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by Christian Hennecke, © May 2007

The Editor in ChiefChristian Hennecke is the Editor in Chief of the VOICE Newsletter. While being a geographer originally, he runs an IT consulting and service company.

Lately, a mood change can be observed in conversations with OS/2 and eComStation users. A change for the worse, a spread of resignation and indignation. Even a number of users that one would file under “die-hard” are affected.

There are two reasons to this development. First, open issues are getting more and more pressing and are increasing in numbers.

Java 1.4.2_09 remains the latest available Java version for eComStation, and that was a stealth release that mysteriously appeared on the Innotek server. At the same time a growing number of applications requires later Java versions which effectively eliminates one remedy for the lack of native software. Furthermore, the available versions have unsolved security issues. While this probably does not worry the majority of users in the end-user to small enterprises to a critical extent, it removes OS/2 and eComStation from the list of viable server and secure data transmission platforms.

The second remedy for lack of native software is virtualization. Virtual PC for OS/2 was withdrawn when Microsoft purchased Virtual PC from Connectix. Serenity Systems' solution SVISTA never left the early development state under similar circumstances. Innotek has released Virtual Box, which does support OS/2 as a guest but there is not a host available.

Printer support is suffering from both lack of drivers for current hardware and networking support. Inkjet printers can only be used if they happen to be compatible with previous, supported models and are limited to the capabilities of those. Moreover, finding out the best driver is a tedious process. PostScript printers usually work well but even there PPD files have to be imported for full support—a venture that often requires patching the files or it will fail. Another issue is the lack of support for current protocols. IPP is getting more and more important in this area, but there is no way to print to network printers using that protocol from OS/2.

The demise of SNAP last year left eComStation without support for current and future video adapters. Recently, a generic driver called Panorama VESA has been announced that aims to address the issue. However, it comes with some inherent limitations so it cannot be a match for SNAP. More about this driver in our seperate comment Driving into the Future?

Networking used to be one of OS/2's strengths. Today we are confronted with incompatibilities with current SMB implementations, lack of support for files larger than 2 GB, and spotty hardware support. GenMAC has somewhat come to the rescue. Unfortunately, drivers for on-board NICs appear to be switching to a different driver model that is considerably harder to use with GenMAC than the standard one. The SMB issue is being addressed by porting Samba but so far neither the client nor the server component can be considered finished, let alone user-friendly.

Finally, there is the audio driver support issue. Advance in Uniaud development was slow and the contract was not renewed this year. All in all, Uniaud gives the impression of a huge construction site. Some people have started to clean things up but there's much work ahead.

A long list of issues, and it's not complete. Well, OS/2 users are used to dim-looking situations. Above, two reasons for the recent development were mentioned. The second reason is problematic in itself and creates a dangerous combination: Lack of communication. Unfortunately, there have been little to no official statements whatsoever from Serenity Systems and Mensys on the issues since they came up. Some unofficial leaks maybe. The community has had to guess and live on rumors.

Java? Zip. A virtualization solution? Zilch. Printer support? The eCUPS project, a port of CUPS and its WPS integration were introduced at Warpstock Europe 2006, but apart from very early test builds of some components, nothing has been heard since, and the TRAC page for eCUPS at Netlabs shows no activity. A development agreement for a new video driver has been announced—by eCo Software, and not Serenity Systems as it should have been. And the questions still remaining continue to have the community worried. Samba had been advertised at previous Warpstock events as a replacement for the OS/2 networking components. So far we only have a somewhat documented Samba client plug-in for NetDrive that is going to be included in eComStation 2.0, and test builds of the Samba server without decent documentation or GUI.

Nobody in their right mind is expecting miracles but people need to know what's going on. Of course, possible solutions have to be found and evaluated first, and development takes time. But the continuing policy of playing things close to the vest and sparse information flow is highly counterproductive and even driving users away. It is honorable not to promise too much, but the situation has turned into a silent strangulation. The community is like the proverbial dog that sometimes gets thrown a bone. OS/2 users are used to limitations and Tolkienian struggle against decline but even they will only go so far. Let alone users of other systems. Vendors and resellers have to convince them that there is a business case for eComStation and dispel their concerns.

Serenity Systems has to leave the incommunicado state and provide their customers with at least some perspectives and make clear that work is being done. As it stands now, even a status report saying that a possible solution turned out not to be viable and that alternatives are being investigated would be received well. I certainly hope that I will get that old Marillion song out of my head.

Editing: James Moe