Stardock’s OS/2 History

February 1, 2001


By Brad Wardell, Founder, Stardock Corporation.


Well yesterday was the last day that Stardock can effectively be called an OS/2 ISV.  While we will be releasing Stellar Frontier still for OS/2 and providing updates to it, the selling of OS/2 software on our website is going to be going away within the next 24 hours.


It's really pretty sad.  The whole reason why I personally got into software development was for OS/2.  That's why I learned how to program. It was the promise and coolness of OS/2 that steered me away from a career in hardware (I wanted to design CPUs) into the software arena. 


I remember in 1997 when we were looking at the OS/2 revenue sales and realizing that NT 4.0 had killed OS/2.  When Windows NT 4.0 came out, that pretty much did in OS/2, people migrated from OS/2 to NT incredibly fast.  I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that about half of the active individual OS/2 user base switched from OS/2 to Windows NT 4.0 within 6 months of its introduction.  And IBM, unbeknownst to any of us, had decided to kill OS/2 before OS/2 Warp 4.  Warp 4 was in the pipeline already.  Gerstner, feeling betrayed by PSP (Personal System Products, a division of IBM) for the PowerPC debacle had ordered PSP eliminated and its assets split up amongst the other divisions, none of which particularly cared about OS/2. 


That left us in the situation of trying to decide what to do.


We could:


A) Stick with OS/2 and go down with the ship, eventually becoming a small group of consultants. (This is what several OS/2 ISVs have done).


B) Move to develop Linux software. An OS in which software is expected to be free.  Having to deal with the fact that anything we developed would be expected to be open source and free to users thus depriving ourselves of any revenue.


C) Develop for Windows where our limit to growth would always be Microsoft coming in and competing with anything worthwhile we might create.


If you're a commercial software developer, the choices were pretty grim.  So we chose the least of the 3 evils -- C.  We designed our primary product to be delivered as a subscription in which new features could be introduced into it immediately rather than having to wait for the next major version.  Thus, if Microsoft or Symantec or Mijenix (now Ontrack) or some other large utility vendor decided to compete with us, we could stay ahead of them.  So we adopted the slogan "Innovation on demand" and went forward.  That is why Object Desktop has constant updates being made to it.


Those who stayed with OS/2 and saw these events could be divided into 4 groups:



While some Windows and Linux users may gloat over OS/2's downfall, what they don't realize is that all people lose out.  OS/2 had some wonderful innovations in it and it was when it was competitive with Windows that Windows was most rapidly moving forward.  As we've discussed in another discussion, Microsoft, bereft of OSes to compete with is now left with having to copy off of shareware and freeware utilities to "innovate".  Windows 3.1 to Windows 95 saw some incredible (for Microsoft) innovation.  OS/2 became largely a non-factor before Windows 98.  And so between Windows 95 and today there was Windows 98 (1998), Windows 98SE(1999), and Windows ME(2000).  Regardless of how you feel about those OSes, the change from Windows 3.1 (1992) to Windows 95 (1995) was pretty immense and the 5 years after that has seen mainly very incremental improvements.


Before I am accused of holding Microsoft to too high a standard, one only has to look at Linux's progress in the same time frame.  While Linux gets a lot of hype, it is always hype that has a score of qualifications (It's really good for being an open source project...).  Still no DDE type functionality across all apps.  Still nothing like OLE across apps.  Heck, still unreliable clipboard support in many apps.  Little drag and drop support.  KDE is left basically trying to rip off the Windows 95 shell which in itself (other than the Start bar) was borrowed from OS/2 and MacOS.


My point isn't to slam these OSes btw, it is just that with OS/2's passing, all people should be aware of what is lost.  What sorts of very cool stuff we might have today if not for the loss of OS/2 as a competitor.


And finally, my last point is that from a software developer standpoint, if you want to stay in the desktop market, Windows really and truly is the only market still.  I get email regularly from OS/2 and Linux users urging us to get off of Windows.  Whenever there is a story about Microsoft lifting one of our features and putting it into the next version fo Windows (no matter how minor) the email flows in telling us we need to get onto Linux (or come back to OS/2).  The reality is, there just isn't enough of a market.  From an ISV standpoint, the only real options are either Windows, PocketPC, or Palm and Palm isn't exactly innovating right now.  We write for Windows because there's not that much choice and because there are great market opportunities for developers who create things to "decrease the suckitude of the OS". 


Anyway, to those still using OS/2, thanks for all your support over the years.  We will be keeping up our OS/2 software support news groups and discussion groups.  Email support will continue for another 90 days free.  Stellar Frontier will be released to those who pre-ordered it but it will not be sold on OS/2 anymore.


Good luck and have a great day!


Brad Wardell