OS/2 - Development History - 1992: 32-bit Era - DOS Compatibility

DOS Compatibility

OS/2 2.0 was touted by IBM as "a better DOS than DOS and a better Windows than Windows". For the first time, OS/2 was able to run more than one DOS application at a time. This was so effective that it allowed OS/2 to actually run a modified copy of Windows 3.0, itself a DOS extender, including Windows 3.0 applications.

Because of the limitations of the Intel 80286 processor, OS/2 1.x could run only one DOS program at a time, and did this in a way that allowed the DOS program to have total control over the computer. A problem in DOS mode could crash the entire computer. In contrast, OS/2 2.0 could benefit from the virtual 8086 mode of the Intel 80386 processor in order to create a much safer virtual machine in which to run DOS programs. This included an extensive set of configuration options to optimize the performance and capabilities given to each DOS program. Any real mode operating system (such as 8086 Xenix) could also be made to run using OS/2's virtual machine capabilities, subject to certain direct hardware access limitations.

Like most 32-bit environments, OS/2 could not run protected-mode DOS programs using the older VCPI interface, unlike the Standard mode of Windows 3.1; it only supported programs written according to DPMI. (Microsoft discouraged the use of VCPI under Windows 3.1, however, due to performance degradation.)

Unlike Windows NT, OS/2 also always gave DOS programs the possibility of masking real hardware interrupts, so any DOS program could deadlock the machine this way. OS/2 could however use a hardware watchdog on selected machines (notably IBM machines) to break out of such a deadlock. Later, release 3.0 leveraged the enhancements of newer Intel 486 and Intel Pentium processors—the Virtual Interrupt Flag (VIF), which was part of the Virtual Mode Extensions (VME)—to solve this problem.

Read more about this topic:  OS/2, Development History, 1992: 32-bit Era

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