Harry McCracken wrote a longish article in Time Techland about the sad history of OS/2: "25 Years of IBM’s OS/2: The Strange Days and Surprising Afterlife of a Legendary Operating System."
On April 2, 1987 IBM's launch of a second generation PC was big news on all the generic news channels. Six years earlier, IBM ignited the home computer industry with its launch of the generically named "PC". Until that day in August 1981, there were all kinds of standards: S100 bus, Zilog CPUs, Apple II, Amiga, Commodore, Radio Shack, CP/M OS, Sinclair, BBC Micro -- and they were mostly incompatible.
People like me who were fascinated by the thought having computing power at home (instead of at work or at a mainframe terminal) held back from buying one due to market confusion. It was a lot of money, especially back then. Even the $100 Sinclair cost $500 once the extras were added on.
IBM's PC changed all that, creating a standard to which nearly all hardware makers adhered. People trusted IBM and bought its PC. Like the Sinclair, the barebones PC was around $1000 but cost $5000 once all the necessary extras were added -- extras like a screen, floppy drive, graphics board, and so on. Later it launched the more powerful PC/AT (advanced technology), which was even more popular. A friend was stunned when a power analysis program he wrote ran 6x faster on my AT -- analysis now took 5 minutes instead of 30.
The PC and AT ended up in offices mostly, and so the company announced a home version called PCjr. I remember engineers around me looking forward to its launch, saving up to buy something cheaper than the PC but just as good. Well, the "just as good" was an invention of their minds, because when it launched, they found that the PCjr was cheaply designed (to meet the goal of low price), and then it failed in the marketplace. Since then, chicklet became a swear word in our industry.
When IBM announced the next generation in personal computers, the PS/2, and the next generation in operating systems, OS/2, the world took notice -- but was a bit wary after the PCjr debacle.
I was working at CADalyst magazine at the time, and as technical editor I was eager to get hold of this new hardware and software. Back then, things moved at a leisurely pace. First, we had to wait two weeks for our copy of InfoWorld to arrive in the mail so that we could read all about the new systems. Then it took some months for IBM Canada to send us an eval PS/2.
Which we couldn't use, until they sent us a replacement. While the PS/2 (personal system generation 2) and OS/2 (operating system generation 2) both were failures, both introduced functions we still use to this day:
- 640x480 VGA graphics (short for video graphics array)
- 1024x768 high-resolution PGA graphics (short for professional graphics array)
- Updateable BIOS
- Locked cabinet
- Purple DIN connector for keyboards a green one for mice
- 1.44MB on a 3.5" floppy dis (the 3.5" was not new, but the capacity was)
The reason we could not use the first PS/2 sent to us by IBM was because it was locked with a password, set by the previous magazine that had reviewed it. You could cancel the password by pulling the internal battery, but the cabinet was locked with a key, which was not included.