Feeds

back to article IBM insider: How I caught my wife while bug-hunting on OS/2

The unholy alliance of IBM and Microsoft unleashed OS/2 25 years ago with a mission to replace Windows, Unix and DOS. Back then, I was a foot-soldier in that war: a contract bug hunter at Big Blue. Here’s how I remember it. By cruel fate, an even crueller editor has decreed that a quarter of a century later I must write an …

COMMENTS

This topic is closed for new posts.

Page:

Pint

Personally I loved OS/2

And no doubt others will flame away, but I still remember using a series of 16 PS/2 boxes running 2.11 to beat an Oracle hierarchal database running on astoundingly expensive sun hardware.

Yes, that was a purpose-written app, but Oracle were given the same parameters to start with, and we beat them - over 2,000 transactions per second for the OS/2, vs 31 for the Oracle/Sun.

Beer me!

30
0
Silver badge
Thumb Up

Re: Personally I loved OS/2

Me too. I have very fond memories of OS/2.and the support was second-to-none. One day an IBM product manager turned up a my place to help us out with a problem. He even left us with extra software to play with.

The installation set of some 32ish floppies was a bit tedious though.

5
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Personally I loved OS/2

-ditto-

The installation set of some 32ish floppies was a bit tedious though.

I think that made me make sure I had a CD drive (not quite a standard PC feature then!) before 2.1 (or was it 2.11) came out!

Also, OS/2 was ahead in internet connectivity and can't remember which version it was but it was amazing at the time when they brought out a service pack that installed itself over the internet with no need to download to floppies

3
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Personally I loved OS/2

I also loved OS/2, I reviewed the first command line only version when it came out for a large Pharma company (rejected because of the high cost of acquiring memory for all the PC's on the site, needed a couple of Mb if I remember correctly whereas a lot of our kit only had 640k RAM, apart from some "power users" with expensive expansion boards, that and the lack of a GUI which IBM kept dangling as a future "coming soon" feature of OS/2)

Later worked with LAN server and Warp, blew me away first time I saw a developer multitasking like crazy on a project we were doing, I found it far better than Windows NT for ages in this respect, surprising considering a lot of similarities between the 2 (reading the authors comments about how Microsoft developed it's confirming long held suspicions), first time I saw NT's filesystem my immediate reaction was "this is OS/2" even the early error messages were the same

Thing I remember most was it's fussiness with hardware, funny to think there was a time when juggling with interrupts and memory settings could consume a large part of a support persons day, and as for Terminate Stay Resident programs....thanks you almost gave me the nervous twitch back!

2
0
Bronze badge

Re: Personally I loved OS/2

That would have been the tail end of Warp3 Connect, something like FixPak 42. It was in Warp4 from FP 6 or 7.

The fact that IBM supplied fixpacks for free, many of which added extra features, was something that left MS for dead.

3
0
Bronze badge

Re: Personally I loved OS/2

I too loved OS/2, it just felt right, somehow. I had almost no opportunity to use it though, so it's likely prolonged exposure would have jaded me.

0
0
Thumb Up

Re: Re: Personally I loved OS/2 @Ivan 4

Ahhhh, Warp 3 Connect. The memories. I feel all warm and fuzzy inside now. :-)

2
0
Stop

Re: IBM supplied fixpacks for free... something that left MS for dead

You are completely wrong here: "someone at IBM decided that LAN based network should be a premium and people should pay twice the price for OS/2 Warp connect. This proved disastrous.

Right about this time, Microsoft had released Windows for Workgroups, which was all about LAN / NetBEUI access, but they even did throw out a free TCP/IP protocol upgrade. Windows NT 3.1 had finally shipped, and it too included LAN TCP/IP support" (http://virtuallyfun.superglobalmegacorp.com/?p=739)

0
0
Bronze badge
Thumb Up

Re: Personally I loved OS/2

No, I don't think it would.

The WPS was a truly excellent thing on OS/2 2.x and later versions. It knocked every other desktop I've used into a cocked hat.

Remember this was an OS that just worked back in the days when Linux was still in early development and Windows 3.1 was still falling over and requiring QEMM and heaven knows what else just to get PC-NFS to run in a DOS box.

Loved it, still miss it!

0
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: Personally I loved OS/2

Loved? What happened? We still run OS/2 and until a recent crash, Warp 3 Connect was the OS of the main servers. Now eCS2 is at the forefront but everything else is still the same. Still the same BBS with files and messages. Still all the same servers and services. Still everything like it was other than a few minor back end tools (ported GNU stuff) updated to slightly newer versions. Heck, it still does that which winwhatever systems can't do without spending a bunch of $$$. We love it and will keep on running it until there is no possible way for us to keep it running... ever ;) :)

PS: that's not an AC mask, that's the mask of those fighting the tyranny and refusing to be sheeple or lemmings ;)

2
0
Holmes

Re: Personally I loved OS/2

Clearly not "for dead" as they still seem to be walking among the living.

0
0
Gold badge

I thought Scott Adams cut his teeth at PacBell?

Having only observed this from the outside, I have to say it is terrifyingly plausible and explains lots of things that are otherwise mysterious to anyone who naively assumes that *some* degree of common sense was applied on a day-to-day level.

But could it really have been *that* dysfunctional?

0
1
Sil
Thumb Up

Looking forward to part 2

Very interesting article, looking forward to reading part 2.

I loved OS/2's elegance and was deeply disappointed when it disappearded.

To Microsoft's defense though I think most of its employees are brutally honest hard working guys.

I remember interviewing for them and being asked which of OS/2 or Windows was the better OS.

I bluntly answered OS/2 and explained why and still got the job at Microsoft.

10
0
Silver badge

Re: Looking forward to part 2

I agree, great article. OS/2 was/is fantastic - I think UPS handheld terminals are still running it as are numerous other embedded systems and ran in banks and airports for years - which was let down by the less than stellar performance of the PS/2 MCA systems (better than than ISA but in a "malaria is better than typhoid" way). Well, MCA was a major improvement over ISA but didn't bring enough performance and bandwidth to seem worthwhile. So we all got to suffer the abominations of EISA and, shudder, VESA, before MCA's heir PCI was able to triumph. But that was ten lost years. Had MCA succeeded IBM would subsequently have dropped the Neanderthal x86 chips… but they were too busy chasing the hardware monopoly.

A key OS/2 innovation was hardware virtualisation so not only could DOS applications run in complete isolation from each other they also got more memory allocated than they could standalone. Oh, and resources like printers and serial ports could be shared effortlessly across machines. OS/2 also came with a damn good scripting language REXX in which one of the first http servers wasn't written, if memory serves me correctly.

However, there were also downsides: while you couldn't kill the OS, the GUI called somewhat pompously "Presentation Manager" was single-threaded up until v3 service pack 17 (IIRC) which did mean that individual misbehaving apps could ruin everyone's fun. Still crashes came with detailed, numbered errors and stack dumps which I presume trained engineers understood. By far better than NT's BSOD.

Back to Microsoft - I think the article makes a good job of suggesting that the technical wizardry of which IBM was justly proud was, in the 1980s and 1990s matched by a bureaucracy destined to stifle innovation at every turn. The same happened to Apple a few years later.

1
0
Gold badge

Re: Looking forward to part 2

Still around as eStation.

0
2
Anonymous Coward

Really?

"even if you simply turned on a Windows PC and didn’t do anything further, there was a good chance it would crash all by itself."

Really? I figured the rest of the article would be like this and didn't read any further

3
51

Re: Really?

Yes, Windows boxes did crash with no user input, some still do...

You were correct that the rest of the article was like that.

Dominic

43
2

Re: Really?

Heck, my Win laptop just up and dies, reboots all on it's own. Am sure it's some driver / HW issue, but perhaps Windows could tell me in english what the problem was before it barfs!

4
0
Mushroom

Re: Really?

If recent reports are anything to go by, Windows Phone 8 - the same kernel as Windows 8 - does exactly that.

5
1
Silver badge

Re: Really?

>perhaps Windows could tell me in english what the problem was

I would have thought so to, but for some strange reason I have to turn on minidumps, download some piece of MS software, then download some 'symbols' whatever the hell they are, and interrogate the minidump file... Why Windows couldn't do that by itself and just tell me it was simply a dodgy driver for a card-reader in the first place, I don't know. The only mitigation for MS is that the laptop shouldn't have been shipped with a Bsodding driver.

My only experiences with OS/2 Warp are: installing it on a 286 and as a nipper, and then as an adult an OS/2-driven ATM decided to reboot itself with my cash card inside, necessitating an extra night's stay on the shores of Lake Titicaca in order to reclaim in from the bank.

5
1
Anonymous Coward

Re: Really?

>Why Windows couldn't do that by itself and just tell me it was simply a dodgy driver for a card-reader in the first place, I don't know.

You are right that a "best guess" option would be pretty simple but some of us make a living out of the obfuscation so shhh!

1
0
FAIL

Re: Really?

Yes, really. Are you too young to remember? Turn it on, head off to get cup of coffee because the boot took so long, return, and BSOD stares back. OS/2 on the other hand was quite capable of reversing a problem configuration nearly automatically. You booted following an installation and something was haywire and required a reboot, the OS would stop and provide a list of prior configurations and you could step back through them until one worked. Even now Windoze doesn't not recover this easily.

3
0
Bronze badge
Holmes

Re: Really?

Wrote :- ""even if you simply turned on a Windows PC and didn’t do anything further, there was a good chance it would crash all by itself." Really?"

Windows 9x would certainly crash by itself after 49 days, due I believe an overflow in a time counter. [http://support.microsoft.com/kb/216641]. Funny thing was that this fact was not discovered or publically known for several years (the referenced patch is dated 1999) - indicative that Windows back then usually crashed before 49 days for some other reason.

5
0
Bronze badge

Re: Really?

Heck, my Win laptop just up and dies, reboots all on it's own. Am sure it's some driver / HW issue, but perhaps Windows could tell me in english what the problem was before it barfs!

Both of my Win7 laptops have done that in the past couple of weeks. Event Log evidence points the finger at Microsoft Update - and I have updates set to download but not automatically install, so apparently it was the downloader that did it. (Firewall and virus-scanner software could also be involved, but the two machines run different products from different manufacturers in those categories.)

Windows is irremediably stovepiped - so many features have been crammed in, and so many bugs patched, that it's inherently unstable. It suffers from several generations of Second System Effect. You can pull a bunch of the stuff you don't need out of it, with a combination of non-default installation and system configuration tweaks, but ultimately any Windows machine used for a broad spectrum of tasks is going to experience the occasional crash.

0
0
Silver badge

I still use ecomstation ...

If I have the time, I'll shred Connor's article tomorrow.

There is a complete lack of clues as to what was (is!) happening in the trenches ... Not certain how far I can get into it, given past non-disclosure agreement(s) ... Suffice to say that Microsoft was pushing PC/MS-DOS, re-selling raw AT&T UNIX[tm] source, was in bed with IBM, who then decided to try to have a cuddle with Apple (Talegent/Pink), right about the same time WinDOS 3.0 came out ...

The entire cluster-fuck from a quarter century ago is why consumer computing is as appalling as it is today.

9
4
Anonymous Coward

Re: I still use ecomstation ...

Speaking of which - does any of the collective audience know:

- when EDLIN was finally removed as a binary from Windows (I left the Windows platform after XP, so I cannot check)

- why it was left in in the first place?

To me, it represented the perverse height of achievable non-usability. I cannot find anyone who has ever touched it twice. Either they're already dead, or it's too embarrassing to talk about :)

1
0

If I have the time, I'll shred Connor's article tomorrow.

If you can fit it in between delivering those panda cubs and cooking them for the king of Atlantis that would be tremendous.

10
0

EDLIN

I'll fess up to using EDLIN more than once. It taught you how to use a keyboard and think about what you were doing.

6
0
Silver badge

@AC: 10:49 (was: Re: I still use ecomstation ...)

I'm pretty certain that edlin is still included with MS's current OS.

0
1

Re: I still use ecomstation ...

I used edlin lots of times. I even wrote a slashbar macro set for it.

0
0

Re: I still use ecomstation ...

As I recall edlin was left in *because* it did not require the GUI to be functional, that being useful when the system has screwed up very badly.

Edit needed Basic which was being removed as a standard part of the platform.

BASIC was not supposed to be in OS/2 at all.

One thing that I didn't have room for in the article was the saga of Mortgage.bas

This was a demo app that came with the original IBM PC and the source code was truly horrible inside having the only real purpose of showing people that a PC could do "real" business calculations involving interest, paying off loans etc.

BASIC was not to be part of OS/2, so Mortgage.bas was canned (it was always pronounced in full, including the extension, no one ever calls Excel, Excel.exe, go figure)

Some banks threw a fit, they regarded it as a critical application apparently which came as a real shock to all of us, so the bloody thing had to be made functional in OS/2, no PM based GUI, no rewrite in C or or REXX, just get the fucker working came the edict which required various hokey kludges)

7
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: I still use ecomstation ...

I used edlin for years due to the very simple fact that it was on any Windows PC (bit like vi with UNIX/Linux), and was quite powerful when you got to grips with it, later when Edit appeared I used to chuckle as new guys waited for Edit to come up whilst I'd got in under edlin made my changes and was walking off for a coffee, option I loved was T which could be used to import another file into the current file (which Edit didn't have), edlin saved me a lot of time in the days when you used to spend a lot of time editing autoexec.bat, config.sys and batch files.

2
0
Silver badge

Re: EDLIN

If you've tried to write useful scripts in the DOS batch language, you may have used EDLIN as a scriptable editor.

You may also have decided that it would be less painful, and almost as productive, to beat out your brains on the keyboard.

2
0
Pint

Re: I still use ecomstation ...

---

I cannot find anyone who has ever touched it [edlin] twice. Either they're already dead, or it's too embarrassing to talk about :)

---

I used and loved edlin right up to its bitter end. Eventually, it became a secondary, rather than my first choice for most tasks, but it was easy to use, fast, and did the job.

But then, the first editor I used was TECO.

2
0
Happy

Re: I still use ecomstation ...

EDLIN saved my arse once. I had configured a RAMDisk and rebooted. Unfortunately I'd forgotten the right option to put it in extended memory so it took up nearly everything below 640KB and as a result Edit didn't have enough memory to run so I could fix config.sys. As usual I'd neglected having a rescue floppy.

EDLIN was the only thing that could run in a few KB.

Oh the memories...

3
0
Thumb Up

Re: I still use ecomstation ...

I used to program in Teco - PDP/11 / RSTS

2
0
Anonymous Coward

Re: I still use ecomstation ...

RE: EDLIN

Edlin is a simple line editor. That folks couldn't figure out its simplicity was and still is rather appalling. One of the best features of edlin was that you could script it to make changes to text files on the fly from inside other scripts. Feeding editing script into edlin using the input redirection was great. Edlin was a thing of beauty when view from the right perspective.

One might even say that edlin is like a bikini. Short and to the point.

0
0
Silver badge

Re: I still use ecomstation ...

Your timeline is off. Microsoft started doing the dirty on IBM re. OS/2 towards the end of the 1980s while they were contracted to work on OS/2 v2 & v2.1. Taligent was later and part of OS/2 v3 (Warp) and is the basis for most of our fully object-orientated, widget-based "homescreens". Taligent and OpenDoc promised real productivity ("let me add a spreadsheet to my document…") but most people are happy with widgets.

Hearing you mention MS' version of Unix (Xenix for x86…) makes me feel physically ill. Though, to his credit, Bill Gates was listening to the market. He did employ some great people to work on NT and copied many of the great ideas from OS/2 such as, hardware abstraction, extensible attributes and virtual filesystems. It's just a pity they were doing this a sort of trojan horse while still under contract to work on OS/2. Windows 7 is alarmingly close in many ways to OS/2 3 > service pack 17. And that after only 15 years!

1
1
Silver badge

@Charlie Clark: Uh, no. Just no. (was: @Re: I still use ecomstation ...)

They tried to recruit me into the Taligent/Pink thing in 1988. I have a T-shirt that has the IBM logo of the time superimposed on the Apple logo of the time on the front, and the words "Your brain, on drugs" on the back. We were informed that if wore them at work again, we'd be fired.

Microsoft's version of UNIX[tm] was just that ... UNIX[tm]. Microsoft was making money licensing Bell source code to third parties (MaBell didn't want to get into that market). The "Xenix" name came about because MaBell didn't want anyone else to use the UNIX[TM]. Please note that MS itself never actually coded or marketed any actual running Xenix code.

Hardware abstraction, extensible attributes, and virtual filesystems existed long before NT or OS/2.

1
1
Bronze badge
Windows

Re: I still use ecomstation ...

"and the source code was truly horrible inside having the only real purpose of showing people that a PC could do "real" business calculations involving interest, paying off loans etc"

http://www.retroarchive.org/cpm/cdrom/CPM/BASIC/MORTGAGE.BAS

He's not lying...

0
0
Gold badge
Happy

Re: I still use ecomstation ...

"He did employ some great people to work on NT and copied many of the great ideas from OS/2 such as, hardware abstraction, extensible attributes and virtual filesystems."

That included Dave Cutler, the architect of DEC's VMS, another *serious* OS. I'm told NT internals matches VMS to a *surprising* degree, given the completely different architecture.

Clever idea, hardware abstraction layers.

0
1
Silver badge
Pint

I loved OS/2 for a time. I first used 2.0 then moved onto Warp. The GUI could be ugly at times but I loved the OOP nature of the Workplace Shell. Once they sorted out the message queues so that a locked application couldn't kill everything it was sweet. I still hate what right clicking on a folder background in Windows Explorer is compared to what it was with the WPS. I don't want to talk to Explorer - I want to talk to the folder!

But..it was a bit too ugly. Asked a bit too much of the hardware (a lot of clones didn't quite do everything they should have and/or didn't quite do it properly).

So eventually I went back to Windows. But I have fond memories of playing one of Geoff Crammond's F1 simulators while Golden Compass downloaded from Compuserve in the background.

I'll raise a glass to the old gal.

6
0

Yes, it wasn't beautiful to look at but that could have been fixed easily enough.

It somehow managed to acquire a reputation for being a joke product which was very unfair - a joke project maybe, but the results were good and it ought to have been taken seriously. Couldn't get anywhere I worked

I might dig out the old Warp CDs and see how it goes on a modernish PC (something from the last ten years).

I will then wibble away a weekend playing NetHack or something of course, completely wasting the capabilities of both the PC and the OS but there you go.

4
0
Silver badge
Thumb Up

I seem to remember that I installed a skin of some kind from a company called StarDock that improved it a bit. And anyway the beauty of WPS meant if you had the time you could just 'skin' your own folders. Basically the same concept used for windows on the desktop I imagine. Each 'folder' presumably had the equivalent of OnPaint etc. and subclassing.

Oooh, I also remember DeScribe word processor. That had an excellent way of showing stylesheets. Actually showed them as a hierarchical tree. The default OS/2 web browser did the same for your browsing history.

And the OS/2 help system was better than the MS one. I seem to recall it used tokenisation to reduce file size and provided an indexed search facility without having to index it first.

Ah, happy days mostly. Unfortunately aside from Golden Compass and DeScribe I think I mostly used it to host DOS and Windows app. It did that very well though because it protected you from crashes. I was writing data recovery software at the time and the only thing it couldn't handle was me trying to control drives using the 'taskfile' registers. It seemed willing to try but kept spinning up the floppy for some reason.

1
0

Work's fine

I run it all day in the office but now mainly to access Word Perfect - for DOS. I kid not.

I have still not found a setup with which you can scroll through hundreds of document previews to find something so damn fast.

Course that's the 8.3 file name system but who wants to type long file names? Ok no need to answer that.

This is on a Thinkpad T30 but OS/2 will run well on anything up to a T61.

OS/2 also has its own brew of Firefox, T'bird etc

I switched from Warp Server only recently. Thing ran so long without a hitch I don't even remember the last time I had powered down.

Networking to XP was a doddle with an add-on from IBM.

I could go on but you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find when you it around.

Oh - I installed eComstation 2 in a Virtual Box on a Mac (Xserve) and the bloody sound even works!

6
0
Bronze badge

@ Lord Voldemortgage

It does run on modern hardware - I'm typing this from OS/2 running on a xox that has an AMD 4 core processor, 8 GB ram, a couple of 1 TB SATA disks and a 1 GB NIC, also using a 28" 1920x1200 monitor. You will need to update some of the drivers for the HDs and video but other than that it should work.

BTW we are still an all OS/2 shop here from servers to workstations/desktops.

6
0

Thanks, Ivan.

I'm all for it but can't help wondering ... why are you all running OS/2 still?

4
0
Bronze badge

Simple answer 'it just works'. We reboot the servers once a year and then only because we do a full physical check and clean on them. We have one workstation that has been up and running 24/7 for two years, most of the other workstations get rebooted when the servers do. Desktops only get switched off at weekends. We also work on a 'if it isn't broken then don't change it' policy, the fact it would cost over 12 million pounds to do so also concentrated the mind.

4
0

Interesting; thanks.

0
0

Great read.

More please. I could read stuff like this all day.

9
0

Page:

This topic is closed for new posts.