May 2001

What is the current status of OS/2 development? Is anybody writing code for this platform today? Why should developers consider writing for OS/2, anyway?

Sure, we can argue in favor of OS/2's superior object-oriented interface standard, the WorkPlace Shell or WPS, but having a superior GUI standard does not necessarily make a great OS. For example, Apple has long had a superb GUI model that most first-time users find is straightforward, intuitive, and appealing. But an OS is much more than a GUI; the Apple OS of the 1990's did not have the transaction-handling and memory-management skills of its Intel-based cousins such as OS/2 Warp and Windows, nor did its internal infrastructure compare favorably with Unix-based platforms.

On the other hand, having a great set of internals does not necessarily make a platform the ideal target for all developers. Code writers who targeted Unix-based platforms for low-end, home-user, or small-business applications would find marketing these applications more difficult than targeting the DOS or Windows world. It is a tribute to Microsoft's enduring stranglehold on the Intel-based preload market -- a form of mercenary monopoly trust in which PC manufacturers become vassal middlemen, essentially a software distribution channel for Microsoft -- that the operating systems with the worst internals became the platforms with the greatest market share. So developers targeting these platforms risk being consumed by Microsoft, or simply left without an income source when a cheap knock-off version of their product gets bundled with the next Microsoft platform.

Rather than considering the technical or market conditions of a platform, some developers have chosen to write for platforms with favorable support communities. In other words, they have chosen to develop based on the type of people involved, the atmosphere of comraderie, and the attitude of virtue in excellence instead of merely virtue in profit. Two examples of this type of development community are Linux and OS/2 Warp.

It is no coincidence that there is a significant overlap between users, promoters, and developers of Linux corresponding to users, promoters, and developers of OS/2. While both platforms provide excellent internals upon which to build an application framework, it is the attitude of mutual cooperation, support, and teamwork that these people have that makes them similar. They have in common not merely a common distaste and dislike for Microsoft's shoddy products and cynical, manipulative practices, as some wonks may claim. Rather, it is the mutual appreciation of the tinkerer, the hobbyist, the innovator within that drives them on to commitment and progress.

Is there an ongoing sense of progress in the OS/2 camp? Yes, I can see it clearly. As a member of VOICE (, I get regular updates (in fact, almost daily) of developers creating new and innovative utilities and applications for OS/2. There is a constant flow of ideas and encouragement in various user groups such as POSSI ( and the Philadelphia OS/2 User Group ( Many other OS/2 User Groups continue to flourish, both in the U.S. and around the world. While media pundits attempt to spread a pall of death and dismay, the reality is quite simple: OS/2 Warp is alive and well, because a dedicated group of developers and users continue to enjoy the benefits of the innovator mentality and a mutually supportive community.

However, the long-term health and continued growth of OS/2 development depends on more than just a sense of community. In most cases, the prominent and prosperous support centers for OS/2 are those which require a financial commitment, however small that may be. Joining POSSI or VOICE or attending the annual Warpstock convention is an example of "putting your money where your mouth is." Team OS/2 did not have such a clearly-defined structure with dues, officers, and membership lists, and its withering is more a result of the lack of structure than a lack of enthusiasm. Quite simply, people come and go, and products come and go, and even companies come and go, but the embodiment of community action into a funded organization lends an element of stability that continues to endure, even when the initial burst of zeal has faded.

So development for OS/2 is not a sign of mindless fanaticism, nor is it a financial death-wish. It is a recognition that a community of dedicated, appreciative supporters continues to prosper and is willing to "put its money where its mouth is." Supporters of Linux take note -- when the initial phase of enthusiastic support fades, be sure to have a stable, planned structure to preserve the wonderful sense of cooperation and community for the long haul.

Most recent revision: April 28, 2001
Copyright © 2001, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.