This is a guest post written by Marko Štamcar from the Slovenian Computer Museum in Ljubljana. Additional context and commentary from the OS/2 Museum can be found at the end of the article.
Slovenia being a tiny country with a population of just 2 million, IBM OS/2 Warp 4 was one of the few non-Microsoft operating systems to be localized to Slovenian in the mid-90s and a big deal for the local IT community back then. But nearly 3 decades later, when OS/2 disappeared from the last ATMs in the country, the even rarer Slovenian version was as good as completely gone. Or was it?
Cue the Slovenian Computer Museum and our software heritage/conservancy activities. I have been part of the museum for the last 5 years and am the head of the laboratory (responsible for getting old machines to work for them to be shown off) and vice president of our non-profit organization. Our museum was founded in 2004 as part of the local hackerspace Kiberpipa/Cyberpipe but has since outgrown its humble beginnings and is now located in a dedicated space with 700 square meters of useful room on three levels dedicated to museum storage, exhibition and event space, and two classrooms. (More info on the museum’s website.)
I got my first PC in 1996 and it came with Slovenian Windows 95 preinstalled. I never really used OS/2 in my software development career, but I did remember reading about the Slovenian version in the computer magazines at the time and even seeing it promoted on a large dot-matrix clock on the tallest building in the center of Ljubljana, Trg republike 3 (the building used to be called Iskra (“spark”) after the biggest Slovenian technology company in Yugoslavia, the same Iskra that had a subsidiary called Iskra Delta that produced some of the country’s first computers and terminals in close cooperation with Digital Equipment Corporation). I started my research.
Google was not of much help here, but using it I managed to find the only Slovenian FixPak which confirmed I was not hallucinating. Ironically, but for us Slovenians (lot of times confused with Slovakia) all too common, the folder on IBM’s FTP (which still works) is called “Slovanian” instead of Slovenian. One of the updated files found in the FixPak folder is the Win-OS/2 component winfile.exe which can still run on the latest Windows using WineVDM:
That is a rather notable piece of the puzzle, since Windows 3.1x was never localized to Slovenian—Microsoft’s first localized OS for our country was Windows 95.
Next I decided to research old Slovenian computer magazines—at the Computer Museum we have a comprehensive collection of them and for some magazines we boast near-complete sets of all issues. That goes for the enterprise IT-oriented magazine Monitor which is still in print.
After a brief search, I managed to find two preview articles about the Slovenian localization in the February 1997 & July/August 1997 issues, one showing a screenshot of more Win-OS/2 components and the second – finally – the Warp 4 desktop!
I used all these 3 screenshots to conduct a social media campaign to find any physical or digital artefacts for our collection. I was hoping to find a mint boxed version with readable install media to make an archive copy of, together with all the booklets and manuals that came with it. I really put an effort into this, posting regular reminders about us still looking for the thing and sending numerous emails to any contacts that were suggested to me—from senior IT employees at various companies and government entities to (ex) IBM Slovenia employees and managers. At best, I got replies that they used to have a Slovenian copy somewhere but got rid of it and at worst, false alarms where it turned out they only ever used the version in English.
Since search engines for contemporary web were not of much help, I turned to the Wayback Machine by The Internet Archive and browsed through countless local software distributors’ websites and many iterations of IBM Slovenia web pages. The best I could find was the Warp 4 landing page promoting its release. What was cool was the Warp 4 logo—it was tiny and grainy, but another piece of the puzzle for me to collect:
Then I used various existing English language graphics to make a high resolution recreation of that logo:
As for finding the actual software, I was discouraged and shelved the task for a few months. But I never really gave up and a random Google search session yielded another result: ZOP-CR d.o.o. (“d.o.o.” is the Slovenian equivalent of “Ltd.”), a company which specializes in software localization, mentioned on their website that their first project was OS/2 Warp 4. How lucky that they bothered to mention this and that I happened to find it! I set up a meeting and it turned out their office was just a few blocks away from my apartment all along. From there, I got new leads and people to contact and in the end, I managed to find a copy of the install disc. I would have very much hoped for at least a photo of the original Slovenian box packaging but in the end, seeing how difficult and rare this piece of software seems to be nowadays, I am more than happy to have it in any shape or form. Now it was time to test it out for the first time in years!
With these two screens in QEMU, I was satisfied that I managed to obtain the real deal.
Online enthusiast communities always supply quality information and using the installation howtos provided by them greatly helped me getting to the Warp 4 desktop and displaying it in high resolution.
And yes, there is also the Win-OS/2 Windows 3.1x desktop in Slovenian, something that was never distributed as a standalone product but became a reality thanks to IBM.
Our Computer Museum’s opening exhibition is titled “What about the software” and is a comprehensive experience covering everything from basic concepts of computer software and programming to the various retrocomputing experiences from DOS to Windows XP—the work that went into Slovenian OS/2 research needed to be presented and we set up an authentic PC for our visitors to try out. The original OS/2 Warp 4 install media is not compatible with hard drives bigger than a certain size and newer chipsets, but a 486 PC from our collection was a perfect fit as it is from the same era and is 100% supported including graphics drivers.
System specifications: 486DX2, 16 MB RAM, 400 MB hard drive, Cirrus Logic graphics running at 800×600 with 256 colors and a blazing fast quad-speed (4x) CD-ROM drive! I think the CRT partially covered in black bars in this photo keeps it even more real 🙂
But the story doesn’t quite end there. I still wanted a photo of the “OS/2” sign displayed in large text on the towering building at Trg republike 3, right next to the Slovenian Parliament building. You see, this office building used to be IBM Slovenia headquarters for many years and the digital clock on top has been a staple for Ljubljana citizens as much as Big Ben is for Londoners. Nowadays it is a large 7-segment display in red but before it completely broke, it used to be a huge dot matrix of light bulbs that could also display letters and for a long time it alternated between the current time, date, temperature, the letters “IBM” and “TR/3” (the abbreviation for the street address and name of the building). But just for a short time in the mid-90s, it also used to show the letters “OS/2”—I now imagine that IBM employees looking at “TR/3” for a long time one day realized that “OS/2” would fit on the display just as well.
Above is an old photo showing the TR/3 building with the more recent red 7-segment display back in the 2000s when the square in front of it used to be a parking lot—nowadays it is car free. This square is directly opposite the Slovenian parliament building and was notably the place where the Slovenian Independence ceremony and gathering took place in mid-1991. (Photo source: flickr, author: Ángel, license: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
After running yet another social media campaign, we got a lead that paid off: There used to be a short-lived Slovenian OS/2 Users Group (or. SLOUG), with an archived website. SLOUG published their own magazine and the Fall/Winter 1995 issue had a cover photo of what I was looking for:
It is a night photo but even so, the OS/2 sign on top of the 17-story building is clearly visible.
I now feel that many of the forgotten details, memories and imagery have been restored. Having never really been an OS/2 user makes me sad and nostalgic in a way—I’m sorry that I missed this and am only now discovering what could have been. But I’m very happy and proud to have been able to help bring this lost treasure back to life.
Additional Notes from the OS/2 Museum
The Slovenian language edition of OS/2 was a very short-lived product. The exact dates are unclear; the product likely started shipping in early 1997, and the last and only FixPack (XR2M005, or FixPack 5) was released in March 1998. This is not surprising given the fact that Warp 4 was released shortly after IBM started winding OS/2 down.
The Bulgarian and Catalan language editions of OS/2 were similarly short-lived releases with timelines parallel to the Slovenian Warp 4. There were other exotic versions too, such as Lithuanian or Hebrew OS/2 Warp 3.
For the next client edition of OS/2 (Warp 4.5 aka MCP), IBM reduced the language list to Chinese, English, Finnish, French, German, Japanese, and Spanish. However, the English language edition was generally able to handle the languages previously supported by language-specific versions.
As noted in the article, one of the more interesting features of Slovenian OS/2 Warp 4 is that it contains Slovenian-language DOS and Windows 3.1 support. There was no Slovenian version of Windows 3.1 and no Slovenian MS-DOS or PC DOS, although Slovenian Windows 95 also included localized DOS support.
As the article mentions, an original CD-ROM with Slovenian Warp 4 has not been found, at least not yet. What was found is a second-hand copy of somewhat unclear origin; it has all files needed to install the product, including boot floppy images (IBM was kind enough to put those on the OS/2 CD-ROM, unlike many other OSes). The files probably came from a gold master CD-ROM, but absent the released final product this cannot be verified. That is to say, the files on the CD-ROM look like the official release, but at present that cannot be conclusively confirmed or denied.
The Slovenian translation may have been a bit rushed and it’s not fully complete. There are quirks showing up right at the beginning of the installation:
The translators correctly converted all text on the installer boot screen… but didn’t take into account that it would be (almost certainly) displayed with codepage 437 and not codepage 852, and several national characters are not displayed correctly as a result.
Furthermore, the “Welcome” panel that users see at the start of installation is in English, perhaps because it was added or changed after the Slovenian translation was finished:
Once users get to the “real” installer, it’s all in Slovenian, and with proper national characters:
That is, until the user gets to the network components installation:
As seen above, the networking installer is all in English. We can only speculate as to why.
Another question is whether some other national language versions of OS/2 are similarly incompletely translated… but those are just as hard to find as the Slovenian language edition.
Needless to say, any reader with original Slovenian OS/2 Warp 4 media should contact the OS/2 Museum and/or the Slovenian Computer Museum.