Android apps on Windows Phone is like Windows on OS/2

Steve Ballmer is paraphrased in this ZDNet article saying “the company needs to ensure Windows Phone handsets can run Android apps”.  For a guy who spent more than 5 years writing system code for OS/2, the parallels to WinOS2 are pretty interesting.   Here’s the lesson: The operating system must stand on its own, or your just postpone it’s death.

“A better DOS than DOS and a better Windows than Windows”! 

With the 80836 supporting versions of OS/2 starting with 2.0 in 1992, the company did an absolutely excellent job running DOS applications in MVDM virtual machines.  This provided the required legacy support for DOS applications while the native side of the OS provided developers a platform to build rich applications that could fully exercise the systems 32-bit world.  OS/2 had an impressive multitasking kernel and a great TCP stack and could have been a great platform for application developers.  The applications never came; why?  A lot of reasons actually, but a big one was because IBM made the fantastic blunder to also build support for Windows 3.1 applications.

Once IBM built “adequate” system support for running Windows 3.1 applications on OS/2, ISVs now had zero motivation to write native applications and the native applications were not implemented, or were implemented poorly with customers instead opting to use the Windows applications on the OS/2 system and at the end, that operating environment just didn’t make sense anymore.

Development team gets distracted

Meanwhile, the operating system development team were spending tremendous effort to make Windows applications run inside a virtual machine.  Yes, Windows 3.1 was just a 386 DOS extender application running with a DOS boot loader, and given a MVDM supporting system already, running this big app wasn”t impossible.  It still took work though, real work!.   Work that ultimately included dragging me away from OS/2 native system work and into a world of writing what we today call paravirtualized drivers to send Windows 3.1 audio operations across to the native OS/2 multimedia system for processing.  Time that I SHOULD have been building the greatest audio and video processing system in the world, or perhaps just getting more device support for the native system.

Bottom line, it’s 20 years later.  Microsoft has become IBM and Google is playing the part of Microsoft.  If this “run Android on Windows” strategy actually proceeds, Android developers will have no motivation to write native applications for Windows phone handsets, and the operating system will ultimately die.

Everything that is old, is new again,

Joe Nord

Originally published Dec 3, 2015 11:12am

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