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OS/2 – Yes, THAT OS/2 – is getting an upgrade

Loyal users are now maintaining the venerable OS, which is still used in places.

OS/2 is getting an upgrade

There are some technologies that just refuse to die, kept alive and kicking by a small but very devoted and enthusiastic cluster of users. The Amiga is one such example, still running more than 20 years after the last Amiga rolled off the lines. 

Also still kicking is OS/2, IBM's last stab at a competing operating system to Windows, which the company abandoned in 1996 after its fourth and final major release, known as OS/2 Warp. An organization called Arca Noae not only continues development of the OS but also offers support to companies still using OS/2.

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The news came a few weeks back at the WarpStock convention, an annual gathering of users, developers, and supporters of OS/2. The fact that an OS considered long dead can warrant not one but two annual conventions — WarpStock Europe will be held in Cologne, Germany, in May 2016 — is remarkable, but also shows how a technology can take root and become impossible to uproot.

According to TechRepublic, which was at the show, the new distribution of that OS is codenamed Blue Lion, which will feature both new functionality as well as upgrades to the existing OS. The focus will be on running a full OS/2 implementation on bare metal, not just in virtual machines, according to Arca Noae.

Blue Lion will add modern ACPI versions, USB 1.1 and 2.0, AHCI support for Serial ATA disks like SSDs, and a myriad of new drivers. New features include a completely reworked installation process that will allow for installation from USB drives, the ability to check for updates over the Internet while doing the installation, and improving SMP support. The developers are also working on network installation.

The Arca Noae people plan to release the update in Q3 of 2016 and have already done a lot of work, mostly around device drivers. According to the TechRepublic note, IBM has even signed contracts with Arca Noae, presumably for supporting existing customers.

Despite its failure in the marketplace, IBM did gain some traction with OS/2, particularly in banks. Companies at WarpStock included Johnson & Johnson, PepsiCo, and Whirlpool, as well as government organizations.

OS/2 has had a long journey. Serenity Systems International was the first company to take over OS/2 development in 2000, releasing it under the name eComStation. By 2008, most of the development of eComStation was transferred to the Dutch company Mensys BV. In late 2013, Mensys transferred ownership to and development of eCS had stalled.

A group of developers and engineers led by Managing Member Lewis Rosenthal formed Arca Noae to offer Arca Noae Drivers & Software Package, a subscription service consisting of a selection of updated device drivers, and utilities for OS/2 and eCS. It has an agreement with IBM to support OS/2 and eCS.

"We executed our agreement with IBM at the end of September," Rosenthal told me via email. "Throughout the process, I can tell you that our counterparts at IBM were nothing short of enthusiastic and supportive of our efforts."

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