ArcaOS: OS/2 Updated For The Modern World

For a certain subset of our readers, mentioning IBM’s OS/2 is likely to bring forth a pang of nostalgia, while for others it’s more likely to bring to mind meme images of rebooting ATM displays. Although OS/2 didn’t become the desktop giant that IBM had intended it to become, reports of its demise are very much premature. As [Michael MJD] covers in a recent video, ArcaOS is essentially the latest version of OS/2, under official license from IBM.

The initial release of ArcaOS was in 2017, and the most recent release was version 5.0.7 in December of 2021. What this gets you is an evolution of OS/2 Warp 4.52 that updates the operating system for modern day hardware, although [Michael]’s experiences with using USB and installing WordPerfect 5.2 end up being rather mixed. With IBM not intending to open source the OS any time soon, ArcaOS appears to be mostly aimed at companies and individuals who wish to keep running their old (OS/2) software on newer hardware, per the FAQ.

This is also reflected in the license cost should you wish to obtain a copy of ArcaOS, with a personal edition license costing $129. What this does get one over OS/2 Warp is SMP support, improved USB, audio and video support, along with an actual package manager (ANPM, based on RPM & Yum).

Would you splurge on an updated OS/2 OS like this, or is tinkering with a fully open source OS like Haiku (BeOS reborn) more your thing?

36 thoughts on “ArcaOS: OS/2 Updated For The Modern World

      1. OS/2 actually got more stable the longer that you ran it or that was the general impression. I still miss it’s file system to this day, because nothing has come close to what you could do with it. All programmers can do today is change how the user interface looks. They move the search bar and claim that it’s a new version. Nothing about software today has advanced but devolved into how can I screw up what actually works.

          1. I could probably write a book on the topic, but OS/2 had a built in scripting language called Rexx and an actual object oriented user interface. Everything that Microsoft put out since doesn’t compare and probably because the idea came from IBM. To answer your question regarding the filesystem though, OS/2 had the capability of adding custom attributes to a data file that was integrated into the UI that made the entire system easier to use and more like a database. The only problem was when you copied it to a FAT16 formatted media those attributes are saved into a separate file. Computers really haven’t advanced much since the late ’80s & early ’90s other than hardware speed and display capabilities.

          2. @John:

            That sounds a lot like BeFS from the BeOS. I never had a chance to use OS/2 back in those days as I was a poor college student, but I ran BeOS as my main OS for several years before and after Be Inc. went away. Its file system was very similar to what you describe, with extended attributes and a database-like design.

          3. I only got to see a demo running directly from CD on 90s hardware of BeOS and it looked awesome! Yes, I believe that it had the same capabilities as OS/2, but what really impressed me was the demo of the spinning cube running a video on all sides. That was really impressive back then. I still wonder whether BeOS was written in assembly, because it was a huge step forward. It just seemed like after 9/11 all PC innovation just stopped! The most significant thing was virtual machines, but before all that we had AT&T Plan 9 and their distributed processing across under utilized nodes on the network. I hated that they tried to make it easier to use. Everytime that tech is made for the unwashed masses it just goes to hell. Now we have JavaScript programmers and software that doesn’t work very well. That smartphone is like living in the world of tomorrow according to young people today! Just crap!

  1. ArcaOS is a massive improvement over its predecessor, eComStation. It’s great if you still have an OS/2 dependency, but it’s not really useful for anyone who’s looking to switch from Windows or Linux or so on as it’s just not widely supported with standard desktop software. Still, the effort is commendable.

  2. I used to use OS/2. Until Windows XP Microsoft really didn’t have a good competitor product.

    … along with an actual package manager (ANPM, based on RPM & Yum).

    I thought WarpIn was the package manager. oh well. It’s been a while.

  3. I used OS2 back in the day for development. It was nice because you could restrict the video mode and get 720k base memory for DOS based compilers. When combined with HPFS it really increased productivity over wfw3.11 or NT

    1. You’re speaking from experience, I see. 🙂👍

      OS/2 2.x and up was really nice as a power user’s alternative to DOS+Qemm, essentially.
      HPFS is/was a close relative to NTFS.

      Running Win-OS/2 on OS/2 was like being able to use, say, Windows 3.1 on an NTFS partition.

      An experience which mortals didn’t have had until Windows XP widely replaced the DOS line of Windows (Windows NT runs a copy of Windows 3.1 in NT’s Virtual DOS Machine).

      While I was a bite late to the party, maybe, I still had experienced OS/2 3.0 in the later 90s.
      It’s something I’m really glad for.

      If cleanly installed and with enough RAM available, OS/2 worked as promised.

      Unfortunately, it’s strengths weren’t apparent enough when merely single-tasking.

      Here, a real Windows 3.x installation did not seldomly seem snappier, especially if virtual device drivers were involved.

      Gaming also was a thing in its own reign.
      Some games felt more happy in Real-Mode DOS or with Qemm/EMM386/386Max than on OS/2.

      But to be fair, even Windows 95 had trouble with such games later on.
      So it’s not fair to blame OS/2 here.

      If games used DPMI, they may ran well on OS/2, if not better than on DOS.
      The underlying file system drivers etc. in OS/2 we’re not bad, after all. File access may have been better than on a DOS FAT16 drive with/without SmartDrive loaded.

      Sysops of mailboxes also liked to run multiple copies of a BBS software on OS/2 back in the day, or so I heard.

  4. A lot of old industrial CNC machines use OS\2. I myself worked on a few and finding parts for the PC portion is very hard to find let alone expensive thanks to the Retro Computer people. Since this can handle more modern hardware it helps not having to retro fit a million dollar CNC machine with a new mainboard, stepper drivers and software.

    1. What about just pulling the proprietary controller board from the CnC and replacing it with something off the shelf and open so that you can talk to from then on easily with any Linux or Windows PC?

      Yah, I get it. That kind of effort makes no sense in a business environment just to save $129. But I’m not thinking of the $129. I’m thinking of someone having to learn OS/2 and always having to keep someone on staff who knows the archaic OS that was kind of fringe even in it’s day as people age out and retire.

      I mean, don’t get me wrong. If my employer bought some old device and wanted me to learn OS/2 so I could support it I would enjoy the opportunity to play with something different. But that doesn’t mean it makes good business sense to use those hours that way!

      1. Because you just can’t do that. I’ve seen Windows 95 running on ’90s hardware and I asked the client why they didn’t just upgrade and the response has been the same, whether it was a wire counter, warehouse pick controller or lens grinder. They don’t want to spend 30k on the new machine.

    2. ” I myself worked on a few and finding parts for the PC portion is very hard to find let alone expensive thanks to the Retro Computer people.”

      No, completely wrong. Without the “retro people”, none of the hardware had survived. They’d all been trashed instead by now. It’s those retro people who save old machinery standing on the road side, in humid cellars or from colleagues who are going to takem to the dumpster.

      That’s something that’s completely overseen. Yes, “retro computer people” do trade their stuff to notable prices. But the work and heart that went into restoring those old things is totally overseen here.

      The people who really charge lots of money for rusty old stuff aren’t retro computer people. It are those shady people who try to exploit the retro computer people. Imho.

    3. Why would a million dollar machine not use servomotors? Please let us know which million dollar machines use steppers so we can avoid accidentally buying a used one on EBay.

      That aside, I greatly sympathize with your pain for obtaining updates to PC controlled industrial devices- it was the bane of my existence until I found the stackable technology based PC/104 computing platforms with ISA (XT and AT versions), ISA / PCI, PCI, and PCI/PCI Express versions with traditional to upgraded processors. There are 47 members in the PC/104 consortium and the computers run practically anything a pc can run by design.

    1. OS/2 Warp was probably the most difficult OS that I have ever installed on non PS/2 hardware, but once you get it installed then the longer that you ran it, the better it got. Surprising to me that Microsoft helped with the development of the OS and the last decent OS that they put out was Windows 2K. At least IBM had some serious pride back then in their products and it actually had to work right. The PC compatible manufacturers brought the pain to the table, but with IBM pulling their proprietary MCA to the forefront I’m not too sympathetic towards them. IBM stuff just worked though.

      1. Microsoft didn’t just “help” with the development of OS/2, it wrote most of it. IBM had control over the design and IBM couldn’t stop being IBM. It insisted that OS/2 be tied to IBM hardware and only IBM hardware and tried to treat Microsoft as programmers-for-hire. That eventually led to the breakup and Microsoft’s hiring of Dave Cutler and the development of Windows NT.

        1. IBM at the time was only producing products that actually worked. Their documentation was par none the best. Any monkey could follow their diagnostic flowcharts and fix a problem. How do you think that Compaq could reverse engineer their BIOS without that excellent documentation?

          I really don’t know how much of the code was written by which company, but IBM had copyright on a large portion I’m sure. Of course the OS would work with PS/2 hardware, because IBM could test on that platform and PC compatibles were still relatively new. You get what you pay for and my first motherboard was cheap apparently. I didn’t have too many problems with my second one getting it installed. Microsoft however has been going downhill ever since over twenty years ago. My first support call with MS was totally awesome with an employee with a two digit employee ID number and they helped out with an NT domain rename. I’ve called them maybe three times since then and they suck so bad I can’t believe this industry has gotten so crappy. That being said my last engagement with IBM was great organization, but stupid implementation.

  5. Wondering how good is it for retro gaming. People launch games from Windows 98. How does OS/2 compare? Better DOS than DOS. Wrt. price it can be luxury consumption. Orpheus II soundcard is costly, Interloper motherboard with ISA is costly. MiSTer FPGA is costly. ArcaOS may fit the market if it works for retro gamers.

  6. I used OS/2 Warp 4 exclusively for several years in college during the dark days of Win95 through Win2k. Lotus Smart Suite was a decade in capability and panache ahead of MS Office. I loved the “shredder” that took the place of the MS “trashcan” and later “recycling bin”. When I want to delete something, don’t second-guess me, dammit! I assume this version still has native support for the MCA bus..? This would be great for reviving my PS/2 95 and my PC Server 704.

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