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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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  • by deft ( 253558 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:10AM (#22134676) Homepage
    "IBM answered by sending a letter via FedEx."

    It was then opened with a #2 pencil, and read sitting at a desk by office depot. They examined the contents of the letter while sipping on some folgers coffee.

    I just thought we should have all of the important facts of the story here.
    • Physically mailing a letter in response to an online petition suggests one of two things:

      1. They are showing they care by spending extra effort on us. Maybe it was handwritten, and someone drew hearts on it or something.
      2. This came from a part of the corporate machine that is rusty and creaking. Probably some lawyer had their secretary print out the petition for them, read through it with a highlighter, then typed up a response on a typewriter.

      I'm betting on #2, based on my experience with ludicrously large

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by MeltUp ( 633868 )
        Well, we ordered some trial CD's from IBM a while back, and they arrived yesterday. They came in a box. A cardboard box of about 40x40x50 cm (that's about 15x15x20 inch). It contained a lot of packaging paper, and there was a smaller box in it. In that box where some CD's, and a 300 page book titled "license". We needed just one CD. Just one. Worst part: I'm not making any of this up. So I'm betting on #2 as well.
  • 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.

    • Re:Bets anyone? (Score:4, Informative)

      by slittle ( 4150 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @03:09AM (#22135074) Homepage
      Aside from reasons already mentioned (non-exclusive ownership and other unknowns or ambiguities), OS/2 is still a commercial product under the eComStation [] brand by Serenity Systems. I'm sure their contract with IBM has something to say about exclusive distribution rights or some such.

      IBM themselves have finally moved on, though. Their hardware management consoles still used OS/2 until a few years ago, but they're all Linux now.
    • by fm6 ( 162816 )
      As always somebody sees a conspiracy. It's much likely that it's the usual issue: getting permission from all the people you licensed code from. That can be expensive and difficult.

      Supporting OS is a business decision, not an act of corporate niceness. IBM has been OS-friendly because it's helped them keep alive software products that still had some profit in them, in the form of hardware sales and support contracts. OS/2 is too far gone to be kept alive that way, and even if it could be revived, it wo
      • 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.
  • Windows NT (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Arkaine101 ( 591667 )
    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?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      There are some big similarities. CMD.EXE was taken from OS/2. NTFS was in its beginning an HPFS variant (I believe you could still mount HPFS drives in NT 3.51). But under the hood, they were two different architectures. NT was heavily inspired by VMS.
      • Re:Windows NT (Score:5, Informative)

        by dryeo ( 100693 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @04:47AM (#22135526)
        I can mount HPFS drives under Win2k using pinball.sys from 3.51. Unluckily it is broken if your partitions are over 4 GB (maybe 2 GB?).
        I can also run OS/2 v1.x text mode binaries under 2k even cmd.exe.
        NT did start as a rewrite of OS/2 and the first version that booted up was OS/2 NT ver 3.
        One thing MS did get in the divorce was rights to use version 3 and up which is why OS/2 4.5 is actually ver 2.45 eg
        F:\usr\bin>uname -a
        OS/2 amad.localdomain 2 2.45 i386

    • by dabraun ( 626287 )

      Wasn't Windows NT spawned from IBM's OS/2?

      If anything, Windows NT was spawned from Microsoft's OS/2. IBM was effectively rebranding OS/2 prior to the split and only began to develop "IBM's OS/2" after Microsoft and IBM parted ways.
  • As far as I am concerned, OS/2 bled to death. When I first experienced it (this was, I think, OS/2 Warp, version any rate, shortly before Windows 95 was released) I really liked it a lot. It was a huge step from DOS, yet managed to stay compatible with it, and it had all kinds of technical improvements. Then came Windows 95 and I watched in agony as that piece of junk took over the world. It was like OS/2, only bad. Crashed all the time, etc. Those who lived through it probably know what I mean. Wi
    • You must have been using Windows 95 for quite a while before Linux came onto the scene.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by RAMMS+EIN ( 578166 )
        ``You must have been using Windows 95 for quite a while before Linux came onto the scene.''

        Actually, Linux is older than Windows 95.
      • Some of us were using Win95 a long time before Win95 came out.

        At the time DOS was better than Win 3.11, Win 95, OS/2 Warp or Linux, when Doom and Quake were big on PCs.
    • 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.

      • 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.
      • 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Wudbaer ( 48473 )
        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)
        • Hmmm... (Score:3, Funny)

          by Foerstner ( 931398 )
          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
    • I don't know why OS/2 failed.

      For much of the 1990's OS/2 was the standard desktop OS provided by IT (as opposed to engineering) in a state Government owned company where I worked. It was eventually replaced by Windows98 around 1999 or 2000.

      I wasn't an OS/2 user but I did notice a few things which people hated about it:

      • It took more than five minutes to boot up from the token ring LAN in the morning
      • Users were required to use an in house resource management application on OS/2 which sucked
      • When it created icons on start up it would
      • by dryeo ( 100693 )
        Sounds like the IT department had it pretty locked down. Out of the box icons stayed where ever you put them (as long as you did a proper shutdown). The desktop background could be changed by simply opening up the solid colour palette and dragging which ever colour you wanted to the desktop. Same with folders, at that the desktop was just another folder and all folders could have different backgound colours or even different wallpaper.
        And of course shitty apps can be written for any OS
    • by dryeo ( 100693 )
      Yea the old store bought OS/2 won't install on a hard drive over 4 GBs without updating the disk driver. If you'd like to try it go here, []
  • by Trenchbroom ( 1080559 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:25AM (#22134780)
    How can they open source OS/2 when a large percentage of the code is still under Microsoft's copyright? I'm sure Microsoft would have NO problem with this--seeing as they are all open source friendly and all. No issues using their own code to dethrone Windows, naturally.

    No news here people. Only common sense needed.
  • eComStation (Score:5, Informative)

    by hpa ( 7948 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:28AM (#22134800) Homepage
    IBM has already licensed off OS/2 to another company, Serenity Systems, who is continuing to support it under the name eComStation []. This might have been an exclusive agreement. There is again, of course, all the issues with whether or not the actually own all the stuff.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by JPriest ( 547211 )
      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.
  • 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)
  • by Zakabog ( 603757 ) <> on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:33AM (#22134830)
    "...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 dryeo ( 100693 )
      Where would the major flaws be? OS/2 installed without any services running. Networking used straight NETBEUI so was unroutable and now a days simplest to use Samba. The stack is ported from AIX and is considered very solid and the current browser is Firefox which is also considered secure.
      Of course the client was single user so if you had access to the machine you could do damage but I have yet to hear of an ATM being hacked little well any other system running OS/2.
  • No big loss (Score:3, Informative)

    by MemoryDragon ( 544441 ) on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @02:52AM (#22134946)
    IBM cannot OSS OS/2 parts of it are owned by third parties, lots of the code comes from Microsoft. There also is eComStation for companies who have to use OS/2 onward. But besides that there is nothing in OS/2 which is interesting anymore. While being very sophisticated for its time, there is no part in OS/2 which has not been covered better nowadays. Decent multitasking (Basically every OS currently in existence) OO Desktop, KDE definitely has 10 years more sophistication than OS/2 ever had Decent C++ class libraries as core APIs for the OS, again look at KDE! The rest is an out of the mill os, with a flakey 16 mode and a decent 32 bit mode. The only interesting thing is the small resource footprint which would make it a nice cellphone and PDA os noawasays, but that Window was missed by IBM! Id say let it commercially live on as eComStation and once its times are over, let it die!
  • Just run your old OS/2 schtuff on VMware. Abstracting it will keep the old crap going as long as needed till you can phase it out.
    • by dryeo ( 100693 )
      VMware doesn't emulate a 386 good enough to run OS/2. OS/2 used things that no one else used like part of the OS running in ring 2.
      Virtual Box will run OS/2, so will Virtual PC but not VMware
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        Actually, you can run OS/2 under VMWare. You need to edit the VM definition file and set the OS type to "os2experimental", and it won't work for OS/2 versions newer than Warp 4 FP12.

        Xen 3.1 or newer on SVM-capable AMD hardware will also run OS/2 up to this Fixpack-level. The final fix needed to enable running the latest Fixpack levels and hopefully eComStation as well will be in Very Soon Now.
  • 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.

  • ..with Sun comes naturally. Sun has opensourced three crown jewels: the newest Ultrasparc core (opensource HW), Java and Solaris - together with their most advanced disk resource management system, ZFS.

    Somebody care to remind me which products of similar strategic importance to IBM, did IBM opensource?
    • None of Sun's crown jewels run ATMs or unattended cash machines.

      IBM's OS/2 still does run.

      That's a vast difference.
      Open sourcing Eclipse is enough.

      ZFS does not belong to Sun alone.
      • None of Sun's crown jewels run ATMs or unattended cash machines.

        Solaris runs a lot of mission critical systems. The difference is that it is BSD based and largely open source to start with, and as a result, much less buggy.

        Imagine the chaos if even more windows source code found its way into the wild.

  • Then let's claim eminent domain. We can have the property condemned as a public hazard... oh, wait...maybe we should save that for windows :-)
  • Is it possible to obtain OS/2 legally for free? I'm just asking out of curiosity since I'd like to give it a try. I remember seeing all those ads in the early 90s (or was it late 80s...) on magazines (mostly Byte) but I never really had a chance to try it.

    Is there maybe a repository of "abandonware" software, such as Desqview and the like? I'm feeling a tad nostalgic tonight.

    • Even if you could, you'd certainly enter a world of pain. Plain OS/2 has always been very tricky to install on "everyday" hardware. It doesn't run very well in emulators either because of extensive use of x86 features (ring 2 for instance) that no other OS makes use of. To have a good experience of OS/2 requires in fact a true IBM PS/2 computer, with a lot of memory (a lot means "more than 32 Mb", but we're speaking legacy here, and at the time it was a huge quantity of RAM, and it's unlikely you'd find tha

  • 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: (Score:3, Interesting)

      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 t
    • Where OS/2 failed was some top boneheads in IBM asked their major software competitor, Microsoft, to develop the initial OS/2 1.x.

      In that timeframe, who else was going to write a graphical multi-tasking OS with the associated GUI? Especially since Microsoft, at the time, was in a bit of a shakey position with various DOS clones starting to make inroads on the market and with hardware at a cross roads. The near total [Microsoft] dominance that folks seem to take for granted today doesn't really start unti

  • 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.
  • Banking (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mrb000gus ( 696332 )
    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 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.
  • 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.

  • WPS on Linux (Score:3, Informative)

    by SCHecklerX ( 229973 ) <> on Tuesday January 22, 2008 @01:06PM (#22139402) Homepage
    That would be a dream come true. Screw KDE and Gnome.

The party adjourned to a hot tub, yes. Fully clothed, I might add. -- IBM employee, testifying in California State Supreme Court