IBM and Microsoft's OS/2 turns 25 today

25 years ago, IBM was still the biggest force in the PC industry. On this date in 1987, the company announced a new partnership with Microsoft that at the time seemed to be the next major step in the PC's evolution: The launch of OS/2. However, the operating system failed to gain a foothold in PC desktops and the reason lies ironically with Microsoft.

Time.com's site has an interesting article today on the rise and fall of OS/2. The story points out that while it was announced on this day 25 years ago, it wasn't until December 1987 until version 1.0 was released. Even after its launch, OS/2 still didn't have a lot of features, including basic items such as having a graphical interface for mouse interactions, until a year later. OS/2 was also a resource hog; most PCs of that time didn't have the memory to support OS/2's 4 MB requirements.

In the end, IBM's partner on OS/2, Microsoft, broke off its development arrangement and released Windows 3.0 in 1990. Most PC owners installed and used it thanks to its Mac-style graphical interface. In 1992, IBM launched the 2.0 version of OS/2. It was a huge improvement from the original and it could handle OS/2, Windows and DOS programs all at once and had 32-bit software support (although it still had a few 16-bit drivers).

Even with the improvements, O2/2 2.0 still had some high system requirements, and more consumers and businesses still moved on to updated versions of Windows. OS/2 3.0 came out in 1994 but PC users decided to wait until Windows 95 came out a year later. IBM kept releasing updated versions of OS/2 but by then the writing was on the wall. The company released the final version of OS/2 in 2001 and stopped full support of the OS in 2006, although IBM will still offer some support for a fee.

OS/2 was in many ways a PC operating system that was many years ahead of its time, with some features that Windows didn't incorporate for a number of years, such as right-clicking on the OS to change settings. Even today, OS/2 is still in use running some older ATMs or inside the system that delivers the Metrocards for New York City's subway system.  A company called Serenity Systems International even sells an OS, eComStation, that is based on OS/2 and runs all OS/2 based programs.

Image via Wikipedia

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Ahh this post is getting old now. But a few more comment concerning my original post. 1) the OS/2 1.3 GUI was identical to the Windows 3.0 GUI, but proceeded it by almost a year (1989). The early versions of Word for Windows 1.x and Excel 2.x ran on OS/2 1.3 as they did on Windows 3.0. 2) OS/2 1.x was was too pricey ($600!). By the time OS/2 2.x was released it was competitive with Windows 3.x ($60 - $100). IBM was loosing money due to the open architecture of the PC AT/XT (which allowed pc clones) and wanted to re-capture the business with the proprietary Micro Channel Architecture (MCA) on their PS/2 line. 3) OS/2 1.x ran DOS applications as is (but not games). I would have liked to run Lotus 1-2-3 3.0 for DOS under OS/2 with the era's hefty machines (very few machines were powerful enough to run Lotus 1-2-3 3.0 at the time). 4) Any comments and corrections, appreciated.

As it sometimes happens in IT: one day you boom, the next day you bust.

In the early 90's, OS/2 was one of the most advanced systems for having 32-bit support. Only SGI could beat it with their 64-bit system.

Good times...

I still have a few copies of the red and blue spine boxes (CD and floppy version) stored away.

A trip down the memory lane, running my BBS with OS/2, multiple com port, and still be able to do something else with the PC while the BBS was running. Real multitasking at a time when Windows could only dream of it....

Too bad that IBM stopped this, OS/2 2.0 was, in my opinion, the only MS-Windows 95 (or 98?) opponent. (Linux and Apple at this time? ... )

Lastwebpage said,
Too bad that IBM stopped this, OS/2 2.0 was, in my opinion, the only MS-Windows 95 (or 98?) opponent. (Linux and Apple at this time? ... )

They stopped it because IBM was horribly managed back then, was run by a committee, and the project lost the only good developers it had to Microsoft's Windows NT.

OS/2 was like a concept OS. It was cool to read about and see screenshots of and think about as a distant, magical "other" reality that we never got to be a part of, so everything we didn't like about what we ACTUALLY had made us think things would've somehow been better had the "other" been real instead. The truth is, if MS hadn't ditched their work on it and OS/2 went number one, you would be reading an article today about the Windows OS that never came to exist and think "Man, if only they had made Windows, we wouldn't be stuck with this crappy OS/7 Plaid".

Yeah I loved OS/2. Couldn't really use it on a day to day basis so like the masses I went to Windows 3.0. This was after, of course, I gave up my beloved Amiga.

patseguin said,
Yeah I loved OS/2. Couldn't really use it on a day to day basis so like the masses I went to Windows 3.0. This was after, of course, I gave up my beloved Amiga.

You gave up your AMiGA for a crappy 386? You fiend lol - I was still blazing away on the inet with my AMiGA 1200 (CD32) until 1999 or 2000. And let me say, the AMiGA was still a superior computer to the PC up until 2000, which is quite an achievement considering Commodore went bust in 1991?

MaJoR ChAoS said,

You gave up your AMiGA for a crappy 386? You fiend lol - I was still blazing away on the inet with my AMiGA 1200 (CD32) until 1999 or 2000. And let me say, the AMiGA was still a superior computer to the PC up until 2000, which is quite an achievement considering Commodore went bust in 1991?

Um, the Amiga had some good stuff when it was relevant, but anyone who thinks ANY computer from 1991 or prior was better than what the world was using in 1999+ simply wasn't following technology.

System requirements and an exorbitant price made it out of reach of most users. But it was quite an operating system for the time. A lot of code for OS/2 was re-used or altered for Windows NT. In fact the first release of Windows NT was able to run OS/2 1.x apps.

techfreak said,
System requirements and an exorbitant price made it out of reach of most users. But it was quite an operating system for the time. A lot of code for OS/2 was re-used or altered for Windows NT. In fact the first release of Windows NT was able to run OS/2 1.x apps.

I can't quite recall the exact year, but I remember when PC Magazine Brazil gave OS/2 for FREE in one issue. I think it was 1992 or 1993.

OS/2 was wonderful for that time and it is impressive even today. Microsoft won because it was already big and crushed IBM with the availability of tons of games for DOS. Also because DOS/Windows were not resource hogs, but Windows was hardly usable with less than 8MB of RAM anyway...
DOS won, not Windows (at the time).

Luis Mazza said,

I can't quite recall the exact year, but I remember when PC Magazine Brazil gave OS/2 for FREE in one issue. I think it was 1992 or 1993.

OS/2 was wonderful for that time and it is impressive even today. Microsoft won because it was already big and crushed IBM with the availability of tons of games for DOS. Also because DOS/Windows were not resource hogs, but Windows was hardly usable with less than 8MB of RAM anyway...
DOS won, not Windows (at the time).

I think the main thing that killed it was Microsoft's illegal stranglehold over OEMs, basically forcing them to install Windows. I remember when IBM sold computers they would come with a choice of OS/2 or Windows, you chose one at the first startup. Every other computer maker only included Windows.

The sad thing is OS/2 could run DOS and Windows programs as well as Windows, often better.

TRC said,

I think the main thing that killed it was Microsoft's illegal stranglehold over OEMs, basically forcing them to install Windows. I remember when IBM sold computers they would come with a choice of OS/2 or Windows, you chose one at the first startup. Every other computer maker only included Windows.

The sad thing is OS/2 could run DOS and Windows programs as well as Windows, often better.

There was no internet and very poor hardware for multimedia. People mainly used computers for word processing and games. Only DOS had good games and they did not run under OS/2, even though the OS tried to run then. Actually not even DOS alone could run games smoothly without hours of settings adjustment like XMS and EMS memory, buffers, IRQs...
Holy cow, this is such a nostalgia

Sure is a lot of wrong info floating around in this little thread. OS/2 didn't fail because of anything illegal at the time, and Microsoft had absolutely no stranglehold over anyone anywhere in 1992. Windows 3.x was the *start* of their rapid rise in marketshare, and their OS/2 work was dropped in favor of Windows NT, not their consumer OS.

It's also worth pointing out that OS/2 was in no way 'better' at running Windows applications than Windows itself. That's an old myth passed around by the same sort of resentful crowd that convinced themselves Windows 95's taskbar was just like the Mac OS menu bar.

There's a crapton of misinformation about computers and the early 90s, which is a shame because the truth isn't hard to find these days with resources like Wikipedia. It's unfortunate that so many people are still running around with stories picked up from message boards and old memories.