OS/2 on Virtualbox Guide

Preamble

OS/2 Logo

OS/2 is an absolutely fascinating operating system and I want you to see it. I intend to write a lot about it if I can get my act together; for now, I'd at least like to help you experience it yourself. It's a trip and a half.

When I started looking into getting it working on a virtual machine, I had a hard time finding some crucial information and files, there were steps in the install process that were not explained in the few guides I could find, it wasn't clear to me which versions could be installed, and some of the install files were in formats I couldn't read.

Now that I've figured out all those problems I've created a guide with specific instructions on how to get all major versions working on VirtualBox, complete with sound, video and network in some cases, and you'll find those guides below. I also created prebuilt virtual machines you can just download and press play on.

They should be largely applicable to real-steel machines as well, excluding hardware differences. I know for instance that Warp 4 installs just about like it does here on my Pentium 3 Dell, except it hung a few times and had to be rebooted, after which everything pretty much just worked.

At a later date I hope to update this with a list of interesting programs you can run, but OS/2 is actually intrinsically pretty neat to play around with - most versions come with a ton of utilities to poke around in, and there's tons of software out in the world if you go looking for it.

Have fun!

If you like my work, consider tossing me a few bucks. It takes a lot of effort and payment helps me stay motivated.

Prebuilt Images

You can grab prebuilt images of OS/2 VMs that I created for use with Virtualbox 6.0+ from here Internet Archive.

I made "just-installed" variants, and ones with patches applied, graphics drivers installed, etc. for (at this time):

If you use one of those, almost nothing in this doc is relevant. If you'd prefer to experience the joy of installing and configuring, or are working on a real-steel machine, press on.

Which Version?

Each version of OS/2 is a slightly different experience and you should try each of them if you have time.
For the record, "Warp" means nothing. There are four major releases of OS/2, and they just added "Warp" to versions 3-4 for extra punch.

os2museum.com covers a lot of this stuff in better detail. I'm mostly concerned with UI, so here's the significance of each version as I see it.
I picked the versions I thought were most interesting (the linked ones below) to make instructions and VMs for:

A note on eComStation & ArcaOS

You should be aware that after Warp 4, OS/2 was sold to another company, rebadged as eComStation and continued sales for some time, was sold again, rebadged as ArcaOS and continued. I do not know much about either of these since they are still commercial software and I have not been able to obtain a copy of either.

Info you find online about either of these may apply to OS/2, but may not. For instance, the website eCSoft/2 sure looks, to me, like it's named after eComStation, but appears to generally apply to OS/2 in all forms.

Important Notes On Using OS/2

Here are some assorted notes about the general experience of OS/2:

Note: On real hardware, or on other VM platforms, I have found OS/2 to be extremely fragile. When I installed it on my real P1 and P3 Dell machines, I had to reboot multiple times during the setup and driver install processes due to hangs, and I had a ton of issues with random errors on boot.

I also tried all this on QEMU 4.2.0 and had very similar problems, and I had developed some very negative opinions about OS/2's reliability before I switched to Virtualbox and found that it was actually quite solid and the installs went very smoothly.

Converting DSK Images

You may need to install from OS/2 floppies at some point. IBM had their own floppy image format called DSK. Some modern software will read it, some won't. Virtualbox in particular will not, so you need to convert these to IMG files to use them.

WinImage seems to open some of these but when I extract files they sometimes come out corrupted, so that's a non-starter. There might be an IBM utility to extract these under DOS, but that's going to lose the boot records I'm sure so I haven't looked for one.

IBM provides LOADDSKF, an OS/2 utility that writes a DSK to a floppy. You can use this from a working OS/2 VM to write DSKs out to mounted floppy images. There's a DOS version but I haven't experimented with it. It would be nice to use it in DOSbox but I recall trying and failing. It might also work from a DOS VM, but I just use Warp 4.5.

Here's how I do this:

  1. Install Warp 4.5 on a Virtualbox VM and boot it up
  2. Open the Warp install CD, then the DISKIMGS folder
  3. Copy LOADDSKF.EXE to C:\OS2
  4. Grab all the DSK files you need to convert and stuff them in an ISO with e.g. Imgburn/CDBurnerXP
  5. Mount the ISO in your OS/2 system
  6. From a command prompt, go to D:
  7. In Virtualbox, go to Devices > Floppy > Create a new floppy disk...
  8. Name it disk1.img and hit OK. This will create a blank disk image on your machine.
  9. Go to the folder where you made the disk on your real machine and copy/paste it until you have enough images for the entire disk set, then rename them all appropriately.
  10. From OS/2, execute LOADDSKF DISK1.DSK A: and the first image will be written to disk1.img
  11. Load disk2.img and repeat the process until all disks are written

Now you have a set of IMGs.

Installation Processes

Partitioning

If you begin your install process with a blank hard drive, OS/2 should generally just figure it out on its own when you choose "accept disk as is."
If the drive is anything *but* blank, weird things may start happening.

OS/2's partition manager is not a very smart cookie. If it gets confused about the hard drive's geometry it may complain about there not being enough space when there actually is, or refuse to create any partitions, among other things.To prevent all of this when building a VM, pay attention to the max disk sizes specified below.

Disks larger than 2.1GB require a boot floppy patch. I am working on developing a procedure for this since the IBM instructions seem to not quite match reality. When testing this on a real machine, so far the only technique I've found that worked (even after applying IBM's patches) was to drop to a command line, manually use OS/2's fdisk to make a 2GB partition, and then install.

Installing OS/2 1.x

Patching

OS/2 1.x will crash on any modern system unless you patch some files. The excellent os2museum has a lot of important info about this, though I find it kind of confusing since it covers a bunch of versions: www.os2museum.com/wp/installing-os2-1-x-in-a-virtualbox-vm/

Here's the short of it:
To install any of these you need to extract some files from the floppy images, patch them, and put them back in, which is somewhat documented at the os2museum link, but is kind of unclear.

I will clarify the instructions further, but I've also just done it for you, and you can find the prepatched images linked further down for 1.1 and 1.3.

The process I used is:

  1. Begin with all disks in IMG format, having converted them with Winimage or using the process I described earlier. Python 2.7 installed, and patchos2.py is in a folder with the disk images
  2. Using 7zip or Winimage, open INSTALL.IMG
  3. Extract the affected file to a folder
  4. For 1.0/1.0: KBD01.sys
  5. For 1.2/1.3: BASEDD01.SYS / BASEDD02.SYS / BASEDD03.SYS
  6. Drag each affected file onto patchos2.py; a <file>.bak will appear if it succeeded
  7. Using Winimage, put the affected file back into INSTALL.IMG and save

Doing this without Winimage is kind of a pain. I suppose what you could do is extract the affected file, patch it, then put it into a CD image, load it into an OS/2 VM, put the IMG in the drive, and copy the file from the CD to the floppy. That ought to work.

Now we can install!

Note - versions 1.0/1.2

As mentioned earlier, 1.0 is a pain to get working but also pointless.

1.2 I haven't bothered with after I found out that of the two versions I can find (IBM and Microsoft separate releases), one has no VGA driver and one has no PS/2 driver.

I'm told 1.3 is basically identical to 1.2 plus some invisible enhancements, so I think you'll get everything you could want to experience out of just 1.1 and 1.3.

Installing OS/2 1.1

OS/2 1.1

Note - Patching
Remember that OS/2 1.x requires patching before it can be used.
The prepatched disks can be found here Internet Archive
Or you can get the originals at winworldpc.com/product/os-2-1x/11 [ IBM OS/2 1.10 Extended Edition (3.5-1.44mb) ]

I don't even need to give instructions for this one. Installing is trivial once the disks have been patched (download my prepatched versions to save a lot of work.)

Just boot from install.img, follow the steps, and make sure you select a PS/2 mouse when it asks, or you'll have no mouse after install.

Installing OS/2 1.3

OS/2 1.3

Note - Patching
Remember that OS/2 1.x requires patching before it can be used.
The prepatched disks can be found here Internet Archive
Or you can get the originals at winworldpc.com/product/os-2-1x/13 [ IBM OS/2 1.30 Extended Edition (3.5-1.44mb) ]
  1. Create a Virtualbox 6.0 machine with the Other OS/2 type and a 500MB HDD
  2. Having patched install.img (or using my prepatched versions), boot from it
  3. Follow the instructions on screen
  4. Accept its partition scheme; reboot when asked
  5. Insert Disk 1 when asked
  6. Follow the steps; pick "Accept disk" and "High Performance File System"
  7.  I'm not sure what the "base operating system" is; I selected "Custom" and checked everything. Remember to use spacebar to select an item.
  8. Select an appropriate language
  9. On "Select Display Adapter", pick "No"
  10. Use spacebar to check "Video Graphics Adapter" and press Enter
  11. Select Microsoft Mouse, PS/2 Version
  12. Accept Configuration
  13. Insert disks as requested to complete install
  14. Select "do not install default printer"
  15. Answer "no" to the Device Support Diskette
  16. Answer "no" to the Custom Install Diskette and Basic Configuration Services
  17. On the screen with the Communications Manager, etc. press F3 to bypass
  18. Remove disk and restart as suggested

Install is now complete.

Installing OS/2 2.1

OS/2 2.1

There is a CDROM version of Warp 2.1 that I wasn't able to figure out. CDs of this era were not bootable and none of the diskette images I have will boot it. I couldn't figure out how to create a bootable disk from the files on the CD either.

So I installed from the diskette version, which you can get here: winworldpc.com/product/os-2-20/21 under the name "IBM OS2 2.1 (3.5-1.44mb)"

  1. Create a Virtualbox 6.0 machine with the Other OS/2 type and a 500MB HDD
  2.  Insert Install.img and boot; insert disk 1 when asked
  3.  Accept the first couple screens, and agree to use the default partitioning scheme
  4.  Put the install disk back in as requested and hit enter to restart
  5.  Follow the steps; pick "Accept disk" and "High Performance File System"
  6.  Insert install diskettes as requested until it restarts into the graphical installer.
  7. Select "Install all features" and click OK
  8.  This next screen is misleading. Let me explain:
  9. After you click OK you'll be prompted to choose a CD-ROM; pick "Other" (again, this will not result in a working CD-ROM yet; see next section)
  10.  Click OK a couple times to start inserting disks
  11.  After the last disk you'll get an Advanced Options window. Accept the "Migrate" and "Configure WIN-OS/2" options and click OK.
  12.  Click OK again
  13.  Click Find..., then Migrate
  14.  Click Exit in the Find Programs window and Yes, then OK to proceed
  15.  Continue to follow prompts until the installer restarts the machine

You should now have a working OS/2 2.1 system. Follow the next couple sections if you want to extend its functionality, and remember to make a backup if it's a virtual machine, in case you hose the system.

Adding CD-ROM Support

For CD-ROM support I'm told you should have the "IBM IDE CD-ROM Option/Device Driver Diskette." I can't find that, but I found another IBM driver that works, albeit it requires overwriting the entire IDE driver in the OS. I made an image of it here Internet Archive

It seems to work, and the prebuilt VM I made with "CD_MM" in the name has it installed, as well as the multimedia extensions (though the sound doesn't seem to work yet) but if you need to install it yourself:

  1.  After OS/2 2.1 is installed, go to System Setup and run Selective Install
  2.  Check the box next to the CD-ROM and hit Next
  3.  From the list, select "Other"
  4.  Complete the install process, inserting the disk it requests, and restart afterwards
  5.  Insert cdrom.img
  6.  Open C:\OS2 in a browser window, and A:\ in another
  7.  Select all files on A: and drag (with the RIGHT button!) to C:\OS2
  8.  Let it overwrite
  9.  Edit C:\CONFIG.SYS
  10.  At the bottom, add: BASEDEV=IBMIDECD.FLT
  11.  Save and restart the machine

You should now have a CDROM in Drives.

Adding Multimedia Support

This install uses the diskette form of OS/2 2.1 since I couldn't figure out how to get the CD version to boot. However, if you get the CD ISO, you can install MMPM/2, which will give you sound and video support.

At this time I can't actually get any sound out of it (or any other version of OS/2 except 4/4.5) but maybe your luck will be better. It's preinstalled on the prebuilt VM I made with "CD_MM" in the name, but you can install it yourself as follows:

  1.  Install CD-ROM support
  2.  Mount the OS/2 2.1 CD
  3.  Open the "MMPR2" folder
  4.  Run MINSTALL.EXE

That's it.

Installing OS/2 Warp 3

OS/2 Warp 3

Note: Sound doesn't seem to work. I'm not sure why. It works on Warp 4/4.5

Installing Warp 3 on Virtualbox 6.0 is actually a fairly smooth process. It didn't use to be, it used to suck. Things have improved.

First you'll want Warp 3. Get it here:

archive.org/details/IBMOS2Warp3Collection IBM OS2 Warp 3 Connect - Blue - 8.200 - English - CDROM.zip

Connect is a slightly updated version of Warp that has more network features, and you probably want them.

  1. Extract the zip.
  2. That archive has the boot floppies in DSK. I've made IMGs for you here Internet Archive.
  3. Create a Virtualbox machine. Select OS/2 Warp 3 and accept the defaults. 2GB disk max.
  4. Mount the install CDROM and the floppy image install.img, and boot the machine.
  5. When prompted, swap in disk01.img. You'll get into the installer.
  6. Select Advanced mode.
  7. Accept the hard disk as-is.
  8. Select High Performance File System
  9. Wait through the copying phase
  10. When it asks you to remove the diskette and press enter to restart, do so.
  11. Remove the floppy from the drive and press enter.
  12. On boot you're going to get the graphical config interface.
  13. All the defaults on the first page are fine except for CDROM and Audio
  14. Continue
  15. You probably don't want a printer, so hit OK
  16. You probably want to select all the boxes on the software configuration page. Click Install
  17. When prompted for networking support, select Yes
  18. On the Product Selection page, enable IBM TCP/IP - you probably don't have any use for the other modules and they require configuration.
  19. On the adapter selection screen, click Other Adapter
  20. Mount the AMD PCnet driver floppy (which you can find here Internet Archive) and press OK; It should find the driver
  21. Make sure you select Ethernet and not Token Ring!
  22. Click the TCP/IP tab in the upper right and fill in the following
  23.  Click Install
  24.  You will get a "you did not configure your adapter" error; click OK, then press OK on the popup window to continue, and click Install again to begin the installation
  25.  Open up the OS/2 command prompt and ping google.com to verify network access.
  26.  For higher resolutions, see the "Installing Graphics Drivers on Warp" section

Installing OS/2 Warp 4

OS/2 Warp 4

Note: The install process for Warp 4 is similar to 3 but subtly different, so pay close attention.

Get the ISO from winworldpc.com/product/os-2-warp-4/os-2-warp-40 IBM OS2 Warp 4.0 (ISO)

  1. Create a Virtualbox machine. Select OS/2 Warp 4 and accept the defaults. 2GB disk max.
  2. Mount the install CDROM and the disk called Installation.img, boot the machine.
  3. When prompted, swap in disk01.img. You'll get into the installer.
  4. Select Advanced mode
  5. Accept the hard disk as-is
  6. Select High Performance File System
  7. Wait through the copying phase
  8. When it asks you to remove the diskette and press enter to restart, do so.
  9. Remove the floppy from the virtual drive and press enter.
  10. On boot you'll get the graphical config interface.
  11. All the defaults on the first page are fine except for CDROM, Audio, and possibly region
    1.  For some reason it defaults to United Kingdom for region and keyboard; maybe because this ISO is region-ed. Change it to United States or you won't be able to enter backslashes.
    2. For CD-ROM Device Support it should default to "IDE CD-ROM"; if not, select this from the list.
    3. For Audio, pick Soundblaster 16 PnP
  12. Continue
  13. You shouldn't need to install anything on the second page; continue
  14. You probably don't want a printer, so hit OK
  15. You probably want to select all the boxes on the software configuration page (BonusPak, in particular, is an office productivity suite) and click OK
  16. On the dialog with TCP/IP, File And Print Client, etc, the only setting you want is probably TCP/IP. Everything else installs outdated protocols and tools. Click Next
  17. On the network configuration screen, select Network Adapters
  18. There should be an AMD PCNet already. If not, add one.
  19. Select TCP/IP Services
  20. If you have DHCP, enable that; otherwise set all the values to fit your network. "Router" means default gateway.
  21. Click Install
  22. After reboot, the machine is ready to use.
  23. For higher resolutions, see the "Installing Graphics Drivers on Warp" sectio

Installing Warp 4.5

I maI may add detailed instructions for 4.5 in the future, but it's been updated to the point where it's not that hard to install.

You can get the disk here: https://winworldpc.com/product/os-2-warp-4/os-2-warp-452 IBM OS2 Warp 4.52 (4.52.14.086_W4)

The instructions are basically the same as Warp 4, except you don't need to boot from floppy; the CD is self-booting.

Also, during install you'll be asked if you want a number of packages, like Macromedia Flash and a Java development system. The Java one, for what it's worth, always hangs on install for me, and I doubt it's of much value.

Installing Graphics Drivers on Warp

Now that you're started up, you're going to want graphics drivers. Even when Warp was new people would commonly have been running monitors at higher than 640x480x8bpp, so a lot of software is going to feel more comfortable at higher resolutions./>

Since Virtualbox emulates no specific graphics card, you need a generic SVGA driver. Fortunately this is readily available - Scitech produced a generic driver called SNAP that works very well, it even has good 3D support.

SNAP is not hard to find, but there are two issues:

  1. It's an EXE you'd have to figure out how to get into your VM
  2. It requires you to apply patches that are kinda hard to find and get into the VM

To help you, I've prepared an ISO Internet Archive with the driver, the serial number (yes! this was a commercial graphics driver! it cost money!) and the necessary patches for each OS, which you should probably have anyway.

Installing SNAP on Warp 3

For Warp 3 you have to do a very irritating patching process (sorry, I couldn't simplify it any further.) Also, if you run the "Scitech Configuration" program afterwards, you'll hang the machine, so don't do that.

  1. Mount os2_snap.iso
  2. Open the CDROM from Drives
  3. Drag (with the RIGHT mouse button) the folder WP3FP40 to your desktop and let it copy (a window will pop up but it won't look like it's doing anything; it is)
  4. Open an OS/2 Command Prompt (C: icon on the "taskbar")
  5. CD C:\DESKTOP\WP3FP40
  6. MKDIR EXT
  7. CD EXT
  8. ..\DIUNPACK.EXE ..\XR_W040.1DK
  9. A bunch of files should extract; repeat for all 20 patch files
  10. When all are extracted, execute: ..\OS2SERV.EXE C:\DESKTOP\WP3FP40\CSF C:\DESKTOP\WP3Fp40\EXT
  11. The Corrective Service Facility will launch; follow the steps to install the FixPack, then reboot
  12. Now follow the exact same steps from the Warp 4 instructions below, starting from "Double click SNAP_OS2.EXE"
  13. Enjoy!

Installing SNAP on Warp 4

Note: You do not need to do this for Warp 4.5, it comes with a VESA driver. Just skip straight to setting the resolution.

For Warp 4 it's pretty straightforward:

  1. Mount os2_snap.iso
  2. Open the CDROM from Drives
  3. Open WP4FP15
  4. Double click INSTALL.CMD. This will launch the Corrective Service Facility
  5. Select the one item in the list if need be and click Service
  6. In the window that pops up, you need to enter an Archive directory in the middle field. I suggest C:\ARCH. Then click OK
  7. You will get a warning about locked files. Click Continue.
  8. Install will take a while.
  9.  When prompted to overwrite files, click OK
  10. When finished, reboot (remember to Shut Down from the desktop, then reset)
  11. Open the CDROM from Drives again
  12. Double click SNAP_OS2.EXE and follow the steps to install
  13. You will get an error about an unsupported graphics card; that's normal, click OK
  14. Let the installer reboot. You should see a Scitech splash screen on startup.
  15. Go to the Warp Menu > OS/2 System > System Setup > System
  16. Select a new resolution and color depth (look for "256" above the res list and change it to "16M"), then close the window and reboot
  17. You should now have high resolution, high color graphics.
  18. Open the Scitech folder on the desktop and start "Registration Tool"
  19. Look in SNAP_OS2.TXT on the CD for the name and serial number and input them
  20. You're done!

Now What?

So what should you do in OS/2?

Good question. I don't actually know yet. Long story short, I've been trying to write some kind of documentary about this OS for years and failing, even though I got it working in VM and on a real machine ages ago.

What I can tell you is this: OS/2 enjoyed remarkable success as an underdog, and in its day there was plenty of software for it. There are a number of major commercial applications available for it, even some games, and bits and pieces of all sorts that you can scrounge up online. Beyond that, just dig through it, experience it. It's a weird piece of software.

Getting Files Into the VM

The first thing you'll need to be able to do is to actually get software into the VM.

CD images are the most obvious route, since OS/2 natively understands those, any large commercial software package you find online has a good chance of being in ISO format, and you can make ISOs trivially from files on your computer with any CD burning app.

Floppy images are also an option but there are no good free manipulation programs. If you find software online that's already in IMG/IMA format that's one thing, but if you want to make your own floppy images it's tough to do except from inside a VM, which is a chicken-and-egg problem.

FTP could work to move files between a local server - there are several very simple and free FTP servers out there you can set up, and there's an FTP client built into OS/2, I think from 2.x up.

A web browser is probably the most convenient option if you can work it. Any site that's plain HTTP can be accessed with the basic browser included with several versions of OS/2, and certainly with Netscape, which you can get here and move into your VM via an ISO, as described above.

You can also run a local HTTP server, such as Miniweb - just put files to transfer in htdocs and (supposing your computer's real IP is 192.168.1.100) access them at http://192.168.1.100:8000/

Accessing HTTPS sites is a problem. Any browser released before the late 2000s - which covers everything ever officially released for OS/2 - will not access any modern website. I'm told there is a Firefox 45 build for this OS but I still don't know if that fixes the HTTPS issue.

Running Software

I have limited experience with running OS/2 software at all, but here is what I've learned so far:

Finding Software Online

There are a number of substantial OS/2 hobby and resource sites where you can find software, as well as drivers etc. to make OS/2 work on real hardware.

Hobbes always deserves mention. It's kind of a bulk file repository for basically everything imaginable for OS/2, but it's just files with very little context or organization, and you won't be able to load it inside of OS/2 itself without signficant effort because as far as I can tell it's HTTPS-only.

eCSoft is another popular resource, but unlike Hobbes they don't seem to host much themselves, just link to other sites, so you may find broken links. They do however have plenty of info and screenshots on each program and

Internet Archive doesn't have a lot of easily located OS/2 software, but my recollection is that a lot of DOS/Windows software CDs from the 90s had OS/2 directories. So there's that.

OHFOWG is a compilation of OS/2 Warp games. I have not been through it at all thoroughly but you can check it out; I'll advise you that it's 1.8GB, but Warp 4.5 (at least) will read a DVD happily, so I extracted it, dumped it into a DVD ISO, and mounted it successfully.


If this was interesting to you, or if you did something interesting with it, email me: articles@gekk.info

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