Desktop users see murky future for OS/2

Devotees of the desktop version of IBM'S OS/2 are again pronouncing the death of the operating system, after a company said its negotiations with IBM on adding functionality to the software broke down.

Stardock, a Minnesota-based desktop software company, last week posted a statement to some OS/2 newsgroups which said that talks with IBM to produce and support a souped-up version of the operating system for the desktop had come to an end.

OS/2 was developed by Microsoft and IBM, but was later abandoned by Microsoft when it developed its own Windows operating system. Although it often has been declared extinct, OS/2 is still used among financial institutions and also has a small but enthusiastic group of desktop users.

It is well known that IBM only supports large corporate customers with OS/2, with products such as the Warp Server. Contacted yesterday, IBM spokesman Christopher Barger reiterated the company stance that IBM is "very much focused on the server end of the market. It (OS/2) is not a desktop play." He called it a viable e-business operating system.

Specifically asked about Stardock, Barger said IBM never comments on specific discussions it has with companies.

"We have discussions with different companies all the time," he said.

Stardock was in talks with IBM to see if the company would allow it to work with the client portion of OS/2, adding some new components to it to make it more competitive as desktop software, according to Brad Wardell, Stardock's founder. Stardock makes desktop-management software based on OS/2 which the company is also in the process of porting to Microsoft's Windows operating system.

After six months of negotiations, according to Wardell, the deal fell through after IBM decided it was not in its interest to license any current OS/2 technology on an OEM (original equipment manufacturer) basis.

"The issue isn't that IBM won't allow us (Stardock) to do a client, the issue is that it seems IBM is not interested in doing a new version of OS/2 at all," Wardell said, in an e-mailed response to questions from IDG News Service.

OS/2's chances of surviving as a desktop system are very dim, Wardell said. "Without a new version of OS/2 at a reasonable price with reasonable availability, there is not much hope in such a market surviving in the long term. After all, with (the operating systems) MacOS X, Windows 2000, BeOS, and Linux all being updated in major ways, how long can OS/2 go without being updated before it is no longer a viable desktop alternative?"

IBM's last new version of the operating system, called OS/2 Warp 4, was released in 1996. Since then, IBM has released fixes to that version.

As the news spread on the Internet that there will be no Stardock deal, ardent OS/2 fans quickly voiced their disappointment, with some saying they may switch to the Linux operating system.

"OS/2 is dead. Once again. Definitely this time," said Adrian Geschwind, in a statement posted on the Internet. Geschwind is actually one of the more optimistic OS/2 users. He heads a project called OS/2 Netlabs, which is developing freely available applications for OS/2. He sees the project as the best future for the operating system.

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