Otter Browser aims to bring Chromium to decades-old OS/2 operating system

Otter Browser aims to bring Chromium to decades-old OS/2 operating system

Every computer needs a capable web browser, but that’s easier said than done on computers running something besides Windows, macOS, or Linux. There are still a few people using the OS/2 operating system, which was created by Microsoft and IBM and ended mainstream development in 2001, and is in desperate need of a functional 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 that aren’t Firefox or Safari. The interface is written in the cross-platform Qt framework.

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OS/2 was the operating system developed jointly by IBM and Microsoft in the late 1980s and early 1990s, with the intended 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 eventually stopped working on OS/2 in 2001, but two other companies licensed the operating system to continue where IBM left off — first eComStation, and more recently, ArcaOS.

Screenshot of a browser window on OS/2 with blank contents

Early screenshot of Otter Browser from July 2020 (Source: OS/2 Voice)

BitWise Works GmbH and the Dutch OS/2 Voice foundation started work on a port of Otter Browser in 2017, as it was becoming 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 main focus has been 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. Otter Browser itself is officially available for Linux, macOS, Windows, and BSD systems.

Steven Levine, who helped with development, said in an announcement post, “the Qt5 and Otter browser ports have basically been a one man project, with help other bww bitwise works employees and from the community. What Dmitriy [the main developer] is doing is porting two large, complex projects that were never designed to run on a 32-bit platform and were never designed to run on OS/2. IMO, there are few developers that could have accomplished what he has done in the same timeframe. From what I can see, the browser is close to being usable on a daily 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, primarily targeting legacy systems and retro enthusiasts. The latest update was v5.0.7 in December 2021, which included updated drivers and kernel fixes. The OS/2 port developers are accepting donations on the OS/2 Voice website.

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Corbin Davenport
Corbin Davenport

Corbin is a tech journalist and software developer. Check out what he's up to at corbin.io.

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