Web versions

The decades-old OS/2 operating system gets a new web browser

Every computer needs a capable web browser, but that’s easier said than done on computers running something other than Windows, macOS, or Linux. There are still a few people who use the OS/2 operating system, which was created by Microsoft and IBM and ended mainstream development in 2001, and desperately need a working web browser. With any luck, the decades-old operating system could have the same web engine as modern smartphones.

Roderick Klein, president of the OS/2 Voice community, revealed in an announcement article that a public beta of the new Otter browser will arrive “in the last week of February or the first week of March”. The browser uses the Chromium engine – the same one that powers Google Chrome, Microsoft Edge, Vivaldi and most other browsers other than Firefox or Safari. The interface is written in the cross-platform Qt framework.

OS/2 was the operating system jointly developed by IBM and Microsoft in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the goal of replacing all DOS and Windows-based systems. However, Microsoft decided to focus on Windows after the immense popularity of Windows 3.0 and 3.1, leaving IBM to continue development on its own. IBM finally stopped working on OS/2 in 2001, but two other companies allowed the operating system to continue where IBM left off – first eComStationand more recently, ArcaOS.

Screenshot of a browser window in OS/2 with blank content

First Otter browser screenshot from July 2020 (Source: OS/2 Voice)

BitWise Works GmbH and the Dutch OS/2 Voice Foundation started working on a port of Otter Browser in 2017, as it became increasingly difficult to keep an updated version of Firefox available on OS/2 and ArcaOS. Firefox 49 ESR from 2016 is the latest version available on OS/2, because that’s around the time Mozilla started rewriting significant parts of Firefox with Rust code, and there’s no Rust compiler for OS/2. Since then, the focus has been on porting Qt 5.0 to OS/2, which includes the QtWebEngine (based on chromium). This effort also has the side effect of making more cross-platform ports possible in the future. The Otter Browser itself is officially available for Linux, macOS, Windows and BSD systems.

Steven Levine, who helped develop, said in an announcement message“the Qt5 and Otter browser ports have been essentially a one-person project, with help from other bww bitwise works employees and the community. Than Dimitri [the main developer] is porting two large, complex projects that were never meant to run on a 32-bit platform and were never meant to run on OS/2. IMO there are few developers who could have accomplished what he did in the same amount of time. From what I can see, the browser is close to being usable on a day-to-day basis. There are already a number of sites that matter to me that I can now access with Otter, rather than having to work on another platform. »

Even though OS/2 is not a modern operating system by any stretch of the imagination, the ArcaOS distribution/fork is still under development, mainly targeting older systems and retro enthusiasts. The last update was v5.0.7 in December 2021, which included updated drivers and kernel fixes. The developers of the OS/2 port are accept donations on the OS/2 Voice website.