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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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  • Windows NT (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Arkaine101 ( 591667 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:22AM (#22134766)
    Wasn't Windows NT spawned from IBM's OS/2? I assume that contractual obligations between IBM and Microsoft may be involved. Would this be one of the legal issues of which they speak?

    Am I wrong in this thought?
  • by Vskye ( 9079 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:33AM (#22134824)
    I beta tested all of the OS/2 releases and the MS license / patent issue is the only reason I don't think this will ever be released. IBM is a okay company when it comes to Linux, (specs, drivers, etc) but I'd never expect to see OS/2 offered as open source, due to the above mentioned restrictions.
    In retrospect I do believe that MS pulled the plug simply because of the "lock-in-factor" on their OS. (they don't share well with others) OS/2 was a very nice OS back in the day. And yes, it ran well.. was better than DOS and made Windows look like crap back in the day. (if ya never ran it, then mod yourself -1)
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:33AM (#22134828) Journal
    Oh for fuck's sake. OS/2 is filled with other folks' IP, particularly Microsoft's. Big chunks of it were largely written out of Redmond. Yes, in-house teams took over starting with version 3 (Warp), but all that Lanman code and many of the 16-bit APIs are all at least in part Microsoft's. IBM can't open source it.

    About the only thing in this day and age that I'd like to see would be the Workplace Shell ported to X. It still makes Windows look like its inbred retarded cousin. As for everything else, the operating system is old, and I don't think there's much in it that hasn't already been done elsewhere anyways.
  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:39AM (#22134864) Journal

    But not in the way the BSA would have you believe, the simple fact was that like you, people like me couldn't get their hands on OS/2 through copyright infringement. For the record I stayed with DOS for far longer and later W95 (wasn't till the early parts of W2K that I learned about unix and later linux) but the simple fact is that MS has had a simple advantage, its software is available to those who for what ever reason don't buy their software in boxes.

    I did have my hands on a trial of OS/2 Warp, but I never managed to install it on my PC. Another advantage to W95 which was buggy as hell and often had problem during install BUT did eventually run.

    A similar problem is happening right now with Vista, hard to pirate, so I haven't tried it.

    So what you ask? Well like many here I am the IT support guy in my social circle and I can't support Vista because I don't know it. How are you going to answer a call asking how to change a setting when you have no idea what is where? I am not going to claim that people I know stay with XP because they can't get support from me otherwise but it is a simple choice, learn windows Vista when you never learned/wanted to learn Windows in the first place, or stay with XP I will be happy to hand you a copy off.

    QUESTION: I don't know why OS/2 failed.

    ANSWER: Fact is that many people liked it but didn't manage to get a copy.

    Piracy has been a critical element in MS rise to fame. With Vista they are taking a gamble, has their lockin become powerfull enough they can now survive without it? Personally I think it has, but you never know. MS might soon face a real nightmare, being beaten NOT by a competitor they can out advertise or EVEN outperform, but beaten by their own product.

    Or not, Vista ain't a ME yet and ME never threathened their business model.

  • Wistful Sigh.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bmo ( 77928 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:18AM (#22135118)
    Yes, I was a big fan of OS/2.

    I briefly went to Windows95, after my install disks died (bloody weird format, too). That didn't last long, and in a fury of frustration, I decided to look at Linux again.

    I never looked back. Oh yes, I miss some things. I miss Workplace Shell most of all, but then KDE does most of what WPS did. Indeed, having Linux gives me a lot more useful stuff that I never even had with Warp or any other OS. I don't miss it so much anymore.

    IBM had something great but didn't defend it very well in the marketplace. I'm probably better off having gone the Linux route.

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

    by dryeo ( 100693 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:24AM (#22135148)
    While OS/2 is old it still feels better then Linux or Windows.
    Anyways the Workplace Shell (WPS) is still ahead of any other operating shell I have used. And it is supposedly IBMs IP. Some years ago there was a rumour that IBM was going to open source the WPS. Shame it didn't happen.
    With things like Cairo getting integrated into the WPS it is still quite nice and Cairo allows the eye candy that people nowadays seem to demand.
    Current screen shots of the WPS are available here, [] and here [].
    Of course this just shows how it looks, not how it functions.
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bit01 ( 644603 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:46AM (#22135232)

    IBM cannot make OS/2 open source, as they do not own all of it.

    No, this sort of FUD keeps resurfacing. If they didn't own it they couldn't have sold it to Serenity Systems.

    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".

    Open sourcing is the equivalent of a normal sale but for zero dollars. I hope you're not going to to try and claim that IBM can't sell OS/2, source and binary, for whatever price it likes?


    Open source software is everything that closed source software is. Plus the source is available.

  • OS/2 is awesome (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jsse ( 254124 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:55AM (#22135292) Homepage Journal
    Well hold your flamethrowers a bit...

    In 1994, I worked for IBM and involved in testing of OS/2 (pre-warp time if my memory serves) in Hong Kong. I mainly helped testing business applications, especially Chinese apps. There's another team who were testing games(dream job right)?

    The game team always invited me for 'professional opinions' because I were like a profession gamer to them. I managed to run 4 sessions of Ultima 8 in a 386. The gameplay play was smooth, even the opening video was being played without hiccup. Awesome. Imagine it's during the period when its top competitor Windows 95 would crash from time to time running one sessions of Ultima 8. I don't want to bore you with the details how great it run other applications, but I can tell you it can run more than one session of Windows 95 full-screen and windowed. (I heard Microsoft had some legal questions with that later on.. but still, OS/2 could really do that).

    Don't laugh at OS/2, it sold, millions copies; some came along with PS/2, some were embedded in ATMs and cashiers. They stopped update and development since 2006, but still, OS/2 installed machines generates revenue for IBM, even today.

    Where OS/2 failed was some top boneheads in IBM asked their major software competitor, Microsoft, to develop the initial OS/2 1.x. Microsoft still owns many of the royalties inside OS/2. The more OS/2 sold, the more Microsoft got. I've been told later IBM had difficult time in negotiations with Microsoft on lowering the royalties fee in new contracts, because, obviously, crushing OS/2 benefits Microsoft more than letting it survive.
  • Re:OS/2 is awesome (Score:3, Interesting)

    by freedom_india ( 780002 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @04:40AM (#22135488) Homepage Journal
    Very True.
    The bank i used to work for still has ATMs running on OS/2 procured specially from NCR.

    Open-sourcing OS/2 is out of question legally for IBM, as OS/2 contracts with NCR and other companies specifically prohibit this.

    Firstly IBM would be sued by licensees of OS/2 for breach of security.
    Secondly, if any script kiddie gets hold of the source, deciphers OS/2 to a root level and manages to upload a patch to an ATM... the result would be ugly for IBM (oh, the kid would long be having fun in Gitmo, but that's a different story).

    Seriously, if i were IBM, i would smile and wave and refuse to let OS/2 be open-sourced for another 99 years.
  • by LodCrappo ( 705968 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @04:42AM (#22135500) Homepage
    I used OS/2 back in the day. From version 2.0 to 3 to Warp 4. I liked it a lot. However, once I learned about Linux, and learned how to use Linux, I really never missed anything from OS/2. What do you want from IBM? The source to an old OS strongly tied to a specific architecture that is becoming extinct? Why? What exactly does OS/2 do that Linux does not do? The workplace shell is the only thing I could guess might be neat. Sure, it's a cool interface. But there are honestly more advanced and more useful interfaces these days. I sincerely doubt IBM will be launching lawsuits against anyone who wanted to use the concepts in WPS, if someone found them useful anyway. Seriously, I'd like to know what it is that OS/2's code would help the open source world accomplish.
  • by Skreech ( 131543 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @05:28AM (#22135728)
    I would mod you up but I'd rather reinforce your hypothesis directly.

    Being young and barely having a notion of what I really wanted, I wanted a copy of OS/2 Warp just to mess with it. I might have been... 11? I couldn't find a copy, even after a trip to St. Louis (not only would I ride in the back seat, but I had to sit in the middle!) What 11 year old wanted to try a new and different operating system? I mean what the hell. Well, nonetheless, it just wasn't available where ever I was able to look, or where ever Mom helped me look.

    But I had my Slackware version 1 CDs! So I messed with Linux, barely knowing what I was doing, barely getting anywhere really, but learning. That's an impressionable time! And I didn't spend it learning OS/2 for lack of availability. I specifically remember the random guy at the software store in St. Louis not knowing what-the-fuck when I asked about OS/2. Damn it. It's the city, they're suppose to have that shit.

    Oh well! I guess if OS/2 had been worth learning then I could have found a copy and I would have messed with it. But I couldn't, legal or not. Your post reminded me of that.
  • Banking (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mrb000gus ( 696332 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @05:29AM (#22135736)
    OS/2 is still widely used in banks. Releasing it as open source could be seen as allowing the code to be dissected, possibly uncovering new security exploits.
  • by Wudbaer ( 48473 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @07:43AM (#22136354) Homepage
    You are quite right. OS/2 was killed by IBM itself. With a flamethrower. The remains run over with a bulldozer several times. Dumped into a tank full of acid.

    In early '93 IBM Germany started a big campaign to get OS/2 to the public. You could get OS/2 2.0 for a more or less symbolic sum (I don't remember how much it was, but quite inexpensive), with a cheap upgrade to OS/2 2.1 coming out shortly after it. And it really rocked. Then Warp (3.0) came, even better. But then the Internet came. For Windows (3.x) at the time you had to use Trumpet Winsock, which sucked but at least was there. Warp had a dial-up client, but no real LAN TCP/IP functionality. The TCP/IP stack had to be purchased separately. Expensively. But even if you wanted to, there was no way to get it: IBM sold its OS/2 add-ons only through their local partners, which just were not interested to send some guy who didn't want to purchase an entire network from them a quote over a one software package for a measly 300 EUR. I never even got any kind of answer from them. So no TCP/IP in the LAN. So sooner or later goodbye OS/2 and hello Win95 and Linux (they changed this with OS/2 4.0, but then NT 4 was already coming out, so too little too late).

    This is just one example of the boneheaded decisions IBM made regarding marketing and sales of OS/2. But there were many of them. It speaks for OS/2 that in spite of all this it was so hard to kill.
  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @09:31AM (#22136864) Homepage Journal

    The SCO deal isn't really that relevant. Sun paid SCO for one of the few items of technology SCO actually owned the rights to - the ix86 device drivers in SCO Unix. The idea was to make Solaris more viable on ix86 hardware - previously it was very fussy about what it could run on.

    Sun would have licensed those drivers if they hadn't planned to free Solaris, and they would have freed Solaris even if they hadn't licensed the drivers. In the latter scenario, Solaris would have continued to be a second-rate OS when run on non-Sun Intel-architecture hardware.

    Not that this has much to do with anything. It's certainly true IBM would have problems with freeing OS/2 given the amount of third party ownership going on, and with the difficulty in identifying what needs to be rewritten. I suspect a similar problem exists with AmigaOS, BeOS, VMS, and a whole range of other operating systems that come up as candidates to be freed from time to time.

    IBM has an additional issue nobody's brought up here. IBM has contracted out support to the eComStation people, which almost certainly involved promises of exclusivity for a period of time. So even if IBM had the time and inclination to comb through their code and see what can be released, I think they're contractually unable to do so.

    Such is the legacy of the obsession with proprietary code in the 1980s: a mountain of dead operating systems, unsupportable because of an unwillingness to recognize the need for self-support in the future.

  • Re:IBM vs. Sun? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Locutus ( 9039 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:20PM (#22141574)
    I'm surprised I've not seen anything referencing code like SOM, DSOM, OpenDoc etc. And damn, I'm almost tempted to fire up an Warp 4 CD in VirtualBox and see how well OpenDoc runs on todays supersized CPUs and memory footprints. There was some pretty cool stuff in those.

    thinking about OpenDoc, it makes me wonder if something like that can't be incorporated into AJAX. you know, all the components/js code to view the page might come from the the page server but if there's an editor or similar component locally stored/cached then it is used for viewing/editing/etc. There'd have to be part registration body or service and all that jazz but it would be cool if it could happen IMO. Personally, I like the idea of specialized components since it's very similar to the *nix design philosophy of a lot of small, efficient, special purpose tools used together for a wide variety of larger applications.

    For some reason, I thought IBM did open source some of the OS/2 tech but maybe not. I heard about JFS being ported from OS/2's version in all that SCO-IBM AIX stuff. There was an IBM speech recognition system they either open source or provided free but that could have come from OS/2 or AIX. Obviously SOM and DSOM which should be all IBM tech since it came after the Microsoft/IBM split. OpenDOC was based on SOM with some Apple tech in there for things like Bento and other OpenDoc-isms.

    There was alot of cool tech which ran on OS/2 and it would still be useful today on Linux IMO. There is nothing today anywhere which comes even close to what the WorkplaceShell provided.


To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus