OS/2 2.0, Xmas ’91 Edition

After reviewing the OS/2 2.0 level 6.605 pre-release, another re-discovery is the “Limited Availability” (LA) level 6.177 from December 1991. This was the last OS/2 2.0 pre-release of 1991 and also the last one using the 6.1xx numbering; the next pre-release was 6.304 in February 1992.

Install disk of OS/2 2.0 6.177

The installation floppies are labeled 12/91 and the files appear to have been finalized on Christmas Eve (December 24) of 1991. The labels read “IBM Operating System/2 S.E. Version: 2.0”; it’s not entirely clear what S.E. stands for—possibly Standard Edition, in line with OS/2 1.x SE, even though with 2.0 there was no EE (Extended Edition).

The 6.177 pre-release was very important for IBM because it was meant to fulfill certain promises made to customers, namely delivering OS/2 2.0 in 1991. That promise was kept and not kept: OS/2 2.0 LA was built before the end of the year, but it was only manufactured in larger quantities in mid-January 1992. It was also very limited availability indeed, not something anyone could just buy. And, obviously, it was not the actual public release of OS/2 2.0.

OS/2 2.0 LA booting

The notable feature of the 6.177 disks was that they did not say “pre-release” or “evaluation” or anything like that, and in fact IBM provided official support for OS/2 2.0 LA.

Visually, OS/2 2.0 LA looked quite a bit like the eventual GA, and there were few obvious differences. The Windows environment was renamed to “Windows for OS/2”, close to the final “WIN-OS/2” (not to be confused with the later “OS/2 for Windows”).

Win-OS/2 in 2.0 LA

The desktop did not look noticeably different from the final release.

Setup folder in OS/2 2.0 LA

With Windows support included, OS/2 2.0 LA came in at relatively hefty 15 disks for the base OS (install + 14 system diskettes) and five driver floppies, for a total of 20 3½” HD floppies.

OS/2 6.177 installer copying files

Perhaps the most significant technical difference from OS/2 2.0 GA was that LA still used the old-style monolithic disk drivers (amazingly, the new disk subsystem only hit the public in the last 6.304 beta, around February 1992).

DOS support was all there on the other hand:

DOS session in OS/2 6.177

And the DOS settings dialog didn’t look too different either:

DOS settings in OS/2 2.0 LA

An interesting new behavior of 6.177 is that it halts the CPU when idle. All previous OS/2 versions never stopped executing code and 6.177 was the first to use the HLT instruction. This was presumably done to improve battery life of portables; on typical desktop machines (386, 486), halting the processor made little difference, but on Intel’s 386SL/486SL (Auto HALT Power Down) and IBM’s 386SLC/486SLC it brought potentially very significant power savings. And IBM was just about to introduce portables with Intel 386SL and IBM 386SLC processors in early 1992, with ThinkPads (486SLC) to follow later that year.

An announcement posted on the IBM BBS around January 5th, 1992 survived to this day. Note that EEP stands for Early Experience Program.

Beginning immediately, we are making available an additional but
limited number of licenses for the OS/2 EEP beta code.  This version
will be the 6.177 version which is, essentially, EEP version 6f.167
with a number of fixes included which will make it easier for us to
support the additional number of copies.  No additional function over
the 6f.167 version is included.

In addition, users who have previously ordered the OS/2 2.00 EEP code
from this BBS, and who have received version 6f.167, will receive
version 6.177 without further action required.  Your credit card will
be charged for this shipment.  If you do NOT wish to receive 6.177,
call 800-IBM-3040 and tell the operator that you are calling about the
Atlanta BBS beta program and that you do not wish to receive version
6.177. You have until about January 16th to do this.

The cost of the OS/2 Limited Availability code is about $85 for all,
whether ordering for the first time or if you already have a previous
version.  When we have an exact price, which will depend upon the
number of diskettes, we will post it here.

We will provide limited support via the NSC BBS for this EEP program
as follows:

We will provide Conference 6, OS/2 2.00 (Beta), for you to report
problems with the OS/2 2.00 code and to ask questions.  We will accept
reports of problems and send them to the OS/2 development group.  We
will try on a best effort basis to answer your questions, but cannot
guarantee to answer any or all of them.

Your system must have a specific minimum configuration to work
properly with OS/2 2.00.  You will need an Intel(R) 80386 or 80386SX
processor or higher.  You will also need 4Mb or more of RAM, and a
hard drive of 60Mb or larger.

You must reside in the USA to be eligible for this EEP program.


Type OS/2 Beta at the command line and follow prompts to
place your order.

It is clear that IBM ran a fairly modern beta program, using the latest technology (BBS!) to communicate with users. Note that besides the IBM BBS there were at least two other ways to obtain this release from IBM, the EEP and DAP (Developer Assistance Program). While the OS/2 2.0 beta program was modern, it was not quite streamlined.

OS/2 2.0 Limited Availability is an interesting piece of computing history, a kind of non-release release. There are certain parallels with OS/2 for PowerPC, with the big difference that the OS/2 2.0 LA release only began the life of 32-bit OS/2, while the release of OS/2 for PowerPC was the end of that project. Both were truly limited availability, released more to satisfy promises IBM made to customers than for any other purpose.

Now the MS OS/2 2.0 SDKs just need to pop up…


Note: The OS/2 Museum previously in some instances incorrectly identified the OS/2 2.0 pre-release level 6.167 (Oct ’91) as OS/2 2.0 LA. The 2.0 LA level was 6.177 (Dec ’91).

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11 Responses to OS/2 2.0, Xmas ’91 Edition

  1. ths says:

    I remember that well – 6.177 was the first release of OS/2 I received and installed.
    Together with LAN Manager, CSet/2, 3270 and a lot of other tools it was a huge package that came by mail, distributed by a german IBM dealer who organized the beta distribution programme. I remember I had to pay per disk, and it amounted to something like 80 DM at the time (I guess ~ $50). I didn’t really understand all of the disks, I had simply ordered “everything”, and it amounted to something like approx. 50 disks.
    I liked it very much, everything worked ok, but the programming was nothing like I was used to under DOS, and there was a learning curve for both the tools and the GUI API.

  2. Michal Necasek says:

    According to my research, the betas were also available on CD-ROMs, precisely because the entire OS + networking + development + database + communications kit was several dozens of floppies. No idea if the CDs were available in Germany at all, and CD-ROM drives weren’t exactly standard equipment back then anyway.

    I don’t suppose any of the add-on disks survived? 🙂

    The learning curve was definitely steep, I remember when I started with OS/2 programming it was very very different from DOS. I think for OS/2 1.x developers the learning curve had to be much more flat, but there never were that many of those.

  3. Tobis87 says:

    Have you tried my idlehlt16 driver to use HLT for the versions between 1.3 and this?

  4. Michal Necasek says:

    No, but I think there’s a high chance it would work. You should be able to find level 6.167 floppy images somewhere.

  5. Christian says:

    The quoted announcement was from January 1992, not 1991 as far as I can see.

    As for possibly mis-identifying 6.167 as Limited Availability, while this name was nowhere be found anywhere in the build itself, the floppies and packaging prominently featured it. So, can 6.167 also be called LA?

    Seamless Win-OS/2 didn’t make it into the “Christmas build” either, I believe that appeard in 6.304.

  6. Christian says:

    Two additional differences to the GA: there’s no Adobe Type Manager in Win-OS/2 and the Cat and Mouse game is curiously missing in 6.177 (even though it was there in 6.167).

  7. Michal Necasek says:

    Oops, yes, the announcement is from Jan ’92 of course, corrected.

    I don’t have enough of 6.304 to get it going but seamless Win-OS/2 certainly wasn’t in 6.177 but was in 6.307. Except for some reason it wasn’t supported with the VGA driver anyway until OS/2 Warp.

    My 6.167 disks do not appear to have Limited Availability or LA on them anywhere (it’s “pre-release”). Then again I’m pretty sure there were several different packagings. The 6.177 disks don’t say Limited Availability either. But the boot screen of 6.177 says Limited Availability (see screenshot in article), and 6.167 doesn’t.

  8. Michal Necasek says:

    Yes, Neko is missing in 6.177 only. It was clearly a packaging error because the icon gets created but points nowhere.

  9. Christian says:

    Oops, you’re right that your 6.167 disks and packaging don’t say Limited Availability anywhere. Sorry for the mistake.

  10. Michal Necasek says:

    Re seamless, I have to correct myself, OS/2 2.0 GA can do it in VGA. It just for some reason does not offer the “Win-OS/2 window” session type for programs that aren’t Windows applications (and the Win-OS/2 FS session is a DOS app!). But it’s possible to run Program Manager in a seamless window, for example.

    Definitely not possible in 6.177. Unclear with 6.304. Reports indicate that seamless Windows was not supported with 8514/A and maybe other drivers until later.

    I think the presence of WINSHELD.EXE in 6.304 indicates that it can do seamless.

  11. junky says:

    You are real die-hard badass historian, aren’t you?

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