OS/2 Celebrates 25 Years

OS2 BoxHarry McCracken’s story (see 25 Years of IBM’s OS/2: The Strange Days and Surprising Afterlife of a Legendary Operating System) about OS/2 brought back a lot of memories. Seeing my picture in PC World magazine made me feel old — who is that young man? Bill Gates and I were both wearing purple shirts, but that was the only thing we had in common. OS/2 was a great product, but it failed in the end for many reasons that Harry described. From my perspective, the main thing that could have upped the odds for OS/2 would have been if we had tightly integrated the IBM hardware, software, and services that IBM had at the time. Unfortunately, there was a feeling of independence in the various divisions of the company; the PC Company, the Personal Sofware Products Division of which I was the vice president for marketing, the IBM Global Network, the amazing National Service Division of which I earlier was vice president for service business, the various industry vertical and marketing organizations of IBM, and the financial resources to put it all together.


“In May 1993, IBM released OS/2 2.1; like 2.0 before it, it was greeted as the version of OS/2 that might end the operating system’s underdog status. IBM’s John Patrick told PC World that even Windows devotees would switch to OS/2, since it multitasked better and crashed less.”

. . . from Harry McCracken’s story.


But, we did not put it all together. The Apple iPad and Mac are successful because Apple put it all together so that “it just works”. IBM had a similar potential with OS/2. Three researchers developed a Web browser called the Web Explorer. It was the best Web browser at the time. The ThinkPad had just been introduced a year earlier. IBM was the only vendor that could offer a PC with an operating system, a suite of Internet tools for surfing, email, and news reading, plus the IBM Global Network — all bundled on a ThinkPad. That was 1994 and IBM had it all and no other vendor was even close. Unfortunately, IBM, at the time, wanted each division to stand on its own. The PC division believed they could sell more PCs if they put Windows on them instead of OS/2. The OS/2 team wanted to make their software work with all the industry software, but the Lotus division wanted just their products on the PC. The industry vertical groups wanted to sell whatever kind of PC the customer wanted, IBM or others. The service division wanted to service any brand and give-up the exclusivity of great IBM service. While Apple had one brand, IBM had multiple brands, each with its own advertising agency, that did not leverage the strength of one of the greatest brands of all times — IBM.  When Lou Gerstner took control, the company came back together again, but unfortunately, it was too late for OS/2. If you like technology history, read Harry’s story. He did a great job in pulling it together. In my basement, I have a collection of OS/2 hats on the wall. My grandchildren ask me, “Pop-pop, what is OS/2?”