Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Microsoft Surface and OS/2

In the early 1990s, IBM had a great alternative to Windows called OS/2. One big problem with Windows at the time was that one program error could crash everything. OS/2 was much more resilient. It was also a more advanced operating system since Windows, at that time, was an add-on running on top of command-line DOS.

Back then DOS had a limit of 640k RAM. There were several ways to get around this. Most games ran from DOS and it seemed like each one had its own way of bypassing the 640k limit. This meant that every time you wanted to play a game you had to boot your PC from a floppy disk with the proper memory drivers on it.

OS/2 fixed all of that. You could run Windows program or command-line DOS programs. Most games ran fine without any need to reboot.

In fact, this was its fatal flaw - it ran everything else so well that no one bothered developing native OS/2 applications. I used OS/2 for a few years but I only used one native program - something called Golden ComPass which worked with Compuserve. I paid for my Compuserve access by the minute. Under DOS or Windows, I had to stay connected to read messages. With Golden ComPass, I could fetch all of the new messages at once then read them off-line and write my replies. Then it would batch the replies. It worked great.

When Microsoft introduced Windows 95, there was no longer any perceived utility in using OS/2. Windows 95 offered a single memory model so everyone could launch their games from Windows instead of DOS. It had other enhancements including built-in networking which OS/2 did not have.

OS/2 was quickly left in the dust.

Microsoft has forgotten the lessons from those days. It just introduced an emulator that will let people run Android apps on their new Surface Pro tablet. That means that no one will bother to develop native Surface apps. And that will be that.

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