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|By Don Eitner© May 2003|
Every now and then I like to reflect on how things have changed in the OS/2 market and how its life continues to evolve despite years of mainstream ignorance. This month I would like to simply acknowledge a few of the major software products currently being released or tested for release on the OS/2 and eComStation operating systems.
Java has been both a life saver and a death knell for OS/2 ever since IBM first touted OS/2 as the ultimate platform for Java as part of their migration path away from OS/2. But Java draws developers away from all proprietary operating systems (including Windows and Macintosh) and if it ever gets truly powerful has a lot of promise for a platform agnostic future. Already this year there have been two distinct releases of the Java 1.4.1 runtime environment for OS/2, one came from Innotek Systemberatung GmbH (http://innotek.de/index.html) and one from Golden Code Development (http://www.goldencode.com/).
Both products promise compatibility with the absolute latest Java standard and which one you choose to run will depend on whether you want a native OS/2 JVM (Java Virtual Machine) or one which has been ported to OS/2 from the Windows world using the Odin development libraries. Odin, as you may be aware, is a tool which can be used either to run Windows compiled programs on OS/2 or can be used to speed the porting process with Windows source code to bring programs almost-natively to OS/2. As of this writing, both releases of Java 1.4.1 for OS/2 are in beta testing stage.
Along with a choice of Java virtual machines, the award-winning Simplicity For Java graphical development tool by Data Representations has been upgraded to version 2.0 with promises of hundreds of enhancements, fixes and new features. I had tried out an earlier release of Simplicity For Java both on eComStation and on Windows 2000 and found that it was equally usable on both platforms and that programs I created on one platform ran perfectly well on the other, which is the true claim to fame for Java.
But Java is, as I have said, not "really OS/2" even if it does mean that OS/2 users can continue to run any and all 100% Java applications which come along for the foreseeable future. Recent events have brought many significant advances in native OS/2 software as well.
The open source Mozilla web browser (currently the most standards-compliant browser known to exist for any operating system) continues to be regularly updated for OS/2 through the efforts of a team of devoted IBM employees. When Mozilla version 1.3 was released in 1Q2003, it was only a matter of a few days before the native OS/2 version was made available for download. This stands in stark contrast to years ago when we waited months for a refresh of the old Netscape 4.6 browser and received only minor updates to it. Mozilla 1.3 for OS/2 is the full Mozilla 1.3 browser complete with email and newsreader components, graphical web page development tool, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) client for communicating online with groups of people around the world, and support for other Mozilla-related projects which can be found at sites such as http://mozdev.org/.
Multimedia is an area in which OS/2 has been severely behind the times for 6 or 7 years. In the past we have seen some very promising media programs come and go. I used to love the WarpMedia player which supported mp3 music and (modern at the time) DivX 3.11 video files and used a skinned user interface which could be non-rectangular -- at the time this was impossible to achieve with WinAMP, the reigning audio player for Windows and made OS/2 look pretty good. Sadly WarpMedia was never "completed" and has presumably been cancelled by its developers. Never fear, however, as a group of devoted Russian programmers have now brought us the WarpVision and WV-GUI media players. These pair of tools, one which is command-line based and the other fully graphical, support many very modern audio and video formats including DivX 3, 4 and 5, MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 (including DVD movie support which continues to improve with each release) and even supports QuickTime and Windows Media video files (*.asf and *.wmv for instance).
While the legality of this support may be questionable, it nonetheless exists and is easily accessible on the web. New releases of WV-GUI (my personal favorite of the two) is updated approximately once a week on average, sometimes more, and each update shows improvement. I nearly fell out of my chair a few days ago when, for the first time ever, I was able to put a commercial DVD video into my DVD-ROM drive and watch the movie (with sound) in eComStation. There are some caveats, however. At this time WV-GUI will play the videos but it does not have DVD menu support and you cannot skip to other chapters of the video, but you can watch a movie straight through and you can skip ahead or back by increments of about 1 minute.
And finally for this month, the release of the eComStation 1.1 operating system is imminent. http://www.ecomstation.biz/ has gone live to sell the new version in the US and there are still online retailers in Europe, Canada, Australia and possibly other countries who will be making it available soon. Kim and Bob at Serenity Systems, the developer of eComStation, have informed the world recently that version 1.1 has been released for manufacturing and will be shipping soon. While I have not been personally involved in the testing phase of 1.1 as I was with 1.0, it is my understanding that the new release sports a completely redesigned and self-contained installation routine (the original eCS release relied on portions of the old IBM Warp 4 installer which made life difficult for users of some specific types of common hardware). The less we have to rely on IBM's installation programs the more I like it.
Version 1.1 also promises numerous other enhancements (not the lest of which is the new lower price of $59.95 for users upgrading from eComStation 1.0 and $99.95 for users upgrading from OS/2 Warp 4). The royalty-bearing applications which were included in the earlier release have been put aside into an "Application Pack" which can be purchased along with version 1.1. The Application Pack consists primarily of Lotus SmartSuite version 1.7, HOBLink X11 (to run programs written for the X windowing system commonly found on Unix, BSD and GNU/Linux systems) and STI's Applause imaging software and scanner drivers.
Only three months into the year, 2003 is already looking to be the best year for OS/2 and eComStation since OS/2 Warp was originally introduced in 1994 amidst an embarassingly long delay in Microsoft's promised release of Windows 95. I wonder what the rest of the year will bring to my favorite operating system.
Don Eitner is a long time contributor to the VOICE Newsletter as well as the developer of The 13th Floor website http://freiheit.syntheticdimension.net
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