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IBM to reinvent OS/2 for NC serving

Guy Kewney reporting from New York

Nobody in IBM wants to be the one to say: "OS/2 is history" and, as a result, people working in the OS/2 department have been authorised to announce an NC server operating environment, code-named Bluebird.

It's aimed at people who really want to work with applications, instead of mucking around with desktop user interfaces. It's also a pretty clever way of getting high performance out of old PC hardware. And all it really is a remote IPL (initial program load) from an OS/2 Warp server, to a minimal "mini-shell" client.

"We've aimed the thing at what we call TOMs, said Anthony Brown, business line manager for new technology at IBM software. "That's Transaction Oriented Moneymakers; they just want to run one, two, maybe three applications."

These people, today, don't have PCs. They work, typically, in a client-server environment, probably with 3270 or 5250 terminals, and the corporation which employs them has real trouble moving them from that environment into the NC world. But there are implications, too, for people who have PCs, and find them too complex; people who just want to be able to sit down at the nearest screen, log in, and have access to their own core set of apps.

Bluebird requires an OS/2 Warp server; but it uses Java and Citrix WinFrame or NTerprise type Windows distributed application servers to provide 32-bit Windows apps where needed, as well as Dos and OS/2 and mainframe terminal emulation. It even has a Notes mail and conferencing UI, which is much simpler than the full "rich experience" of using Lotus Notes in native form, but is also much faster.

Remote IPL means that a system can download whatever set of applications that particular user requires; they actually run on the host server, or application servers attached to it. It isn't a product - there isn't a price. But it's "available" in the sense that anybody with the server can run it.

The other shoe will drop when OS/2 is cut down from the enormous, general-purpose UI that the world has nearly forgotten, and turned into a Netscape client.

This is still officially a secret, but staff here observed that the slow, unreliable "Workplace Shell" so much beloved by OS/2 groupies can be lost; leaving the central, small multi-processing core which worked so incredibly fast that IBM committed hundreds of millions of dollars to competing with Windows 3.0. That technology can be provided as a tiny, fast Java machine running a browser.

"The browser is the commonest UI today," remarked IBM's Brown at the announcement of the launch, which is expected in September. However, Brown didn't forecast the cut-down OS/2 client; that was left to unofficial rumours at the back of the conference hall by senior OS/2 enthusiasts.

There are, it seems, plans to support other server operating systems, including AIX, AS/400, and Windows NT. The NT option does pose problems, as Microsoft is planning, with NT 5.0, to provide multi-user support. IBM staff said they would rather not speculate about whether they'd be able to keep up.