VOICE Home Page: http://www.os2voice.org
|By Mark Dodel © August 2005|
Following is my response to questions asked by Mark Willoughby, the author of the Computer World article "OS/2 loyalists remain as the operating system fades away." I'm told the article in the print edition was titled "The Operating System as Cult Classic." It was nice to see OS/2, VOICE and Warpstock mentioned in a widely read IT publication. However when I look at the following questions and answers I felt that people could get more out of what was originally written rather than the brief edited article that resulted. So here is the pretty much unedited text sent May 30, 2005.
Mark Dodel here. I am the founding editor of the VOICE Newsletter, which is the monthly web newsletter for the VOICE OS/2 user group. More on VOICE below. I also happen to be the president of Warpstock, Inc., so I can answer your questions about Warpstock as well. Please be aware that you are asking a broad set of questions about a somewhat fragmented community. I don't think there is any one person that can authoritatively answer all your questions, and I have tried to point you to people who can respond. Even so you may regret asking after reading all I have to say and I am trying to be brief. ;-) Since the editor address goes to several people including myself, you will most likely here from others as well.
I'm [Mark Willoughby] a writer for Computerworld. My editor has asked me to write a story about what's going on in OS/2. It seems like the os2world.com site has way more OS/2 activity than anything from IBM.
IBM has been phasing out of OS/2 for a decade now. It's [the] sort of the operating system that won't die no matter how hard they try to kill it by neglect. It just keeps working so the people that rely on it hate to switch to something else.
Some information that would be helpful:
No idea. The last I heard (about 2 years ago) from a source in IBM there were about 10 million OS/2 licenses under active support. That didn't include OEM versions or versions that are so old they are longer be supported. (There are still people using OS/2 1.3, 2.1 and Warp 3.) Companies like Diebold had their own OEM versions of OS/2 which they used in things like ATMs and POS (point of sale) systems. I think even today that most ATMs still use OS/2, as do things like gas pumps, and many industrial machines. It's down right scary to think of something unreliable like any version of Windows doing these things, but companies are being forced to do this. OS/2 was also very popular in Telephone systems and in telephone switches used by the big Telephone companies like MCI. It was most widely used in banking.
You should talk with Bob StJohn of Serenity Systems about this. His company markets eComStation which is an OEM version licensed from IBM.
The actual OS/2 community on USENET and most forums have been shrinking for a decade now. The problem with equating that to the overall OS/2 user base is that most have never been part of the online community. The biggest users received all their support from IBM and still do. I also happen to moderate the VOICE News mailing list which is a source for OS/2 related announcements for interested subscribers. At its peak (in 1999-2000), we had close to 900 subscribers. Currently there are about 750 subscribers. So there has been a dropoff but not as severe as one would suspect for a platform that has been under pressure to be abandoned for almost 10 years now.
We are trying to get a handle on this ourselves. Most smaller OS/2 groups have folded or like the Philadelphia OS/2 User Group have morphed into a multi-faceted organization encompassing alternatives to Microsoft [Windows]. The Southern California OS/2 User Group is still pretty active as well as the Bay Area and Kitchener-Waterloo OS/2 groups. Most of the remaining physical groups (as opposed to virtual organizations like VOICE) are in Europe where OS/2 still has a large presence. There is a recent list of known active user groups on the VOICE site. Though I don't think this is anywhere near complete.
OS/2 is still somewhat strong in Europe, particularly Germany, but there is a great deal of development going on in Russia and Eastern Europe. Looking at OS/2 users in North America, we tend to be older and have used OS/2 since it was in business. European users/developers tend to be much younger and seem to view it more as a better alternative to Microsoft.
The main markets for OS/2 have always been banking and really large (actually huge) corporate accounts. Go to Sears and look at the customer service monitor in the pickup area. If you ever get the chance to see it boot up, you see it is running OS/2. When I get emails (real mail in response to queries from myself not the stuff from SPAMers) from financial firms like Discover and Fidelity, I look at the x-mailer line in the header and it has in the past been an OS/2 version of Netscape or Mozilla.
At this point it is mostly porting of Open Source projects from other platforms. See Innotek, developers of Odin (similar to WINE on Linux, but originated inside IBM as Open32). They have ported things like OpenOffice, UNIAUD, Macromedia Flash, GCC and other things. see Netlabs.org for a number of Open Source projects that are under active development like the continued development of Odin, mSQL, FAT32, Firewire, SAMBA, and a lot of others. Then there is IBM's major contribution to the Open Source community in their support of Mozilla, specifically with their paid OS/2 port of Mozilla, Firefox, Thunderbird and other Mozilla based apps though primarily centered around IBM's own version (the IBM Web Browser). This is being done by a team of IBM employees.
os2world.com is a web based news and community forum site for the OS/2 community. The Warpstock events are all organized and put on by independent groups with no direct contact with os2world.com.
There are several entities using the name (with permission from the originating organization, Warpstock, Inc.). Warpstock, Inc. is responsible only for the event held in North America. Currently announced events include Warpstock 2005 this October in Hershey, PA, Warpstock Europe this November in Dresden, and Warpstock Czech Republic this July in Liberec, Czech Republic. We all cooperate and promote one another's events.
For Warpstock Europe Christian Hennecke, the current editor of the VOICE Newsletter (who also receives the editor mail), will be contacting you. He is in Germany and has worked with the organizers of Warpstock Europe. You may also want to talk to one of the current organizers - Robert Henschel.
Warpstock has been held annually since 1997. We have deliberately moved the event every year throughout North America to make the event as accessible as possible. The original Warpstock was held near Los Angeles in Diamond Bar, California. Subsequent events have been in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Toronto, Austin (where the IBM OS/2 developers are located), San Francisco, and last year in Denver. Each event is bid on by a local event team who handle the local arrangements and volunteer work required to put this on. The event is entirely organized and run by volunteers. The only IBM folks involved do so on their own time.
Interesting and extremely ironic that despite the fact that Warpstock, Inc. was chartered as a non-profit, is put on not to make a profit and has no paid staff, the Internal Revenue Service turned down our application for tax exempt status solely because we promote and support a commercial product by one of the largest for-profit companies in the world. This despite the fact that IBM not only does absolutely nothing to officially support or promote our event and actually discourages people from buying their own product, in favour of their competitor's [product].
Attendance at Warpstock events in North America has slipped every year since a peak in 1998 in Chicago, where I believe there were about 400 attendees. Last year was the first time we saw less then a hundred attendees, but we have also seen a lot less European attendees, and what we have been told is that over the past few years the United States is making them feel less welcome. So global politics isn't helping. Mostly I suppose its that there is little in the way of new things to present. This year we are planning an OS/2 museum and I'm in the process of locating old OS/2 software and PS/2 machines to run it on. [It's] interesting that when I contacted a vintage computer group, they told me that OS/2 is too new to be considered vintage, but they have been very helpful. We have not yet scheduled any presentations, but we expect to have classes on networking (wireless was especially popular last year in Denver), presentations on Open Source projects, product demonstrations and programming. For this year we are predicting and budgeting for 75-100 attendees.
There is some new development continuing. It's just difficult for developers to get information out beyond
the rather static community on USENET and various OS/2 forums. There is almost no mention in the general computer
press about OS/2 or its products. There is a crossplatform anti-virus product called Norman Virus Control. When I see reviews of anti-virus products I never see this one
mentioned, though perhaps that is because it is European centered. Also in the past when I have read reviews of
things like Lotus Smart Suite, they never note that there is an OS/2 version.
As to security, there is no known OS/2 virus in the wild. I run Norman just to flag all the Win32 viruses so I don't pass them on to those who have to run an insecure product like Windows. Even if there were OS/2 viruses, there isn't the mechanism built into OS/2 to automatically spread them. Also OS/2 users are not locked into a single email/news/web browser setup which makes it difficult to write something that works on all systems.
As to why do people still run OS/2. As I said above in many cases it's because it just keeps working. Like Linux it is secure, and has great backward compatibility especially in regard to older systems. And it has excellent support for DOS and Windows 3.1 apps, which a lot of people still need for various reasons. I know that may sound strange to most people who simple throw out their old stuff every time Microsoft comes out with its latest version, but some folks figure "If it ain't broke, why junk it?" With Odin we can even run some win32 applications under OS/2.
OS/2 is easy to use and far more intuitive than anything I have seen from Microsoft. (Whoever came up with the concept of using the "Start" button to shut the system down?)
Why not Linux or a Mac? For me maybe at some point, but I just don't find either of those work the way I want to. I have an iMac with OSX 10.3, and it's nice to have access to a lot of new things like video processing, but having to do almost everything from a desktop menu bar is so confining. Linux I haven't tried in years. It used to be way too much work just to install. I understand now that is no longer the case, but that the desktops are geared toward Windows users. It's on my list to try, but there is just no pressure to do so. OS/2 users do owe a debt of gratitude to the Linux and BSD communities, as it is the porting of Open Source projects developed by them that have helped keep OS/2 so usable.
Ask just about any OS/2 user past or present, what is great about OS/2 and most likely they will reply "the WorkPlace Shell." It is a truly object-oriented desktop environment, not a kludge like the windows shell. It's really a shame that IBM gave up when it did, since even today the OS/2 desktop can almost hold its own with the latest, greatest glitz from Redmond. It's also easily extensible even without access to the source. Look at what has been done with a product like XWorkPlace which adds a great deal of functionality and modification to the existing WorkPlace Shell.
Commercial shrinkwrapped OS/2 software is dead. It was done in by bad marketing from IBM (the company that predicted that the entire worldwide market for the original IBM PC would be about 275,000 over 5 years). It also didn't help that Microsoft used any tactic including threats to stop any commercial companies from developing OS/2 versions of their products. In addition IBM charged exorbitant amounts for their development tools (unless you knew how to get them practically for free from them). When IBM made its decision to pull the rug out from under OS/2, it really left a bad feeling for a lot of OS/2 developers who saw their livelihood devastated when there was no technical reason for their products to fail. It was just a decision made by the proverbial bean counters at IBM. There are a lot of other reasons as well, including the huge resources IBM poured into the PowerPC project which turned out to be a product without a market.
There is still some shareware, but most OS/2 software is now ports of Open Source as stated above. For a really good example of an OS/2 product still under active development see EmperoarTV by Ruediger Ihle. Other commercial OS/2 products have been released as either freeware (like the graphic image programs Embellish and TrueSpectra PhotoGraphics) or even open sourced like the excellent USENET reader Pronews/2.
The last release was last year when Serenity Systems released eComStation 1.2. This release was based on IBM's MCP2 which was the latest fully installable version of OS/2.
Some recent history: After Warp 4, came Warp Server eBusiness in 1999 (a Warp 4 base with LAN Manager). Then in 2000 IBM came out with a subscription support service called Software Choice (that has since gone away being replaced by IBM's Passport Advantage Express, but the concept remains the same). This provided updates, new drivers and enhancements available only to subscribers. To allow for installing OS/2 on modern hardware (post 1996 Warp 4), IBM has released a couple of updated versions as part of this subscription service, which they called MCPs (Merlin Convenience Packages). These have included all existing fixes as well as new features like the IBM Web Browser, USB drivers (mass storage devices, ethernet, audio, printers, mice, and keyboards), JFS (a journalled file system), LVM (Logical Volume Manager), increased support for larger drives, and UDF support for writing directly to CD/DVD RAM and RW devices. In addition IBM has released updated drivers and fixpacks for the MCPs and even for Warp 4, which are only available via their software subscription service or to eComStation users.
eComStation is an OEM licensed version of the latest OS/2 [v4.52] from Serenity Systems. It is actively developed with emphasis on improving the installation (especially on new hardware like the [AMD's] Athlon64) and support for new technologies like ACPI, updated multimedia support and virtual machines via their SVISTA product. What eComStation has done is give the smaller OS/2 user a way to purchase updates and new licenses for OS/2 in an easier and less expensive way while IBM has continued over the years to make it more difficult and more expensive to do this.
Please talk to Bob StJohn directly for a clearer picture on eComStation.
No idea. I have never had contact with anyone at Lenovo, but that is a really good question. Do you know of anyone at Lenovo I can speak with? IBM has always maintained support for a few models of PC and Thinkpad products, usually the higher end ones like the Thinkpad T series. I'm typing this on eComstation 1.2 on a T42p. :-)
Good luck with your article.
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