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March 2002

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eComStation - Atmospherics in Germany

An editorial view from Christian Hennecke, editor of the VOICE Newsletter.

After many delays, shipment of the German eComStation GA finally started about one month ago and many experienced OS/2 users have now had their own experiences with the new product, the distributor and the vendor and formed an opinion. Often not a very good one.

The many opinions, which I have found in online forums and which I have been told personally, strikingly have certain descriptions for the situation in common: "a joke", "blunt", "patchwork", "chaotic", "they are swamped with it", "overstrained", "dilettantish", "beta", "ridiculous", "unprofessional", "untrustworthy". On the positive side I found: "stable", "pretty", "faster", "worth the money".

Now what could be the reason for these, seemingly contrary, positions? To find out we need to clarify what the different statements are related to.

Looking at the positive impressions, it soon becomes clear that many of them originate from OS/2 properties: stability is a characteristic of OS/2 and has found its way into eComStation, as well as the snappier WPS that users have noticed more and more since the code merge with Warp Server. Also the GUI updates have found approval. Further questioning revealed that the finding that eComStation is worth the invested money results from new features like JFS, TCP/IP 4.3, or Java 1.3, the availability of new drivers and especially from the bundled software packages like Lotus SmartSuite.

Displeasing are other things. These include the overly complex installation that has been awarded the term "a joke". Most people knew that the installation of the networking components still would be a problem (something that Serenity System has never made a secret of) and proceeded with care accordingly. Unfortunately this didn't remain the only one and the use of IBM's "Selective Install" for e.g. the multimedia components confused many people considerably. One wonders how the users in USA and Canada, who only received a two-sided information sheet, managed to get eComStation installed. But especially at this point, the printed manual of the German version didn't really help either. It mistily states that approximately 90 percent of the selectable features, "like e.g. games, Win/eCS, MDOS", have already been installed at this time. It remains unclear which possibly important things are still missing and new users are confronted with unknown terms. That part also seems to be responsible for the still occurring problems with Scitech Display Doctor.

One of the main points of criticism is WiseMachine. A since published update has fixed most of the stability issues of the version that is included in the German GA. Instead the new version has a help area that cannot be read completely as the content jumps back to the beginning as soon as the scroll bar is released. One thing that has not been fixed is the failure to show all application groups upon startup. As a workaround the left part of the window always has to be refreshed. Weighing heavier though is the lack of documentation for the included base packages. Hardly anyone knows how to create a maintenance partition with BooteCS. Moreover, even a correct try will fail in most cases as only few of the settings' combinations work. Neither is documented what the possibly important "PeerWPSFixUp" is supposed to do and from where it is to be installed. But the biggest problem are incompatibilities with ObjectREXX, which render WiseMachine basically useless for its users in many cases. One can hardly expect these persons to change the REXX version prior to and after every installation and reboot two times. For many this leaves a weak impression for the integral part of the system that is supposed to make eComStation different from other platforms.

Another source of vexation is the Dialog Enhancer component. Not only does it cause several programs to change the language, some modifications have also proven to be incompatible and lead to limited functionality of the File Open dialog as well as complete unusability of the Network Messaging Services, for instance. Especially annoying is the fact that for a fairly long time (since late 2001) a bugfix for at least some of these problems has been available for the English version, but there still is none for the German one.

Compared to the above it seems of little importance that the system partition is not cleaned up after the fixpak installation. One doesn't know which files can be safely deleted and for which deletion could cause problems during a future fixpak installation.

All that creates an image of a beta, not a GA version. Instead of a single product, the customer receives a motley patchwork. The questions that people ask me most frequently are: "What did these people do over the last one and a half years?" and "Will Serenity Systems even dare to charge for the update to version 1.1?"

Information policy and the way of doing business of the distributor and partially the vendor haven't been and still are not suitable to counter the impression of lack of professionalism. Scheduled delivery dates went by without any reason given. The status reports that Mensys had promised after several dunning letters were soon suspended again. As a result many feel that they are not taken seriously as a customer. Serenity Systems' product website made the image complete. If in the support and FAQ section "Networking" on the home page of a product that the vendor talks about saying "It's about Mobile Managed Clients" you still only find "Under construction" that seems "ridiculous" and "dilettantish" indeed. Other little things add to the image, like updates whose installation modifies the Desktop's structure and appearance, something that could be easily avoided using small scripts. As a result many just can't help the impression that by trying to shoulder the realization of their concept Serenity Systems and partners are overextended.

This overall picture of the eComStation product is dangerous, especially in the light of the positioning by its vendor. For Serenity Systems doesn't market eComStation as a revamped OS/2 with many a pleasant bonus, but as an independent, new product. The actual target group is not the long-term, experienced OS/2 users, but small and intermediate enterprises, who will reach the end of their tether a lot faster. But also many OS/2 users have arrived at the threshold of what they are willing to tolerate and some have crossed the borderline and turned their back on eComStation. So there is a lot to improve for Serenity Systems and partners regarding support, version 1.1 and especially communication with their customers. They will be under very close monitoring. One more false step and they are probably out in Germany. I seriously hope that it won't amount to this. Especially not for such reasons.

VOICE Newsletter Update: The planned page for free small advertisements by freeware authors and OS/2 users is going to become part of the VOICE home page soon. If you are interested, please contact us at

We are always interested in your thoughts and views on subjects related to OS/2, and would like to see opinion/editorial pieces as well as hardware/software reviews and HowTo articles. If you can help by writing an article please contact me at

Warp Doctor: Have an idea for Warp Doctor? You can send your comments directly to the Warp Doctor web guy Jeremy at or better yet attend one of our Warp Doctor Team meetings, weekly on IRC.

Everyone's help is required to keep this project going. The team will meet every Sunday at 4PM EDT (21:00 GMT), on IRC in the #warpdoctor channel on the WEBBnet IRC network. For more information on attending online IRC meetings please see the VOICE Meeting Information page -

VOICE Online Update: This month we have general member meetings on March 4 and 18 at 8PM EST (01:00 GMT). Everyone interested in OS/2 or eComstation is invited to attend either or both of these sessions. For more information on attending online VOICE IRC meetings please see the VOICE Meeting Information page -

If you have an idea for a Speakup event, please submit it to, and we will try to schedule something. As always, please be sure to check out the updated VOICE Future events Calendar in this newsletter or on the VOICE website at for more details on future VOICE events.

This month we start with the Odyssey that Julien Pierre had to go through as he tried to run OS/2 SMP on a dual Athlon PC. Again it shows that the hardware industry tends to push immature products into the market.

In Understanding TCP/IP Port Numbers Peter Moylan explains some networking concepts and elaborates on potential problems if the File Transfer Protocols (FTP) is used in conjunction with firewalls. This should be interesting for users of both FTP clients and servers.

The latest on the market doesn't need to be the greatest always, too. This is especially true for the computer market. Thomas Klein provides us with his findings in I love "old Stuff"... and eBay and with some examples for real best-buys and problem children.

After last month's article on MP3 encoders, Don Eitner now looks at suitable programs for playing the files. Read more about some interesting new developments in Keeping up with the Gates - Part 2: MP3 Players for OS/2.

Even though the IDE interface experienced considerable improvement during the last years, many people still prefer SCSI when it comes to demanding tasks. If you want to know why and what SCSI is, read Eric Baerwaldt's SCSI Workshop - Part 1: Basics.

As you could see from last month's editorial, there has been a constant quarrel in the international news groups in Usenet regarding eComStation. David Lewis took the lasting trench war as a reason to conduct a survey to finally find out about the different opinions' distribution. The survey's analysis produced some pretty clear results and also some surprising facts. If you have become curious, see Usenet OS/2 Survey Results.

Finally we have the VOICE Newsletter OS/2 Tips page and the Letters, Addenda, Errata page. If you have any OS/2 or eCS tips you've uncovered, please send them to If you have any comments or suggestions about the newsletter or articles in it, please send them to

That's it for this month. In April we are going to have the second part of Eric Baerwaldt's article on SCSI, and another overview of new and improved software by Frank Berke. Furthermore, Thomas Klein will be back with tips and hints regarding the search for drivers and information about hardware, and Walter Metcalf is going to review the new version 3.0 of CDS's BackAgain/2000. For the near future we also await an article from Christian Hennecke on how to use the IBM firewall, which is included in TCP/IP 4.1 and later, with dynamic IPs.

Mark Dodel and Christian Hennecke
VOICE Newsletter editors

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