OS/2, This Is Your Life


Do you remember IBM’s OS/2? Chances are that if you have been in the computer game for a while, it at least rings a few bells. And if you have been in the computer game for a long while, you may have even used it back in the day. But how well do you know the history of OS/2 and its place in the war between IBM and Microsoft for PC dominance? It is a fascinating story, chronicled amazingly well in this post at Ars Technica.

Jeremy Reimer walks through the whole saga, from the first deal between the companies, to the crushing end when IBM finally threw in the towel and sold their PC business to Lenovo. Along the way there are all kinds of interesting bits. Like the fact that OS/2 2.0 came on 21 floppies. Remember that? Or how the OS/2 Warp name ran afoul of Paramount and Star Trek. You may also be surprised to learn that OS/2 is actuallly still in use today, under a different name. And one of my favorites, this horrible ad. It was the early 90s. Why would the aging cast of M.A.S.H. seem like a good marketing idea?


The whole thing is a fantastic look at a part of our computing history that really shaped the world as we know it today. I’m also fascinated by the fact that it really could have gone the other way. OS/2 wasn’t without its merits. This paragraph sums it up well.

“OS/2 had the best DOS virtual machine ever seen at the time. It was so good that you could easily run DOS games fullscreen while multitasking in the background, and many games (like Wing Commander) even worked in a 320×200 window. OS/2’s DOS box was so good that you could run an entire copy of Windows inside it, and thanks to IBM’s separation agreement with Microsoft, each copy of OS/2 came bundled with something IBM called “Win-OS2.” It was essentially a free copy of Windows that ran either full-screen or windowed. If you had enough RAM, you could run each Windows app in a completely separate virtual machine running its own copy of Windows, so a single app crash wouldn’t take down any of the others.”

It makes one wonder what might have been.

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