Leon Mika

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OS/2 Dreaming

I’ve been thinking of OS/2 recently. Yes, the ill fated OS that IBM built with Microsoft. Re-reading the Ars Technica write-up of it and listening to the Flashback episode again fills me with nostalgia.

Truth is that a lot of my early experiences with computing began with OS/2. Dad was working somewhere that used it, and I had a chance to play with it whenever he bought his laptop home. We had a plain old DOS home computer as well but it wasn’t as powerful or exciting as the laptop as dad’s laptop. It also helped that the laptop had a colour screen.

There were a lot of firsts associated with this OS. It was the first time using a graphical-based OS. I could do some pretty basic things in the DOS command line at the time, but being able to manipulate things on screen with a mouse was a much better experience. The OS had some pretty nice utilities that I grew to love, like a music app that let you compose monotonic songs by moving sliders that adjusted the pitch and duration of a note. It was my programming environment as well (QBasic, but it was still running on OS/2).

It was my first experience “shutting down” a computer. This was quite novel, and I remember wondering why it was necessary. The DOS computer you could just turn off, why couldn’t you do that here? I came to accept how important shutting down the computer first was, for no reason other than that not doing this would mean the next boot-up would run a file system check that would take several minutes. For someone who wanted to get to my DOS games as quickly as possible, learning this was important.

It was even the first time I saw someone surfing the web. On night I was watching dad using WebExplorer. I asked him what he was doing and he said that he was “using the web”. I had no idea what that meant, but I wondered if it had anything to do with a family friend that had the surname Webb. I still remember the loading animation of that browser: cubes flying by on the screen of the computer icon in the toolbar while the disk activity light flashed green.

When Windows 95 came around, we set it up with a dual boot system with OS/2. I remember at the time being reasonably unimpressed with Windows 95 and was more than happy to continue using OS/2, at least while we still had v2 installed. But eventually we got version 3 (OS/2 Warp) and it was around this time my love for it was starting to wane. DOS games were always a little incompatible on OS/21 but they eventually stopped running altogether, and I found myself booting into Windows a lot more often to play them. Eventually the day came when Dad bought home a laptop that only had Windows 95, and my OS/2 experience came to an end.

Anyway, it would be nice to pay around with OS/2 v2 again. Apparently OS/2 v2 is notoriously difficult to virtualise so I don’t know if that’s even possible. I found an emulator of OS/2 v1 that runs in the browser, and the GUIdebook has some fantastic screenshots of v2. I guess that will have to do for the moment to bring back the memories.

  1. A great example of this was Commander Keen. There was something wrong in the logic that would keep text boxes on screen long enough to read them. They would fly by when running the game in OS/2 and I had to get good at hitting the Pause key if I wanted to read it. [return]

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