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!