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Hands-on with OS/2 on a Vintage IBM PS/2 Part 2: Install and Explore!

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Taking a trip down memory lane and exploring a fresh install of IBM OS/2 Warp Connect running on an IBM PS/2 Model 95 tower system.

In Part 1 we covered the PS/2 Model 95 hardware configuration, broke the seal on a box fresh copy of OS/2 from nearly 30 years ago, and took a look at the video capture hardware setup. In this second and final part in the series, we will now use the reference disk to configure the system, before moving on to install OS/2 and then finally explore the newly installed system.

PS/2 Configuration

Previously we took a look at the installed Micro Channel architecture (MCA) expansion cards — such as SCSI and video etc. — and their capabilities. Each adapter card is identified by a 4-digit hex number and will have a corresponding Adapter Description File which may be used to configure it. The slots with installed adapters and their ADFs are as follows:

  • 1. IBM SCSI-2 Fast/Wide Adapter/A (11H3600)
    • @8EFC.ADF
  • 3. 3Com EtherLink III
    • @627D.ADF
  • 4. IBM NI-SVGA Adapter/A (71G4877)
    • @90EE.ADF
  • 5. IBM XGA-2 Display Adapter model (87F4774)
    • @8FDA.ADF
  • 8. IBM Token Ring 16/4 Network Adapter (74F9415)
    • @E001.ADF

Once again we deferred to the Ardent Tool of Capitalism to identify and download the correct ADFs. Correct identification can be tricky at times, as some cards were produced in various different versions all using the exact same name.

Main Menu Screen

We needed to boot from the Reference Disk in order to configure the system and the menu which you are greeted by can be seen above. From this we could just go on to start an O/S from HDD, we could backup/restore/update the system programs located in the system partition of the HDD, and we can select to set configuration.

Warning Screen

Since the Reference Disk by default did not have the ADFs for many of the adapters we received a series of errors.

Configuration screen

However, once the errors were acknowledged we were then presented with the system configuration, inasmuch as this could be ascertained with the missing ADFs.

In order to be able to fully view and set the system configuration, it was simply a matter of first copying the downloaded ADFs to a floppy disk. Then going back to the main menu of the Reference Disk and selecting Copy an option diskette, before inserting the floppy with the ADFs. Following which we could boot from the updated Reference Disk and perform a full configuration.

OS/2 Install

OS/2 Install Screen

The OS/2 Warp Connect installation media is comprised of two floppy disks and a CDROM. The first (boot) floppy was inserted and the CDROM placed in the drive. After a short delay and the initial boot, we were then prompted to insert the second floppy.

Welcome to OS/2 Screen

After another brief delay, we were presented with the option of performing an easy or advanced installation, with the latter being selected, as this would allow us to select a custom partition layout.

Disk Partitioning Complete Screen

The existing partitions were deleted and the first drive — a whopping 1GB! — selected for the install, with the Boot Manager being installed, in case we later wanted to install another O/S to the second HDD. Following which it was necessary to reboot before continuing with the installation.

Setup and Installation Screen

After rebooting the required components were selected for install.

Disk Space message

Totalling almost 30MB!

Next, we were asked if we wanted to install networking support, which of course we did.

networking support screen

Notably there was no option for configuring an IP address using DHCP, hence a static address had to be set. It’s easy to forget that many things which we take for granted with TCP/IP today were not there from the beginning. Such as DHCP — only defined in late 1993 — and CIDR network masks. The latter being something which we were reminded of with a previous project to restore a Sun SPARCstation IPX.

OS/2 Installation progress screen

With basic configuration options set installation could proceed.

final configuration completed screen

A little while later, some final configuration was completed and the system was ready to use.


With the system installed and after some experimentation with the monitor and display settings, it was finally possible to capture desktop video. See the above video for a quick tour!

Final words

In short, the basic OS/2 user experience is very similar to that of Microsoft Windows from the same era — with a notable key difference being that OS/2 provided proper preemptive multitasking and full memory protection, whereas Windows implemented far simpler cooperative multitasking. Hence OS/2 provided a much more robust, stable platform. Furthermore, in addition to native OS/2 applications, it could also run Windows apps, which by default were cooperatively multitasking, but could be configured to run with full memory protection via multiple Windows sessions.

Other key differences include, as noted in the video, integrated networking and Internet applications support. Along with integrated support for the REXX programming language, which provided a powerful scripting solution which even boasted TCP/IP networking, and was way beyond any capability which shipped with Windows by default.

It’s a shame that OS/2 didn’t ultimately succeed, though it did enjoy moderate success and in particular in certain applications, such as in banking and ATM networks. However, as we have seen many times over the years, the best technology does not always win and this needs to be supported by an equally great sales, marketing and partnerships strategy if it is to stand a chance.

  — Andrew Back

Open source (hardware and software!) advocate, Treasurer and Director of the Free and Open Source Silicon Foundation, organiser of Wuthering Bytes technology festival and founder of the Open Source Hardware User Group.