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April 2001

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OS/2 Warp 4 Merlin Convenience Pack

By Isaac Leung ©April 2001

What is it?

Unless you're new to OS/2, you've probably at least heard of the OS/2 "Convenience Pack" (CP). It's basically the next version of OS/2, and probably roughly equivalent to the Win95 to Win98 upgrade, which contains nothing breathtaking, It has bug fixes, minor feature enhancements and some changes under the hood. Most of the changes (at least to this point) have been available for free, such as the Fixpacks. However, the Convenience Packs just saves you the hassle of having to apply all those fixes on a new machine from a base OS/2 Warp 4 install. There are a few new things that come with the CP that you can't get for free such as UDF file system (for DVD) support and Java 1.3. And of course, going forward, the Fixpacks past FP15 will no longer be freely available.

Before we go on, let's get one thing straight. I'm not here to advocate either Convenience Pack or eComStation. I know you readers are intelligent enough to decide for yourselves. (I personally will be getting both). This is just to describe my experience with the Convenience Pack (CP).

How to get it

You're not the only one tired of the Warp 4 install process on a new machine, after so many fixes to the base OS and TCP/IP stack have been issued. Obviously IBM's corporate customers complained about the same thing. Hence, the Convenience Pack was born: all the latest updates rolled up into a single standalone install with the CD's mailed to you every 6 months. However, it is only available if you subscribe to OS/2's "Software Choice" offering. Along with various updates and features that are mailed to you on the Software Choice CD's, you also get the Convenience Pack CD's. (Editor's note: And the MCP is also available as the base platform for eComStation.)

IBM isn't really targeting the home user (officially), mostly the business user, so probably that's why the cost of a Software Choice subscription can be a bit of a turn off for the average home user. Up here in Canada, it costs $350CDN for a single user 2 year subscription direct from IBM. That converts to about $230US, though I've heard of some places offering it for $200US. From what I gather, the regular Software Choice is for small business, with up to 10-pack licenses. Large corporations have an equivalent service called Passport Advantage.

I know it gave me pause at first, but then I thought about it some more. Having started with an OEM copy of Warp 3, I later upgraded to Warp 4 for $170. But up until now, all fixes (40 or so for Warp 3 and 15 for Warp 4) had been free (more than I can say for Windows). Including SW Choice now, I'll have spent a total of about $520 over a period of 7 years. Not too shabby, as over the same period, I'd have gone through Win95a, Win95b, Win98, WinME and soon WinXP. I'm not sure about WinXP yet, but the rest of the line were essentially bug fixes and minor enhancements of the level that we've been receiving with the free Fixpacks. Plus, when was the last time you got to hear from the developers of your OS in person on Usenet? If you be polite and air your problems, they'll actually respond.

Inside the Convenience Pack

The CP actually comes on 2 CD's. One is the bootable Installation CD, and the other one contains the actual base OS. (If your machine does not support booting off CD-ROM, there are instructions on how to make boot diskettes). On top of the files for the OS, a bunch of extra goodies are also included:

Upgrading an existing system

I've heard recommendations that you should start with a clean install, just to get rid of the "junk" that's built up over the years, and that probably is a good idea. But instead, I thought about what a user should be able to expect from an upgrade. In my opinion, a user should expect to be able to pop in the upgrade to an existing system and carry on as before when it was complete. So that's what I tried. (And anyways, I couldn't spare the time to re-install everything on my system). Be aware that the upgrade may require a little bit of extra disk space beyond what you use now with Warp 4, depending on what options you choose.

My first test system:

There is nothing super impressive here, but it's a good, solid system that serves me reliably.

If upgrading, I recommend you read the README.TXT on the Warp 4.51 CD! You might be okay skipping this, but certain cases (e.g. Thinkpad users like me) with specific problems are described. And always backup before you start! Err...no, not in this case. I actually have to use WinNT at work. While it was fast and stable at first, it has since degraded to the point where I have to do a reboot at least once a day. I was actually hoping for an excuse to re-install... ;-)

This computer supports bootable CD, so I shoved in the Installation CD and re-started the machine. This automatically booted and convert all my existing partions to "compatibility volumes". The process didn't take more than a couple of minutes, and reported back that "VCU has created 4 LVM compatibility volumes". At this point, you are instructed to reboot the machine to recognize the new volumes during system install. I have to admit, volume conversion got me a little nervous at this point (I didn't fully read the README, but it sure sounded dangerous to me :), but I charged on.

It boots up again with the familiar blue OS/2 Warp startup screen. You are instructed to swap out the Installation CD and put in the Warp CD. Everything is the same up to this point, but next I was presented with a new screen that tells me what is about to occur.

I then get the following warning that certain components in my existing installation are no longer supported, so won't be migrated to my new desktop.

Okay, that doesn't sound too nice, but I go on. While it's installing, I actually read the notes that flash by. It says it's got UDF for data storage and retrieval. Anyone have some sort of writable DVD going with OS/2 yet? It also says that it "Includes a stronger level of encryption". Encryption? What encryption??

The process was actually fairly quick, maybe 4-5 minutes later, it's rebooting yet again. This time, it boots into the familiar VGA screen for setup of printers, video, software components, etc. I poke around to see what's new. Hey what's this? New stuff under fonts! Unicode fonts, Japanese, Simplified and Traditional Chinese, Korean, Arabic legacy, Greek legacy and Thai. That was about it, though I note that some stuff has been removed, like the BonusPak option is no longer there, OpenDoc and VoiceType are other casualties. The Video setting defaults to MGA GRADD, so I point it to the native Matrox driver that's listed.

The Network settings page is revised too. Gone are Mobile Office and Remote Access. Instead a simpler dialog page with just

I had applied the TCP/IP 4.3 from my SW Choice CD, but it detected that my File and Print Sharing and TCP/IP were not up to date. Anyways, there wasn't much to fiddle with. I went with whatever default settings it had and pressed "Next". (Hey, I'm thinking like Joe Dummy Average, okay?). I do get a warning that it's going to fiddle with my Netbios setup a bit. I'm not sure what it does, but I give it the okay anyways.

Finally, I'm done fooling around and I let it to go off and do its job. Ooops! One glitch, even though the native Matrox drivers were listed, it doesn't seem to know where they are. So I have to press "Cancel", and it appeared to default to MGA GRADD.

Next is something new, I get a screen with a side-by-side comparison of old and new CONFIG.SYS so I can edit as necessary. (If you read the README, it will note that certain settings are not migrated over, such as the "SET PROMPT=..." and the "MAXWAIT=..." statements. Strangely enough, it managed to keep all my "SET SCUSEPRETTYCLOCK=..." and "SET SCFINDUTILITY=..." statements. I'm not sure what they were thinking about when they came up with the migration process. That's not the only problem...more on that later...

It also re-orders the CONFIG.SYS a bit, so if you had any comments in there, they may not be where you expect them to be. Additional lines are added for I2O drivers, UDF (for DVD), LVM, JFS and what appears to be an Adaptec RAID or SCSI driver. If you're not using any of these, you can probably comment them out at this point (I did it later, to make sure I have a working setup to play with first). It would seem that the CP was really made for WSeB, but quickly hacked up for the Warp 4 client.

And then you're asked to do the same thing with old and new AUTOEXEC.BAT before it goes off to finish installing all the Networking stuff. I notice that whoever did the install gave it a nice 3D pointer that changes shade at each stage...

Yeah, okay, it takes a while for some reason (come on, how big is the base install?), but at least it doesn't really require intervention. Finally, it's done and restarts. As soon as it finishes booting, it pops up a box to install Java 1.3. Be warned that Java 1.3 is still in development and may not work with all your older Java apps yet, so the installer retains the Java 1.1.8 JVM as the default JVM. Instructions are included on how to switch the default JVM to 1.3, if for some reason you want to.

New goodies.

Once up and running, I checked around for new goodies. In the System Setup Folder, there is now a "Locales" icon, and also a Language Viewer, which apparently toggles between the primary and alternate code pages. New is the LVM icon for the Logical Volume Manager. This essentially replaces fdisk. Also new is a "Refresh Removable Media" icon, which presumably applies mostly to stuff like Zip disks.

Under Fonts, if you chose to install any of the Asian fonts, they now come in proportional and monospaced in addition to the "original" Times Roman MT30.

Upgrading a Thinkpad

Since it seemed to work pretty well on one machine, I tried the same thing with my Thinkpad 770X. I thought it might be a bit of a trickier process, as I had both Object Desktop 2.0 and XWorkplace 0.9.8 installed on this machine. However, everything went pretty much the same, it even pointed to the Trident GRADD driver by default, instead of the native drivers I had previously installed. When it finished up, I found that I had lost network access! I soon traced this to the PCMCIA drivers which were not installed by default, even though they were in my previous installation.

Once I figured that out, it was a simple matter to use the "Selective Install" to add the PCMCIA drivers. Users will be glad to hear that the list of supported machines has been updated from that ancient list on the default Warp 4 install. No more guesswork!

Now for the bad news

So, was it all perfect? No, I discovered problems inherent in both upgrades. Nothing killer, but annoying nonetheless:


It seems IBM got a lot of the big things right for the upgrade process. It was simple and easy to apply, and in general, you are left with an upgraded system that works just like before. It gets a lot of marks from me for this, as any "production" system won't have any killer faults to bring you down. However, it missed too many minor little details to receive top marks. To IBM's credit, these really are minor, as it took me roughly 2 days of poking around to uncover these problems. If I had just be plain "using" my system, I probably would not have noticed. Still, I think these details should have been easily caught and fixed before they let the CP go gold, in my opinion.

The Convenience Pack really is convenient for getting your OS/2 system up to date, but probably more so if you are installing on a clean machine. The price may be a bit steep for some, but if you do a careful comparison to Microsoft products and consider what you've received and paid during the past years since Warp 4 came out, it's not too bad.

If you have the time, a clean re-install of the Convenience Pack might be your best bet to avoid any problems. However, you might then have to fight with installing some of the "unsupported" features such as VoiceType or IBM Works. If that's a priority for you, or if you are like me, and don't have spare time or a spare system, the upgrade process works easily as well, with only very minor issues to deal with.
Referenced web sites:
IBM Software Choice Catalog: http://service.boulder.ibm.com/asd-bin/doc/en_us/catalog.htm

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