is mostly driven from the labs.

I wish!

MikeW's picture

I used to work at the OS/2 Order Center. Loved the products.
It would be fantastic to see OS/2 come back. Just a geek thing to hope for I suppose. I loved it back in the day. Leaps and bounds above Windows 3.1. It was sad to see OS/2 fall the wayside when Win '95 came out.