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March 2002

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I love "old stuff"... and eBay

By Thomas Klein © March 2002

Take a moment to let me explain to you, what my love of "old stuff" is all about. Let's take a look at the current state first: My car is brand-new, but only because it's provided by the company I'm at and they don't like their IT consultants driving around in their own old, polluting scrap vehicles. Everything else of my (or rather our) belongings is made of more or less vintage and faithful things we've been fond of for quite some time. Sometimes they appear to have their own little quirks but at least even that's something you can rely on.

My HiFi's amplifier is made by Yamaha and was already several years old when I bought it at a local pawn shop - and that happened more than 10 years ago. My mobile phone is aged 4 years (which equals approx. ice age around here today) and thinking of my favorite operating system, well... ;) The good thing about old stuff is, that it's quite affordable and that one knows if and how it works. Sometimes you even know someone in person who owns or owned the same thing and might give you some good advice about it. Now, concerning hardware and software under OS/2 this means invaluable information you're either unable to come across elsewhere or that you've been virtually running around in search for quite a lot of time.

Example 1 - ISDN-Adapter

Okay, you're right - not quite popular outside of Germany and I actually know more folks with a DSL flatline (fulltime access fee) than people using OS/2... but anyway: I like ISDN. As we all know, it's ISDN/PM that you have to rely on when dealing with ISDN and OS/2 (BTW: one of the best OS/2 programs in my mind). As we all know as well, driver support for OS/2 began to decrease approximately at the same time as PCI adapters came out. So if you're thinking about running a Fritz! PCI adapter you might spend a long, long time in search of an OS/2 driver... so what to do? Get an ISA-type adapter. But what if your machine's mainboard has no ISA slots (left) anymore? In this case, I would like to point you to a NCP Arrow Box, an active ISDN adapter plugged between your pc and an existing printer (yep, it plugs to the parallel port). If these pieces of neat hardware would still be manufactured and sold today, they most likely would be unaffordable. But why worry - there's eBay! And from time to time there's one of these boxes showing up. Recently I took the occasion and bought myself one of them for my "secondary" machine... and it works like a charm. The ISA bus type adapters from NCP are all "active" as well, thus the protocol stuff is handled by the adapter's onboard controller instead of relying on your pc's processor... did I mention that they all come with OS/2 drivers?

Example 2 - DCF-clock for your pc

Yes, once again... bad example for all "non-european" readers, as the DCF clock data is provided in Braunschweig and it's signal is transmitted from Mainflingen (the Frankfurt area) with a range of approx. 2000 kilometers (that's 1200 miles approx.) and thus unfortunately can't be received if you're outside of that region. Anyway - the clock module I recently "won" at eBay is labeled to come from Lindy, but actually was built by Gude. When checking for additional information, I discovered that Gude is a Cologne-based company and I was quite surprised that I never heard of them before despite the fact that they're in my hometown... well, you live and learn. Now the best (and almost unbelievable) thing about the clock module is the fact, that it comes along with drivers for OS/2. Installation and operation went well and now my Server's clock is synchronized with the "atomic clock" in Braunschweig... that's not only a quite nice, little toy but very useful too, as you're able to "distribute" the clock information to all computers attached to the server. The model I have here is intended to be attached to a serial (COM) port, but there's a lot of other flavors available as well, like parallel or joystick port (USB too of course). Looking at the driver support for OS/2, I must admit that there's nothing to complain about except for the lack of USB (of course) - you'll find somewhat three or four generic drivers that provide extreme flexibility concerning port selection or signal transmission to the port. You'll even find manuals on how to built a clock module board on your own... but it's due to personal experience, that I would like to put it clear: Beginners in soldering and/or electronics: Watch out! ;)

Yep... hardware is kind of a hobby for me. I love to put PC's together and make things work. Just recently I took a glance at a dusty box of pieces that I discovered after moving... funny. Do you remember "VLB", the Vesa Local Bus? Well, let me introduce you to my latest creation: An ugly old tower case that houses a SCSI VLB caching controller from Tekram, a VLB graphics adapter (1 MB) and a VLB network adapter (yeah, full size... kewl ;). Every piece of hardware that's plugged into this system is completely supported by OS/2... and works just great. Well, it's actually just a DX4 486 CPU running at 100 MHz with 16 megs of RAM, but that's not the main thing. The main thing is, that it's just fun and great to see it work.

But old stuff has it's drawbacks too: An old CPU simply is not as fast as a new one. Newer CPUs (mostly) require new mainboards as well, and this is where trouble usually starts: Onboard sound chipsets (hello to all you fellow victims of VIA ;) , no ISA slots anymore... well, at least USB supports seems to be improving compared to some months ago.

Example 3 - CF-card adapter and PCMCIA-"drives"

I finally decided to sell my SLR camera (at eBay) and recently managed to persuade my wife to get ourselves a digital one. It's really amazing to see what this small apparatus is able to do... using Windows. The software and the USB cable that came with it let me even run it just like a simple video camera or webcam... (sigh) in Windows. But the actual reason I chose this model was the fact, that it came with a serial cable as well, which gave me the possibility to use it with ThirdEye.

Of course I once again made that old, nasty mistake to 1) buy a NEW model ;) and 2) trusted in an unknown software to do all the rest as I expected. I should have bought one of the models that were mentioned in the "supported devices" list and then look for a used one on eBay. I guess it was due to the well-known phrase "...and possibly compatible models", that I was mislead into temptation. Well - bad luck. Anyway, being brief I just wanted to let you know that a simple   CF-/PCMCIA-Adapter (new) and a quite-as-new SCM SwapBox (ISA, at eBay) makes almost every type of cable look like a Yugo compared to Corvettes. Just take the card off the camera, slide it into the adapter and open the WPS' drive folder - period. That's all and you're able to do whatever you want using all features of your preferred user interface (read-only though). Oh, did I tell you that the serial connection under windows takes ages to process? While taking a look for additional information at SCM I discovered something completely new to me: There are PCMCIA-drives, which really act like "drives" - they are connected to the SCSI bus, just like a disk or CD drive. Cool. Now that's something I would like to try too... The good thing about these CF adapters is, that you don't have to worry about whether your camera is supported by ThirdEye, DCITU or any other piece of software - just make sure it handles CF cards. There are adapters for SmartMedia cards too, but I can't tell you anything about that (yet).

Example 4 - PCI audio adapters

Sooner or later you'll start to think about all the advantages that come with "new stuff". Just naturally. Increased performance, decreased CPU usage, better "feeling"... whatever you like. Talking about PCI sound cards, I personally always was worried about "does it run OS/2?". Well, okay - that's quite some time ago now, but eBay served me well in that matter too: I once read a user's review in the OS/2 e-zine, urging people to give a try to PCI sound cards based on the Aureal 8820 chipset. After looking around a little, I found out that Diamond's SonicImpact S90 (among others) used this chipset. I took a look at eBay and actually discovered one of them being sold. Finding the drivers turned out to be a little complicated, but this might not really come as a surprise to you, is it? ;) Anyway: The sound card did not miss any of my expectations and the installation process even passed on it! I never had any sound card install that easy, neat and simple into an OS/2 system like this one.

You see: Sometimes it's invaluable to listen to other users talking about their hardware experiences... in case of brand-new devices this might not happen quite timely, as it requires people to get out first, buy such a piece of hardware, install it and run it for a little while before they're able to do any review on it. We users of OS/2 might not be in that comfortable situation like users of other (so-called) operating systems, who automatically receive tons of stuff along with a new device but we have created very efficient methods for information retrieval... simply due to the fact, that adding the keyword "OS/2" will extremely narrow down the number of search results when using your favorite internet search engine ;)

Unfortunately, sometimes you won't get useable search results at all. There are ways to improve your chances of finding drivers or information on the internet, but I'll tell you about that in another story.


I can almost hear the gripe... fine. I'll put aside the screwdriver and we'll talk about Software...;)
There has always been (and there will still always be) that special moment in life, where a manufacturer decides to get away from providing support for OS/2, stop manufacturing a specific piece of hardware or even ends up by closing the whole company. From the OS/2 community's point of view we have to distinguish between two ways of doing so...:

- the "good" way
The product in question is transferred (or sold) to another company. The new company then provides ongoing distribution, support or even manufacturing or developing of that product, as seen with PMFax (FaxWorks) by Keller Group and CDS Inc., manufacturer of BackAgain. Some other quite "good" example is Embellish which is now available for free, though not being developed or supported any longer.

- the "bad" way
The product simply does not exist anymore. No more development, support or even distribution like BlueCad for example. And folks! We're not talking about the victims of die-hard competitive markets or the near-monopolistic position of a specific company... we're talking about OS/2 after all! If a maker of CAD software says "quit" it'll mean: Game over. We can't just change over to some other product, because most of the time there won't even be another product.

On the other hand, let's think about the people who purchased Embellish back in the time when it was a "vivid" product. They are now faced with the fact that the software which they acquired is distributed for free to everyone. Would you think this to be funny if it would have happened to you? After all it's dead too, as there's no more support or development.

Stop that whining in public - what big deals can you expect to find at eBay in matters of software? How about VisualAge C++ 3.0 for the ridiculous amount of approx. 30 bucks? And that trunkload of parcel was even shrinkwrap new. Talking about BlueCad... get it for 10 US$! A complete CD of uncrippled software from the (no longer existing) german magazine OS/2-Inside for approx. 5 US$, some books about REXX or VisualAge for a fraction of their original prize... and of course.... yes: OS/2. Available in any flavor (an color... blue, red... ;) as a simple client version as well as the server counterparts. The warp server advanced that I'm running here is actually of eBay origin too. For quite some time now I keep waiting for a WarpServer for e-business to pop up - others are waiting for it too, I'm afraid ;) but I guess this will happen once that IBM stops selling it themselves...

Oops. That reminds me to clarify... I'm in no way affiliated to eBay, neither do I receive any benefits for repeated mentionings of their name here. I'm just an eBay user (or is it called "member"?) like hundreds of thousands of other people and you can replace their name with any other online auction provider.

Does someone remember Timur Tabi's eBay report that came along every Monday on WarpCast? At that time I was not yet eBay user. What a shame - I guess that I could have made some big deals back then. You don't have to subscribe to eBay to take a look at what's currently being for sale in matters of OS/2. Just take a look at">eBay's search page - even if you're just looking for coffee mugs, pins, caps, bags, or other collectibles on OS/2: There's quite a lot. So what is the bottom line of it all? It's definitely worth to not always get yourself the hottest stuff. You'll save a lot of time that you can spend "enjoying" a stable and operative system instead of running after the latest and greatest whatsoever, that you have to buy, install and configure. Because once you're done, you'll find it's successor almost ready for tempting with even newer and hotter features...

Nah, folks. I would rather get myself a (at least) five-year old bottle of wine, put on that LP of Ella (well, okay - it might be my CD of Billie Holiday) and lean back to simply enjoy looking at my desktop... which is not "active" but simply great by the way...

Thomas Klein is an IT consultant at Systor GmbH & Co. KG and is currently involved in software quality control in a large-scale project at IBM. He's been using OS/2 since version 2.11

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