IBM reads the last rites over OS/2

IBM has read the rites to OS/2, the operating system it co-wrote with Microsoft at the height of its dominance of the PC market in the 1980’s. Although Big Blue has not put any serious development into the operating system since the early 1990s, the company has now issued a road map that signals the final withdrawal of support.

It has announced that it will discontinue selling the operating system by 23 December of this year. Support for the operating system will cease in December 2006 although support will be available to those who want it under contract.

Attempts by enthusiasts at OS/2 world to organise a petition asking that IBM open source OS/2 have fallen on deaf ears. IBM says that there are ‘significant legal and technical’ issues that would have to be resolved as the OS was developed with a number of ‘third parties’ who participated in OS/2’s development. In other words, Microsoft is unlikely to want to allow another open source competitor to Windows rising from the grave.

IBM is instead recommending that those few OS/2 shops that remain – the company reckons there are only 80 or so sites with licences of 10 or more copies of OS/2 – should migrate to Linux.

OS/2 was launched alongside the ill-fated IBM PS/2 range in April 1987 as the first multitasking operating system for Intel 286 and 386 processors. The operating system was originally conceived as a joint development between IBM and Microsoft to write a successor to MS-DOS. However, the development of the operating system soon fell behind schedule and eventually arrived minus several key features (where have we heard that before?).

Amid much acrimony, the partnership soon terminated after the delivery of OS/2 and Microsoft soon launched the competing Windows 3.0. IBM soldiered on with OS/2 – renamed Warp – and poured millions of dollars into marketing the product on its own. Microsoft eventually prevailed amid rumours of dirty tricks along the way.

The ensuing legal battle as to whether Microsoft fought fair in the OS war was only settled last month. Microsoft has agreed to pay IBM $775 million discriminatory pricing and overcharge claims relating to OS/2 and SmartSuite. Redmond doubtless considers that a small price to pay in defeating OS/2 to gain the market dominance that Windows now enjoys.

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