Heavy Lifting—16-bit OS/2 server software
For both IBM and Microsoft, OS/2 1.x performed the duty of a PC server platform. For IBM of course, OS/2 ran on the smallest systems in their portfolio, while for Microsoft it was the biggest system. While the IBM and Microsoft desktop OS/2 version differed only the supported hardware and drivers, the server software was significantly different.
The differences started with product packaging: IBM sold OS/2 EE (Extended Edition) as a separate product with base OS plus server components, while Microsoft offered separate server software add-ons.
IBM OS/2 EE
The EE versions of OS/2 were essential OS/2 SE (Standard Edition) with additional server components:
- Communications Manager—a must-have for the typical IBM shop. The Communications Manager (or just CM) offered a number of transport protocols and terminal emulators. In OS/2 1.x the CM was purely text based (a fulls-creen text mode interface).
- Database Manager—this product later turned into DB2/2. It was a full-fledged SQL-based relational database. It offered a number of connectivity options and was aimed at enterprise customers. The Database Manager had a GUI frontend for most operations.
- LAN Requester—an essential component for accessing IBM/Microsoft style LANs. The LAN Requester changed relatively little over the years. Just like the CM, the Requester’s interface was only text based. It also supported the familiar NET command.
IBM was also selling other server software separately, such as LAN Server 1.3 or TCP/IP 1.2.
For review purposes, OS/2 1.3 EE was installed on a true blue machine, an IBM PS/2 model 9577. That is a 486DX/2-66 with 8MB RAM and a 400MB SCSI harddrive. It utilizes the Microchannel (MCA) bus and is equipped with a 1MB XGA-2 display adapter. Some device drivers had to be updated with a version from the latest OS/2 1.3 fixpacks but apart from that minor annoyance, OS/2 1.3 had no problem working with MCA, SCSI, etc.
IBM OS/2 1.3 EE came on 19 3½” HD floppies. That’s a lot. After booting from the first floppy (OS/2 1.3 could be booted to the command line from a single HD floppy, including HPFS) the users were greeter by a familiar blue screen:
After installation, the desktop of OS/2 1.3 EE looked almost the same as OS/2 1.3 SE, or the Microsoft version of OS/2 1.3. One difference (apart from all the extra server software of course) was the presence of four tutorial programs for the base OS, CM, LAN Requester, and Database Manager—the following screenshot is from the Database Manager tutorial:
The Database Manager and base OS tutorials were graphical and Communications Manager and LAN Requester tutorials were text mode, just like the software they were explaining.
The Communications Manager is not much good without an old IBM mainframe to connect to. The LAN Requester could likewise not be reviewed, this time due to a lack of device drivers. That is to say, a driver for the test machine’s Token Ring adapter might be found, but nothing to connect to. Luckily the Database Manager was easier to work with.
OS/2 1.3 EE came with the User Profile Manager (UPM)—to use the LAN Requester or Database Manager, the user had to log on first:
The default user ID and password were USERID and PASSWORD. No surprise to OS/2 users there—some things just don’t change. The whole UPM component looked remarkably similar to the versions included even in the last OS/2 releases. The reason why it looked so ugly and out of place in OS/2 Warp 4, is that it hadn’t changed much since 1989 or so (the OS/2 1.3 version of UPM had not substantially changed since OS/2 1.2 or even 1.1):
The Database Manager was a complete SQL relational database server, quite powerful. Its successor, IBM DB2/2 (and later DB2 UDB) was and still is one of the top relational database systems.
It is interesting however that the old Database Manager had a more complete GUI (Query Manager) than some of the later DB2/2 releases. With Query manager, users could manage tables and views, enter data, create queries and reports and so on. Here’s a sample screenshot of the user interface for managing queries:
Using the Query Manager likely did not pose major difficulties to anyone with SQL experience.
OS/2 EE also came with programming headers and libraries for the EE components, enabling users to create custom applications. Some of these in-house applications reportedly survived into the early third millennium, more than ten years after the last 16-bit OS/2 was released.
Microsoft LAN Manager
Microsoft’s offering for the enterprise was the LAN Manager. The LANMan (as the LAN Manager was affectionately known) is a piece of software with a very long history. The first versions appeared sometime in mid-1980s and the latest incarnations still live on in Windows NT (including Windows 7 etc.). And of course in IBM LAN Server/Warp Server. The early versions of LAN Manager were developed by Microsoft in cooperation with 3Com and sold to OEMs (not directly by Microsoft). LAN Manager was compatible with, although not identical to, IBM’s LAN Server.
MS LAN Manager 2.1 came on 12 floppies and contained the following components:
- OS/2 LAN Manager Server
- OS/2 LAN Manager Workstation (or Requester in IBM parlance)
- DOS LAN Manager client software
- HPFS386 filesystem for OS/2
- Novell NetWare interoperability tools
- DOS and OS/2 Drivers for a number of NICs
Technically perhaps the most interesting bit was the HPFS386 filesystem. Remember that OS/2 1.x was a 16-bit OS. That meant getting 32-bit 386 code to run on it required some trickery. And indeed HPFS386 used a number of interesting techniques (or ugly hacks, depending on one’s point of view). And because OS/2 1.x had no support for 32-bit code in the NE executable format, HPFS386 used the 32-bit LE (Linear Executable) format for its 32-bit binaries. That format was designed for OS/2 2.0 which was already under development at the time. However, by the time OS/2 2.0 came out, IBM had made a few changes to the executable format and renamed it to LX. But the LE format lived on—it was used by Windows 3.x/9x VxDs as well as Rational/Tenberry’s popular DOS/4G(W) DOS extender.
The LAN Manager offered two interfaces: a command-line based one via the NET command, and a full-screen text mode interface which looked like this:
Configuration utilities for disk fault tolerance and remote boot were graphical, but those were specialty items. The text mode interface was shared with DOS, whereas the GUI utilities had no DOS counterparts.
LAN Manager 2.1 used the NETBEUI protocol and also supported TCPBEUI (also known as NetBIOS over TCP/IP), although there was no DHCP support. LAN Manager supported a number of NICs out of the box and for well over a decade, many manufacturers supplied OS/2 LAN Manager drivers with their network cards.
LAN Manager 2.1 could do just about everything one might expect a server system to do. After all, as mentioned before, it was not all that different from its successors, Windows NT server and OS/2 Warp Server. It could manage domains and users, share files or printers, send messages, etc. It also supported more advanced features such as remote booting (RPL, or Remote Program Load) of DOS and OS/2 workstations.
Microsoft LAN Manager can interoperate with OS/2 and Windows based systems (e.g. Windows XP) without difficulty, especially when NetBIOS over TCP/IP is used as the transport protocol.
Compared to the IBM LAN Requester, the MS LAN Manager was surprisingly poorly integrated with Presentation Manager: it didn’t install any program groups or icons and didn’t have any PM-based online documentation. Again, that’s most likely because Microsoft also marketed DOS versions of LAN Manager but IBM never produced DOS versions of LAN Server.
It’s not clear when exactly the development of the OS/2 versions of LAN Manager finally stopped, but the last release of LAN Manager client for OS/2 is version 2.2c from late 1994—long after the MS/IBM split. It even supported OS/2 2.x. By then Microsoft was of course already pushing Windows NT as hard as it could (by the time LAN Manager 2.2c came out, Windows NT 3.5 had already been released), and the OS/2 based LAN Manager was in maintenance mode.
The last LAN Manager server release was 2.2b from late 1993. At that time, the OS/2 based LAN Manager was an odd duck. Windows NT wasn’t quite there yet in terms of stability and performance, but OS/2 1.3 was clearly an obsolete OS. As a result, hardware vendors were understandably reluctant to supply e.g. OS/2 1.x drivers for new disk controllers. This situation probably accelerate the adoption of Windows NT Advanced Server among Microsoft LAN Manager customers who might be otherwise reluctant to switch to a memory-hungry and unproven operating system.
While IBM supplied the Database Manager with OS/2 EE, Microsoft had the SQL Server, sold as a standalone product. The first version was released in 1989. It was written for Microsoft by Sybase (who at that time worked primarily in the UNIX market) and initially marketed by Ashton-Tate. Later versions were co-written by Sybase and Microsoft but in 1994 the companies split because Sybase favored cross-platform development while Microsoft was only interested in a Windows NT version. After the split, both companies marketed their own versions of SQL Server. Both of those could clearly trace their history to the old OS/2 SQL Server.
SQL server 1.0 was a full-fledged RDBMS with networking support. The server ran on OS/2 1.x and clients could be OS/2, DOS or Windows 3.x systems. SQL Server was integrated with LAN Manager and could be operated as a LAN Manager service. It was shipped on four 3½” HD floppies which contained the actual server, several administration tools, client software, and a development kit.
There wasn’t much to look at—most of the SQL Server utilities were command-line only. The only visually somewhat more interesting utility was SAF, or SQL Server Administration Facility:
The SAF allowed administrators to perform basic maintenance tasks (creating databases, setting up various server parameters, and so on) as well as run SQL commands directly—following is a screenshot of the obligatory demo database supplied with the product:
Similar to LAN Manager, the level of integration of SQL Server into OS/2 was very low. No program groups or icons were created, no online books were installed, no PM programs were provided. The IBM products were noticeably better in this respect.
When it was released, SQL Server had fairly massive hardware requirements—it needed about 30MB disk space and 10MB RAM to run smoothly. That was of course at a time when the typical machine had 1-2MB RAM and a 40MB harddrive. On today’s systems it of course flies. But SQL Server was a relatively large-scale database (for a PC anyway) and those requirements were justified.
There is little doubt that OS/2 1.x was much more successful as a server platform than as an end user system. Many of the server software packages available for 16-bit successors have successors that are an important part of the modern computing landscape.