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25 Years of IBM’s OS/2!
April 2, 2012 11:41 AM   Subscribe

25 years ago today, IBM released it's next-generation operating system OS/2. It never took the world by storm as planned, but it also never really went away.

A look at OS/2: Beginnings - OS/2 1.0 - OS/2 1.1 - OS/2 1.2-1.3 (screenshots) - OS/2 2.0 (screenshots) - OS/2 Warp - OS/2 Warp 4 (screenshots) - eComstation
posted by dunkadunc (111 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I remember seeing the following soon after the OS/2 release.

PS/2: Yesterday's hardware today.
OS/2: Yesterday's software tomorrow.
posted by Bruce H. at 11:44 AM on April 2, 2012


I remember OS/2 : half an operating system.
posted by Obscure Reference at 11:46 AM on April 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


My dad worked for IBM for 18 years ending around 1996. To this day he will not shut up about the merits of OS/2 Warp. He has at least one hard drive that is seemingly permanently mangled by an attempt to set up an OS/2 Warp partition for basically no reason.

And you know what he misses the most? That the solitaire program would let you cheat.

I think it might actually be the worse than the "identify the IBM typewriter model" game he plays with every movie he watches that has a typewriter.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:48 AM on April 2, 2012 [24 favorites]


Steve Jobs famously referred to OS/2 as "yesterday's oatmeal".

He was being uncharacteristically kind.
posted by dbiedny at 11:49 AM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


OS/2 true multitasking on 386 PC's was perfect for running BBSes. Mine had four whole telephone lines handled by a single computer! Too bad that, by the time OS/2 Warp was released, the WWW had made that market irrelevant.
posted by Chinese Jet Pilot at 11:50 AM on April 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


One of them, we noted, managed to accidentally destroy OS/2 win by dragging vital system files to the “Shredder.”
posted by Wolfdog at 11:50 AM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's a funny thing. VLC still makes releases for OS/2.
posted by schmod at 11:50 AM on April 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


I ported Perl to OS/2 Warp. May my ancestors forgive me.
posted by felix at 11:57 AM on April 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


Bank of America was still running OS/2 Warp on its teller workstations in 2005. I have no idea if they've switched to Windows yet.
posted by emelenjr at 11:59 AM on April 2, 2012


I kept waiting for OS/2 to get it together and take over. Then I waited for BeOS to get it together and take over. Then Linux. Then OSX got it together, so I’m good, decades later. (still sort of cheering for Linux)
posted by bongo_x at 11:59 AM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


As much as people like to make fun of this, it actually wasn't that bad at all.
I worked at IBM in the late 90s, so I was a daily user of it for about 4 years. Even though I was running it on a rather lackluster computer, OS/2 Warp is the only operating system I've ever used that I can say that it NEVER ONCE CRASHED, EVER.

Mind, this was at a time when many people were concerned over phosphor burn-in of the Win95 blue screen, and Mac users would reflexively hit command-S before they did anything in Photoshop, and we called the Mac's power cord the "Developer Power Switch," (since it didn't have a real power button).
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:00 PM on April 2, 2012 [8 favorites]


Hannaford runs Warp 4 on their POS stations.
posted by dunkadunc at 12:00 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


This will be the year of the Chrome OS desktop.
posted by mccarty.tim at 12:01 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


OS/2 had a much better technical foundation than either Microsoft's MS-DOS/Windows 3.0-3.1 or Apple's System 6, and it became much better in OS/2 2.0. The big screaming flaws was the demand to support the 80286, which kept it from really singing in the first versions.

But the real failure of OS/2 is this: Nobody buys operating systems. They buy something that lets them run applications, so the absolute requirement of OS success is application success, and OS/2 had, well, little to none.

It's a shame. In a different world, more apps would have hit the box, and we'd been dealing with Warp 4 rather than WinCE/ME/NT, and I think we'd have had a better system.

But it was the closest to breaking Windows. Amiga and BeOS were too tied to their boxes, and Apple built it's own little world where it didn't have to compete (and didn't get a robust OS on the box until the next century.) OS/2, by and large, worked, and worked very well -- which is why it's firmly dug into many embedded roles like ATMs and Service Processors on mainframes.
posted by eriko at 12:02 PM on April 2, 2012 [11 favorites]


Also, OS/2 was really funny since you could always trick the new-hires into learning about how CTRL-ALT-DEL instantly rebooted the computer, without asking to save anything, or any sort of confirmation dialog whatsoever.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 12:03 PM on April 2, 2012


A brief list of products my father (a network engineer) adopted:

- Betamax
- Micro Channel
- Jaz drives
- OS/2
- HD DVD

He has like a sixth sense for picking the wrong technology. It's amazing.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:04 PM on April 2, 2012 [27 favorites]


I think OS/2 will live forever as the operating system on Doogie Howser's computer as he wrote in his diary.
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:08 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would love to take the folks ridiculing OS/2 for being slow and backwards and gift them a brief journey to a world where the competing OS is Windows 3.1 as it was at the time. It gives one a different perspective on OS/2.
posted by tyllwin at 12:10 PM on April 2, 2012 [13 favorites]


I bought OS/2 2.0, but I couldn't get it to work on the funky "HardCard" hard disk card I had in my 386sx machine at the time. Around the same time I also bought a copy of the Coherent OS. I probably still have the disks for these packed away in the garage somewhere.
posted by DarkForest at 12:13 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


My friends and I had a get-together and all installed Warp for fun. I like to think we were ahead of our time.

I think I lasted about two days with it.
posted by starman at 12:13 PM on April 2, 2012


OS/2 had Neko, which was pretty much the sole reason I kept it as long as I did.
posted by mykescipark at 12:16 PM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


I would love to take the folks ridiculing OS/2 for being slow and backwards and gift them a brief journey to a world where the competing OS is Windows 3.1 as it was at the time. It gives one a different perspective on OS/2.

Yeah, but my former workplace still was running OS/2 Warp in 2005. In the morning, one could turn on the computer, go take breakfast and walk leisurely back from the coffee room and the computer would still be booting up. Hence, my reaction is: burn it, burn it with fire.
posted by Skeptic at 12:17 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


My dad brought home an OS/2 Mousepad and matching sweatshirt from a conference once that I had for years and years. The few times I wore the sweatshirt to elementary school, people would ask me what it was for, and I couldn't give them a real answer since we didn't use it at home.

I did see a boxed copy of OS/2 for Windows at a thrift store 10 years ago, and at least the marketing on the box made it look totally awesome for 1993.
posted by helicomatic at 12:19 PM on April 2, 2012


I TOTALLY HAD THAT MOUSEPAD!
posted by nathancaswell at 12:21 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


I once spent a day trying to install OS/2 Warp. That's a day I'd like back.
posted by tommasz at 12:22 PM on April 2, 2012


Years ago I was involved in an OS/2 Warp rollout for a largish company, 5k+ users. After the first day of user training we started to track how many different ways the new users found to irretrievably mangle their new OS; our "Whatever happens DO NOT do this" list at the start of the sessions was disturbingly long.

I kind of liked OS/2 Warp myself but there were so, so many ways a semi-skilled user could kill that thing.

(and I'll see your mousepad and raise you the OS/2 Warp post-it notes sitting on my desk right now)
posted by N-stoff at 12:23 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


A brief list of products my father (a network engineer) adopted:

- Betamax
- Micro Channel
- Jaz drives
- OS/2
- HD DVD

He has like a sixth sense for picking the wrong technology. It's amazing.


In addition to his enduring loyalty to IBM products, my father is also a gifted with a strong desire for new technological gadgets that only slightly overcomes his deep cheapness and produces a strong need to buy the cheap version of whatever thing you might want.

A Betamax player in the 90s? Naturally. An MTV branded MP3 player that runs on double A batteries and stores an album and a half? Of course. A GPS that requires you to keep a laptop running in your car whenever you want to use it? Well that's just being thrifty.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:23 PM on April 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Bulgaroktonos: "A GPS that requires you to keep a laptop running in your car whenever you want to use it? Well that's just being thrifty."

You jest, but I had an ancient GPS that needed to be tethered to a "lunchbox-sized" CPU until about 2 years ago, when I caved and bought an Android smartphone.

Let's just say that it gave me a very strong intuitive understanding of all of the freeways and interchanges on the east-coast that have been significantally modified at some point during the past 15 years. Toward the end, I'm pretty sure that it was actively plotting to kill me. Also, right before I got rid of it, one of the wires between the CPU and display unit also got damaged, and the voice synthesis took on the characterization of a damaged Speak n' Spell with low batteries, which made it sound especially diabolical and unintelligible.
posted by schmod at 12:30 PM on April 2, 2012 [10 favorites]


Bank of America was still running OS/2 Warp on its teller workstations in 2005. I have no idea if they've switched to Windows yet.


I worked for a small-ish bank in the mid-90s and the ATM (made by Fujitsu, if memory serves) ran OS/2 for the UI and whatnot. I was tasked with branding the screens but discovered that the only way to change the ATM was to basically create a new install/boot disk, and we didn't have anything in our office that ran OS/2, so it stayed like it was.

It wouldn't surprise me if there were lots of wierdo places like that where it was still operating.
posted by jquinby at 12:33 PM on April 2, 2012


In the summer of 1996 I was at a summer camp that took place on a college campus taking a computer science class that lasted a few weeks. It was pretty cool as far as such things go, in that we were staying in a section of the dorms and the classes and activities were on campus. My roommate ended up being from Rochester, Minnesota and his dad worked for -- you guessed it -- IBM. We were using Windows 95 lab machines to write pretty simple command-line C++ programs, and during breaks we were allowed to install computer games on the PCs.

My roommate, however, seemed to spend more time talking about the amazingness of this new OS/2 version called "Merlin" that was going to bury Windows 95, or at the very least, outshine it technically in all ways. I can remember him going on about this more than anything else about him. I wonder what he's up to these days.
posted by mikeh at 12:34 PM on April 2, 2012


"Bank of America was still running OS/2 Warp on its teller workstations in 2005"

You should know that the old blue Wachovia actually had it running on many of their backbone systems. Green Wachovia had no clue how to rebuild their functionality on anything more modern. Feck if I know what Wells has done with them since.
posted by Blue_Villain at 12:37 PM on April 2, 2012


this new OS/2 version called "Merlin"

http://www.nytimes.com/1996/09/25/business/ibm-introducing-merlin-its-latest-os-2-software.html
posted by lohmannn at 12:37 PM on April 2, 2012


OS/2 could format a floppy disk at the SAME TIME as it ran a windowed DOS game in the background. For a PC in 1992, this was absolute sorcery.

Still, as eriko said lack of apps was a real problem. If Microsoft and IBM could have worked together we might have had Windows 2000 five years early. Instead Microsoft spend the 90's weaning consumers off of DOS and selling them three iterations of not-quite-32-bit crapware.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:39 PM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


Ah, yes. Here's a photo of my old GPS.
posted by schmod at 12:42 PM on April 2, 2012 [7 favorites]


Yup, technological superiority is well and good, but without apps it doesn't float.

The only reason Linux survives is because it's free. One day, perhaps, there will be commercial apps for Linux and then it'll take off. But that's a chicken and egg problem. No one wants to port apps to Linux unless it's got a userbase, and it won't have a userbase until someone ports apps to it.

So it remains the OS for back end stuff, where reliability and cost matter, and the occasional weirdo like me, and otherwise it's forgotten.

As for OS/2, I experienced it only a few times. I had a friend with a dad who tended to buy technologically superior but ultimately doomed things. He owned an Amiga and an IBM PC loaded with OS/2.
posted by sotonohito at 12:44 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


It used to be considered the gold standard for any business or industry that needed strong reliability. That's why used to be used by so many banks. It was specifically marketed to banks as a system that would not crash or lose data, could multitask and was easily scalable.

Here's a press release:
"AUSTIN, TX, July 23, 1996 . . . Over the last two years, IBM's OS/2* operating system has emerged as an industry leader in the retail banking arena, one of the most demanding industrial environments. Twenty of the top 30 U.S. commercial banks have made a significant investment in OS/2 with 19 of those running their branches on OS/2. According to Mentis Corporation, a leading research firm for the banking industry, OS/2 has increased its overall client operating system marketshare among large banks from nine percent in 1994 to a projected 25 percent in 1996. This compares to only seven percent for Windows NT** in 1994 and a projected nine percent in 1996.

In addition, according to Mentis Corporation, OS/2 has maintained over the past two years approximately one-third of the marketshare in all large U.S. banks for its server operating system, compared to the 13 percent held by Windows NT. Within the community banking sector, OS/2 marketshare for clients and servers has more than tripled, with Windows NT penetration declining dramatically.

As far as branch applications are concerned, IBM estimates that 80 percent of all newly installed Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) worldwide today run on OS/2 platforms and over 80 percent of all banking transactions worldwide today are processed by technology running on OS/2. New OS/2 banking installations and upgrade customers include Comerica Bank, First Union Bank, First Virginia Bank, and Trustmark National Bank. These and other banks are investing in OS/2 because it provides unparalleled multi-tasking, stability, scalability and flexibility, along with unmatched access to corporate data, corporate applications, and enterprise- wide networks.

OS/2 was designed for the mission-critical business environment, and has reliable protection and manageability built directly into the operating system. The level of satisfaction with OS/2 within the banking community is so strong that some of the world's largest banking organizations are furthering their commitment to OS/2.

posted by zarq at 12:46 PM on April 2, 2012


Oh man. My mom had an ancient brick of a laptop that had OS/2 Warp installed on it back in '97 or so. I remembered her pulling that thing out and thinking it was so cool that she could take her computer anywhere with her AND be able to dial into her corporate network. 10 year old me was in awe.
posted by msbutah at 12:49 PM on April 2, 2012


Windows NT 4 doesn't qualify as not-quite-32-bit crapware. I loved it. It was like Windows 95 but so much more stable.

I still have a OS/2 Warp mug sitting on a bookshelf at home.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:50 PM on April 2, 2012


> I kind of liked OS/2 Warp myself but there were so, so many ways a semi-skilled user could kill that thing.

But as tyllwin pointed out, the competition was Windows 3.1 which could barely stay alive even when you weren't doing anything at all. Put down your mouse and walk to the drink machine; come back and hey, bluescreen and hard lockup. It's a pretty low bar but OS2/ Warp was more stable than that. The various sessions were better isolated from each other too. If WordPerfect or something rolled snake-eyes that usually only ended your WP session, with your others still rolling along. Windows? Full reboot, always. No, I had no OS/2-native software, just used it as a multitasker for Windows and DOS stuff.

I was running a lab at the U.Ga. Institute of Ecology during the OS/2 era. When I was hired the lab had nothing better than 286s, and these were just instrument controllers, not networked. I built them a networked (thick ethernet) 486 dual boot PC with OS/2 on one side and a Linux distro on the other. (Slackware, kernel version 1.0.13, my first taste-o-Linux. Not quite as memorable as my first kiss, but I have to admit I haven't forgotten either one. Please don't be mad, Sandy, you were more exciting but less configurable.) Also: thick ethernet, ew ew ew.
posted by jfuller at 12:53 PM on April 2, 2012 [5 favorites]


One day, perhaps, there will be commercial apps for Linux and then it'll take off.

One day perhaps there will be.
posted by eschatfische at 12:54 PM on April 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


So it remains the OS for back end stuff, where reliability and cost matter, and the occasional weirdo like me, and otherwise it's forgotten.

Android is Linux.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:54 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


I really liked OS/2, and used it a lot. I think I might still have the Warp box with all the floppies around here somewhere, though I might have thrown it out last year, finally.

My big complaint about it was that it was very poor at multitasking more than one DOS program. I could run one at full speed, along with any number of OS/2 apps, but if I tried to run two, the system would be unusably slow. I have no idea why, but it was very annoying. Regardless, I used it for a good couple of years until Win95 shipped. It beat the bejezus out of Windows 3.1 for stability, and I thought it looked nicer, too.

But it had a lot of IBMisms -- the command line programs, if they ran into errors, wouldn't tell you what was wrong. Rather, they'd say something like "APAR 29585", where the number represented what the problem was. You'd have to look it up using a different program. It was very, very strange.

REXX was kind of the system's claim to fame, a version of the same system-wide scripting utility that the Amiga had been using. I don't remember why I found it so annoying, but I didn't like it on either system. It was apparently very powerful, a very sophisticated way to control one program with another, and I just didn't like it. But, later, when I was exposed to Unix pipes, those I loved.... when REXX was, at least in theory, so much more powerful. Go figure.

The single biggest thing I used OS/2 for was the ability to run terminal programs while being able to do other things at the same time. I learned computing on an Amiga, which was remarkably like a modern machine in most respects, and going back to single-tasking DOS was... well, it was impossible to explain to most people at the time, but it hurt. I was constantly looking for ways to multitask. I'd been using Telemate under DOS, because it had some light-duty multitasking built right in (a file viewer and a separate text editor, in addition to the terminal functions). But I switched over to Commo with OS/2, because by using the FOSSIL driver, it would multitask like a freaking dream. Autodialing and doing any OS/2 thing I wanted, man, that was bliss. But then if I ran another DOS program, the whole system would just barely tick over anymore. So frustrating.

I found SLS Linux somewhere in that timeframe, and tried that too. That was bloody wonderful for interacting with my dialup provider, as I could run SLiRP and actually sort of be on the Net for the first time. But the rest of the system was so appallingly primitive that it never lasted long on my desktop. Linux really excited me in one way -- for the first time, on a PC, I could really multitask. I remember using a tracker program to run mod music in one TTY while running Minicom in the other, and while I didn't have the graphical desktop up yet, I could see that it actually worked. For the first time on a PC, running a non-CPU-intensive program didn't impact the other programs running.

This tingled my toes.... again, I'd learned to compute on what was basically a modern system, but on mid- to late-80s hardware. Seeing the PC finally starting to approach the usability I'd had ten years prior was exciting as hell. The PC was just a HORRIBLE computer system. I hated it. It's where all the software was, so that's what I used. But I held my nose, and was desperate for a decent OS.

So, I'd experiment with Linux, and then go back to Warp, because while it didn't multitask as well, at least it ran the software I had. And then Win95 shipped, and I installed that, and Warp never ran on any of my machines again. Win95 was unstable compared to Warp, but it could actually multitask DOS programs, and that alone was enough to move me over permanently.

Warp was a stop on the journey, the first OS that made using a PC somewhat bearable. I have great fondness in my heart for that. It was a valiant effort from a severely brain-damaged company. From a usage perspective, using a mixture of DOS and OS/2 programs, it still wasn't as nice as the Amiga, but it was super-reliable, and much better than the other options on the PC at the time.
posted by Malor at 12:54 PM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


- Betamax
- Micro Channel
- Jaz drives
- OS/2
- HD DVD


All things that were arguably superior to the competitors that ultimately won.

On the other hand, you could make a killing by betting against your father when the next big format war breaks out!
posted by madajb at 1:02 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


My father's work ran OS/2, so our computers had it so he could connect to the work network. He had one of the old IBM butterfly laptops that was partitioned for OS/2 and Win3.1.

I remember him using PPP to chat with my sister using talk (or some similar equivalent).
posted by that girl at 1:08 PM on April 2, 2012


OS/2 true multitasking on 386 PC's was perfect for running BBSes.

Ah hell naw. DESQview 386 fo'evah!

One day, perhaps, there will be commercial apps for Linux and then it'll take off.

Or every app you'll want to use will either be on the web or on your phone... kinda like now?
posted by Afroblanco at 1:08 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]



@sotonohito

" ... technologically superior but ultimately doomed things. He owned an Amiga and an IBM PC loaded with OS/2."

I wouldn't discount the 'miggy as doomed - it never really took off in the US like it could have, but it was huge in Europe and elsewhere, and still has a following.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:09 PM on April 2, 2012



@Afroblanco

"Or every app you'll want to use will either be on the web or on your phone... kinda like now?"

Yeah, all the non-casual games, development tools, applications that people use to run businesses in the real world and all the other stuff that requires a windowing UI and a keyboard, that's all right there on those dinky little screens and driving those apps with a touch interface isn't a complete waste of time at all.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 1:12 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


zarq, it was certainly not just banks that loved it. Military & space software in the 90's required multitasking capability (to avoid the possibility of queueing the message "ABORT DETONATION" behind a screen refresh request*, for instance).

*If this isn't technically 100% accurate, forgive me, o superior geeks, for I do but jest in pursuit of the gist.

Unix was a possible answer, but all the companies I was associated with chose OS/2 instead.

Ditto robotics: if a motor interrupt was delayed by a tetris game move, a human could theoretically get crushed by a CMM or CNC arm. Ergo, OS/2 it was.

It took almost all of 28 install disks, IIRC. We had a problem with the Korean-language version of our software, and I spend three days reinstalling OS/2 2.1 Korean dozens of times, trying to find the source. God, how I hated OS/2 after that.
posted by IAmBroom at 1:15 PM on April 2, 2012


nathancaswell: "A brief list of products my father (a network engineer) adopted:

- Betamax
- Micro Channel
- Jaz drives
- OS/2
- HD DVD

He has like a sixth sense for picking the wrong technology. It's amazing.
"

At least it's not a box of hundreds of Joey Meyer Rookie Cards.
posted by symbioid at 1:19 PM on April 2, 2012


I have a foundness for non-standard operating systems, those that did/do things differently from the Windows/Mac world. So I had Beos on my pc at one time, had experimented with FreeBDS and Minix as well as Linux (actually asked Andy Tanenbaum for a copy of minix to install as a sort of bootloader for Linux in fact), but only ever bought OS/2 Warp but never touched it. Still got it in a box somewhere.
posted by MartinWisse at 1:23 PM on April 2, 2012


IAmBroom: "Military & space software in the 90's required multitasking capability (to avoid the possibility of queueing the message "ABORT DETONATION" behind a screen refresh request*, for instance)."

Yeah, I can see how that might be an issue. ;)

"Sir, your nuclear launch isn't time sensitive, is it? Because right now all we have is a spinning beach ball."
posted by zarq at 1:24 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I will forever remember OS/2 as the operating system one of my friends used that could run Star Trek 25th Anniversary IN A WINDOW. Meanwhile the rest of us plebes had to exit Windows and stuff. (Either that or we just ran it fullscreen, but either way, no sweet multitasking for us!)
posted by chrominance at 1:31 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, all the non-casual games, development tools, applications that people use to run businesses in the real world and all the other stuff that requires a windowing UI and a keyboard, that's all right there on those dinky little screens and driving those apps with a touch interface isn't a complete waste of time at all

Way to intentionally miss my point. I was addressing the "lack of apps" argument that is often used as a reason why linux "hasn't caught on". There are relatively few apps that your average user needs that aren't (A) on the web, (B) mobile apps, or (C) available on Linux (or at least a viable alternative).

The exception to this is Outlook, which a lot of companies are abandoning for Gmail, although I don't quite think Gmail suits this purpose yet.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:32 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hannaford runs Warp 4 on their POS stations.

I worked at IBM in Portland, ME in the early 1990s; I bet I know the guy who sold it to them. I definitely know one ex-IBMer who works for them now.
posted by briank at 1:35 PM on April 2, 2012


Older DataCard machines (credit card creating behemoths) ran OS/2 and since they're built like tanks, credit cards don't change enough that a module swap will make them unusable, and OS/2 never crashes many of these will be running OS/2 until a non-replaceable part finally goes out. I worked on many DC 9000 and 15000 machines that just would not die - especially due to an issue with OS/2. It gave me an appreciation for the OS. I think if IBM had ignored the workstation and home users they could be the kings of automated systems like those by now.

Growing up in Minnesota in the 80s and early 90s, I had many friends with relatives at IBM in Rochester and you couldn't get them (the nerdy ones anyway) to shut up about OS/2. It was going to rule us all any day now...
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 1:52 PM on April 2, 2012


I bought an IBM Thinkpad (with the butterfly keyboard!) 701cs when I was in graduate school, and it came with Windows 3.1 and OS2/Warp. I was using it in class one day, and a woman sitting next to me asked how I liked the computer, and I remember saying "Great, now that I got that awful OS2/Warp off of it."

She just smiled and said, "I'm one of the authors of the manual."
posted by 4ster at 1:54 PM on April 2, 2012 [4 favorites]


My big complaint about it was that it was very poor at multitasking more than one DOS program.

That was the 80286 issue -- it had to allow the DOS instance full access to hardware, and then try to context switch that out to get to another DOS instance. The right answer would have been to demand 80386 for the OS, which not only had a much better memory model, but had the Virtural 8086 mode which allowed it to run multiple real-mode (read, 80286 memory addressing) applications while the CPU itself was in protected-mode (80386 memory addressing.)

And, of course, that answer is exactly what they did in OS/2 2.0 (Warp)

OS/2 Warp's heavy use of protected-mode features proved to be quite a troubling surprise for VM hypervisor creators. Nobody else on the x86 architecture used the 80386's privilege code levels like Warp did. Everything typically used Ring 0 for the kernel and Ring 3 for everything else, but Warp used Ring 2 for supervisory OS tasks and Ring 1 for device drivers. When Warp tried to move code into Ring 2 and 1, the hypervisors would choke. I don't know if VMWare ever got that fixed.
posted by eriko at 1:54 PM on April 2, 2012


I remember James Fallows of The Atlantic wrote a long rave about this OS. He also loved a product called Lotus Agenda. I'm betting against whatever tech products Fallows likes......
posted by thelonius at 2:14 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


I worked for IBM in 1997. What an awful piece of crap OS/2 was - everybody hated it, from interns like me to managment. Eventually the development teams got Windows machines, and then OS/2 got dumped.
posted by tomcosgrave at 2:36 PM on April 2, 2012


I was an OS/2 fan from the days of 2.1; I bought Warp, but then ran into what I believe was one of the big factors in OS2's downfall: it was the early days of computers being fast enough to do everything in drivers, so you had to pray there were OS/2 drivers. Modems were no longer impersonating serial ports, they needed "winmodem" software; printers, too, stopped doing parallel port emulation of Epson or HP printer codes and required very specific drivers. There was no opensource community demanding access to source or reverse-engineering things. Finding compatible hardware wasn't so easy, so for home use it didn't get very far.

I just moved my OS/2 2.1 on 5-1/4" floppies from one bookshelf to another; I have Warp on floppies somewhere, and in my CD rack are the Warp 4 beta-test CDs that I couldn't get to work on my early Cyrix-based PC. I tried, OS/2, I really did try.

(When it comes to DOS multitasking, Windows NT 3.51 left them all in the dust, though; that's what I ran my BBS on)
posted by AzraelBrown at 2:58 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


VLC isn't the only program with continued OS/2 releases, I see OS/2 support from time to time in other things. The web browser world's a bit rough, though; is there anything newer than WarpZilla? Firefox 10.0 isn't bad but it's getting dated now.
posted by Nelson at 3:01 PM on April 2, 2012


ITT: people making fun of OS/2 that also bought the Thinkpad with the butterfly keyboard, AKA "The Worst Laptop Ever."
posted by Threeway Handshake at 3:16 PM on April 2, 2012


tyllwin: "I would love to take the folks ridiculing OS/2 for being slow and backwards and gift them a brief journey to a world where the competing OS is Windows 3.1 as it was at the time. It gives one a different perspective on OS/2."

Yes! At the company I was working for at the time, we switched FROM Windows 3.1 TO OS/2 Warp, pleased at how forward-thinking we were. I wrote apps for Warp for a couple of years, until we could no longer convince our clients to run it.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 3:22 PM on April 2, 2012


I remember picking up OS/2 Warp on a whim for ten bucks or whatever at a computer swap meet a couple of years after it came out. I kept hearing "32-bit!" I figured that was pretty badass, though I didn't have any real understanding of what that meant (still don't, frankly). I took it home and ripped open the plastic and looked through the box. There were something like 30 floppy disks (3.5 inch). Well, I started installing that thing on my little greyscale laptop, a 4MB RAM 486SLC (which was described somewhere as "a 386 on steroids of sorts" - it barely ran Doom), because I figured I wanted to be the only kid in town who could say "Oh, yeah, I run OS/2, it's pretty badass because I can have multiple things running at once", though there was literally nothing I ever did on my computer apart from play around with batch files and try to get memmaker to give me enough to run Ultima 7 (it didn't).

Anyway, so, I sat there for half a day or whatever, installing OS/2 and reading the big-ass manual (it was nice when software still came with manuals. I enjoyed the smell of them. My personal favourite manual of ever is the one from Microprose's UFO: Enemy Unknown, though the Theme Park manual was pretty nice-smelling too) and getting more and more excited by the minute (or, well, hour).

Finally, it was done. The last reboot. It took about ten minutes for OS/2 to start up. And when I got to the desktop I....couldn't do anything. I didn't have a mouse, you see. Mice were still a luxury item back then (for us, anyway - dad had one for his machine but you couldn't really buy one for less than fifty bucks) and OS/2 needed a mouse. I had been doing just fine on Windows 3.1 without a mouse, but OS/2 wouldn't let me do shit. And it actually said on the box: "Requires mouse". I couldn't believe it. A half day sat there feeding floppy after floppy (three of them were "Mouse Drivers") into this fucking piece of shit thing and I literally couldn't even move around the screen. There may very well have been keyboard shortcuts but I couldn't find them and the manual said nothing about them, and I remember being very angry that IBM would have the temerity, the sheer gall to expect me to have a mouse for their fucking 32-bit kernel wanker bullshit. Fuck needs to do two things at once on their computer anyway? Make up your goddamned mind in advance if you're creating a spreadsheet or not. Hnng. That was when I learned to not like anything again, and to never get my hopes up. I refuse to even use ATMs that are running OS/2 Warp 4.0 (there are still some around, believe it or not) because of that.

And so that is the story of OS/2 Warp 2.0 running on a 486SLC laptop with no mouse.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:41 PM on April 2, 2012 [6 favorites]


REXX was kind of the system's claim to fame, a version of the same system-wide scripting utility that the Amiga had been using.

Oh yeah that's right, I remember being excited about that, too - I really wanted to play around with REXX. Probably read about it in a John C. Dvorak article in some computer magazine, maybe the one with my letter to the tech editor that read "So does a 100MB HDD full of data weigh more than a 100MB HDD that has no data on it?"
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:46 PM on April 2, 2012


Vaguely recalled from the late 80s: "PS/2 little, OS/2 late".
posted by Slothrup at 3:47 PM on April 2, 2012


Afroblanco: The exception to this is Outlook, which a lot of companies are abandoning for Gmail, although I don't quite think Gmail suits this purpose yet.

Google is starting to rival Microsoft in terms of creating a user interface that gets worse with each iteration.

tyllwin: I would love to take the folks ridiculing OS/2 for being slow and backwards and gift them a brief journey to a world where the competing OS is Windows 3.1 as it was at the time. It gives one a different perspective on OS/2.

I was thrown into the deep water of Windows 3.1 when I was assigned to teach the wrong section of a computer-literacy class. On top of being completely unfamiliar, it was also buggy as heck, and I had to console more than one student who lost a practical quiz when the system up and died, demanding as much as a 10-minute reboot.

Granted, there were plenty of alternatives on campus, usually involving a long wait for a small number of Apple labs, or just walking into one of the Unix labs running a descendant of motif on vendor-locked workstations (HP, Silicon Graphics, Sun, NeXT.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:56 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


a descendant of motif on vendor-locked workstations (...NeXT.)

You take that back!
posted by Chef Flamboyardee at 4:16 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


My fault, NeXTStep (with variable capitalization) used Display Postscript. Although OpenSTEP runs on X. I do take it back.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:30 PM on April 2, 2012


My buddy Ed, an ex-Navy guy who taught me most of what I know about technology used to work in sales/tech support/something for OS2/Warp. He gave me a cool tiedyed t-shirt. Whether thIs affected sales, I don't know.
posted by jonmc at 4:34 PM on April 2, 2012


Firefox 10.0 isn't bad but it's getting dated now.

Firefox 10.0 is only 3 months old...
posted by zsazsa at 4:49 PM on April 2, 2012


As recently as 2004, a machine shop at my plant still used a Sheffield CMM connected to a PC running OS/2 Warp. That lasted until some dumbass in maintenance decided that oil should go into the air bearing lines.
posted by TrialByMedia at 4:49 PM on April 2, 2012


Not to get into a huge Linux argument, and make no mistake I'm a Linux fan (typing this on Ubuntu right now), but the success of Android isn't really an indicator of a wider success of Linux in the PC marketplace.

Nor do Android apps run under desktop Linux.

Afroblanco You missed two huge categories of apps:

1) Games. They do account for a huge percentage of overall software sales.

2) Business software. The office I work at has as major needs a legal billing program, a document management program, a legal forms generation program, and a variety of smaller things (amortization programs, a program to do Bates labeling for documents, stuff like that). None of which is available either on the web, or as a phone app. Some of the stuff that is mission critical for my office depends on WinXP, which is why we haven't upgraded yet despite a great desire to do so.

Business software is at least as big a deal as games, and equally Windows only.

And that's ignoring stuff like PhotoShop (I use GIMP, but my graphic design friends don't), etc.

The first category, games, is why I still dual boot for home use, as do many other Linux users.

@GallonOfAlan wrote I wouldn't discount the 'miggy as doomed - it never really took off in the US like it could have, but it was huge in Europe and elsewhere, and still has a following.

Well, yes, there are a handful of extremely hardcore Amiga fans. But I don't really think we can say that the Amiga survived. It was a superior bit of hardware, the OS was excellent for its era, and it lost out.

There's still a handful of Beta users too, but I doubt anyone would contest the statement that Beta was ultimately doomed.
posted by sotonohito at 5:00 PM on April 2, 2012


A thing I found just now as a result of this thread reminding me OS/2 ever existed.

eComstation - an operating system based on OS/2, still being developed (last release was in 2011).

Also, does anyone else remember those OS/2 Warp ads with the nuns?
posted by Jimbob at 5:05 PM on April 2, 2012


I wrote code on OS/2 in late '91 / early '92. I worked on a touchscreen-driven application. I had copies of some 'official' OS/2 books at the time; I recall they were heavily highlighted, with corrections as I found them written in the margins. There were many.

I remember that one of the early releases had a TCP/IP stack that was so flaky you could crash your entire machine if you did something askew.

I wrote a screen-handling library and an ISAM datafile storage system on it. That was fun. That project never saw the light of day, not in the form. One day my boss came over and told us the company decided they couldn't afford the cost of the computers to run it. I spent the next half hour porting the screen library and datafile library to Xenix. The excitement over multitasked was lost on me.

A few years later we moved to a new building with a new datacenter in the basement. When it came time to replace the old Amdahl mainframe, they brought in a new IBM CMOS mainframe : a Z series machine. It was the size of a refrigerator. I watched the field tech open the case. He folded down a laptop that was the on-machine console. He turned it on the laptop : it booted OS/2.
posted by grimjeer at 5:08 PM on April 2, 2012


ah, yes. My dad evangelized me about OS/2 for a couple years, during which time I worked at a company that was actually using Windows 1.0. He still occasionally gets misty for the OS.

Since he had also set us up with CP/M machines while I was in high school, and favored stylus-based calculators over button-based, I was skeptical.

There is a clear theme here: engineer dads make odd consumer-product technology choices. It sure seems like IBM had a lock on the marketing to that demographic, though.

I took action when he was recently wondering aloud if he should get a tablet and mentioned a series of off-brand choices. He recieved an iPad 2 for Christmas.
posted by mwhybark at 5:11 PM on April 2, 2012


I worked at Indelible Blue. I was so sad when I had to finally break down and install 95 on my home PC.
posted by wrnealis at 5:17 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sears and IBM have a relationship going back decades, perhaps more than a century at this point. Like Walmart today, Sears was a business computing innovator and put a lot of its workflow on iron. Sears was the first distribution partner for the IBM PC, I believe, and of course they collaborated on Prodigy.

Anyway, I worked for a Sears unit back in the 90s, and they had OS/2 Warp (or some version) in beta that they were, coming down from on high, very determined to implement company-wide at some point. I, on the other hand, was doing Windows 95/NT/Professional support, and we very happily kept going pretty much the whole year I was there with no obvious progress on the OS/2 rollout front. I had occasional interactions with the developers working on porting the internal systems and they were about as fanboy as you could get and still come off as a professional. But I think in my time there I only encountered a single workstation in a working office that ran the stuff.
posted by dhartung at 5:39 PM on April 2, 2012


The only reason Linux survives is because it's free.

No.
posted by Cosine at 5:45 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


Chinese Jet Pilot: "OS/2 true multitasking on 386 PC's was perfect for running BBSes. Mine had four whole telephone lines handled by a single computer! Too bad that, by the time OS/2 Warp was released, the WWW had made that market irrelevant."

Yep Some friends and I ran an four line Synchronet BBS on OS/2, those were fun days...
posted by the_artificer at 5:47 PM on April 2, 2012


OS/2 was supposed to replace my Amiga, I still remember installing it off of dozens of 3.5" floppies, needless to say it did not replace my Amiga.

As recently as 3-4 years ago lots and lots of ATMs still ran OS/2, Microsoft/Diebold went on a huge push to take these over which has pretty much worked.

OS/2 is still in pretty regular use in Brazil however.
posted by Cosine at 5:47 PM on April 2, 2012


As recently as 3-4 years ago lots and lots of ATMs still ran OS/2, Microsoft/Diebold went on a huge push to take these over which has pretty much worked.

It was comedy material a couple of years ago because it was the first time anyone (myself included) saw an ATM crashed.
posted by bongo_x at 5:51 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


IIRC, Parallels (the hypervisor/desktop virtualization software) was originally written solely to virtualize OS/2 on newer hardware...

OS/2 was also used in a lot of Nortel voicemail systems. I remember being told, "If the voicemail box acts up, just reboot it; it's running OS/2 and will be fine."
posted by mrbill at 6:16 PM on April 2, 2012


A brief list of products my father (a network engineer) adopted:

- Jaz drives


You know what I just realized? It wasn't the Jaz drive at all, it was the SparQ drive. CHALK ANOTHER ONE UP FOR THE OLD MAN.
posted by nathancaswell at 6:29 PM on April 2, 2012 [3 favorites]


When I was working on my Master's degree I installed Warp on my no-name laptop -- IIRC, it had an Intel 486 DX2/66 processor, 8 MB RAM, and a 540 MB HDD. I mostly used it to run WordPerfect for Windows and SAS 6.22 for OS/2. To this day I recall with great fondness the incredible difference in performance between the Windows and OS/2 versions, in Warp's favor. I also remember the hellish experience of installing it from about 50 3.5" floppies that I had to borrow from the statistics department. Good times.
posted by wintermind at 6:56 PM on April 2, 2012


I loved OS/2 Warp 4. I ran it for years, bought it from CompUSA. Being one of the few people that admitted knowing about OS/2 landed me lots of jobs. Usually helping transition from OS/2 to Windows, but I still got to work with it. MCI and Ford were two big companies that used it.
posted by narcoleptic at 7:19 PM on April 2, 2012


Damn. I absolutely loved OS/2, starting with Warp v3. When v4 came out I thought I'd died and gone to heaven: so much slicker and faster and more fully-featured. My gf's dog Duffy is still alive, and he was a pup when I'd play the UltraVision demo of the fish at the same time I was doing [something else, I forget]. He still knows and likes the music for that clip.

The Keller Group made the very best phone/fax software I've ever seen - still not equaled to my knowledge - and it ran only on OS/2; DeScribe was everything I'd ever wanted in a word processor (in 1998); and I recall seeing the 11 September 2001 images on Netscape for OS/2.

Mac OS X is closer to the OS/2 work feel than anything else, and that's what I use now: grudgingly. If OS/2 were seriously re-constituted for modern hardware and had a handful of apps I wanted, I would go back to it today.
posted by jet_silver at 7:39 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


OS/2 was slightly more successful than NextSTEP.
posted by Foosnark at 7:40 PM on April 2, 2012


OS/2 was slightly more successful than NextSTEP.

OS/2 was a dead end. NextSTEP became Mac OS X and iOS.
posted by zsazsa at 7:50 PM on April 2, 2012 [1 favorite]


All you had to do to crash OS/2 was play an AVI that it didn't like. BTDT, fall down go boom.

OS/2 Shareware BBS 4 evah!
posted by NortonDC at 7:51 PM on April 2, 2012


I would love to take the folks ridiculing OS/2 for being slow and backwards and gift them a brief journey to a world where the competing OS is Windows 3.1 as it was at the time. It gives one a different perspective on OS/2.

I remember my dad bringing home a brand new computer (the first I'd ever seen, I think), I think it was a hot little IBM ValuePoint 486dx, and we booted it for the first time, and it gave us the choice to install OS/2 or Win 3.1(1?). We naturally tried OS/2 because it was new and different. It was cool, the way NT4 "felt" so much nicer and smoother than 95, but ultimately useless. I think he still has that thing in a basement somewhere.

Old computers: sometime in the mid 2000s, I saw an IBM PS/2 running OS/2 as some kind of mainframe to token ring gateway. Its poor little hard drive was SCREAMING. It still worked, but I swear a stiff breeze was going to take that thing down. Also was in a fairly secure building where the keycard system was being run off an Apple IIgs.
posted by gjc at 8:00 PM on April 2, 2012


How was HD DVD superior? Lack of region codes? I remember Slashdot backing Blu-Ray because of its higher capacity (50 GB vs. 30 GB).

It seems like a really long time ago that HD DVD disappeared for good, but apparently it happened in 2008.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 8:40 PM on April 2, 2012


HD-DVD's primary advantage was that it was easy and cheap to manufacture, requiring only small changes to the existing infrastructure. It didn't hold quite as much as Blu-Ray, but 30 gigs is way more than enough to hold 2 hours of HD content. Honestly, you can get very, very good picture and sound quality at about 1.4 gigs per hour. So 15 gigs single-layer, 30 gigs dual-layer, was probably overkill for movies, if anything. Low royalty rate, cheap to make, used existing equipment. Much better.

So why did Blu-Ray win? Because Sony directly bribed other content producers to drop support for HD-DVD. They didn't win through superiority, they won by scratching some big checks.
posted by Malor at 9:15 PM on April 2, 2012 [2 favorites]


Afroblanco: "Yeah, all the non-casual games, development tools, applications that people use to run businesses in the real world and all the other stuff that requires a windowing UI and a keyboard, that's all right there on those dinky little screens and driving those apps with a touch interface isn't a complete waste of time at all

Way to intentionally miss my point. I was addressing the "lack of apps" argument that is often used as a reason why linux "hasn't caught on". There are relatively few apps that your average user needs that aren't (A) on the web, (B) mobile apps, or (C) available on Linux (or at least a viable alternative).

The exception to this is Outlook, which a lot of companies are abandoning for Gmail, although I don't quite think Gmail suits this purpose yet.
"

Why? It's web mail doesn't suck?
posted by Samizdata at 12:49 AM on April 3, 2012


Why? It's web mail doesn't suck?
Everything else does, especially the admin tools. Try uploading a mailbox for a user to GMail, for instance. Also the shared calendar setup is Wave-esque in its complexity. I would say that GMail is to Exchange what GDocs is to Office, but it's actually worse than that.

(and I say this as someone who loves GMail for my personal mail)
posted by fightorflight at 1:13 AM on April 3, 2012


Google's Web mail doesn't suck, but it's not great either with the latest version. Two glaring issues are the fact that the compose interface is different for replies and new messages, with the send button hopping all over the page. (For about two months I was habitually dropping messages in drafts rather than send them. The reply and back-to-inbox buttons are distinguished primarily by position relative to the message frame. Search is still the best feature.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:37 AM on April 3, 2012


What was to be MS-OS/2 3.0 became NT, which became XP and eventually Windows 7. The .EXEs aren't compatible (they replaced the userland OS/2 APIs with Win32 APIs) but ntoskrnl is based off os2krnl, and NTFS is based off HPFS. There's a lot of aspects of the Win32 APIs that are based off OS/2 as well, including the wonky bitmap pixel coordinate system (1, 1 is in the lower left-hand corner!).
posted by dunkadunc at 6:00 AM on April 3, 2012


which became XP and eventually Windows 7

Actually, at least per Microsoft, Vista and its offshoot, Win7, were largely rewritten. That's why Vista took so long, and why they're shoveling out new versions so quickly ever since.

Win7 is sort of Vista with a facelift -- Vista had all the stuff that was good for Microsoft, Win7 added the stuff that was good for customers. Only a monopoly could ever get away with cutting customer features before self-benefiting features to make a deadline, but their monopoly power made that debacle survivable.

It'll be interesting to see if Win8 flops as badly as I think it will. Forcing all PCs to work like tablets is, I think, a terrible idea. I think I'd really like Win8 on a tablet, but I hate, hate, hate it on my 30" monitor.
posted by Malor at 10:37 AM on April 3, 2012


Maybe the shell and window manager were rewritten, and some new services and applications were bundled with it, and I guess the driver model is new, but beneath the GUI it's largely the same OS as Windows XP. (And Windows 2000, and Windows NT 4).

There were big changes planned for Vista (WinFS was mentioned above), but in the end it wasn't really radically different from Windows XP. I thought the delay before Vista was because attention had shifted away from improving Windows for a while, not because they were rewriting large parts of it.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:02 AM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Low royalty rate, cheap to make, used existing equipment. Much better.

All that would mean to the end consumer is increased cost. How much of the cost of a Blu-Ray disc is manufacturing and royalties?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:04 AM on April 3, 2012


Well, more than HD-DVD, guaranteed. I'm not sure how you get from 'cheaper to make' to 'more expensive for customers', but that's not usually how it works.
posted by Malor at 11:09 AM on April 3, 2012


Gmail is great for consumer email, but it fails for work email. Why? Among other reasons, lack of folders. Yeah I know, tags are better, blah blah blah blah blah. I feel like tags work when it comes to personal email, but when it comes to office stuff, you really want to be able to categorize things AND file them away. Yeah I know, Gmail lets you do this if you want to fuck around with folders and archiving and specialized search syntax, but you know what? I don't wanna fuck with any of that. I just want folders.

Also, Outlook's calendaring and especially their meeting organization functionality are first-rate.
posted by Afroblanco at 11:54 AM on April 3, 2012


(fuck around with folders and archiving = fuck around with tags and archiving)
posted by Afroblanco at 12:00 PM on April 3, 2012


I meant that it would result in increased cost for a Blu-Ray, not a HD-DVD.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 12:36 PM on April 3, 2012


ntoskrnl is based off os2krnl, and NTFS is based off HPFS

Oh, vindication!. I'd thought I'd read or heard this somewhere long ago, and I brought this up in a Win32 class being taught by some microsoftie with supposed inside knowledge (this was back in '98 or so). He sneered at the idea and said he'd never heard of it. I felt dumb. But who's the loser now, eh!?
posted by DarkForest at 1:29 PM on April 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can't believe no one has mentioned Galactic Civilizations. I still miss that game. Back in the day, I knew people who installed OS/2 just to play GalCiv.

Never had trouble installing OS/2, but the fixpacks used to give me fits.
posted by QIbHom at 8:18 AM on April 5, 2012


Afroblanco: "Gmail is great for consumer email, but it fails for work email. Why? Among other reasons, lack of folders. Yeah I know, tags are better, blah blah blah blah blah. I feel like tags work when it comes to personal email, but when it comes to office stuff, you really want to be able to categorize things AND file them away. Yeah I know, Gmail lets you do this if you want to fuck around with folders and archiving and specialized search syntax, but you know what? I don't wanna fuck with any of that. I just want folders."

Um. Labels let you do *exactly* that. I honestly have no idea what you're going on about.

Labels are folders, except you can establish a one-to-many relationship allowing messages to carry multiple labels (instead of being held to the restriction that a message cannot sit in more than one folder).

Outlook/Exchange has certain advantages over GMail, but this isn't one of those things.
posted by schmod at 8:52 AM on April 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Labels are folders, except you can establish a one-to-many relationship allowing messages to carry multiple labels (instead of being held to the restriction that a message cannot sit in more than one folder).

Depending on the implementation, folders are also labels, since a "folder" is usually just a database entry mapping individual items to a set. This is likely more true now that more and more mail software has moved from mbox to sql or nosql.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:24 AM on April 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


Um. Labels let you do *exactly* that. I honestly have no idea what you're going on about.

Labels aren't folders. It is their strength and weakness. Using GMail with an IMAP client is the best example: why do I have two copies of every sent item? Because one is in "Sent" and the other in "All mail", is why. Multiply that by every label applied.

Even in the web app it's not great. If you have labels like "expenses" and "receipts" or "bug updates" it's impossible to search your archive without including results from those labels, without constructing a unworkably huge query.

With folders that is fundamental. Essentially, labels are inclusionary, folders are exclusionary.
posted by fightorflight at 7:54 AM on April 6, 2012


I thought it was funny that they marketed the workplace shell as "Object-Oriented" because OOP had just become hot. I have no idea what they thought they meant when they said that. Cuz they used that to refer to the GUI, not to the APIs. Were they talking about icons?

Anyway, that language is still with us, and still without explanation, on Wikipedia.
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 8:05 AM on April 18, 2012


It's called "object-oriented" because it really was. Everything in the shell is an object. To give a simple example, you could right-click and query the properties of everything from a file to a folder to a printer. It doesn't sound like a big deal now because every shell works that way.

It also made writing shell extensions easy.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:17 AM on April 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


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