Preview edition of Microsoft OS/2 2.0 surfaces on eBay

Discounted from $2,600 down to just $650. What a bargain!

A version of OS/2 2.0 from Microsoft, not IBM, just surfaced on eBay. This pre-release version came out after Windows 3.0.

How much might you be willing to pay to own a piece of operating system history? Would you pay two-thirds of a grand? No, us neither, but fortunately for posterity, Reg reader Brian Ledbetter is. He wrote to tell us that he bought the ULTRA RARE: IBM / Microsoft OS/2 SDK Version 2 Pre-Release 2 for v1 Users [Beta] for a non-trivial six hundred and fifty of your U.S. dollars.

The original Microsoft OS/2 1 SDK was a snip at just $3,000, but you can grab a copy for free from the Internet Archive. Microsoft's press release for the first preview release, thus far lost to history, is dated December 29, 1989, and says:

The OS/2 SDK 2.0 can be ordered directly from Microsoft by calling (800) 227-4679. The SDK will be priced at $2,600 with a group discount offer of four SDKs for $8,500.

This means Mr Ledbetter got it for a song – just one-quarter of its original list price.

We also enjoyed this detail:

The prerelease version […] can be used to develop for Microsoft's OS/2 version 2.0 or IBM's OS/2 version 2.0, both of which will be available in 1990.

Microsoft co-developed OS/2 with IBM, but it only sold the 80286-specific OS/2 1 under its own branding. As the Reg covered in depth back when OS/2 turned 25, when OS/2 1 failed to change the world, Microsoft pivoted, revamped the equally lackluster Windows 2 to create the best-selling Windows 3, and moved on… and onwards and upwards.

However, Microsoft did do some development work on the 32-bit OS/2 2.0 before the divorce. A version of the official Microsoft 32-bit OS/2 Software Development Kit was found about a decade ago, and Virtually Fun got it working and shared some screenshots of a 32-bit Microsoft C compiler from about a year before the first preview release of Windows NT. As they said then:

Sadly this does NOT include the operating system, just the C compiler and the SDK bits.

Keen software archeologists did know about the existence of Microsoft OS/2 2.0. It was covered in PC Mag in 1990, from which Virtually Fun sourced the only known screenshot. Well, finally, it looks like a copy of that operating system showed up.

OS/2 2.0 was intended to appear back in 1990, but Windows 3.0 shipped in May that year and was a huge hit, selling 10 million copies. Microsoft pulled out of the partnership, forcing IBM to go it alone and delaying the release of IBM OS/2 2.0 until 1992 – critically, after Microsoft had achieved market- (and mind-) share.

Several beta versions of IBM OS/2 2 have been found and archived, and the OS/2 Museum has detailed reports on the Spring '91 Edition, the Summer '91 Edition and the Xmas '91 Edition. The oldest of these still has an OS/2 1.3-style "Desktop Manager" rather than the snazzy new Workplace Shell.

Michal Nečásek of the OS/2 Museum told us:

The current oldest archived pre-release of OS/2 2.0 is from April 1991. So the June 1990 pre-release is quite a bit older, though not the oldest there was.

Microsoft kept selling OS/2 1.x for longer than you might think. Nečásek told us:

Of course Microsoft continued selling OS/2 1.3, because LAN Manager 2.x and SQL Server 4.2 ran on top of 16-bit OS/2 and Microsoft was forced to support these releases until they could be fully replaced by NT based products.


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