The case for open sourcing IBM's OS/2

Is it worth open sourcing old code? Probably not.

A group of OS/2 devotees has been petitioning IBM to release its OS/2 code - or parts of it - as open source, to no avail.'s Esther Schindler takes up the challenge and makes the argument that while there are very good reasons for IBM to open source OS/2 for the good of the community, there are equally compelling reasons to keep it closed.

What good would the community get from an also-ran operating system?

The desktop user interface, called the WorkPlace Shell (WPS) is the most obvious example why.

But...Linux developers should also be interested [as the leader of the petition notes], "Since what is really a sad history for Linux is the gfx GUI such as KDE and Gnome that really are crap compared to the OS/2 WPS." The OS/2 code might be old, he says, but from an educational perspective it offers a lot of knowledge.

I'm not sure developers would spend much time with an old OS to learn from it, but it's a moot point, as Schindler notes. OS/2 was a collaboration between IBM and Microsoft. Getting approval would be complex and, given the poor likelihood that many would derive much benefit from the code, probably not worth the bother.

Old code is probably best left to rest in peace.

Besides, open-source code has maximum resonance for its creators and adopters when it is new, innovative, and market-changing. Waiting until it has passed its prime is the exact wrong way to think of open sourcing software.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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