OS/2 16-bit Server

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.


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 full-screen 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 greeted 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):

But back to the Database Manager. Its user interface was called Query Manager.

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.

SQL Server

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 OS/2 have successors that are an important part of the modern computing landscape.

24 Responses to OS/2 16-bit Server

  1. Steve Schattenbild says:


    Some interesting info about 1.3.

    I’m trying to install 1.3 EE on a 20MHz. 80286 (couldn’t find the Harris 25 MHz.) with 16M RAM.
    I am using disks copied from my archive of the original disks, but I did not copy the disk labels, and the original disks are no longer accessible.
    Would you have access to the disk labels of the 19 1.3 EE install disks?
    If so, could you forward a list of these labels?

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Steve Schattenbild

  2. michaln says:

    I don’t have access to my original disks right now, so I can’t tell you what the physical labels on the disks are. However, the data on the floppies includes volume label entries, and I can tell you what those are:

    OS2 DISK 1 — OS2 DISK 5
    EE DISK6 — EE DISK14
    OS2 PMDD 1 — OS2 PMDD 4

    The last PMDD (Presentation Manager Device Driver) disk may be labeled “Fonts”. In other words, one bootable installation disk, fourteen disks containing the base OS and EE services, and four printer driver plus fonts disks.

  3. Renee F. Senger says:

    I am tryng to install IBM OS/2 1.20 EE in virtual box 4.2.16 (ubuntu) and the installation process with the OS2INSTALL diskette patched with patchos2.py goes without problem until the last diskette EE_DISK_14. At this point files seems to be copied but the installation freeze. Rebboting the virtual machine, I saw that IBMLAN directory with its directories was created. CMLIB directory too. But not was added to CONFIG.SYS related to this services. Can you post the config.sys file from your installation of 1.30.EE ? I have choose to install only Lan Services from the list and network card was 3 Com EtherLink Network, as any of the listed options are emulated by VirtuaBox ( IBM Token Ring Network, IBM PC Network, Western Digital Ethercard Plus Network, Ungermann-Bas NIU Network). My idea was trying to install PC Net Fast III drivers (pos-installation).

    Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Renee F. Senger

  4. Michal Necasek says:

    I don’t think the PCnet drivers work with IBM’s LAN Requester. I’d recommend only installing the database at first (if anything) and adding other components after the initial install, perhaps after creating a snapshot.

  5. Renee F. Senger says:

    Thanks for the tip! Selecting, at first, installation of Remote Data Services on Lan I get Communications Manager completely installed. What I am trying now is to install a network adapter driver compatible with VirtualBox options, manually. I have tried an Intel adapter (e1000.os2) with the suggested modifications in C:\CMLIB\PROTOCOL.INI without success. Any idea about a 16bit driver compatible?

    Renee F. Senger

  6. Andreas Kohl says:

    Long time ago I tried AMD PCnet NDIS2 (…but not every version available) without success. As I remember I got a TRAP or something while loading. Perhaps it’s possible to upgrade to LAN Adapter Protocol Services that supports migrating from CM/2 style configurations. The only alternative could be PMAC.OS2 using virtual parallel port or a real NIC on a physical parallel port?

  7. Michal Necasek says:

    I don’t know if any of the “modern” drivers are compatible with IBM’s OS/2 EE LAN Requester. The drivers are 16-bit, but do not necessarily work with OS/2 1.x at all. Does the old LAN Requester even support NDIS?

    It is definitely possible to use the AMD PCnet driver (PCNTND.OS2) with MS LAN Manager 2.1/2.2 running on top of OS/2 1.3. I have not been able to get LAN Manager 2.0 going on top of OS/2 1.21 (crashes when starting the workstation service).

  8. Renee F. Senger says:

    CM/2 version 1.1 supports NDIS and is possible to migrating from OS/2 Extended Edition 1.3 as explained in “IBM Communications Manager/2 Version 1.1-Network Administration and Subsystem Management Guide” (ftp.software.ibm.com/software/cm2/pubs/v1.1x/en_us/netadmin.lps). But, you must have IBM OS/2 Extended Edition 1.30.1 with corrective service CSD 5200 applied as you already cited in another topic (ftp.software.ibm.com/ps/products/os2/fixes/v1.30/). You have to upgrade the LAN Requester function of OS/2 Extended Edition 1.3, that is, have to upgrade to LAN Server 2.0 or higher. So, as documentation about Extended Services packaged with OS/2 1.x EE is poor in internet, I think my tests with IBM OS/2 1.20 EE have finished.

    In fact, my idea was trying others extended services, like TN3270 terminal emulation to connect to a VM/370 Hercules virtual machine running the VM/370R6 Public Domain system, and remember my long time ago activities with BITNET.

    RF Senger

  9. Renee F. Senger says:

    PMMAC.OS2 seems to be an interesting experience. However I have no more real hardware to run IBM OS/2 1.x EE. Parallel port in VirtualBox machine is not too difficult to create but I have no idea how to configure a kind of virtual “laplink cable connection” between two virtual machines or even with the host.

    RF Senger

  10. Michal Necasek says:

    There’s no way to do that. Only a serial “virtual cable” is supported. I expect a code contribution would be welcome 🙂

  11. Michal Necasek says:

    In theory it would be possible to emulate some NIC that OS/2 1.x EE supported… but which? IBM’s Ethernet support back then was kind of sketchy, and good luck finding documentation for some Ungermann-Bass Ethernet adapter. The next question is who would write such an emulation 🙂

  12. Ben Webber says:

    I know that the Realtek 8029 (pci) NIC used to work on OS/2.. I’m going to give the 8139 a go to see if that works.

    I’ve managed to find a copy of OS/2 1.3 online, which I’m overjoyed about! But I can’t seem to find Lan manager 2.1 server anywhere, which makes me want to cry..

  13. Michal Necasek says:

    Try the LAN Manager 2.2 client. I think it’s still on Microsoft’s FTP somewhere… ftp://ftp.microsoft.com/bussys/Clients/LANMAN.OS2/

  14. Ben Webber says:

    Yeah I’ve found that already. But to complicate matters, the virtual HD I’ve downloaded has the OS/2 installation on a FAT partition. First thing Lanman setup checks…. >_<

    I've tried installing a fresh copy on a blank VM, but run into the country.sys error on my W2K12 VM box… (which coincidentally the pre-installed VM just hangs on the boot splash on this machine)

    I can run the pre-installed VM under Windows virtual PC on my Win7 box, but this doesn't come with virtual floppy support without some phaffing. Looks like I'm going to have to play with power shell :\

  15. Ben Webber says:

    (I was specifically looking for LM2 server)

  16. Michal Necasek says:

    Gotcha. I’ve seen LanMan 2.0 and 2.1 server out there. 2.0 may be hard to get running, 2.1 does work on top of OS/2 1.3.

    You should definitely be able to install OS/2 1.3 in a VM in VirtualBox (and possibly VMware) if Virtual PC can’t boot it from floppies. Using a small (< 500MB) disk is more or less required, and removing any CD-ROMs may help.

  17. Ben Webber says:

    It worked like a dream on Virtual box – did a fresh install and everything. Just need to find Lanman Server now :\

  18. Manuel Maria says:

    I’ve just managed to make MS Lan Manager 2.0 server on OS/2 1.3 under VMWare Workstation load the PCNet driver available at AMD support site (with the help of os2_mslanman.exe). Nevertheless I’ve had to tune it. Step by step:

    1.- Install OS/2 1.3 and later on Lan Manager 2.0 (available from vetusware). Do not choose any network driver.

    2.- Create a new NIF file which I named PCNET.NIF:

    Model = AMD PCNet adapter for VMWare
    Path = ETHERNET\PCNet
    DeviceDriver = pcntnd.OS2
    DeviceName = pcntnd$
    Type = NDIS

    Save it at c:\lanman\drivers\nif\

    3.- Create the folder c:\lanman\drivers\ethernet\pcnet and copy pcntnd.OS2, protocol.ini and readme.txt from the AMD PCNet drivers into it

    4.- Run c:\lanman\setup.exe and choose Actions and View/Modify

    With a bit of luck the ‘AMD PCNet adapter for VMWare’ driver will be listed along the default ones, so you will be able to choose it. Save your option and restart OS/2.

    At this point the workstation service is running for me. The server not yet.

    Good luck!

  19. Michal Necasek says:

    You shouldn’t need to create the NIF file manually, and just install the driver from a (virtual) floppy. But what you did works too.

  20. Chris says:

    Hi, has anyone successfully installed LAN Manager 2.2 server in VMware workstation?
    The services appear to start up but then stop and hang. I used the AMD PC NET drivers.

  21. Mick Russom says:

    Dave Cutler mentioned this on Dave’s Garage

  22. I wonder is Msft used OS/2 as a server internally before NT?

    I remember when they used HPUX for their website and DNS. You could even see this in the microsoft.com WHOIS info back then – the DNS servers listed would say things like ‘ns1.mit.edu running X on a Microvax’ . Fun fact – I remember running finger on [email protected] and it showed me he was logged in from jis.ne.mediaone.net, circa 1999/2000.

  23. Michal Necasek says:

    I suspect they used OS/2 as LAN Manager file servers. Doubt they’d use it for anything Internet related. And generally many developers ran OS/2 on their machines circa 1990 (including NT developers).

  24. MiaM says:

    Old thread and whatnot, but I think it’s worth mentioning that it seems like traces of Microsoft running their mail server product on Xenix (??) leaked out in the form of pictures of it having BCC or was it CC fields that was missing in the product that they actually shipped to customers.

    So the question is kind of to what extent they used Xenix and to what extent they used OS/2 internally?

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