OS/2 2.1 National Language Versions

IBM’s OS/2 2.1 (1993) was shipped in a number of national language versions (NLVs). At the time, the US version of OS/2 was the “master copy” and all NLVs were derived from it.  There were two major classes of NLVs: SBCS and DBCS. SBCS (Single-Byte Character Set) versions covered all but the Far East, which was served by DBCS (Double-Byte Character Set) versions.

OS/2 2.1 NLVs

The DBCS NLVs had their own hierarchy: Japanese OS/2 (also known as OS/2 J2.1) was derived from the US version, and other DBCS versions were in turn derived from OS/2 J2.1. The DBCS versions were noticeably different, with support for special hardware and in some cases requiring different device drivers (noticeably printer and video).

The CD-ROM releases of OS/2 2.1 were unusual in that there was a single “EMEA” CD which included 13 NLVs, but a box with French or German or UK OS/2 2.1 only contained bootable installation floppies for that one language version. A Russian version of OS/2 was packaged separately.

Several “Extended SBCS” versions of OS/2 also existed: Thai, Hebrew, and Arabic. These versions supported bi-directional output and/or special input methods, but were otherwise not fundamentally different from the standard SBCS versions of OS/2.

There were four major DBCS versions of OS/2: Japanese (OS/2 J2.1), Korean (OS/2 H2.1), Traditional Chinese (OS/2 T2.1), and Simplified Chinese (OS/2 P2.1). OS/2 T2.1 was available in two variants, 5550 and Big-5, named after the primary DBCS code page supported by the system; 5550 was an older IBM codepage, while Big-5 was a newer de facto standard.

“EMEA” OS/2 2.1

The so-called EMEA CD was very minimalist, with the CD jacket only showing the OS/2 logo and the text “OS/2 2.1”. The CD itself was not much more verbose.

OS/2 2.1 CD ("EMEA")

On the other hand, the installation diskettes were labeled in the appropriate language, as was the packaging. Printed documentation was likewise translated.

The “EMEA” CD didn’t quite cover Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. It included UK English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Canadian French, and Brazilian Portuguese versions. As mentioned above, the box only contained boot floppies for one language, but it was possible to manually create installation floppies for any of the provided NLVs from the CD as all the necessary files were included on the CD.

The UK version of OS/2 2.1 was almost indistinguishable from the US release. The documentation used US English spelling, for example. Essentially the only difference was a different default keyboard layout and country setting.

OS/2 2.1 UK Country Setting

The other language versions were rather more obviously different. OS/2 NLVs also shipped appropriate national version of Win-OS/2. Beyond the translated user interface, there weren’t significant differences.

About Box OS/2 2.1 French

DBCS OS/2 2.1

There were fairly significant differences between the DBCS versions of OS/2. This pertained especially to input method editors (IMEs), Win-OS/2, and DOS support.

OS/2 2.1J System Setup

The DBCS versions of OS/2 supported specialized keyboard layouts and often also supported special hardware (e.g. the IBM PS/55, a PS/2 model designed for the Japanese market). On the other hand, special hardware was not required and DBCS versions ran on standard PC compatibles as well.

OS/2 H2.1 Keyboard Selection

Installing DBCS OS/2 was usually not entirely straightforward for a person not familiar with Japanese, Chinese or Korean, but it was greatly facilitated by the fact that IBM used the same key combinations as the US version of OS/2 in the installation screens and dialogs. This was taken to an extreme in the shutdown screen:

OS/2 H2.1 shutdown screen

All DBCS versions of OS/2 simply said “End. Ctrl+Alt+Del or Power Off.”; that’s of course English but not the same text as the English versions of OS/2…

The DBCS versions of OS/2 were significantly more complex when it came to DOS and Win-OS/2 support, and somewhat inconsistent.

OS/2 H2.1 command prompts

For example the Korean version of OS/2 2.1 came with three different DOS prompts: DOS, DOS/K, DOS/V. DOS was basically the US English version of OS/2 DOS support. DOS/K supported both the Korean and US codepage, while DOS/V only used DBCS codepages. Both DOS/K and DOS/V were localized into Korean.

All DBCS versions of OS/2 came with the appropriate DOS/V support. Note that a full-screen DOS/V session used graphics mode (in order to display complex ideographs), not text mode.

Full-screen DOS/V in OS/2 P2.1

Win-OS/2 support also varied somewhat across DBCS OS/2 releases, presumably because the underlying Windows 3.1 support wasn’t uniform.

Win-OS/2 in OS/2 J2.1

Some later OS/2 versions even shipped with multiple Win-OS/2 versions (e.g. Japanese and US), likely because some software designed for the US market wasn’t fully compatible with Japanese Windows 3.x.

Full-screen DBCS OS/2 sessions also used graphics mode:

OS/2 T2.1 full-screen session

For this and other reasons, DBCS versions of OS/2  required somewhat modified display drivers (both full-screen and Presentation Manager). That of course complicated the lives of DBCS OS/2 users. It may be worth noting that the graphical text mode support was initialized almost immediately when booting OS/2:

OS/2 H2.1 boot logo

For reference, a list of DBCS OS/2 versions and their abbreviations follows: OS/2 J2.1 (Japanese), OS/2 H2.1 (Hanguel—Korean), OS/2 T2.1 (Traditional Chinese, Taiwan and Hong Kong), OS/2 P2.1 (People’s Republic of China, Simplified Chinese).

Support of Other Countries

OS/2 2.1 was localized into a relatively small set of languages, but supported a much wider set of languages and countries with the appropriate country, codepage, and keyboard settings. Such indirectly supported languages included Turkish, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, or Icelandic.


The OS/2 Museum is looking for the remaining NLVs of OS/2 2.1: Russian, Hebrew, Thai, and Arabic.


Introduction to OS/2 2.1 National Language Support, GG24-4213-00, IBM Redbook, May 1994

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7 Responses to OS/2 2.1 National Language Versions

  1. Yuhong Bao says:

    “All DBCS versions of OS/2 simply said “End. Ctrl+Alt+Del or Power Off.”; that’s of course English but not the same text as the English versions of OS/2…”
    I wonder why?

  2. yksoft1 says:

    What about NEC PC-9801 specific Microsoft OS/2 1.1A, 1.2 and 1.21B?

  3. michaln says:

    I have no information about those.

  4. wow I never thought of OS/2 being a far better international DOS than DOS.. Oldest thing I found in HK so far was a busted megadrive 🙁

  5. Tae says:

    How do you install Korean version of eComStation? That is great.

  6. Michal Necasek says:

    I don’t really know — the above is Korean OS/2 2.1, a little bit older…

  7. @Yuhong Bao: Maybe the command keys and/or the power button were still labelled the same as on US machines, even on machines shipped to the Far East, so they kept the English for those because that’s what the user’d be looking for on the keys/button?

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