by Kurt Keller
Some folks of you might remember, that on my main machine, a (by now oldish) 486 DX-33 notebook, I'm happily working with OS/2 v4.0. I was.
OS/2 is, compared to Windows, a superior Operating System. It was 32-bit long before Windows, it has much better network support, but its big shortcoming is a lack of native applications. Me too, I was using it mainly for its superior built in networking, doing most work from the notebook over the home network and the internet on unix machines.
Multiple full screen telnet sessions with vt220 terminal emulation, once a day Eudora Pro 3.0 in the Windows 3.1 emulation and from time to time a Netscape session using the Windows emulation. Writing for the AJ was
done on in a full screen DOS session using good old TSE (The Semware Editor, successor of the famous QEdit) and sometimes some DOS programming (or rather debugging) using multiple full screen DOS sessions. That's what I used OS/2 for. Forte FreeAgent, Adobe Acrobat, Visio, NJWin and the national railway timetable all have 16-bit Windows versions and run perfectly well under OS/2.
But I started to do more work with MS-Publisher, of which I don't have a 16-bit version. I recently bought DreamWeaver, which does not offer a 16-bit version either, and the homebanking software I use is for 32-bit
Windows only. So whenever I used one of these tools, I had to do it on the Win95 desktop machine, which meant I had to do it downstairs. The notebook I can plug into the network when downstairs in the private office and also in the living room, since I have an ethernet hub in both rooms. But the desktops I can't lug around.
So finally uncle Bill seems to have won another battle. Even though the notebook can only display 256 colours and MS Publisher files or webpages don't look so nice on it, I can prepare it and only need to quickly check again on the desktop, rather than doing everything on the big machine.
A new tenant
So I set out to install Win95 on my notebook. One of my five notebook harddrives was occupied neither by unix nor OS/2 nor Win 3.1/J. So I switched the 840 MB combined OS/2 and DOS drive for the 200 MB scratch drive and started installing Win95. As the notebook does not have a CD-ROM and I don't have a PCMCIA-SCSI adapter, some hardware trickery was necessary. It's always good to have a good stock of old adapter
cards and spare parts in a box, not to mention SCSI devices, at least some of which should be external. Sure, SCSI is more expensive, but if you ask me it's worth it in terms of reliability, connectivity and ease of use.
Only 200 MB for all this, you might be wondering. Sure, no problem. Without the 27 MB demo file (which will be gone before long) currently sitting on my harddrive, I'd only have used up approximately 115 MB. And this is after I have installed MS Bookshelf, MS Publisher, Visio, DreamWeaver, Eudora Pro, Netscape 3, Netscape Communicator, NJWin, Adobe Acrobat and a couple of other applications.
No compressed drives, I just don't trust them. If you think about Sun Microsystems' slogan, you might get the idea: "The network is the computer." Except for the operating system itself, ViruScan and two applications which don't want to be networked, everything is located on the fileserver, including all the data files. Of course, I'm quite helpless without a connection to the network, but such a setup does have lots of advantages as well. (No need to be horrified, the server does not run any flavour of MS Windows, but rock stable FreeBSD.)
Some of the advantages of this network concentric setup are easier installation and backups, shared data and hardware and savings on resources.
For many of the installations I have done for the desktop system, also using the fileserver, I now could simply make a shortcut on the notebook to the location of the application on the server and the application would run just fine. Sometimes a DLL still needed to be copied or an INI file adapted, but most of the software runs 'out of the server'. And as a bonus it only occupies diskspace on the server once, not ont time on each client.
There is a special area on the server for backups. All the client machines periodically do a backup of the local drives over the net to the server. So I need neither a tape drive for each client nor any tape drive switching and not even a separate tape for every machine. From each client machine local data only is being backed up to the server and the server itself, having a 4 GB SCSI-tape drive attached, does a backup onto tape periodically. One tape per safe instead of one tape per safe and client. If two clients use the same data files or applications, these files need only be written to tape one time, because a single copy resides on the server, rather than on each client. Less time, less space, less trouble. Sure, should you ever need to restore a machine from a backup, the OS must be installed first, including network support. But it does work. I've tried it once with Japanese Win95. An non-critical error message pops up at boot, but this seems to be because of different hardware used on the target machine before and after the restore.
There is a common temporary file area and a commond data area on the fileserver, allowing to easily share files. If I'm working on something on the notebook and want to check it on the desktop later, I can access it from both machines. Or if I downloaded a utility or an interesting webpage from the internet and want to share it with my wife, I can easily do so by saving it to the common temporary area. No disk shuffling, no ftp, no double downloading.
With the network, the fact that I do not have a CD-ROM drive on my notebook does not even matter. I just put the CD in a drive on the server, share it and mount it on the client machine. A couple of CD's, such as MS bookshelf, Byte on CD-ROM, the clip arts for MS publisher or the phonebook, are shared permanently on the Nakamichi MBR-7 CD-ROM changer attached to the server. Any client can access these CD's at any time.
But it's not only disk space, CD-ROM's and to some extent tape sharing, also the printers are connected to the server. I can easily print from the living room to either the HP DeskJet 520 or the Japanese EPSON PM-700C from any client machine. No printer switchboxes needed, no printer cable switching no need for a separate printer for each machine and I even can select on which printer I want to print. Once I have migrated some service from a standalone machine to the server, I'll probably also connect the old EPSON RX-80 F/T+ to the server for printing drafts. Ribbons are way cheaper than ink cartridges.
The network I installed is saving me quite some bucks. Less diskspace, fewer tapes, no need for printer switchboxes and extra cables, fewer hassles with software installation and thus not so many cups of tea and simultaneous independent internet access from all clients using a single phone line and only one internet account.
Ok, for this setup you do need a network card in every computer, a hub, some network cables and a server (which can be your old machine from before the last upgrade). Using FreeBSD and SAMBA, the software to implement all this is free (see Algorithmica Japonica February/March 1998 - My Server dances SAMBA) and it really is convenient. By the way, also the OS/2 setup can use this sharing just fine.
Rent is not free
Now, with my notebook also infected by Win95, I have the convenience I wanted: to have access to all things I do from both, my private office downstairs and the living room. But it comes at a price. DreamWeaver, for example, much reminds me of the days when I was hacking away on the legendary Commodore 64; doing word processing I constantly had to pause because my typing was much faster than what the computer could handle. Considering the minimum specs for DreamWeaver, a Pentium-90, and comparing it to my notebook, a 486 DX-33, this might not be surprising. However, for smaller things it is sufficient.
Another price can be expressed directly in currency. While OS/2 offers good built in terminal emulation and good built in TCP/IP support, the same stuff in Win95 is either not built in or a joke. So I have to splash out on either Reflection X or Exceed for doing most of my work: managing unix machines.
I don't know yet for sure, whether I will stay with this Win95 setup or go back to the OS/2 disk (which is still placed nearby). Another possible solution would be to buy a new, more powerful notebook. But it hurts in two places: 1) the heart - my current notebook is still running perfectly well and I got so much accustomed to it, 2) the wallet - a new notebook cries for deep pockets.
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