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eComStation v 1.2 Refresh and the Compaq Laptop

by Douglas Clark, © January 2006

This article is about my experience with eComStation version 1.2 refresh and loading that on a Compaq laptop. Since this experience comes so quickly on the heels of all the articles announcing the death of OS/2, I thought it would be informative to look at just how easy it is to install eComStation on a new, non-Thinkpad [IBM] laptop, and what kind of support is available for the person doing this.

Which Laptop?

Warpstock [2005] is approaching and I reluctantly came to the conclusion that I needed a new laptop for Warpstock. My existing laptop is a NEC Ultralight, the first laptop to weigh less than 5 pounds [2.3 kg]. But since that machine only has 1 MiB of memory and a pseudo hard drive of 2 MiB, it does not load or run OS/2. Time for a new machine. But what type of laptop and which brand?

Being an analytical type of guy I quickly decided on three criteria for choosing the right laptop: it had to look good, it had to be exceedingly cheap, and it had to run eComStation. The first two criteria might be rather subjective, but the last one was pretty easy to ascertain. I simply took my eComStation CD 1 to the store and checked that the candidate laptop could boot eCS from the CD.

What I found was a Compaq Presario M2105US at Office Depot for $549 [€456] after rebates (list price $729 [€606]): AMD Sempron 2800, 256 MiB RAM, 40 GiB hard drive, 15" screen, integrated modem, wireless 802.11g, (wired) ethernet, 1 PCMCIA slot, sound "card" and speakers, along with 2 USB ports. The laptop booted eCS with no problem from the CD and, perhaps more important, it looked great. (Hey - you got to have your priorities straight!) Since Office Depot offers a 14 day return policy, I decided this was a pretty low risk acquisition and the laptop followed me home. Now the question was, Can I install eCS and will it support all the stuff on the laptop?

The laptop
Fig. 1: The laptop

Shrinking the XP

I wanted to keep Windows XP on the laptop in case I ever need to boot the evil empire. I wanted to devote half the hard drive to XP, and the other half to eComStation. So my first thought was to shrink the Windows XP partition on the hard drive to free up space for eComStation using DFSee. I tried that and the shrunken partition would not boot Windows XP. DFSee may or may not shrink NTFS partitions successfully; in my case the process did not work. The shrinking process may have worked if I had tried it before booting the laptop for the first time. Apparently the file system for Windows XP pre-loaded partitions is FAT32, which is converted to NTFS after the first boot. DFSee is capable of shrinking FAT32 partitions successfully, but has spotty success shrinking NTFS partitions.

Luckily Compaq supplies a CD containing Windows XP and another CD containing applications, drivers, and configuration routines specific to the laptop so that you can completely reinstall what is preloaded on the laptop. So I started the Windows XP installation from the CD, deleted the existing partition, and created a smaller partition of 17 GiB and installed WinXP on this partition. This freed up space on the hard drive for eComStation. At this point I had one 17 GiB partition on the hard drive, which contained Windows XP. Now to install a real operating system.


Much has been said recently in various articles and on the POSSI mailing list about the future of OS/2 - eComStation in light of IBM announcing its withdrawal of support for OS/2 at the end of 2006; the assumption being that the OS/2 world is coming to an end now that IBM is "withdrawing." My personal experience with eComStation support contradicts this assumption.

When it came time to install eCS, I loaded CD1 and started the install process. It had an error right before the first reboot and the install did not continue. This was on Sunday afternoon. So I decided to try the phone support offered on the VOICE home page (click on Help Desk on the left side of the home page). I called the phone number listed on the page and Roderick Klein answered on the 4th ring. When I described the symptoms to Roderick, he immediately knew what the problem was and directed me to where I could download the beta 2 refresh of eComStation version 1.2. The problem is that the installation program fails when running on an AMD Athlon 64bit or an AMD Sempron CPU. The fix was already incorporated into the refresh.

Think about this: when was the last time you called support and got a human being on the 4th ring? When was the last time you called support and got someone that actually knew what they were talking about and could fix your problem? When was the last time you called support on a Sunday, and got an answer? With eComStation and Roderick I got all three.

With all the recent concern about the future of OS/2 enhancements and lack of support with IBM out of the picture, Serenity already had a solution to my problem. According to Roderick, IBM has not fixed their installer, meaning that you cannot install the convenience pack from IBM on an AMD 64 bit CPU, but you can install eComStation. Take that, nay-sayers!

I downloaded the refresh file from the URL Roderick provided, unzipped the file and made a CD which could be booted. There are instructions available (howToBurnCDs.pdf) at the same location for burning a bootable CD with RSJ in eComStation and Nero in Windows. Since I have RSJ, that is what I used and list instructions here:

  1. Ignore the instructions from RSJ on burning a bootable CD.
  2. Open the CD View object in the RSJ folder.
  3. Click on CD Recorder in the CD View list.
  4. Drag the file that you downloaded and drop it on the window that you opened.

    CD View window
    Fig. 2: CD View window [Larger Image]
  5. Click the record icon - the red circle
  6. Click the finalize icon - the silver CD.

Installing eComStation

Once I had the refresh CD made, installation was a snap. I booted from the CD, picked the default boot configuration, then partitioned the hard drive using the install program (miniLVM).

It sometimes seems impossible to create a volume that you can set as Startable using the miniLVM that is started by the install routine. An easy work-around is to start the maintenance console and invoke LVM.EXE.

I added Boot Manager and then created a 2 GiB HPFS partition/volume for my eComStation boot drive, and 4 JFS volumes to store applications and data. After finishing the eCS install, I also created a 2 GiB NTFS partition for Windows XP and a 1 GiB FAT32 partition for sharing data between eComStation and Windows XP. This is what the partitions looked like from miniLVM after all the partitions had been created. I have no idea what all the Not Available removable drives are that are shown on the left side of the screen. [These are drives that have been reserved by USB MSD drivers.]

miniLVM main window
Fig. 3: miniLVM main window [Larger Image]

As you can see in the Windows Disk Manager, Windows and eComStation apparently calculate or at least display partition sizes differently.

After the disk was partitioned, the rest of the install was very easy. The only four areas to watch out for are:

  1. You will probably want to create a CD with the eComStation key on it before starting the install; this Compaq laptop does not come with a floppy drive. Otherwise you will have to type all that information in on the registration page. Be sure to put the eComStation CD 1 back in the drive before clicking on the Save registration data button. Otherwise you will get an error that says "Cannot save registration information."

    eComStation installer registration screen
    Fig. 4: eComStation installer registration screen [Larger Image]
  2. On the Verify hardware screen, the Notebook and PCMCIA Support checkbox will not automatically be checked. This is because the PCMCIA chipset is not recognized or supported at this point by eComStation. Also the power management system used is ACPI which once again is not supported yet by eComStation. You can check the box if you want, but the features will not work once installed.

    eComStation installer hardware support screen
    Fig. 5: eComStation installer hardware support screen [Larger Image]
  3. On the Multimedia support screen the install program will not identify correctly which chipset is used in the Compaq laptop. You need to select the Universal Audio Driver radio button.

    eComStation installer multimedia support screen
    Fig. 6: eComStation installer multimedia support screen [Larger Image]
  4. On the Configure network screen, you need to add a driver for RealTek 8129. Click on the Add Driver button and select the RealTek 8100/8139 driver from the list.

I installed using the Advanced Installation because I like to use XWorkplace rather than the eWorkplace that is included by default in eComStation; I like some of the additional features and options provided by XWorkplace. eWorkplace is a version of XWorkplace modified specifically for eComStation. It is installed by default and is simpler to configure than XWorkplace.

Tips and Tricks

These are just a few of the tips I have from doing the install.

Finishing the Windows XP Setup

After installing eComStation I created 2 more partitions with LVM for use by Windows XP: a 2 GiB NTFS partition (drive D:) for storing development tools, and a 1 GiB FAT32 partition for sharing data between Windows XP and eComStation. The image below is what the partitions look like from Windows XP. Note the list of partitions in the upper right window do not appear in the same order the partitions are on the hard drive; the box "graphics" at the bottom (with the blue bars) does show the partitions in the order they appear on the drive.

The only "disks" that show up in Windows XP are the partitions that Windows XP recognizes: C drive (NTFS), D drive (NTFS), and E drive (FAT32). The partitions used by eComStation are only visible in the Disk Management section of the Computer Management tool in WinXP.

Windows XP disk layout
Windows XP disk layout [Larger Image]

What Works, What Doesn't

Let's cover what doesn't work in eComStation first:

What works in eComStation is everything else. Specifically:

eComStation version 1.2 Refresh

I have listed below some of the updates that are included in the beta 2 refresh of eComStation. In addition to the updates listed below, there are a number of bugs that have been fixed.

Kernel Changes

Kernel is at level 14.103a - this supports Athlon64 processors. Installation on AMD Athlon64 and Sempron is now possible

Component changes/updates:

Application changes/updates:

Miscellaneous Changes

Driving into Future

Despite all the talk recently about IBM abandoning OS/2, eComStation seems to be thriving quite well as shown by the list of updated drivers and applications that are updated in the refresh.

However it is true that eComStation lags behind in some types of driver development compared to Windows and Linux - the current examples of the Compaq internal wireless and modem being unsupported are two such examples. That being said, the future appears bright for device driver development for eComStation because of a number of relatively recent trends:

  1. Linux

    Since Linux has become so popular, the need for device drivers to run on something other than Windows has become apparent to many people. Many programmers, that is. This has resulted in a number of "technologies" that have migrated to OS/2 - from source code that is ported to concepts developed on Linux which are transferred to OS/2 projects. Just a few examples of this this cross-pollination are the UniAud device driver, ODIN and XFree86 X server.

  2. "Wrapper"ed Device Drivers

    A new concept in porting device drivers is taking hold in both Linux and in OS/2. It is the concept of writing a wrapper that allows a device driver written for Windows to run on another operating system. You can think of as being something like ODIN for device drivers. In Linux this is happening for wireless network adapters, sound codecs, and the entire NTFS file system.

    In OS/2 Willibald Meyer is working on a wrapper for wireless LAN devices, called GenMac, to load and use Win32 device drivers in OS/2. According to Daniela it is already working her Intel Centrino 2200 b/g WLAN. That wrapper may also be extended to include USB connected wireless devices.

  3. Faster CPUs

    This is what makes practical things like wrappered device drivers. With CPUs as fast as they are now, a device driver can have a wrapper around it that essentially "translates" calls from one OS to another without a noticeable performance penalty.

  4. Generic Commercial Drivers

    There are starting to appear commercial companies that sell code that can be used as the "guts" for device drivers. One example is Thesyscon that makes code for Firewire. While this isn't very practical for independent device driver programmers, it is one possible course of action for entities such as Serenity or Netlabs who fund device driver development to shorten development time.


The installation of eComStation on the laptop was just about as easy as installing an operating system can be; very little human intervention is necessary for a successful install. In the case of the Compaq Presario just partitioning the hard drive and selecting the networking driver and sound driver was necessary.

Serenity has obviously put a lot of effort into the installer and that effort has paid off. The Refresh addresses some installation issues that are outstanding with version 1.2, and the resulting installation on my laptop was very painless.

For the money the Compaq Presario M2105 seems a very good value. While the internal wireless network and modem are not currently compatible with any eComStation drivers, that is a problem that exists for many of the current laptops. And both of those issues are pretty easily remedied with external devices, if that is necessary. For my use neither matters much; other people will have different priorities.

Part of what makes the Compaq a good value is that it comes with the necessary software for reinstalling Windows XP and all the other specialized stuff that Compaq bundles with the machine. This saves the money that some other laptop makers require for sending those CDs that should be included in the box.

I think this also shows that with just a little careful shopping it is pretty easy to buy a mainstream laptop and have it work successfully with eComStation because Serenity is updating and improving eComStation.

Formatting: Christian Hennecke
Editing: James Moe

eComStation 1.2 media refresh beta 2
Developer: Serenity Systems International
Price: Free download or shipping/handling costs for CD media (for existing customers)

Compac Presario M2105US at Office Depot: http://www.officedepot.com
eComStation: http://www.ecomstation.com
WarpVision: ftp://ftp.netlabs.org/pub/wvgui
Linux wrapper for wireless network adapters: http://www.linuxant.com/driverloader
Thesyscon: http://www.thesycon.de/eng/ohcilib.shtml