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[April 08, 2012]
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette TechMan column [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette]
(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) April 08--It was the "operating system that could" but didn't.
Last week marked the 25th anniversary of OS/2, IBM's operating system that came out at the same time as its PS/2 computers. The offspring of the union of IBM and Microsoft in 1985, OS/2 took two years to gestate, and when it appeared in 1987, there were hopes that it would be the dominant operating system for PCs.
That was not to be.
The IBM-Microsoft relationship started to get shaky as the bastard child, Windows, began to grow up. IBM became rightly suspicious that Microsoft was spending more time on Windows than OS/2 and was even diverting some of the money meant for OS/2 to Windows.
Things began to seriously fall apart in 1990 between the release of Windows 3.0 and OS/2 1.3, as Wikipedia tells it.
Windows became hugely popular, selling millions of copies. One reason for Windows' success was that Microsoft took its child to the mushrooming number of PC makers and convinced them to include a copy with every computer sold.
IBM kept a tight leash on OS/2, only making it available as an expensive stand-alone software package and failing to encourage the makers of non-IBM devices such as printers, to make drivers for OS/2. Meanwhile, Windows 3.0 played nice with most peripherals.
The parents agreed that IBM would take over maintenance of OS/2 1.0 and development of OS/2 2.0, while Microsoft would continue development of OS/2 3.0.
Despite the fact that OS/2 ran programs written for Windows 3.1, the relationship was over. In the end, Microsoft abandoned OS/2 and recast its development of 3.0 as Windows NT.
But OS/2 was not dead yet. It still had a powerful daddy in IBM. OS/2 2.0 was touted by IBM as "a better DOS than DOS and a better Windows than Windows." Version 3, named OS/2 Warp brought along a fully 32-bit windowing system and IBM ran TV commercials trying to sell it to consumers.
But by this time, Windows was everywhere, dominating the consumer PC market and making inroads into IBM's enterprise business.
Despite stumbling along (IBM actually gave away copies of Warp 4 in some markets), OS/2 never caught up and in 2006 IBM killed it.
But OS/2 wouldn't die.
It had been heavily adopted by the banking industry, especially for use in ATM machines. And because OS/2 almost never crashed, it also was used in ticketing machines and other applications that needed to be constantly available, such as the London Underground and the New York subway system. The checkout systems at Safeway supermarkets still run OS/2, and it is used in the Stop and Shop grocery chain.
The operating system had, and still has, many fans due to some superior features and the fact there are very few viruses targeting it.
It lives on as a product also. Serenity Systems resells it as eComStation. And there are efforts to develop an open source version of OS/2 at osfree.org.
But the "operating system that could" never did grow up to be as big as step-brother Windows.
-- Good news for owners of Barnes & Noble's e-reader, Nook: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is now available on the device.
You can purchase the PG in the Nook store for 75 cents for a single copy or $5.99 a month for a version that updates every morning.
The Nook version contains all the news that is in the printed newspaper.
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