OS/2: the Open Source Laboratory

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Remember OS/2? It was the going to be the “real” operating system that took over from the mickey mouse Windows.... Somehow, that never quite happened (can't imagine why), but OS/2 aficionados remain as loyal to their OS as any Mac fanboy. One interesting suggestion that crops up periodically is that IBM should open source OS/2. There's a lot to be said for the idea – IBM can stop worrying about it and hand it over to the people best placed to move it forward. Alas, that's not going to happen. As IBM wrote at the beginning of this year:

As stated in our response to your September 2005 letter we have considered the positioning of OS/2 and open source several times in the past, and for a variety of business, technical, and legal reasons we have decided to not pursue any OS/2 open source projects.

I suspect it's the legal reasons that are the real problem: there's probably too much stuff that can't easily be cleared for release as open source.

Undeterred, the OS/2 community have come up with another way to support their beloved OS: offering bounties to coders who port existing free software or write drivers for OS/2:

If simply contributing to an Open Source project is not enough, you now have an added incentive. OS2 World.Com has organized an ongoing Bounty Hunt together with OS2 User Group Sweden. Listed below are various tasks we would like to see completed or features which have been requested.

It's an idea that's been suggested – and even tried – for the mainstream open source projects. It's not been hugely successful there, which seems to confirm that people either write code out of pure altruism, or they have to be employed full-time to do it.

Nonetheless, it's good to see the OS/2 community making an effort, and it will be interesting to see how it pans out in the long term. I suspect that it will only have moderate success – although I hope I'm wrong. In any case, it acts as a fascinating laboratory for the rest of open source.

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