Ionic Column: September 1996
by David Parry
Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. A frequent contributor to this publication, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. This column has won a prize and an honorable mention in newsletter awards. To the Tokyo BBS community, he now lives in virtual cyberspace and teleports textually over the ether. On the physical level, he currently lives and works in Düsseldorf, that part of Germany that most resembles Japan.
OS/2 be or not to be
I have finally installed OS/2 on my system. More or less, as will become obvious. While I got my copy of the software on CD-ROM, I have had the fundamental problem that OS/2 will still not recognize the CD-ROM drive. This chicken and egg problem was resolved by the brute force approach of running a batch file under good ol' DOS that lets you make 24 diskettes (in my case) and then going through the lengthy installation routine.
Three to two
The biggest problem otherwise was that the Contour mouse was not recognized. Since OS/2 has a graphic interface, doing anything at all without a rodent is not a little difficult. After some intense reading of the manual, and more importantly, downloading a number of messages from the OS/2 forum on Compuserve, I found that OS/2 does not support three-button mice. I had already wondered if I ought to try swapping over the Microsoft mouse for my Contour "slug" (that's what it looks like). A quick power-off and fumble at the back of the PC, and voila, I had the use of my "pointing device." I then put the Contour mouse back, having moved the switch to the two-button position to emulate the Microsoft critter. It still worked. So far, so good.
But no cigar
It was now a lot easier to select the options in "Selective Install," but the system still refuses to recognize the CD-ROM drive or my Trident video card. Both of them are listed in the menus, and I have a separate disk of OS/2 drivers for the Trident, but OS/2 just gives a scornful sniff and ignores them.
The CD-ROM problem is clearly related to the IDE controller. I downloaded another driver that may or may not be useful, as it is intended for the 6X version of my 4X drive, but ultimately I either have to reconfigure my IDE connections for the two hard disks and the CD-ROM or else add a suitable parameter to tell OS/2 where the CD-ROM is located. Aren't computers intelligent enough to figure this out for themselves?
Bondage and domination
The whole master / slave set in IDE can tie you up in knots, and I have not found a utility that can tell you. When I registered the shareware diagnostics package SNOOPER, the manual asked you to send your comments for desirable new features. I sent a message to Compuserve asking about IDE setup, and the predictable answer was that there is no standard way to do this. In short, you have to open up the box and look at the cables and the settings.
IDE is very simple to deal with for simple systems, but it would have been a whole lot easier with SCSI. I say that with memories of my first encounters—of the cruel kind—with SCSI and the problems of termination and scuzzy IDs. Once you have that figured out, SCSI is much easier when dealing with multiple drives and devices such as CD-ROMs, there are no BIOS-related limits on disk size, and the biggest and fastest hard disks are SCSI.
Removable hard disks such as Jaz are music to my ears when I think of backing up acres of data, but Jaz also uses SCSI. Adding extra SCSI devices, such as an external Zip or Jaz drive, is very easy under SCSI as long you remember to terminate the last device on the chain. Sometimes you just have to flick a switch, otherwise you may have to swap jumpers or even implant a centipede-like object. Since SCSI has a BIOS of its own, you do not need to change your CMOS settings. God and SCSI know their own on bootup.
I would definitely recommend SCSI for a server, since you can always add a similar controller card and hard disks at a later date and mirror your disks. You will of course need more RAM, since the amount of memory that Netware requires is directly related to disk size. DOS cannot support mirroring, but operating systems that can, such as Netware, can write the same data to two disks simultaneously. Instant backup. IDE drives have to write the data first to one disk and then to the next, so mirroring would involving a big slowdown on writes.
Talking again of memory and Netware, the office server just grinds to a halt with a heavy printing job. Users of WIN/V and the Chinese equivalent report that even small printing jobs tie up the system due to the huge spooler files. With memory dropping in price, and set to drop even further when the Taiwanese DRAM producers come into full flow later this year, it becomes economically viable to stuff the box with as much RAM as it can hold.
I notice a big difference in the office under Windows between the systems with 8 MB and mine with 16 MB. Not only can you multi-task safely with more memory, but memory-intensive operations such as graphics run much faster. Incidentally, I still say that Windows 3.1 needs RAM Doubler or Hurricane to tidy up its sloppy memory management and reclamation.
72 pins good, 30 pins bad
There is always a catch. Older machines using 30-pin SIMMs are out of luck, since the low prices only apply to the latest and greatest memory chips, the PS/2 or 72-pin SIMMs. As far as I can tell from a quick inventory of the office PCs, the dividing line is Pentiumdom. The 486s all use the older and relatively more expensive memory.
The net result is that it is cheaper to upgrade old PCs with a heart transplant. The price I was quoted for a new motherboard with 16 MB of the new-style memory chips and a spanking new Pentium CPU was about the same as for 16 MB of 30-pin SIMMs. Nuff said.
FrameMaker 5.0 is on the way, for a mere princely sum. A friend using FM on the Mac says that version 5.0 is not really worth having, but I thought that there could be some advantages. One thing is for sure: it can import WinWord 6.0 files. Like some other programs, FM4 only goes up to WinWord 2.0. I am hoping that the new version will also have screen handling and navigation on a par with WinWord itself, as FM is distinctly clunky by comparison.
Got everything back (just)
The hapless client I mentioned in the last column has his system working again, wood touched, fingers permanently crossed, four leaf clovers plastered all over the server. The hard drive was rescued from terminal stiction and is working again, but obviously it cannot be trusted. I am still waiting to see when he will get his new computer system, and how he will network it.
Compuserve in Germany now has ISDN access. The announcement came in the form of a very low-key newsletter that enclosed a flyer for cheap ISDN hardware. There are no messages when I log in, but I believe that ISDN access is available now. I am not the best person to ask about that, as I don't have ISDN yet, but I certainly will now.
Although the 700 DM (US$400) rebate by Deutsche Telekom on ISDN installations expired six weeks ago, the Compuserve prices are such that it may not mater much. The best part is an internal ISDN connector card for a PC for the princely sum of one mark. However, I don't think that it is enough by itself, so the actual final bill for hardware is likely to be several hundred times as much. Incidentally, Compuserve also have a special offer on a 28.8 kbs modem, but I will look around for a combined modem/ISDN internal card. ZyXel and others have had external devices of that type for quite some time now, and I saw some of them at CeBIT last year.
From a financial point of view, one ISDN line that provides three separate lines and calling numbers costs about the same per month as two analog lines. It is definitely worth going for ISDN when I move the office within the next two months.
Although I follow developments in new technology very closely, I don't keep up with the latest and greatest. I ask the same questions as anybody else with less technical expertise would ask. Does the new technology fulfill an actual need? Is it usable? Is it affordable? High-tech always needs to address some low-tech and no-tech questions before it is widely adopted, and the vendors that realize this are the ones that have the biggest success. Indeed, they even get to stay in business.
Comments or feedback or more information? Contact me on Compuserve on 100575,2573.
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