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OS/2 in the 21st Century                               by Wayne Bickell


At the end of September my pre-ordered copy of eComStation finally arrived. For those of you who don't know what eComStation (eCS) is, it's an enhanced managed client based on the IBM OS/2 Warp 4 Software Choice Convenience Pack (MCP) Which is a 2 year subscription based update of new features and drivers for the now out of service IBM Warp 4 from a company called Serenity Systems. The MCP is in turn taken from IBM's Aurora server but with all the server functions stripped out and with new updated kernels. New features of MCP/eCS include a 32bit TCP/IP stack, a replacement for FDISK called LVM (Logical Volume Manager) and new drivers not available to Warp 4 users and a Journaled File System along with its native High Performance File System and FAT 16 support. eCS takes this much further with the inclusion of a new clock which can be programmed to update itself on the internet and a scheduler, new titlebar themes and replacements for the frame controls and updated dialogue boxes thanks to utilities called eStyler Lite, eCS Theme Manager and Dialogue Enhancer. The main points of the package are Serenity Systems new "program deployment utility" called "WiseMachine", A full licensed copy of the latest Lotus SmartSuite 1.61, a downloadable copy of StarOffice 5.1a, HOBlink X11 server, IBM Desktop On Call v4, Macromedia Flash Player for OS/2 v1.1, InJoy Pro Internet Dialer v2.3, InJoy PPPoE, Norman AntiVirus, pmFax Lite, SIOeCS (an enhanced replacement serial COM.SYS driver), a calculator, Stellar Frontier v1.0 w/Admiral's Club, Applause image manipulation software and Scanner drivers (Not on CD, download), Java2 1.3 runtime (7/5/01), Java2 1.3 development kit (7/5/01), Netscape 4.61 (June 2001 refresh) and Zampa Firewall. As you can see it's quite a hefty package. There are also some features from the original Warp 4 distribution that aren't included in the IBM Convenience Pack, including IBM Works and VoiceType. It also includes one year of drivers and fixes from IBM and Serenity, and a further one year Update Protection subscription including new features can be purchased separately.

eCs comes in a nicely printed folder containing 3 CDs and an installation guide. It mainly covers the use of the new Logical Volume Manager and how it differs and is more flexible than the old FDISK program and runs through each basic step. Disk 1 is a bootable installation CD and boots to a fully working eCS desktop and installation program. Disk 2 is also bootable and brings up the old IBM installer for those who have problems using disk 1. These problems usually revolve around SCSI hard disk drivers or if the user has insufficient memory that is needed to create the RAM disk for the desktop/installation routine. The user can also make a set of bootable floppy disks for either the disk 1 install or disk 2 install if their computer is not capable of booting from CD-ROM. The third CD contains all the extra software packages mentioned above, some demos and freeware.

In the eCS support forums there were a lot of messages containing tales of woe during installation. Again, these were due to not fully understanding LVM or the wrong SCSI drivers being loaded during the install. Most of these problems seem to have been overcome. Nevertheless, I was a bit sceptical about spoiling my otherwise perfect Warp 4 Fixpak 15 setup. I have a Warp 4 partition on a desktop machine that my kids run Win 98 on so I decided to do a trial run on that before committing it to my main machine, an IBM Thinkpad 390X. The desktop is a fairly basic machine running on an AOpen AX6BC mainboard, Celeron 400 CPU, 128Mb memory, a Matrox G400 16Mb video card, SoundBlaster 16 PnP soundcard, a 44 speed CD ROM drive, an Acer 8x4x32 CD-RW, a Quantum Fireball 6Gb disk and a Seagate 8Gb disk. Windows 98 takes up the whole of the 6Gb disk and OS/2 is on the 8Gb disk. Each OS is selectable from OS/2's BootManager which takes up a 7Mb partition on the first disk.

The first thing I had to do after starting my computer was to go into the BIOS to change the boot order for the CD. After restarting I got the option to boot from hard disk or to start the eCS installation. After that it was plain sailing. The first part of the install is a new interface from Serenity and its army of volunteers that guide you through the basic install process. You can choose to install an IBM licensed copy of Scitech Display Doctor for OS/2, which supports most of the video cards on sale, generic VGA or IBM's GRADD video drivers. I chose VGA to be on the safe side and after everything was finished installed the Matrox G400 drivers. After selecting the volume to install to and it has copied some files to your hard disk it will ask you to reboot. During the reboot you should swap the first disk for the second to continue the install. When the basic OS has been laid down it's now time to install any network adapters you may have. Here we leave the Serenity installer and up comes the old IBM installer. You are not supposed to touch any of the settings here, especially video or CD-ROM as these are already pre-selected. Just choose your network card or hit cancel if you have none. After copying all the files needed the system will reboot to the new eCS desktop. My one gripe with the new installer is it installs everything by default, that includes DOS and Windows 3.1 support called Win- OS2 or in this case Win-eCS. I've noticed recently that the hardware in this machine is getting a little flaky and while Windows 98 doesn't complain, OS/2 is less than happy with substandard hardware. Running any Windows 3.1 program in OS/2 or eCS will lock this machine up hard. It never used to, I think it's the video card. Unfortunately, because the IBM installer was bypassed it doesn't know it's there so there is no option to uninstall some features. It is possible to manually remove it but I'm sure I'll miss something and get errors during boot. The way around this was to use the IBM MCP install from disk 2 and choose what you want installed and after completion run a utility on disk 3 called "Convert" to change your MCP install to an eCS install. My other gripe is that it installs everything on your boot partition, including Netscape Navigator, Adobe Acrobat reader and some other utilities. I usually have three partitions (Volumes) One for the OS, one for applications and one for data. Unlike M$ I consider the browser to be an app so I had to remove it and reinstall it. The other utilities that eCS installs I already had so I just deleted them. There were also several copies of zip and unzip scattered around various folders (directories) As I run an enhancement utility called Object Desktop that includes the various compression programs I just removed them from my boot drive.

Anyway, I digress. Once done you are asked to reboot again and Serenity's WiseMachine comes up to deploy the eye-candy software mentioned and all the other bundled applications and any other programs you may already have on your system on different volumes. First you have to enter a rather lengthy and case sensitive registration code. Any mistake and WiseMachine just closes without telling you why. You can also get your key from your distributor and save it to a text file which can be read by WiseMachine and save you all that typing. The selling point of WiseMachine is that saves you the time of reinstalling software you may have on your system or network. Just point WiseMachine to the "Meat" and drag and drop it to where you want it. It is supposed to take care of the rest. As this was a test install I didn't go any further after installing the new look and feel utilities.

Once I was confident with the new installer I had a go with my Thinkpad with similar results. I was not confident to use WiseMachine and thought I'd practice on the desktop machine at a later date and wanted to get my laptop "up to speed" as quickly as possible so I reinstalled everything the "old fashioned way" It took me the most part of the day, and with a little tweaking here and there I got my system the way I like it. The native video drivers for the Thinkpad are pretty slow so I usually use the IBM-SDD drivers. These give more refresh rates for the video resolutions too. On this system I use Win-eCs to run a copy of JWP so I used the Disk 1 install deleting all the unwanted "fluff" after everything had finished.

My final comments: Well, I like it. It's as snappy as my old Warp 4 install. The new eye-candy makes it look a bit more modern and I now have the latest SmartSuite (with a hint of version 1.7 in the works). Things have never been better for OS/2 and I'm looking forward to improvements in the install routine and eventually replacement of the IBM installer for networking. For a new user it could be a little daunting to go through it all as it stands but there is fee based support or free support in the eCS forums from that army of volunteers and users at: news.ecomstation.nl. This is run by the European distributor, Mensys. For more information and where to buy eCS and its pricing go to:
http://www.ecomstation.com


© Algorithmica Japonica Copyright Notice: Copyright of material rests with the individual author. Articles may be reprinted by other user groups if the author and original publication are credited. Any other reproduction or use of material herein is prohibited without prior written permission from TPC. The mention of names of products without indication of Trademark or Registered Trademark status in no way implies that these products are not so protected by law.

Algorithmica Japonica

December, 2001

The Newsletter of the Tokyo PC Users Group

Submissions : Editor


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