Software

OS/2 resurrected: Blue Lion becomes ArcaOS, details emerge for upcoming release

After WarpStock Europe, ArcaOS, the new OS/2 distribution previously codenamed Blue Lion, is scheduled for release in Q4 2016.

Image: iStockphoto/olgaIT

Representatives of Arca Noae, the organization behind the revival of OS/2, gave presentations at WarpStock Europe—the annual convention of OS/2 users, developers, and enthusiasts—about the status of the Blue Lion project first announced on TechRepublic last November.

While IBM stopped principal development of OS/2 with the release of Warp 4 in 1996, maintenance releases continued until 2001 as enterprise deployments necessitated continued support for the platform.

From 'Blue Lion' to ArcaOS 5.0

When the Blue Lion project was announced at the American WarpStock in October 2015, the name was only temporary. Following the close of events at WarpStock Europe, Arca Noae managing member Lewis Rosenthal noted in an interview that the final product name for the new OS/2 distribution is ArcaOS 5.0. The significance of the version number relates to IBM OS/2 4.52—the last maintenance release of the platform released by IBM in 2001.

ArcaOS 5.0 is expected to be released in the fourth quarter of 2016, but Blue Lion remains as a code name, in much the same way "Wily Werewolf" is the code name of Ubuntu 15.10.

SEE: OS/2: Blue Lion to be the next distro of the 28-year-old OS (TechRepublic)

The Arca Noae team is not stopping there, however. A roadmap is still being constructed for future releases of ArcaOS, with version 5.1 bringing support for additional languages. At present, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Dutch are prioritized for version 5.1, though Rosenthal noted that plans are still being finalized and other languages are likely to be included in that release—tentatively planned for 2017.

ArcaOS will be sold in two different editions. ArcaOS Commercial Edition is intended for mission-critical environments, and includes 12 months of updates and priority support. ArcaOS Personal Edition will include six months of updates and support, and will be offered at a lower price. The included software and features between the two editions is completely identical.

Because ArcaOS includes software from third-party vendors, pricing information is not yet available as negotiations with vendors are ongoing. Users with existing Arca Noae software subscriptions will be eligible for a pro-rata discount.

ArcaOS includes a superset of the currently available software and driver package sold by Arca Noae for existing OS/2 installations. This software includes support for modern ACPI versions, USB 1.1 and 2.0, AHCI support needed for Serial ATA disks, the Multimac driver suite for network cards (wireless support is forthcoming), and Uniaud, an ALSA-compatible sound driver. ArcaOS will also support CUPS, as well as Kerberos authentication.

For systems running on modern processors, a symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) kernel is available, in addition to the classic Warp kernel, though this is not available as a unikernel design. As OS/2 is a 32-bit OS, there are structural limitations to achieving full RAM support, though support has been added for creating RAM disks up to 4 GB.

Replacing the OS/2 Installer

Seasoned veterans of the OS/2 ecosystem know the pains of trying to install the operating system. Under the best of circumstances, IBM's OS/2 installer makes the Gentoo Linux installer look intuitive. Relative to the rest of OS/2, the installer has aged poorly—it requires booting from floppy disks before the installation CD can be read. Floppy disk drives have been effectively dead for 15 years, and finding a notebook computer with an optical drive is becoming an increasingly difficult task.

With the software package from Arca Noae, as well as ports of popular open source packages from netlabs.org, among many others, OS/2 is still a perfectly usable system when already installed. The goal of ArcaOS is to make Blue Lion as easy to install on modern, commercially-available hardware, as any modern Linux distribution is. While there are some encumbrances to that goal—UEFI being a particularly large one—most of the work necessary to reach that goal is to replace the installer.

SEE: VirtualBox 5.0: Performance upgrades and paravirtualization, scaling, USB 3.0 device support (TechRepublic)

For that reason, most of the work is going into the installer and preboot environment, which can be invoked in the same way a rescue partition works in Linux. For installation, the new installer is capable of using a network connection to download the latest packages from Arca Noae, using the standard yum/rpm package format, allowing updates to be installed along with the rest of the OS. Additionally, the installer is being designed around the ability to boot directly from optical media, as well as from a USB stick, and research is ongoing for network installations.

Current Status

Since late last year, internal alpha builds of ArcaOS have been spun on a roughly weekly basis, according to Rosenthal. These builds are ISOs that must be manually installed—not live system images—though as the majority of the work for ArcaOS is in the installer, extensive testing of installation media can only be a good thing.

What's your view?

Have you used OS/2 as your primary operating system in the past? Does your organization have an active OS/2 deployment? Does this article about OS/2 bring back fond memories of IBM-produced ThinkPads? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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About James Sanders

James Sanders is a Java programmer specializing in software as a service and thin client design, and virtualizing legacy programs for modern hardware.

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