A WARP’d View of History


Ars is carrying an interesting historical article on the history of IBM’s OS/2. The article describes it somewhat provocatively (though, probably equally realistically) as “half an operating system.” Definitely worth the read if you’re into classic operating systems or computing history.

I knew most of the information, largely from Robert Cringely’s PBS series Triumph of the Nerds1, but one thing I didn’t know about IBM’s repeated marketing foibles with the product:

OS/2 version 3.0 would also come with a new name, and unlike codenames in the past, IBM decided to put it right on the box. It was to be called OS/2 Warp. Warp stood for “warp speed,” and this was meant to evoke power and velocity. Unfortunately, IBM’s famous lawyers were asleep on the job and forgot to run this by Paramount, owners of the Star Trek license. It turns out that IBM would need permission to simulate even a generic “jump to warp speed” on advertising for a consumer product, and Paramount wouldn’t give it. IBM was in a quandary. The name was already public, and the company couldn’t use Warp in any sense related to spaceships. IBM had to settle for the more classic meaning of Warp—something bent or twisted. This, needless to say, isn’t exactly the impression you want to give for a new product. At the launch of OS/2 Warp in 1994, Patrick Stewart was supposed to be the master of ceremonies, but he backed down and IBM was forced to settle for Voyager captain Kate Mulgrew.2

I guess this explains OS/2 Warp’s funky logo.

(The article also includes an interesting ad wherein an aging (and “somewhat befuddled”) cast of M*A*S*H is inexplicably surrounded by a bunch of IBM PC boxes.)

Apparently Reimer does a lot of articles on historical OS’s; you should check out his Ars publication list if that’s your cup of tea.

  1. Which author Jeremy Reimer specifically notes that he took much of the information from and “[view] multiple times during research.”
  2. I don’t know why they’re giving panning Captain Janeway; she’s a great jailed Russian mobster