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netlabs.org in OS/2 eZine 12/1999

I found this article in my old folder with netlabs.org related stuff. From the filename I guess that I wrote it for OS/2 eZine, issue 12/1999. From a quick Google search I guess that the domain is dead and I could only find backups of issues > 2000. So enjoy some history :)

The OS/2 Netlabs

The other operating system

In winter 1994 I sat in front of my Synthesizers at home and my stupid Windows 3.1 MIDI Sequencer crashed for the fourth time this evening. My neighbor worked at IBM so I told him that I want to get the operating system of IBM, I didn’t know the name at this time, Ijust heard that is must be stable. A few weeks later I got a brand new Warp 3 with Win-OS/2 support. I installed it and after I took my Roland RAP-10 Soundcard out of my computer it even worked without problems. You want to know what I did after OS/2 started for the first time? I made a shutdown because I did not know what to do with this (at this time for me) strange user interface.

About two weeks later I started working with it and I realized how much power my computer got with this OS. You won’t believe it but IBM Germany made TV spots about OS/2 at this time, I was proud to be one of the cool OS/2 users out there. Never again Windows on my machine… I was sure about that.

OS/2 worked well on my machine, I even started buying some applications because I did not know anyone else than me who was using OS/2, so I had no way than to copy software and I think this was the main problem of OS/2. Sure, most of the other people started using Windows ’95 and I always said this OS is a piece of crap. They did not believe it at this time, but they do now… But they had a lot of software for it because everyone had some illegal copies of Windows applications at home.
We all know it, IBM was not very successful with OS/2, it was sad to see that more and more users stopped working with it and I decided that I have to do something against this. This was the birth of OS/2 Netlabs.
My cousin started working with Linux at this time and I saw that this operating system could be very successful in the future, I decided to to something like this for OS/2. The first step was to register netlabs.org at Internic (cool name, isn’t it!? :-). I got my first internet connection at home (and this was really expensive in 1997 in Switzerland, believe me…) and I did the first page at OS/2 Netlabs.

What we are about

The goal of OS/2 Netlabs is to provide open source software for OS/2, this was the idea I had in 1997, at the same time when some guys started the first Warpstock conference in the USA and another guy called Sander van Leeuwen decided to start the Win32-OS/2 Project, now better known as Project Odin. 1997 was a bad year for OS/2 because a lot of commercial companies stopped OS/2 support but it was an important year for new community-based projects.

The project developed very well, a lot of developers started working on new free OS/2 applications, we also started porting Linux applications to OS/2, for example the well known GIMP image manipulation program.
The main problem of OS/2 Netlabs is that no one gets payed for the work, so everyone just invests as much time as possible and a most of us are students or have a real live job out there. So our power is limited and depends on what we have to do for our job/university.
Unfortunately not all people in the OS/2 community realize this, please be patient, we do what we can!

Our projects

Today we have a lot of great projects, for example Odin, the Win32 implementation for OS/2. This is definitely one of the biggest projects actually and the team did a great progress the past month (and we still do :-). Our goal is to get full Win32 support in OS/2, it is possible to do that, download the latest alpha release and test some small applications by yourself, you will be surprised.
Actually we port the Opera web browser to OS/2 with support of the Odin32 Win32-API and we also try to get Lotus Notes R5 (the client) binary running on OS/2. Odin is not an emulator and because of this performance loss is very small.

Another big project is EverBlue, the X-Lib implementation to OS/2 PM. You may know XFree86/OS2, the great port of XFree86 for OS/2 by Holger Veit. With EverBlue you will be able to run X-Applications like GIMP in OS/2 PM, without the need of XFree86/OS2. This will be a very nice improvement for OS/2 because this way we will get a lot of great Linux/Unix applications running native in OS/2 PM.
Unfortunately the team members don’t have that much time at the moment and because of this progress is not that fast. But the project is still very much alive and maybe you can support our developers!

Maybe you also know Linux distributions, in fact a Linux distribution is just an installer for free and open source software. Sure, a lot of distributions provide more but the main thing is the software you get. We decided to do something similar for OS/2, the first step was to write a new installer because the old software installer of IBM is very much out of date. The project got the name WarpIN, you can download the latest source code at our CVS Server at OS/2 Netlabs.
WarpIN is almost ready, we hope to release a first binary version very soon. But the real project is called OSK, the OS/2 Starter Kit. We will provide a CDRom (you will also be able to download it for free) with loads of great OS/2 freeware on it. The good thing about this CDRom is that every application is installable as a WarpIN package, you don’t have to install it by yourself. For sure WarpIN also provides a way to uninstall the application without any bits left on your disk. I’m sure you will love this project as soon as it is released!
This is a wonderful project where you can support us! We still need a lot of people who can support us in writing WarpIN installation packages. This is an easy job and we will provide samples how to do it. This way every user can provide packages for his freeware applications on OS/2 and we will include them on the CDRom.
Check the Homepage for more information about how to support it and join the mailinglist!

I could tell you a lot more about projects at OS/2 Netlabs but you can find them by yourself at our Homepage. More projects will be ready as soon as I got the time to update the pages.

The future

I think OS/2 Netlabs and other new projects really changed the OS/2 community (at least a part of it) in a positive way. A lot of people realized that we have to do something for OS/2 by our-self. We don’t have to wait for IBM. Every user can support the community, you don’t have to be a developer, there is a lot of other stuff to do, for example to answer questions in newsgroups, collecting FAQ’s about OS/2 and so on.

About one year ago I decided to change the design of OS/2 Netlabs because the pages are very much out of date at the moment. The main problem is that I started studying computer science at the Biel School of Engineering in Switzerland and I have to do a lot for it.
After Warpstock Europe I finally started working on the new OS/2 Netlabs design. I now use the Apache webserver, MySQL as database, and PHP3 as interface between Apache and MySQL.
But I think you can imagine that this is a lot of work to do and I have a lot of plans how OS/2 Netlabs should look like in the future. Maybe I will be ready with the new design in January 2000, at least I hope so. I will do my very best as everyone at OS/2 Netlabs, again all I can say is be patient!

OS/2 Netlabs will be the most important place for OS/2 developers in the future, you will be able to find information about how to write OS/2 applications, you will find a lot of source code as a reference and if you have an open source project we can provide CVS, ftp and http access for you project.
Developers often don’t like to keep web pages up to date and because of this normal OS/2 users can support them. OS/2 Netlabs will provide a very easy to use web interface to keep the project pages at OS/2 Netlabs up to date. Each project should have two mini-webmasters which are responsible for one project. They stay in contact with the developers and if a new release or anything else is ready, they can update the web page at OS/2 Netlabs. Everyone can do this job, you don’t have to know a lot about HTML, just some very basic tags.
This way we at OS/2 Netlabs can keep users much more up to date and developers have more time to code. This will be great for everyone.

In the beginning I also thought that OS/2 Netlabs should be the first place for OS/2 users to find information about OS/2 news. But fortunately someone else started providing a great place for OS/2 news and information: OS2.org. I think this is definitely one of the most important pages for OS/2 users and because of this I decided to work together with them. OS/2 Netlabs will provide free software for OS/2 and OS2.org provides news and support for OS/2.
In the future we will also get in contact with EDM/2, the great developer magazine for OS/2. I think that EDM/2 and OS/2 Netlabs could provide a lot of know how about OS/2 programming. It does not make sense to do stuff twice, the OS/2 community is to small for this.

I am also very happy that I got the chance to write something about OS/2 Netlabs in OS/2 EZine, a few weeks ago I was in Amsterdam (well, it was Utrecht) and I could present OS/2 Netlabs. To my surprise most of the people did not know OS/2 Netlabs until I told them what we do.
I was very surprised about that fact because I thought that most OS/2 users read information channels like Warpcast, OS2.org and so on. But it looks like a lot of people still don’t know the best OS/2 pages out there and this is what we and you have to change! If you know other people which use OS/2, tell them where you find information about OS/2, tell them what we at Netlabs do and tell them about OS/2 Ezine, V.O.I.C.E., OS2.org and so on!
OS/2 still has a future, we at OS/2 Netlabs provide some very important projects for it.

Thanks!

Well, I hope I was able to give you a short overview about OS/2 Netlabs. As I said I will do my very best to provide up to date web pages very soon. Think about what you could do for OS/2, maybe you could support us as a mini-webmaster for a project, maybe you can start coding on OS/2 (it is not that hard) and I’m sure that you can tell more about us and other OS/2 projects to your friends.
I heard that some people say OS/2 Netlabs is the place where projects go before they die. This is definitely not true. Please accept that we can’t invest 40 hours a week into OS/2 Netlabs. I would love to do that but live is very expensive in Switzerland… There will be a chance to support OS/2 Netlabs in the future (I mean with some money :-)), check the pages the next few weeks, more information will follow.

The most important idea behind OS/2 Netlabs is very simple: Don’t talk about the future of OS/2 – do something for it!

Adrian Gschwend, December 1999
Webmaster at OS/2 Netlabs

netlabs.org is 20 years old today

On September 6th 1997 I registered the domain netlabs.org so it is officially the 20iest anniversary of netlabs.org! I was quite sure I did write a few words 10 years ago and indeed I did, see my old post in this blog. I have a nice history in there about how and why I started netlabs.org so if you are curious about that then just go ahead and read this post, I will wait here! Unfortunately the screenshots of the old website are gone, have to see if I still keep them somewhere. Archive.org has some links as well but lacks the images, see for example the first snapshot in 1998.

I will try to assemble a few pictures and stories about netlabs.org for a session I do at Warpstock 2017. Unfortunately I can’t attend so I will only do a retrospective via Skype. I also plan to publish the slides and pictures I create to the public so you can enjoy a selection of old pictures from various events I participated at.

I’m very happy that after 20 years, netlabs.org and the legacy of OS/2 is still a thing. Sure, the really active times are over but I wouldn’t have thought for a second that the site would be still up in 20 years from when I started it. It was barely an idea back then and open source software didn’t play an important role anywhere yet, let alone on IBMs OS/2. The world was proprietary and so was our beloved operating system.

netlabs.org worked because we were young and naive and we thought nothing could stop us. That actually worked remarkably well for quite a while and looking back at these 20 years I have to say that I really enjoyed the journey, especially the earlier (and more active) years. I met so many great and remarkable people, many of them became friends, even though I have to admit that except Bart and Robert I don’t see most of you anymore on a regular base, if at all.

When we started netlabs.org there were no platforms like Sourceforge or Github. We started with a simple webserver, some http & ftp space and later with a heroic CVS server and client on OS/2, maintained by Christian Langanke. We were always a relatively small community with a focus on Europe, at least for the more active part. Looking back I think that was part of our success. It was relatively easy to travel and meet each other one, two or three times a year. I was a student back then and didn’t had much money but I always figured out some way to visit Warpstock Europe, organize the OS/2 Developer Workshop with Robert Henschel and go snowboarding in the Swiss or French alps with Bart, Knut, Christian, Chris,  Sander, Fonz and some other friends from the scene.

Warpstock Europe was probably the most important event for netlabs.org, I don’t think we would have managed to keep the core contributors active that long without it. It was always a special privilege to meet Daniela, Ulrich, Sander, Knut, Achim, Yuri and all the other great and smart programmers and interact with users that were very happy and grateful for the work we all did. I’m also happy to see that many users are still active, lead by Roderick and many others around the VOICE organization.

Warpstock USA was unfortunately an event I only visited once in Philadelphia, I think it was in 2000. I remember that we drove there with Ulrich Möller by car from Manhattan. We had the (in retrospect) incredibly stupid idea to meet in front of grand central station, back in the days where  mobile phones were a) expensive and b) European GSM models not working in the US. But it was great fun and I still remember many details of that road trip (will have to dig out some old pictures for the presentation)!

Around 10 years ago we started pushing the Voyager project, see some old posts in the blog and a presentation I did at the first netlabs.org developers workshop in Dresden in 2005. Looking back I have to admit that we were both incredibly smart in analyzing what was wrong and incredibly naive in thinking that our tiny active community could fix this. Some parts that were presented one year later in Biel went into the direction of what we now have on Linux with Wayland. Just that they started around 3 years later and it took them years to get it on a level where it got integrated on Linux distributions. And surely enough we had some additional ambitious goals at the same time, as you can see in the presentation. Including rewriting WPS from scratch on a new architecture.

What I probably never talked about in public is that we tried to get the OS/2 Warp for Power PC source code for a while, and/or the one from PM & WPS. It was such a frustrating journey that I probably forgot half of the details but long story short was that sources within the company told me that IBM lost most of the WPS source (IIRC parts of PM too) and no one felt like investing a dime searching for it and the PPC source they didn’t want to release because apparently Microsoft still had something to say regarding code ownership (other sources said that is BS and just an excuse to stop talking to us). Problem was that so many good people within IBM got burned because they believed in OS/2 that in the end really no one wanted to have anything to do with it. All I got in the end was a signed copy of The Design of OS/2 by Michael Kogan (still a great read by the way). I could also sense the amount of frustration he collected while working on OS/2 within IBM. What a shame…

Anyway let the past be the past. I’m glad that we have projects like Arca Noae and ArcaOS, many great long-time netlabs.org contributors and programmers are working and/or contributing to it and they still actively support me with my work for netlabs.org, thanks Lewis and Team! I have to replace the netlabs.org hardware from time to time to make sure services are running properly. In fact I will have to replace the by now 5 year old box again so I need to find 2’500€ for new hardware. If you feel like giving a gift, consider buying some sponsoring units or contact me directly. I can assure you that 100% of that money will go into new hardware! By the way the server was and is hosted at n@work in Hamburg, Germany. Their team is also incredible generous and friendly, thanks Rudiger & team!

I would also be interested to know how netlabs.org can help and should look like for the coming years. I have some ideas around creating a new platform for managing the community. It should be better than forum software, as nice as newsgroups were back then but more modern and easy to use on mobile devices as well. Github and related platforms do a great job for programmers but I think there is still something missing for managing contributors which do not or cannot contribute code. And in my opinion we did hit that sweet spot with netlabs.org for a while so I wonder how to repeat that today. Again, if you have ideas, let me know or comment on this post!

Last but not least thanks to everyone I did not mention by name, I’ve met so many great people in the past years I cannot list you all. If you have a nice netlabs.org related story on your own, let me know!

Last but not least I want to mention one of the most active users, it was and is Jan van der Heide. He still writes 99.9% of all posts in this blog, only because of his bi-weekly work you get regular condensed updates about what is going on in the SVN/TRAC repositories at netlabs.org, thanks a lot Jan!

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