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IBM Won't Open-Source OS/2 394

wikinerd writes "Following an online petition in November 2007 by members of an OS/2 online community to open-source OS/2, IBM answered by sending a letter via FedEx making it clear that OS/2 is going to remain closed-source, citing business, technical, and legal reasons. An earlier petition in 2005 that had attracted over 11,000 signatures met a similar response. Both petition letters to IBM Corp. can be viewed at the library. The End of Support period for OS/2 passed by in December 2006, and the given IBM's response the future for OS/2 doesn't look bright, unless re-implementation projects such as Voyager or osFree attract the necessary critical mass of operating system developers."
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IBM Won't Open-Source OS/2

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  • IBM vs. Sun? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by BrainInAJar ( 584756 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:09AM (#22134662)
    Seems to me that IBM's reputation as being the friendly giant to open source is unfounded, particularly in light of how much many members of the open-source community hate Sun.

    Whereas Sun gave away their crown jewels, IBM won't even give away their garbage
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harlows_monkeys ( 106428 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:14AM (#22134708) Homepage
    IBM cannot make OS/2 open source, as they do not own all of it. Parts were developed by Microsoft, and are owned by Microsoft. Many of those parts were rewritten by IBM for later versions of OS/2, but at this late stage, it would likely be a difficult task for them to determine whether or not everything in there is free of third party licenses, and if they can't clear everything, no way in hell are their lawyers going to approve.
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by BrainInAJar ( 584756 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:17AM (#22134724)
    Meanwhile Sun spent a few years leading up to the OpenSolaris project fixing those exact same issues...
  • Bets anyone? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by s4m7 ( 519684 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:18AM (#22134738) Homepage

    citing business, technical, and legal reasons.

    anyone wanna bet that IBM has some sort of outstanding contract that does actually prevent this? IBM is awfully friendly to OSS. I can't think the other two reasons matter that much in their eyes.

  • I find it (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Idiot with a gun ( 1081749 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:18AM (#22134740)
    funny that IBM claims Open Source is more secure, and financially viable, then cites security and business reasons for not opening the source up. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Open Source fanatic (Note the capitalization), but it makes me doubt where IBM's allegiances lay.
  • Re:Those bastards! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by aussie_a ( 778472 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:22AM (#22134762) Journal
    Copyright was created so that people could have a limited period in which they would be able to make commercial gain from it. Now its perpetual, often long beyond the product's commercial life, so it certainly is reasonable for people to ask the copyright holders of abandonware to free up their source code.
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ari_j ( 90255 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:27AM (#22134794)
    Meanwhile, Solaris still had enough sales to not only justify such a task but also to pay people to do it.
  • "...a variety of business, technical, and legal reasons..."

    Business - We're sorry, some businesses are still using OS/2 for some mission critical stuff, we've reviewed the code and it's got some major security flaws. By making it open source, these companies who still use the software will be open to all sorts of attacks as we've stopped supporting the software and won't be releasing any new patches.

    Technical - We want to fix all the flaws but it's not worth our time, we could release the code and have the community do it but most of these businesses lack the IT guys to do the massive updates on all their systems (otherwise they'd be using something other than OS/2) so they'd be open to attacks of anyone who cares enough to try.

    Legal - We didn't write all of our own code, we borrowed from a few places and signed some agreements that say we can't show anyone else the code. We could make half the project open source but that'd be pretty useless and people will get on our case about not releasing all the code, then there's the whole exposing all the flaws problem, which leaves no one happy in this scenario.

    Yes I know security through obscurity doesn't usually work, but this product has reached it's end of life, there won't be any more updates. IBM realizes they have some big customers using OS/2 for some pretty major stuff and if they were to just show the world OS/2s exploits, it might end badly for a company still relying on OS/2. They're probably not going to trust the community submitted patches (they can't afford to have the systems go down, and as far as they know the systems are rock solid so why chance bringing everything down to close a hole that someone MIGHT use to cause damage.) Then when something happens and someone causes some damage exploiting a hole, the company is going to sue IBM for releasing the code and making the attack possible.

    Anyway, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.
  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:50AM (#22134944) Journal
    As much as I admire freedom, demanding censorship as the path to freedom is like demanding that people starve so that they may be nourished.

    Freedom is a chaotic, and at times terrible and insulting entity. I'm afraid you'll just have to live with the trolls. I like my Internet free, and not constrained, not even by those who seek to do good.
  • Re:I find it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by IWannaBeAnAC ( 653701 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:02AM (#22135030)

    At this point, OS/2 is obscure enough that systems still using it really do get security from that obscurity. The only OS/2 installations still around are likely embedded systems (eg, old ATM's) that are not easily updated. If the source was released, there may be some obvious exploitable flaws. True, those flaws (if they exist) could be found without looking at the source, but the source makes it much easier. For example, instead of having to spend thousands of hours banging away at an ATM or reverse engineering binaries, a cracker could just run a code verification tool over the sources and immediately see any potential buffer overflows.

    The security benefit of open source is that it is easier to find and fix security flaws. This is fantastic for incrementally improving and evolving systems. I don't think that helps much for old systems that can't be easily updated.

  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harlows_monkeys ( 106428 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:07AM (#22135068) Homepage
    Solaris was not a joint project with Microsoft. OS/2 was.

    Solaris has remained a viable product under active development, allowing any code that Sun might not have had full rights to to be rewritten during the ordinary course of development. OS/2 has been effectively dead from a development standpoint for a long time. There has been no opportunity to write it away from outside code. Taking an existing, thriving, project (Solaris) and making it open source is orders of magnitude easier than pulling dead code from a long disbanded development group out of the dungeon and digging up from the grave people who remember what was what, in order to figure out how to open source it.

  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dryeo ( 100693 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:30AM (#22135176)
    No but they could open source the parts that they do clearly own. They've done exactly the opposite. They rewrote JFS for OS/2 then forked it with a GPL version for Linux. Our JFS is still closed source though the Linux fork is getting ported back. The IP stack is ported from AIX and based no BSD code, I'd imagine they could open that up.
    When they open sourced Object Rexx there was no OS/2 code included. Rumour has it that when Sun open sourced Staroffice IBM asked them to rip out all the OS/2 code. Luckily the code was left making it much easier to port OpenOffice. I'm sure there are more examples.
  • Re:eComStation (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JPriest ( 547211 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:49AM (#22135258) Homepage
    Another reason (there were multiple) may be that they would prefer to move customers to other (Linux based) solutions and ensure OS/2 die a proper death. Perhaps they fear that making OS/2 OSS would also help keep it alive for longer than they want it to be.
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bm_luethke ( 253362 ) <<ten.tsacmoc> <ta> <bekhteul>> on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:52AM (#22135276)
    Yes, but then again they weren't trying to be clear of *Microsoft's* IP - and that is whole different story. At least, as far as I know Sun wasn't - they were trying to be clear of a somewhat OSS friendly (or at least OSS dependent) community/company. Microsoft is not going to handle anything that might maybe possibly in some way infringe upon their IP being out in the wild in a OSS project from an actual company that they can litigate against. Heck they funded an obviously sinking company with obviously no case whatsoever in an attempt to just discredit OSS, this would be a slam dunk compared to that.

    IBM is big enough to fight it, no doubt, but they aren't going to make anywhere close to enough for it to be worth it from a business point of view. As much as I see IBM as a traditional corporation that only really sees OSS as a way to save money (why not have competent volunteers develop everything and only pay a few to vett the changes to make sure they are what you want?) I'll even bet they wish they could justify it - after all a "win" would probably boost shareholder confidence and most large companies generally like to stick it to their competition.

    Then, of course, it may not be simply a case of "might maybe possibly in some way infringe upon their IP" and in fact totally 100% infringe upon it. In which case IBM isn't *ever* going to find it in their best interest do release it.

    I, and the vast majority of people that read Slashdot, don't really know either (someone from IBM who worked on the project would need to weigh in). In any case if it were to make them money then they would do it. Given their past history I would guess if they felt they could get away with it they would (said "Good Will" has made them quite a bit of money). In fact I would also say the way they said "no" was an attempt at saying they wish they could - after all unless they wanted to send another message the easiest way to say "no" was to ignore it.
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by lpontiac ( 173839 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @04:03AM (#22135326)
    The open sourcing of Solaris also involved Sun throwing a chunk of money at SCO. SCO were eager to take Sun's money because it bought SCO some momentary credibility, and they needed the cash.

    I can't see IBM throwing money at Microsoft to open source their code, or Microsoft taking the money.
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by packeteer ( 566398 ) <> on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @04:09AM (#22135358)
    This is no different whether closed or open source and FUD'ers who claim that something "can't be open sourced" are usually just bullshitting. It's almost the exactly the same as saying "can't be sold".

    There are plenty of things that can be sold that cannot be open sourced. Think of all the software that is written with a legal agreement about who owns what. There is plenty out there and its being sold.
  • But why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xest ( 935314 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @04:47AM (#22135524)
    So they should spend an absolute fortune on preparing the code for release, separating it out from the stuff that doesn't belong to them and spending thousands of lawyer hours checking that it's all okay to release for what, 11,000 petitioners? Just to put that into context, the current petition to get Goldeneye on XBox live arcade is at 18,000 signatures and growing.

    It's not as if once they'd removed all the stuff didn't belong to them they'd be left with a working system, just random chunks of code, many of which will likely be somewhat worthless without the rest of the code that had to be removed.
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by rhyder128k ( 1051042 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @05:09AM (#22135642) Homepage
    From an article I wrote in 2006 []

    "Whenever the matter of reviving OS/2 is brought up, I find myself asking - why? It is difficult to see which of the technologies that existed in OS/2 and could be brought back to life within a modern implementation. Many of the features, such as industry-leading DOS support, which gave OS/2 its edge, are simply no longer relevant.

    "However, the very features which made OS/2 the OS of choice for so many have faded in importance. It is with a heavy heart that many of OS/2 former users (myself included) have to admit that they don't really want to go back to OS/2 anymore than they would trade in their broadband Internet connection for dial-up ANSI BBS access and 320x200 VGA games with ad-lib music. Perhaps IBM could have kept OS/2 relevant but they didn't make any serious efforts to develop it beyond about 1996.

    What features, for example, does the kernel offer that modern operating systems do not? For that matter, does anyone really want to use an OS that uses drive letters?

    In conclusion, in my opinion, recreating OS/2 would be more work than starting an OS from scratch, considerably more work than improving another OS and ultimately, produce a less useful result than either. "
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious ( 631665 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @05:10AM (#22135650) Homepage Journal

    IBM would've been foolish not to get very liberal licenses for anything in OS/2.
    Yeah right - especially as they did such a great job over MS-Dos [].

    Back when the OS/2 deal was made open source had nothing like the profile it does now. It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.
  • by hung_himself ( 774451 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @05:47AM (#22135836)
    Back in those days I had a Mac || which was the ultimate fast coolest home machine in my geek BBS world.

    Windows *was* around but it was slow and buggy on the XT/AT class machines that were around. The competition that Mac owners were worried about was OS/2 and Presentation Manager which was arguably superior to the MacOS of the day. Unfortunately, Windows came first and there were apps for it and (almost) none for the new OS/2.

    So the brilliant marketing boys at IBM decided to support Windows and Windows apps under OS/2 and market it as a "better Windows than Windows". And it was - about the only stable way to run Windows before 3.1 was to run in under OS/2. So they basically supported MS's buggy product and discouraged migration of apps to their much superior system (why not just develop for Windows if OS/2 can run Windows too?). When MS finally fixed Windows, there was no reason to run it under OS/2, no reason for most of the buyers to continue OS/2 and no reason for developers to do the considerable work of porting their DOS apps to OS/2 rather than Windows 3.1.

    That was the analyses that I remember from back then anyway.
  • Re:Bets anyone? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by moosesocks ( 264553 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @05:49AM (#22135852) Homepage
    Or in the case of something as old and abandoned as OS/2, there's a pretty good chance that IBM don't even *know* what code is theirs, and what isn't. The amount of time and effort it would take to do an entire "audit" of the OS would be huge, considering that it's essentially an abandoned product.

    IBM doesn't want another SCO happening.
  • by Lodewijk ( 3307 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @05:52AM (#22135868) Homepage
    Indeed, OS/2 uses ring 2 and 3 of the x86 processors, rendering OS/2 non-portable and non-virtualizable without major effort.
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @06:06AM (#22135948)
    I really wonder why people say that. I've tried OS/2 Warp 4.0 recently and personally I find it a horrible piece of shit. It really really deserved to lose to Windows 9x and NT. The user interface hangs all the time, it looks like the graphical stuff has no multi threading at all. It uses both mouse buttons for no apparent reason, the things it does could easily be done with one button like Apple's Mac OS Finder or Windows Explorer. From a user friendlyness perspective OS/2 is a complete disaster.
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rcs1000 ( 462363 ) * <> on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @07:54AM (#22136402)
    <i>It's like talking to a broken record: I repeat; Open sourcing is the equivalent of selling the source for zero dollars. Whether you can open source and/or whether you can on-sell all depend on the wording of the parent licenses. A blanket pronouncement like "can't open source it" is nonsense equivalent to a blanket pronouncement saying "can't sell it".</i>

    Well, I suspect that Microsoft has a clause in the agreement which allows resale, but does not allow opening it up to the community. Selling for zero dollars != Open-sourcing.
  • by DollyTheSheep ( 576243 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @07:55AM (#22136404)
    Played with OS/2 from 1993 until late 1996. I think I've used 2.1, 2.11, 3.0 and even 4.0 (Merlin?) after upgrading my previously 4MB 386 to 8MB and then later to a whopping 16MB (and a 486 and later a Pentium). It was an exhilarating, rewarding but often also excruciatingly frustrating experience.

    It multitasked better and more stable than Win95, but was hampered with missing hardware and software support. And the lack of marketing and market understanding on IBM's side.

    I abandoned OS/2 when it was finally clear that IBM would not improve it neither on the home user nor on the business side.
  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @08:12AM (#22136486) Homepage Journal
    I still am in some respects. I was one of the first 100 people certified as an OS/2 Engineer by IBM back in the day, and I still have a Warp box running here for old times sake.

    That being said, and while I'd love to poke through the source, I'd rather see some of the technologies and concepts from OS/2 opened up. I would just love to see what OSS could do for the Workplace Shell, for example. The WPS is STILL more advanced than any Windows shell ever has been. Just imagine where it might be today if developement hadn't stopped.

    I also wouldn't mind seeing a compatability layer built for Linux, so that all my old OS/2 apps would work on a Linux kernel. If licensing is constrained then they could always (gasp!) put out a closed library and just expose the API.

    None of it is likely to happen, but it would be nice.
  • by McGiraf ( 196030 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @08:25AM (#22136530)
    "We won't be free until every racist is silenced."

    That is not true, this is just censorship. We will not be free until every racist is educated, and for those who still can't get it, ridiculed.

  • Why OS/2 failed (Score:3, Insightful)

    by edremy ( 36408 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @09:50AM (#22137016) Journal
    Since lots of folks are bringing up arguments about why OS/2 ended up where it is, I'll throw in my two cents.

    It's 1996, and I'm working at a university where the department IT guy is a rabid OS/2 fanatic. The whole department ran on Warp, but this brand new version of NT (4.0) has just come out with a Win95-like interface but decent internals, so the battle was on.

    One day I wander down to the campus bookstore. They have copies of OS/2 in stock- the version with TCP/IP and a web browser was something like $200. Next to it was the development kit, in a plain box- $700.

    On the other shelf is a copy of WinNT 4.0. $99. That $99 was the full version, and it included a full copy of Visual C++ as well.

    IBM simply didn't care about the academic market at all. MS cares a *lot*- they learned from Apple that if you get people hooked earlier they are stuck with you for life.

  • by Comboman ( 895500 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @10:56AM (#22137630)
    The OP is a coward who uses anonymous posts to hide his identity. But the fact that he consistently manages to get the first or second post means he's also a subscriber. Why not make it so subscribers can't post anonymously until the topic is opened up to everyone? That would limit the visibility of this kind of post without limiting anyone else's freedom.
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mgblst ( 80109 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @10:56AM (#22137632) Homepage
    Seems to me that IBM's reputation as being the friendly giant to open source is unfounded, particularly in light of how much many members of the open-source community hate Sun.

    Yes the same thing happened with a mate of mine. He was a great friend, always willing to lend me money when I was unemployed, and drive me around when he could. Then, he turned into a real prick, wouldn't let me sleep with his wife, and got upset when I borrowed his car just because it has a few scratches on it. People can be real dickheads sometimes (just like IBM).
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShinmaWa ( 449201 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @12:27PM (#22138826)
    You've utterly failed to answer Waffle Iron's question of "Why would IBM bother?"

    Despite your hand-waving, there would be substantial effort in untangling and sanitizing the code along with all the various legal checks to make sure the code is not encumbered by third-party licenses in any way. It would take engineering time to go through all that source code and prepare it to be released. It would take a lot of legal effort to go through the myriads of interlocking legal agreements to make sure IBM wasn't breaking any laws in the process. If all the interlocking contracts and agreements in the SCO debacle were complex, I can imagine that the ones surrounding OS/2 are just as complex, if not more so.

    That engineering time is not free to IBM. The legal costs are not free to IBM. What you are demanding is that IBM spend substantial amounts of their time and money to give you something free. Well, IBM is not a charity and they don't owe you or anyone else a goddamn thing.

    It takes an unbelievable amount of hubris to reject any reason IBM may give for not releasing OS/2, including one as simple "we don't want to." IBM has spent billions on open source projects. To demand even more from them then deride them when they don't give in makes the open source community seem like a bunch of spoiled children.

    So, answer me this bit01 -- Why should IBM bother?
  • by theurge14 ( 820596 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:19PM (#22140532)
    The WPS was nimble and fast compared to KDE and Gnome. And no, I still haven't found either to be as drag-and-drop flexible as the WPS was.

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from a rigged demo.