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Herbarius

Another what-if: PS/2 and OS/2

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Well, topic title and subtitle say most of it.

 

We know of both the PS/2 and OS/2 didn't have very much success in the market. The PS/2 couldn't compete against the cheaper AT clone machines, and OS/2 couldn't compete with an already strong Windows.

 

I thought: What IBM should have done is bundle the PS/2 with OS/2 - eliminating all problems with Hardware support, I suppose they could have managed to support their own hardware - and attack the Mac market. The IBM PS/2, the more cost-effective alternative to the Apple Macintosh.

 

They could never compete with cheap PC clones price-wise, but they surely could have competed with Apple's prices. They would have a compatible and compact hardware/OS combination like the Apple Mac, a GUI like the Mac, perhaps a little bit harder to use, but nothing they couldn't have sorted out, ... and so on. And on top of that, they'd have compatibility with MS-DOS applications - something you could only dream of on the Mac back then.

 

 

I think with this approach they surely wouldn't have wiped the Mac off the face of the Earth, but they may have managed to establish both the PS/2 and OS/2 in a way that gives them some acceptance and commercial success...

 

What do you think?

Edited by Herbarius

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Problem is, Apple at the time is so litigation happy, they'd sue IBM for all they had. True, they'd loose, but then when it became obvious Motorola couldn't keep the 68000 family on the cutting edge, there wouldn't be a Power PC family to pick up the slack, due to the bad blood of the lawsiut, forcing Apple to a either an even more painful move (to Alpha, SPARC, ARM, or MIPS, since the Apple-Intel feud is ongoing) or else cancel the Macintosh altogether and become just a gadget company (and since the Newton was a hideous failure, the current computing landscape will be even more of a monoculture). I know, there's this outside chance for a "Project Red Delicious" Apple IIgsx/Apple IV-V Based on the Western Digital 65832, but that might be something in the range of fantasy.

 

Nore will this become all sunshine and roses for IBM. OS/2's GUI is at about the same quality as GEOS, GEM, or Windows 2.x. By the time they have it sorted out, Microsoft will have Windows 95/NT 4.0 out and Chips and Technologies will have reverse-engineered the PS series chipsets, too.

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I always said that then only incompatible IBM-compatible was the IBM itself. They should have used normal expansion slots and normal memory chips, so every body could use of the shelf stuff to upgrade they're ps/2 with regular market stuff. Thus making it less expensive to upgrade the ps/2. Problem now was that only high priced IBM parts could be used in the ps/2. People trying to buy non IBM parts got irritated that they couldn't use the non-IBM parts, and had all kinds of trouble keeping the ps/2 running without crashing.

Selling the ps/2 bundled with os/2 wouldn't have pushed sales up i think. Apple sells well because it sells a lifestyle, not a computer. If apple didn't have its loyal followers it would already been of the market long time ago. IBM didn't have this kind of appeal to the people. IBM was a brand that smells like work. Since it was a company selling office supplies long before computers came in the market.

OS/2 just cam to the market to late. Windows had already a to large market share, like it still has. Everybody can buy a pc install a free linux distribution, but still almost everybody buys a pc with windows installed. Because it has a large market share it is easier for people to buy programs or copy software. OS/2 just had a to little market share, to little programs and was a little to late in the market.

I did have a ps/2 with os2 warp a long time ago, and i must say os2 looked good. But when you are used to windows, it handles a little different just like osx, so you have to learn a lot to get used to the system.

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Part of the reason IBM introduced the PS2 with the Micro Channel buss so that they had a patented architecture. What they didn't realize was that the genie was already out of the bottle and they couldn't kill the clone market. Had this been their original design they may have prevented the clone market from popping up in the first place.

There were other reasons but that was a big one.

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I worked for IBM at Hursley Park, Winchester back in 1989 when we were developing OS/2 and the XGA adapter for the PS/2 line.

 

All of this is from memory as I don't have many of my papers from then..

 

I thought the PS/2 sold very well throughout most of its life but I don't have actual numbers to compare to Macintosh.

IBM did bundle OS/2 with the PS/2 machines capable of running it - the Model 50 and above with 286 CPUs and an MCA bus.

The PS/2 Model 25 and 30 were 8086 based machines with an ISA bus and could not support OS/2, so were bundled with IBM PC-DOS.

IBM, being IBM, also offered each machine a-la-carte - inside of IBM you could order your PS/2 part by part down to the bezel, and I think that was offered to the public too, so if you wanted your PS/2 with Xenix you could do that.

 

Windows was not really that well established at that time. In 1989 it was still Windows 2.0 and was not widely used compared with non-GUI PC-DOS (or MS-DOS for the clones).

IBM and Microsoft collaborated on OS/2 and then Microsoft took the OS/2 presentation manager and rolled it into their Windows code base creating the popular Windows 3.0

 

OS/2 wasn't established either, and most buyers wanted machines to run Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect, and those needed PC-DOS, not OS/2.

 

Again, from memory, OS/2 supported the native IBM hardware pretty well. It had a lot of teething problems and I recall issues with running time-sensitive software such as MIDI music applications, but overall I remember it running IBM's own hardware okay. Third-party support was another problem however, as vendors were reluctant to invest time and money in OS/2 until they saw the market going that way, and of course, it didn't, it followed Microsoft with Windows 3.0 instead.

 

As for Macintosh, I am not sure it was really seen as the enemy in 1989. The Mac had become the desktop publishing niche machine, and the lower end of the market was being fought over by the Atari ST and Amiga lines. The Acorn Archimedes was also still a player at that time. The PS/2, OS/2 and MCA were an attempt to take on the real enemies - the clone makers - specifically Compaq and Dell. The attempt ultimately failed because Compaq, Dell and their partners did a better job of putting together and pushing E-ISA than IBM did with their platform.

 

The MCA bus for example was expensive to license and certain features didn't work right.

 

One thing I do remember from 1990 was a product meeting, where it was announced that the whole PC line would be dead by 1995. Many people were very confident that RT/PC POWER platform was going to be the next dominant standard and the x86 and Windows would all be a thing of the past.

 

Things didn't quite work out as planned.

Edited by oracle_jedi

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Part of the reason IBM introduced the PS2 with the Micro Channel buss so that they had a patented architecture. What they didn't realize was that the genie was already out of the bottle and they couldn't kill the clone market. Had this been their original design they may have prevented the clone market from popping up in the first place.

There were other reasons but that was a big one.

I would have to say some of IBM's biggest problems with dominating anything with PS/2 and OS/2 were:

 

* Microchannel - nobody wanted it with IBMs patent fingers all over it, and IBM didn't realize it had already lost control of the PC market. VESA had some popularity because it helped with the video bandwidth bottleneck, but in the end it would be Intel that would set the new standard.

 

* The 286 - IBM didn't want to rush into the 386 market, and refused to acknowledge the 286's completely stupid 64K segment limitation and lack of support for "real mode". So they insisted that OS/2 1.0 would work on the 286. Unlike the earlier Windows 1.x and 2.x, this cost IBM a lot in terms of their chance in the market.

 

* And of course, trusting Microsoft again to write an OS for them. MS became the giant it was thanks to the non-exclusivity of PC-DOS, and was able to take OS/2 in the other direction, marginalizing it into obscurity, with no purpose other than for Microsoft to say "See, we really do have competition!".

 

The Mac? Dream on. IBM couldn't even win over Windows. The Mac had a small market share, but it was market share that cared about the user experience. That's something IBM could never have done, which I am quite certain of by having actually used OS/2 for a while. Its desktop UI was horrible. It was a decent DOS multitasker for running a BBS. And that's all.

 

"Cost-effictive against the Macintosh"? That means nothing if you don't have good UI standards (set before you write the code!) and stick to them. Generic PCs were already cost-effective vs the Mac if you didn't care about the UI, and there was no way that IBM could compete against them.

 

 

As I used to sig back in the day:

 

OS/2 on PS/2: Half an operating system for half a computer.

 

EDIT:

Again, from memory, OS/2 supported the native IBM hardware pretty well.

Oh, that brings up an anecdote. A friend of mine was trying to install OS/2 on a random PC. It turned out that his Oak VGA card was only 99% compatible with the standard, and OS/2's installer would not boot.

Edited by Bruce Tomlin

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