OS/2 Frequently Launched Criticisms

1. OS/2 is slow.  

Is OS/2 slow? The answer depends on the criteria you use. If you say OS/2
is slow at loading Windows applications, you are right. On the other hand,
running a Windows program under OS/2 allows that Windows program to use more
memory and run on the HPFS -- possibly making it acutally *run* faster once
it has been loaded.

What about native OS/2 apps?  Some people say that the native OS/2 apps
are slower than their windows counterparts.  In some cases, this is
incorrect.  Time trials of Micgrografx Designer 3.1 for OS/2 showed that
it ran faster than Designer 3.1 for Windows.  In other cases, it is
misguided.  AmiPro for OS/2 is slower than AmiPro for Windows, but it has
more capabilities than AmiPro for Windows.

So the real questions is,"Slower doing what?" It's hard to compare Windows
and OS/2 "doing the same thing" because OS/2 is usually doing much more
"under the hood" even when they are performing the same function.  At
first, this may seem like a problem, but soon you realize that you can do
*so much more* than the "same function" under OS/2.  With OS/2's
multitasking, you *don't* have to wait for your app to finish printing to
use your system (or, frequently, even the same app).  With OS/2, you don't
have to worry about "XYZ app" and "PDQ app" interacting in strange,
unpredicatable ways.  Not surprisingly, other operating systems offering
comparable levels of functionality run at about the same speed.

2. OS/2 swaps a lot.  OS/2 uses too much memory.

Does OS/2 swap a lot? It swaps more than Windows, if that's what you
mean. This is because OS/2 is a whole lot bigger than Windows.  But ask
yourself why Windows and DOS are so small.  Windows and DOS are small
because they provide very few "system services".

OS/2 represents a great deal of new technology that is not available on
any other single platform.(see #9).

3. OS/2 doesn't run my Windows apps or runs them slowly.

OS/2's Windows support is designed to allow you to move into the world of
a 32-bit "workstation" OS without losing your investment in Windows apps.
Linux and Windows NT are its first and second most popular peers in the
32-bit arena and they are even worse in this respect.  Linux has a Windows
subsystem that is currently so feeble it barely runs Solitaire.  Windows
NT runs most Windows 3.1 apps, but usually more slowly than OS/2.  Windows 
95 promises to run all Windows 3.1 apps, although without the memory
protection of OS/2 or the stability of an OS that has been shipping for
several years.

Compared to these systems, OS/2 does a very good job of running Windows
applications. It protects them, lets them run in separate sessions, runs
almost all Windows 3.1 apps, and runs them almost as fast as Windows 3.1. If
you want top speed for your Windows applications, you'll need Windows 3.1,
because no emulator currently in existence can match the original. But in
sticking with Windows 3.1 you'll also give up a lot of stability, which 
might well be a more important matter than a few tenths of a second.

4. The are no native OS/2 apps.

It requires almost no investigative effort to discover that this is
completely false.  Even if you ignore the thousands of apps available from
the days of 1.x (yes, they still run just fine) there are still several
hundred OS/2 apps available with more on the way.  If you consider that
OS/2 2.0 was not available until mid-1992 and a typical development cycle
for a major app is at least 18 months, you would expect the second wave of
OS/2 apps to appear in late 1995 -- which is exactly what is happening.

Furthermore, counting apps can lead to some strange results.  For example,
in 1994, a DOOM-inspired revival in PC games saw the release of *more* DOS
than Windows titles.  Also, thanks to a recent Microsoft acquisition
rampage, some Windows titles are actually disappearing from the market,
reducing the number.  If Microsoft suceeds in controlling the Windows 
application market, the Windows market will cease to benefit from the 
diversity and competition which will still exist in other OS markets.

5a.  OS/2's native apps aren't as "good" as Windows apps.  
5b.  The equivalent to MS-Office isn't available for OS/2.  
5c.  OS/2 apps are 'one version' behind' the one for Windows.

These are also plainly false or misleading.  In many cases, there are far
better tools under OS/2 than Windows.  There are several office products
suites for OS/2.  The most popular is Lotus Smartsuite.  Some OS/2 apps
are "one version behind" the one for Windows.  Some are not.  Some,
usually the better ones, do not have Windows versions at all.

6. OS/2 is impossible to install.

OS/2 is easy to install.  It struggles or fails to work on some hardware
(see #7).  This is no different from its peers in the 32-bit OS world.
When someone decides to install Windows NT, for example, they consult the
"Hardware Compatibility List" to make sure that it will work.  The fact
that so many people have had difficulty installing OS/2 is regrettable,
but is also testament to the variety of people who are deciding to install
it.  The only other 32-bit PC OS with a user base that even approaches the
size of OS/2's is Linux -- another source of installation horror stories.
Considering this, there is no current reason to believe that Windows 95
installation will be any more successful.

Also, keep in mind that installation is something you only have to do once.
The resource limitations, low-tech capabilities and poor stability of 
Windows aren't compensated for by the fact that it's easy to install.

7. Windows works on this hardware -- why doesn't OS/2?

OS/2, being a 32-bit "protected-mode" Intel OS, cannot call most ROM BIOS
routines because they can only run in "real mode".  Instead, it must rely
entirely on its native driver support.  Whereas manufacturers can shield
DOS apps from chip bugs, board bugs and non-standard implementations by
addressing these in the BIOS, OS/2 must deal with them unassisted.  Many
users are unaware of number of hardware bugs that are smoothed over by
manufacturer-supplied Windows and DOS code.  Third-party drivers for this
hardware are going to be much more sensitive to unpublished hardware bugs
and cost-cutting spec violations.

In addition to being able to rely on the BIOS, DOS and Windows stress the
system in different ways.  A sustained data transfer, for example, is
rarely going to exceed 64K bytes.  Control registers are never going to
accessed in an unexpected order -- because only one process is querying
the hardware.

These and similar issues are difficult enough to understand -- even for
most developers -- so its not surprising that many users are skeptical of
the "its the hardware" defense of OS/2's compatibility problems.

8. Warp's features are unstable.

It is not easy for an OS/2 application to crash, or even hang, the system.
Most of the time, crashes and hangs are related to hardware and
drivers. Most OS/2 drivers are developed -- at least in part -- by the
OEMs, and they vary in quality with the OEM's commitment to the customer
(caveat emptor!).  Most drivers are very good, and a lot of people have
absolutely no trouble with OS/2's stability.

Frequently, the problem is generated by a particular Windows or DOS
program.  OS/2 must provide very complex subsystems to support older DOS
applications - especially games, which are notorious for their
incompatibilities.  In supporting DOS applications (in this case, we can
consider Windows a type of DOS application), there is a trade-off between
stability, speed and compatability.  OS/2 choses the middle road and holds
itself quite nicely.  Still, with tens of thousands of existing DOS apps,
there are plenty of cases it cannot handle.  Windows NT offer more stability,
but with a great penalty in compatability and speed.  *If* Windows 95
lives up to promises (remember, it promised to ship in 1994), it will offer
more compatability and maybe more speed, but with a less stability.

Experience has shown that most "mission critical" DOS and Windows apps run
smoothly under OS/2's compatability.

9. I heard that Windows95 has this great feature!  I heard that it...

..is not shipping yet.  

Operating systems are the technological foundation upon which users do
their computing activities.  Over time, as your needs and the available
apps become more sophisticated, new features appear on the OS.  At this
point one has to decide whether it's worth upgrading.  Overall, Windows 95
is *supposed* to offer the same kind of benefits as OS/2.  Win95 promises
some features *currently* not available on OS/2 -- such as built-in
peer-to-peer networking.  OS/2 has some features that will *never* appear
on Win95, such as separate address spaces to keep badly behaved apps from
crashing other apps.

Even if you ignore that fact that OS/2 is more advanced -- even given the
rosy promises about Win95 -- the fact remains that Win95 is not shipping.
If your computing needs are forcing you to consider upgrading to a new OS
*now*, it is only logical to consider what is available *now*.  Real
computing tasks run on *computers* not on *promises from Microsoft*.

Microsoft tries to promote Windows 95 by telling you about lots of
features. In all but a few cases, these features fall into one of four

- Features OS/2 already has.
  Examples: too numerous to name here, but fully functional preemptive 
  multitasking, an advanced user interface, and Internet tools are three 
  prime examples.

- Features OS/2 will have within a short amount of time.
  Example: built-in peer-to-peer networking.

- Features that are not much more than gimmicks, and not really useful
  in real life.
  Example: Autoplay - the CD-player automatically begins playing when 
  you insert an audio CD.

- Features that are not really features, and should be avoided if you
  want a stable system.
  Examples: the Windows 95 VFAT system, which enables long file names
  by using multiple directory entries per file - this breaks very many
  low-level software packages. Another example is disk compression; this
  essentially encrypts the data on your hard drive, possibly destabilizing
  your system and reducing your options for data recovery and OS upgrades.

All this talk of new features is, of course, designed to make you forget
that underneath this new layer is still 16-bit, real-mode DOS and Windows.
Despite offering a 32-bit interface with multitasking and multithreading,
Windows 95 needs this underlying technology to beat OS/2's Windows and DOS
compatibility.  There is no hard data on how this affects multitasking
performance on Windows 95, but there's every reason to believe that it
could be highly deleterious.  The actual facts on this -- like many other
harsh truths of a *first release* OS -- will probably not be know until at
least several months after it ships, whenever that will be.

10a.  OS/2 advocates are too abusive, too obsessive, too this, too that.
10b.  Microsoft!  Microsoft!  
      Rah rah rah!  
      OS/2 is stupid!  
      Sis boom bah!

OS/2 is an operating system, not a sports team.  Yes, OS/2 advocates would
like to see it "win" and some of them would like to see Windows "lose".
Many of the flame sessions in this group resemble the same kind of
pointless, heated debates you sometimes hear in sports bars.  These
exchanges may be fun for the participants, but ultimately have nothing to
do with whether or not OS/2 is a good operating system.  People who
evaluate the OS based on that kind of traffic are even more clueless than
the people who post it.

11.  32-bit?  Multitasking?  Who needs it?

If you have to ask, you might not understand the answer.  Maybe you've
never had a Windows application fail because it ran out of "conventional
memory" on a machine with many, many megabytes of RAM.  Perhaps you don't
fully understand the difference between having several apps loaded
simultaneously and having several apps loaded and actually doing something
simultaneously.  Most productivity apps spend their time doing nothing,
waiting for you to hit a key.  Applications which do considerably more
between events are unknown in the Windows world because they can't exist
-- it's little wonder that Windows users don't understand the utility of
multitasking.  Then again, if these features *are* of no use to Windows
users, why is Microsoft laboring so hard to add them to Windows?

Another important point on this subject is that something does not have to
be absolutely necessary to be useful.  A user of, say, Microsoft Word 6
may point out that this Windows application provides the writer with very
advanced capabilities despite being a 16-bit single-threaded application.
Then again, William Shakespeare wrote some of the greatest works of
English literature without any wordprocessor at all.  The point is that it
is not gratuitous to use technology to enhance a capability you already

A 32-bit, multitasking operating system provides a basis for even more
effective versions of the computer tools Windows users use today, as well
as entirely new tools they may not have considered.

12. Windows NT is technically superior to OS/2.

This is true in several significant ways.  It has a secure file system, 
multiuser capability plus a few other architectural fine points.  Despite
these advantages Windows NT is still outsold nearly 10 to 1 by OS/2. Why?

Probably because NT's advantages over OS/2 already exist in a popular
operating system: UNIX.  UNIX allows you to access these "server"
capabilities and offerers a large number of advantages over NT.  Among them 
are these key points:

     1. It has a relatively standard API.  Properly-written code from
        one UNIX variant usually ports fairly easily if not effortlessly
        to another UNIX variant.  Win32 code can't be ported to anything.
        NT is the only OS that uses it.

     2. Whatever is on your wish list for a multi-user OS, can be found in
        some kind of UNIX solution.  Want a great object-oriented GUI?
        Use NeXTStep.  Want apps from mainstream ISV's?  Use SCO.  Want
        it for *FREE*?  Get Linux.
     3. The most primative X-Windows GUI is better than the wretched
        Windows NT GUI.

     4. The UNIX world, unlike the Windows world, benefits from 
        competition.  Any UNIX variant available has to be *at least*
        as good as Linux, because Linux is FREE.  And Linux is really

In the previous item (#11), I pointed out that technical advantages which 
might not seem necessary, can be worthwhile anyway.  Unfortunately, many of 
the advantages offered by NT or UNIX are not like this.  For example, if you
don't really need a multi-user operating system, having one anyway isn't
going to benefit you at all.  Similarly, if you don't have a network, having
powerful network capabilities does not enhance your capabilities.

13. Why shouldn't I use Linux, or some other UNIX variant?

Some of the reasons were covered in the previous item, but wait, there's

Most UNIX variants running on small systems -- NeXTStep is a prime 
example -- are running in "vertical market" applications.  These are 
niche, mission-critical applications for which the application software 
was specifically designed (OS/2 also makes a strong showing in this 
arena).  Chance are, though, that if you were considering developing one 
of these vertical market applications, you would be highly aware of what 
each OS has to offer your solution.  What if you are looking for an OS to 
support general, day-to-day operations?  Consider this checklist:

     1. Does your setup involved more than two computers?

     2. Does configuring sendmail fill you with anticipation, rather 
        than dread?

     3. Have you read the "UNIX Haters Handbook" and decided it was all 

     4. Have you avoided needing to use DOS or Windows apps?

     5. Is Usenix the focal point of your social life?

     6. Do you believe it's perfectly reasonable for all Interprocess
        Communication to go through the file system?

     7. Do you write most of the software you use?

     8. Do college students write most of the software you use?

     9. Do expensive consultants write most of the software you use?

    10. Does $3000 seem like a reasonable price for a typical
        shrink-wrapped software package?

    11. Could you get a directory listing at a command prompt if "dir"
        didn't work?

If you answered "no" to all the the questions above, forget UNIX entirely. 
"Yes" answers to these questions don't mean you should rush out and get 
Linux, however.  The point is that UNIX is not a commodity operating system.

By far, the world's most popular OS is DOS.  If you consider Windows+DOS
an operating system, then it ranks second.  While UNIX, in all of its
forms, probably ranks third, it is an entirely different world from DOS
and Windows.  Part of the philosophy of OS/2 is that you shouldn't be 
forced to give up the investment in DOS and Windows software just to move 
up to a "Workstation class" OS.

Originally by:                Charles Forsythe 

Substantial contributions by: Joris S. Zwart 

With help from:               Tom Ross