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May 2002

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Why do I continue to use OS/2?

By Don Eitner © May 2002

The WorkPlace Shell, OS/2's graphical user interface since 1992.

No other operating system, not even Windows XP or RedHat Linux 7.2, can compare when I can create desktop shadows (similar but far more useful than Windows' shortcuts) which are just as real as the files to which they point. The only exception being that I can delete the shadow without deleting the original file or program object. I can rename the original file by renaming any of its shortcuts, they are not just empty shells with their own separate displayed name and properties. One file or program object can have any number of shadows and they are all just as useful. Put them into drives folders, put them onto the Launchpad for one click launching, put them in every single desktop folder if that is what you want.

And the Launchpad -- I don't know if I could live without it. Introduced with OS/2 Warp 3 and included (though initially hidden in Warp 4 and later), the Launchpad is one bar that automatically expands to fit new objects you drop onto it and has additional popup "drawers" for more objects you use less frequently. They're all shadows (see above) and may be either folders, program objects, or file objects. It's the quickest and easiest way to get one click access to every desktop object on your system or just those few that you need all the time. Here is a screenshot of the Launchpad as-installed on eComStation.

The OS/2 Launchpad

To get the Launchpad to load each time you boot your computer, you simply need to add a word into your CONFIG.SYS file as follows -- you will have a line which begins with:


and some items such as TASKLIST, CONNECTIONS, FOLDERS, etc. Just add the following to the end of that line:


Alternately you should find a Toolbar or Launchpad object in your OS/2 System folder on your desktop. Drag and drop that object into the Startup folder, also found in the OS/2 System folder.

The File Systems

OS/2 has a wealth of file systems for storing my programs and data files on the hard drive. Out of the box with eComStation 1.0 (based on IBM's OS/2 "MCP" Warp 4.51) I can use the old DOS FAT file system, the old OS/2 HPFS file system, or the new cross-platform JFS file system. JFS, as some of you know, was developed for IBM's high-end AIX server operating system and ported to OS/2. Then it was made open source and has been ported to Linux and other OSes.

Additionally, I am using Henk Kelder's FAT32 file system driver for OS/2. This gives me the full capability of Windows 95b, 98 and ME file systems and is much better than venerable old FAT from the DOS days -- of course HPFS and JFS are both fantastically superior to FAT32, but for data exchange with Windows, FAT32 is the best option at this time. Under OS/2, FAT32 also supports file system Extended Attributes (a feature common on HPFS and JFS) so it becomes even more useful than it is under Windows where EAs are unknown.

There are also drivers for Linux' ext2fs and Windows NT's NTFS and they are usable, however they are several years old and were left in a "beta test" stage of development.

Software Compatibility

While I rarely use DOS or Windows 3.1 programs anymore, there are a few notable exceptions. WordPerfect Office 7 for Windows 3.1 runs very well under OS/2 and since the WordPerfect document format has not changed between version 7 and version 10 (WordPerfect 2002) this can be a very useful program for any word processing need from simple letters to sophisticated documents comprising text, spreadsheet data, vector graphics and charts, etc.

OS/2 also has some good Win32 support to run programs which were designed for Windows 95 and higher. Project Odin ( may not run every Windows program and may not run even half of them as well as Windows 98 will, but it runs many common programs very nicely. I use Odin for RealPlayer 8, HJSplit (a file split/merge utility to chop a large file into smaller parts for easy backup and transfer), for AOL Instant Messenger 4.3 and to run OpenOffice 6 which is the open source version of Sun's StarOffice 6 office suite. Yes, the whole suite for Windows 95 installs and runs under OS/2 when using Odin. Like WordPerfect Suite 7, this provides great office productivity support, but OpenOffice 6 is much more recent and includes import/export support for documents in MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint 6, 7 and 2000 formats.

And of course OS/2 native software is often rivaled by none. When a program is written to take advantage of OS/2's tremendous feature set (including the WPS and file system Extended Attributes) it is very hard to find a better program for Windows, Linux or Macintosh. My favorite example is PMView ( which is a powerful graphics viewer and format converter available for both OS/2 and Windows. Under OS/2, full drag and drop is enabled for instance to move images in the current directory into a directory on another drive. Also image thumbnails (small "example" copies of the full-size images in your directories) are stored as Extended Attributes on the file system, which is not possible in the Windows version. Under Windows the program must recreate these thumbnails each time you open a directory through its file open container. This can take a lot of time if you have 1,000 or more images in a single directory.


Microsoft has done some good work to make Windows more stable in recent years, but even Win98se (from 1999) has notable stability problems on my mother's PC, and she only does very basic things such as email and web browsing with her computer. Win2K is much more stable, but when it continually failed to recognize my 56K external modem (standard serial port connected Creative Labs external ModemBlaster) I realized that for stability they had sacrificed usability. I have never had OS/2 fail to find my modem because, well, it's just a modem for crying out loud! It does not require a "driver", it simply needs an open COM port and an initialization string. That's all it needed in DOS, Win3.1 and OS/2, but Win2K kept trying to force it to use a "driver" and failing to do so.

Meanwhile, with only rare exceptions, my eComStation (OS/2 Warp 4.51) system is just as stable. My biggest problem with stability is that I like to try a lot of new things and to run beta test software (software not intended for use in a production environment). Sometimes the bugs in such software cause problems with the system. Sometimes I'm just asking the system to do something it was not designed to do (like running Win32 programs under Odin). Odin is, after all, still in a sort of beta test phase but it works fairly well most of the time for the few Win32 apps I use. Sometimes the apps try to do something which Odin does not yet know how to handle. For instance AIM does not "close" or "exit", it minimizes itself to the Win95 task bar. Well Odin doesn't have a Win95 task bar (yet) and this can sometimes cause the system to hang if you do not kill its process quickly after closing the program.

Perhaps most importantly, about 90% of my OS/2 reboots are not related to stability but rather to the PM input queue becoming blocked. This is an ages old issue which IBM will never fix because they feel too many of their corporate customers have programs which require PM to continue acting the way it always has. The great thing about a PM queue hang is that you do not necessarily lose any data when you reboot. The old three finger salute (Ctrl-Alt-Del) will send the normal system shutdown command and reboot the system nicely, keeping your file system and data clean. A real stability issue causes a crash and usually causes data corruption, but I very rarely see this on OS2 -- no more so than I see it on Win2K. Win98se on the other hand is absolutely terrible with system crashes.

Return On Investment

I spent $79 for OS/2 Warp 3 back in December of 1995 (after Win95 had already been on the market for about 4 months). I felt no need to upgrade to Warp 4 until March of 1998 because IBM supplied free fixpacks (called service packs in the Windows world) which added new features and fixed many bugs. Also I felt the user interface (the WorkPlace Shell) was years more advanced than the UI of Win95. I still believe the WPS is both more powerful and easier to use than Windows 2000's UI and I have not bothered to try XP because it looks too cartoonish as if it's meant for grade school children rather than businesses and professionals. I also do not care to call Microsoft every fourth or fifth time I want to change a setting due to their new licensing schemes.

So in early 1998 I upgraded to OS/2 Warp 4 when I purchased someone's used copy because they were migrating to Windows. Fixpacks were again free for the download and easy to install -- in fact as the years went on there were more and easier fixpack installation tools which made the process painless and even made it fully internet-enabled (at least a year before Microsoft opened the Windows Update web site). I ran Warp 4 until I just could not run it any longer due to the time required to install it and update it on a new hard drive. All those years of free fixes had become quite a pile and I wanted something which would install at the most current fix level.

Enter eComStation (based on IBM's "Merlin Convenience Pack" version of Warp 4.51 but sold by Serenity Systems). As of its release in summer 2001 it was up-to-date with the latest fixpacks, the latest networking, and the latest versions of 3rd party tools bundled into the package. Lotus SmartSuite, Desktop On Call (remote system management through any Java-enabled web browser), the JFS file system to which I earlier referred, a new task scheduler and reminder program, a simple calculator (which had been missing from the OS/2 install package since version 2.1), and at least a dozen other useful features. And best of all, as an upgrade from my Warp 4 license, all of this cost me only $139 US. Two fixpacks have been released for it to date along with updated Java, networking and device drivers.

I would say I have definitely gotten my money's worth from OS/2 over the years. With only about $300 investment (in the OS itself, not counting 3rd party applications I have purchased) I have done about 80% of my computing work in OS/2 for over six years. That's $50 per year on average, and I'm not ready to give it up yet. eComStation 1.1 is rumored to be coming soon with a much improved installer (the one in eComStation 1.0 was very new compared to the old IBM installer in Warp 4 but this one is said to be even more advanced, with a lot of the quirks corrected). It is even rumored that version 1.1 will allow installation of the OS onto a JFS volume (previously not possible because JFS itself is not bootable) -- I will leave the details of that for a later article when more information is available from Serenity Systems.


Don is the developer of The 13th Floor website -

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