Stardock's OS/2 history
This weekend my wife and I were going through boxes of
"stuff" as we transferred items from what had been my upstairs study to the new
"lab" in the basement. I was amazed at some
of the stuff I found because I had long forgotten I had them. Various gifts from IBM such as watches,
wallets, executive pens, clocks, etc.
It made me think about how much had happened since those days.
Every company has its own unique story of how it was founded
and for what purpose. Most technology
companies these days seem to be founded via venture capital to jump into a
market they whole will make big money. The founders usually see something they
think will make it big, get some capital and pursue it. Stardock's history could really be divided
into two parts ? The OS/2 Stardock and the Windows Stardock. Because much
changed between the two and this brief article will talk about the OS/2
Stardock Product Time line
1993-1994: In the beginning?
The OS/2 Stardock came into being in 1993. I was in college
then trying to get my Electrical Engineering degree. I came from a very modest
background so paying for school was very difficult for me. To do so, I had 3
jobs at the time. My first job was as a lab instructor and occasionally
professor substitute in Electrical Engineering classes. My second job was as an
assistant to a professor in the Geography department which essentially had me
managing the department's Mac lab. The last job was building personal computers
from their component parts. This job came under "Stardock Systems" (that's why
it's been called Stardock SYSTEMS). These PC's came with OS/2 preinstalled (I
would run out to Baggages, purchase OS/2 2.1 and install it onto their machine
When people talk about OS/2 fanatics, I was the biggest OS/2
fanatic around in many respects. Most zealots merely talked big, but my
zealotry went way beyond that. I believed in my na?ve 21 old way that one
person could make a different in the "OS Wars". In June of 1993, after arguing
on Usenet's comp.os.os2.advocacy that OS/2 could be a good game platform and
having talked to my friends on comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.strategic, I decided I
would write a game. How hard could that be? Nothing is impossible for the
person who has never tried and I quickly discovered it was a lot of work. I bought a book "Teach Yourself C in 21
days" and "OS/2 2.0 PM programming"
Because I couldn't afford anything more, everything in the game I
created, Galactic Civilizations, could be found in those 2 books.
Let me give you an example ? in GalCiv on OS/2, each star
ship is actually a full blown window that is of style SS_ICON. So when you move
a ship in the game, I'm just using WinSetWindowPos to move the ship X,Y
coordinates. There's no "graphics" in the game per se, just all icons being
moved around. That's because I couldn't afford any more books than those two
and they didn't cover graphics programming, just icons and window movement.
Over the next year, between classes and teaching, and my
other jobs, I wrote up Galactic Civilizations. I came to the attention of an
IBMer named Gabriel Vizzard who, like me, dreamt of OS/2 as supplanting
DOS\Windows as the primary OS. He got
me in contact with lots of people at IBM who could help me. They got me "Real"
programming tools (GC 1.0 was mostly done in GNU since it was free) like
C/set++, and introduced me to a lot of different people. Some of these people
would be instrumental in our company's history. People like Bob St. John who
would eventually leave IBM to start up his own company called Serenity were
very important in teaching me how "the real world" worked. Some of the lessons
learned were very expensive as not all of the contacts made were good ones.
For example, the company suggested to "publish" Galactic
Civilizations turned out to be just some guy out of his house with no real
experience at these things and was not really capable of professional
publishing and it showed on GalCiv. Of
course, I can't really condemn so much him pretending to be a "real company".
In one conversation with an IBM executive, I was sitting in my dorm room and I
asked "Is GalCiv the only OS/2 game being made?" The IBMer responded "Well,
there is another game but it's being made by some college kid, haha, so we
don't have too much faith in that.." to which I responded "Hahah, yea, those
college kids, can't trust them.."
(Though that college game, a flight simulator for OS/2,
never was completed so in that case they were right).
At CeBIT in early '95 showing off OS/2 for the PowerPC.
Most current OS/2 users have no idea how much time and energy OS/2 ISVs
invested in OS/2 products that never saw the light of day.
1995: OS/2 reaches its height?
The GalCiv/2 1.0 debacle taught me some valuable lessons and
created the incentive to publish OS/2 software instead of just develop them. I
believed that if there was just enough quality OS/2 software, professionally
published and marketed that it could make the difference for the OS/2 "Cause".
Though our "publisher" never did pay us royalties (long story, suffice to say
that my wife and I don't have very kind words to say towards the person who
"published" GalCiv 1.0), what
saved us were two things. The first thing was an add-on to GalCiv called
Shipyards which we sold for $15 apiece and sold many thousands of copies of.
That made enough money to fund OS/2 Essentials, our second product. The second
thing that happened was that IBM licensed our GalCiv derivative Star Emperor
for their IBM FunPak which generated a considerable amount of capital to
This all happened at just the right time. I had become
friends with a fellow OS/2 fanatic, Kurt Westerfeld who had recently released a
powerful Fidonet news reader called KWQ/2.
He had become an expert at WPS development. We both considered OS/2's object
oriented shell its "killer app". If we could harness the power of OS/2's shell
with the right program, more people might migrate to OS/2. In the Fall of 1995, we used the capital we
gained via Star Emperor to launch Object Desktop. This turned out to be one of
the most popular OS/2 products of all time. For many people, using OS/2 without
Object Desktop was unbearable. It filled in all those little pieces that OS/2
was missing and made a clear demonstration of what OS/2 could do.
Later that year, we got the rights back on Galactic
Civilizations and published it ourselves as a sequel called Galactic
Civilizations 2. Those two programs
would represent the vast majority of Stardock's overall OS/2 revenue.
With the success of these products, we began our quest to
get more good OS/2 software into shrink wrap. We published third party software
such as Avarice, Trials of Battle, Process Commander, PMINews, and several
other programs. We also continued to
develop more OS/2 software internally such as OD Professional, PlusPak,
Entrepreneur, and more. In all, over a
dozen OS/2 products were created.
1996: The beginning of the end ? the limits of advocacy?
As 1996 began, Stardock, still a very young company, flush
with cash and cockiness thought that OS/2 was in pretty good shape. What we didn't know was what had occurred at
IBM at around this time. IBM had been
working on a project called Workplace OS (later called OS/2 for the
PowerPC). This project had gone on for
years and had returned little in results. A call from the highest executives at
IBM stated that if OS/2 for the PowerPC didn't get completed by Fall Comdex of
'95, PSP was doomed. They didn't make
it and OS/2's fate was sealed. But it would take awhile for us to know that
this had occurred (even as I type this, there are still plenty of users in
denial, my own denial went on until 1998).
In early 1996, myself and our friends at CDS and Indelible
Blue, 3 of the more vocal and successful OS/2 ISVs got together and formed the
"32bit Alliance". We organized several OS/2 ISVs together and pooled marketing
dollars to take out full page ads for OS/2. On the retail/distribution side, we
organized something called "Warpware" via a new company called Blue Orchards
get OS/2 software into retail.
Unfortunately, by mid 1996, the OS/2 SOHO market had already shrunk by
quite a bit and most of the OS/2 products at retail died. Only a few thrived (Partition Magic, GalCiv,
Object Desktop, Back Again/2, Performance Plus, and System Commander) while the
rest sold very few copies which amongst other factors led to Blueware going
bankrupt (owing several OS/2 ISVs, primarily Stardock, large amounts of money).
32bit Alliance Announcement
(trying to find a
scanned version of the ads, they were quite good)
This taught me a painful lesson ? the limits of advocacy.
Don't let fanaticism get in the way of sound business judgment. A company
founded by a fanatic, employing fanatics, was slow to recognize the market
realities of OS/2. But this episode really brought home that things were not
quite as rosy as we thought. We still went through the usual denials "Oh, the
products that failed were too expensive" or "They just weren't good enough" or
whatever. But ultimately we were discovering that there weren't nearly as many
OS/2 users as we had been led to believe. For instance, OS/2 Magazine by 1996
had fewer than 30,000 subscribers (including give aways). Obviously that isn't the
type of statistic one would expect in a market that had allegedly 14 million
The lesson was just in time as it helped cement the decision
to make our next major game, Entrepreneur, be on both Windows and OS/2 instead
of exclusively on OS/2.
By the end of 1996, it was pretty clear to people "in the
know" that it was pretty much over for OS/2 as far as IBM was concerned. Warp 4
was not much of a release as much as a "here it is, we want to get the heck out
of here, so make everything JAVA and then we'll figure out where to put you
1997-1998: The fall of the OS/2 market
1997 was a terrible year for us as our OS/2 software sales
dropped to very low levels as OS/2 users switched to Windows NT 4.0 which had
arrived the previous fall.
When Entrepreneur came out in 1998 as things were at their
darkest, everything changed. Entrepreneur, the Windows version of it, did quite
well and bought us enough time to get Object Desktop for Windows
completed. In mid 1998, the unthinkable
happened for me, I switched from OS/2 Warp 4 to Windows NT.
Switching OSes (not version numbers but to an entirely new
OS) is pretty dramatic. The first thing I realized is how far behind OS/2 had
become by 1998. Most OS/2 users have no
idea just how much harm they're taking today using OS/2 if they use computers
largely in their careers. The typical response is "we don't need that" or "that
feature doesn't work on Windows anyway" but the reality is quite different. For
instance, I am typing this on my laptop on the living room couch without any
wires. I'm still on the Internet thanks to Intel Anypoint. You can't do this kind of thing on OS/2
(unless you get a very expensive wireless LAN setup) nor
will you likely ever be able to do it. Many other things ranging from plug and
play to basic software support are things users give up now when they use OS/2. It took me many months to "Catch up" to
where many professionals had already been. I also learned Windows NT wasn't a
"bloated pig" or "buggy" as we had thought it was (Win9x certainly is crap
After Warpstock '98, I really got re-energized about OS/2.
There was still a vibrant community using OS/2. Though more and more "normal"
people had moved to other OSes, leaving the outcasts to increasingly make OS/2
users look like a bunch of disgruntled bitter users who just want to complain
about how unfair the world is but not willing to do anything constructive about
it. But I still thought there was a
shot. Enough people were still using OS/2 to serve as a base and enough people
had only recently switched to Windows that they could be brought back if there
was renewed hope that OS/2 might catch up and then be the best.
If IBM could just produce another shrink wrapped version of
OS/2 that one could find at the store then OS/2 could survive as a reasonable
alternative. But time was running out. Each day OS/2 users were giving up on and moving on. We approached IBM
with a radical plan ? if they weren't going to do another shrink-wrapped retail
OS/2 client, let us do it. Let us take the next sever version of OS/2, take out
the server components, and we would put the Stardock Development Network to
work on updating the client features to be more competitive. Advocacy was part of the reason, good
business sense was another. While the client wouldn't be terrible profitable to
do, if we could bring enough users back to OS/2, we had over a dozen OS/2
products that were still state of the art technologically that we could sell to
these new users. Break even on a
client, generate profit from selling additional software. It was the perfect blend of advocacy and
business sense ? IF we could get it out the door before the end of 1999.
Things we had planned included:
- A new installer
- Stardock.net Instant Messaging (OS/2 users could opt in
to find any on-line OS/2 user that had also opted in)
- Stardock.net Instant web (Bundling of Apache integrated
into Stardock.net so that users could set up their own JAVA based virtual
desktops and have it listed on Stardock.net so that the OS/2 community could
more easily coordinate things)
- SCUA '98 UI enhancements (navigation bar as part of the
folder UI, enhanced properties dialogs, flexible UI skinning, integration of
WinOS2 and OS/2 to have the same look)
- Warp 2000 integration in which users would go to
warp2000.com to find out what hardware and software was available at an instant
and put in requests for software. This
would also coordinate with the SmartCredits concept Tim Sipples came up with (a
form of currency in which OS/2 users who contributed software, help, or
whatever else would in turn gain credits which could be used to get discounts on
OS/2 software, services, and web space.
This was designed to help create an incentive for OS/2 users to help
themselves instead of relying on IBM or Stardock or some other entity).
Feature wise, the default install was going to be a lot
thinner than Warp 4. The idea being to create a really fast, small OS that was
very scaleable. So things like OpenDoc and some of the extraneous OS/2
multimedia extensions not used but using up space and ram would be off by
1999-2000: The market becomes a community
With the OS plan in place, things with IBM moved well but
slowly. The problem was that there was no part number for an OS/2 V5 client to
license. The suggested route was to take OS/2 Warp 4, license that, and do our
"Stuff" to that. If we had agreed to that, we would have had a client in
it was and still is our belief that someone doing this would have met with
considerable resistance in the OS/2 community ("What?! You're charging us $150
for Warp 4 + FP6 integrated?!)
It was our requirement that it be a OS/2 Warp Server for
eBusiness (Aurora) based client that ultimately killed the deal. By Spring of 1999, users were becoming
increasingly impatient and the market declining by the day. Worse, our development team needed to be
doing something and so we were beginning to focus increasingly on Object
Desktop for Windows. We finally set a
deadline, by the end of 3Q1999 (September 30, 1999) we had to have a contract
or we were going to have to end negotiations.
Things progressed during the summer but the same problem
continued to arise, a lack of political will at IBM HQ to create a "Warp 5"
client part number to license. After a
September 1999 meeting word came back to us that IBM wasn't going to be able to
create such a part number any time soon and that IBM had no plans to create a
new (v5) shrink-wrapped OS/2 client or part number. That was the point I gave up any hope of OS/2 ever coming
back. At that point, a lot of remaining
OS/2 users who had been hanging on to OS/2 by a thread gave up as well.
Within a few months, it was clear that a large portion of
the vocal OS/2 community were people often out of touch or using OS/2 out of
hatred of Microsoft or simple inertia (like people who still use Apple IIs
today). My feeling was that there was and is nothing wrong with using OS/2. If
it gets the job done, then why switch?
Unfortunately, as the more reasonable people left, the
extremists of the community became more and more noticeable. In many dying or
fringe communities, the hateful and discontent tend to be the most vocal and
things became that was on OS/2 as well.
Suddenly Stardock was a "Traitor" because we weren't willing to
basically go down with the ship. Never mind that the accusers weren't willing to
make any such sacrifice themselves.
They also had unrealistic support expectations. It wasn't enough to
release new updates to OS/2 software every few quarters, it had to be as often
as the Windows version or else you weren't a "Real" OS/2 ISV. For
instance, if a company or software author released only one update for their
OS/2 program per year, they were okay as long as they weren't releasing anything
for Windows. But if the same company or author released 2 things for OS/2 in a
single year but 4 things for Windows, they were suddenly accused of
"abandoning" OS/2. As early as 1998, Stardock had already been
accused of "abandoning" OS/2 because Win32 software was starting to
Object Desktop 2.0 for OS/2
What constitutes "abandoning"?
By summer of 2000, the consensus of the OS/2 community was
so solid that Stardock had abandoned OS/2 that when Warpstock approached us
about having a booth at WS 2000, the conversation began, "We realize you've
left the OS/2 market but..." This was despite Stardock having released
Object Desktop 2.02 for OS/2 in 1Q2000 and Stellar Frontier for OS/2 in active
development. The perception was because so much of our emphasis was on
Windows. Some users took it to an extreme by considering me specifically
and Stardock in general to be "traitors" to the cause and that we
should be punished for this.
This really hit home at E3. In the game industry, I'm
reasonably well known for making "indie" games. I like to hang out on the news
groups and talk to people. I've never been flamed in any of these news
groups. I'm generally known as that "game developer who used to make a lot of
OS/2 games". Yet they would be shocked to find out that nearly every time I
post on an OS/2 news group I get flamed and reviled loudly and publicly for not doing "enough".
I've been accused being a "criminal" to having "no soul" to
things that are unprintable here. My primary crime is that I tend to try
to defend and explain our position. In any
OS/2 news group, any mention of me or Stardock will almost certainly bring some
sort of anti-Stardock comment from an OS/2 user. The perceived sin isn't that we
didn't do anything for OS/2, but that we're not doing enough now. "What
have you done lately?"
And so things came full circle. I had started out as one of
those OS/2 fanatics. OS/2 to me was a cause, a holy mission. And so I learned another valuable lesson that I hope others
learn. Fanaticism can quickly turn on you. There is little loyalty in the
hearts of many fanatics and that becomes very true the minute you prove yourself
to no longer be a fanatic. To the fanatic, you're either totally with them or
you're the "enemy". There is no
Our OS/2 history was a fun growing up part for the company.
The Windows Stardock grew out of the ashes of the OS/2 market and has a very
different environment for employees and customers. I learned that it isn't OS/2
itself that I was a fanatic about, it was the concept of being able to make
cool stuff that might in some way transform the way computers could be used.
That's what I think made me such an OS/2 fanatic. OS/2 represented a
fundamentally better way of doing things.
I'm still a fanatic but not an OS fanatic. Now it's in fanaticism in empowering users
to have control over the machine. To not let anyone dictate to them how they
have to use a machine but to let them decide what best suits them. It's a more personal fanaticism in that it's
more specific in some ways and it's just as exciting.
I don't regret my OS/2 days at all, it was a great time, a
lot of friends were made and a lot of lessons learned. I miss the promise and
dreams OS/2 represented but each day demonstrates how many new opportunities
there are to "Change the world" in some small way. Just remember though, no matter what OS or machine or whatever,
don't get too attached to what is ultimately an inanimate object. Software is
there to serve you, not vice versa. ;)
Feel free to email me at email@example.com or better yet to
visit our news groups news://news.stardock.com/stardock.os2
Also, on the bright side, Bob St. John at Serenity has
managed to get IBM to let him publish a Warp 4 based client called eComStation (www.ecomstation.com).
This will be quite helpful for OS/2 users who are planning to stay on OS/2 in
the long term because the latest OS/2 Fixpacks include many components of
Aurora. If you're interested, check out the website and it'll tell you