16 March 2001
Fernando Cassia lives and uses OS/2 in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
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Open Source as OS/2's long life elixir
"Proposition three: kill time and live forever."
In a recent OS/2 eZine article Pete Grubbs made very good points about IBM's past attitude towards OS/2, and detailed his available options for future migration. Instead of telling you what I think of every path proposed in his article, I will tell you about the choice I like most: keep riding the OS/2 pony (but without it dying.)
Continuing to use OS/2 as your primary operating system doesn't mean freezing in time and being left out of the times, or feeling disoriented when looking at your neighbor's computer. Thanks to today's average hard disk sizes and OS/2's boot manager, we can always install linux alongside OS/2 in a dual-boot configuration to pick up some kernel recompilation skills and /etc/someconfigfile editing using the much maligned (and totally anti-userfriendly) VI editor. ;-) Plus, everything you learn in the "OS/2 world" will continue to be useful knowledge when/if you decide to change platforms down the road.
Pete, however, left something out in his analysis, something which can definitelly kill time and "keep the pony living forever." I would call it OS/2's long life elixir. What is it? The Open Source revolution.
With the exception of some file compression utilities, major desktop and productivity applications were NOT open source back in the '90s. But with the current rate of development, who says most common applications won't be open source in 2-3 years? (Except Microsoft's software, of course, since their whole stock valuation and business model are tied to proprietary software and regular upgrade cycles). Most already are!
Let's examine the more popular tasks PC's are used for and the best open source alternatives already available in each category.
What do you use your PC for?
A much more extensive list of open source alternatives could be created, especially for network server tasks like ftp servers, web servers, etc.
All these projects listed are not directly geared to OS/2, they are often created and geared mainly to the linux community, but they benefit NOT only unix/linux users, but everybody else who cares to take that source code and compile it (with various degrees of difficulty depending on the project's complexity) to native binaries.
If you think about it, we OS/2 users are in no different of a position than BeOS, FreeBSD, Mac OS X, or Solaris users who also have to rely on their community of talented programmers to obtain "native versions" of Mozilla, Sane, and every other opensource application mentioned here.
We are all in the same boat: we have an active community of users with talented programmers around the world who can port these open source applications to native OS/2 code, often contributing OS/2-specific changes to the original code, creating an "OS/2 branch" which makes releasing new versions much easier and quicker.
The 100% pure Java alternative to porting open source code
As you can see from the previous examples, in the few instances where something isn't open source, or where the developer has not yet embraced open source (or doesn't want to do so due to patent restrictions or whatever) there is almost always a "100% Pure Java" alternative which we can run under IBM s OS/2 Java VM (and with the new trend towards "Network Applicances," the offers of "100% Pure Java" applications will likely increase.)
Ok, you say, but what will happen when IBM stops supporting the OS/2 Java VM 1.2 or Java moves to "Java 3," "Java 4," "Java The Next Generation" or whatever? There is an answer: (I bet you saw this coming...) Open source software.
There are already open source Java Virtual Machine implementations, like Kaffe (www.kaffe.org) and I'm sure there will continue to be more and more people creating new Java VMs 100% compatible with Sun Microsystems' latest standard-VM-of-the-day. OS/2 is not the only one non-mainstream operating system. Remember that users of FreeBSD, BeOS, Amiga, and others are in the same boat as us, without "formal support," yet they manage to get opensource projects ported to their platforms.
Even if the lowest-level networking parts of OS/2 age over time, there are open source implementations of TCP/IP stacks, including the upcoming "IPV6" standard.
When it comes to "100% Pure Java" development, with the notorious exception of IBM's VisualAge for Java, (why they insist on developing it as native code is beyond me) MANY OTHER Java IDE developers have moved to 100% Pure Java versions (that means that their Java compilers are written in 100% Pure Java too, so a single version runs on any platform with a current Java virtual machine.) Borland JBuilder and Simplicity for Java are two good examples of this trend towards a "single multiplatform Java binary" for Java development tools.
By now, you might be thinking "this guy is making a lot of assumptions about what will happen with open source. What does he know?" Well, don't just take my word for it. Big IT industry analysts like the influential Forrester Research are saying the same thing: open source will win, Microsoft and other closed-source companies will lose.
In fact, they say that by 2004, most software applications will be "open source." You can read the full enlightening Wired article at http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,38240,00.html
ConclusionSince most of these open source developments are NOT related to OS/2 or any specific commercial company, they have a life of their own. They can't get "killed" by their parent company, since there isn't one. And when the current developers or porters get tired or move onto something else, all they have to do is find someone else (among the pool of millons of users and programmers around the world) and "pass the torch" to them. Open source software represents a great opportunity not only for OS/2 but for every alternative operating system (including non-linux operating systems.)
Do you think that the combination of open source software, and commercial (closed source) 100% Pure Java have the potential of becoming OS/2's eternal-life elixir? I do.
Please let me know what you think. In the meantime, keep riding the pony!
MP3 open source software links
BladeENC homepage: http://bladeenc.mp3.no/