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July 2001

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eComStation 1.0, the Release Candidate.

By: Don Eitner ©June 2001

As one of the early registrants of Serenity Systems' eComStation operating system, I have been anxiously awaiting the final GA (General Availability) release for many months. There have been a half dozen preview releases, most sent only to distributors for testing purposes, but at least three preview releases were easily available to those who had purchased a license. Please see my last month's article for my experiences with eComStation previews 1, 2 and 3.

Now the eComStation 1.0 Release Candidate has been made. Those who purchased licenses will soon be receiving their CDs in the mail from their local vendor, including Prism Data Works (formerly Indelible Blue) in the US and Mensys in Europe.

Any previous reviews you may have read about eComStation 1.0 should be ignored, as even the version demonstrated at SCOUG on May 19, 2001 was an earlier copy than the version I received on June 14.

First a very short background. eComStation comes on three CDs. The first contains the Serenity installer and all the files needed to setup your system. The second CD contains the old fashioned IBM installer and files needed to setup your system (primarily this is the Warp 4.5 MCP release available direct from IBM through the Software Choice subscription plan). CD number three contains third party programs and utilities including but not by any means limited to Lotus SmartSuite 1.6, StarOffice 5.1a, and IBM Desktop On Call remote system management server. The installer CDs are bootable, as long as your hardware supports CD booting. Most modern hardware (from the past three or four years) supports this. Be sure it is enabled in your system BIOS. Otherwise, you will have to boot your system with some other operating system (like a DOS boot floppy for example) and create a few install diskettes (1.44MB) in order to boot the installer. This review is based on the bootable CD installation.

Meet The Press

My hardware consists of an AMD 800MHz Athlon processor on an Asus A7V mainboard with 512MB of PC133 memory, a 16MB Matrox Millennium G450 AGP graphics card, IBM DeskStar 75GXP 30GB ATA-100 hard drive, and a SCSI 32x CD-ROM and SCSI 6x4x16 CD-RW drive both attached to a Symbios 875 based UltraWide SCSI adaptor card.

Upon booting my system with eComStation CD #1 in my CD-ROM drive, I was presented with three convenient options; boot from the CD, boot from the CD with additional options, or boot from my hard drive as normal. This third is extra pleasant (and is the default if no selection is made) because even with the CD in the drive you can choose to boot from an already-installed system -- something which usually can't be done when you have a floppy diskette in your A: drive.

I chose option #2, knowing from past experience that I will need to change a few things in the initial bootup. First and foremost, I needed to use the JJSCDROM.DMD driver instead of the IBM OS2CDROM.DMD driver. If you read my article last month, you know that I had problems with the IBM driver constantly seeking my CD-ROM and CD-RW drives while creating disk partitions. I further knew that I needed to install support for my Symbios SCSI adaptor or else the rest of the install would probably fail, being unable to locate my CD-ROM attached to it.

One nice feature which Serenity Systems has added to this so-called pre-boot screen is the option to select your initial display resolution and color depth! Instead of old OS/2 releases where you were dumped into standard (ugly) VGA at 640x480 with 16 colors, you can now choose options such as 800x600, 1024x768, and 1280x1024 as well as choosing between either 256 colors (if for instance you have an older video card with 1 or 2 megabytes of memory) or 64K colors. I selected 800x600 with 64K colors as this is close to what I run on a daily basis (800x600 with 16M colors).

The pre-boot screen had one very minor flaw that I noticed -- the selection arrows for the various resolutions were all colored yellow except for the 640x480 option whose arrow was colored white. No loss of functionality was seen, but those people who go over the visual details of an OS with a magnifying glass just looking for reasons to not like it will complain.

After making my selections here, I clicked the Enter key and was taken to the boot logo which I am happy to say looks quite nice now. The overall lack of colors available in this old OS2LOGO image format may be somewhat depressing, but Serenity chose to use only a few shades of blue to give a 3D shaded effect to their new "spinning e" logo and there is little reason to complain about the visual quality. I was then presented with the typical black screen showing the various drivers loading, including the UDF file system driver (for DVD data discs) version 1.0.0.

Laying Down the Law

I began the install at 8:55pm after selecting options from the pre-boot screen.

At 8:56pm the WorkPlace Shell (OS/2's familiar graphical desktop interface) had loaded in 800x600 resolution with 64K colors just as I had selected in the pre-boot screen. The visual attractiveness of this new OS is astounding! Right away you will notice that title bar controls, push buttons, radio buttons and checkboxes have all been redesigned. We will find later that this appearance can be changed as well.

Shortly after the WPS loaded, there was a short video (apparently in FLI format) of the blue "spinning e" logo which really grabbed my attention. I was not expecting multimedia support to be running at this early stage of the install and it reminded me that OS/2's multimedia capabilities really are not dead, they've just been forgotten for so long.

By 8:57pm the eComStation graphical install program had loaded and was ready to be used. This program gives a step-by-step walk-through of installing eComStation, including some documentation about using the Logical Volume Manager (LVM) to create partitions, since IBM's old FDISK is no longer used.

Logical Volume Manager allows multiple physical partitions to act as a single drive with a single drive letter, allows disk spanning so that partitions on different hard disks can act as a single drive with a single drive letter, and allows the use of the Journalled File System (JFS) which provides many functional advantages over the aging High Performance File System (HPFS) such as the ability to expand the size of a drive without needing to reboot your system. In reality, all of the new features of LVM are only usable by JFS, but be aware that JFS is not currently bootable, so eComStation must still be installed to an HPFS formatted drive. The installer walks you through all of this.

I encountered one annoying bug after quitting out of LVM. An eCS Window (OS/2 Window for those who realize that eComStation is essentially OS/2 Warp 4.5 with a lot of add-ons and some re-worked graphics and tools) opened and began displaying what appeared to be an endless loop of writing [A:\]. I had to kill this process with the Window List (Ctrl-Esc). This bug is mentioned in the known.issues text file located in the root directory of the eComStation CD #1. I recommend that anyone installing eComStation (or any piece of software for that matter) read through the provided documentation. At first I did not read this file and then I felt stupid when Glenn Hudson of Serenity Systems pointed it out to me in regards to this bug.

Before selecting where you will be installing eComStation, you are asked to select which system components to install (base system, which must be installed obviously, and multimedia). You are also given three choices for display drivers, including the IBM GenGRADD driver which should provide high resolution and color depths for most video cards, classic VGA if your system just can't handle anything more than that, and SciTech Display Doctor which provides acceleration and several other options on top of the IBM GenGRADD features.

Next you select a drive (volume) on which to install eComStation. Note that at this point my install volume (D:) was not yet formatted, so it shows only 5MB out of 502MB free space.


The next screen seems redundant to me, as I had already selected to format the disk using the long format option and here I was asked again to select between long format or quick format.

Once you select the format option (assuming your volume was not already formatted) you are presented with a very nice animated 3D pie chart display of the progress of the formatting, and then another such pie chart showing the installation progress. The charts sure look nicer than the ages old percent bars from the Windows and OS/2 Warp days, but perhaps most important is the time required to perform an eComStation install. The estimated install time during the beginning of my own install was about 8 minutes, but upon completion of this stage I was presented with a window showing that only about 5 minutes had elapsed.


And then comes a reboot which brings you back through the boot logo, display of drivers being loaded by the system and then your WorkPlace Shell with all its new icons and buttons and bitmaps.

You've Got the Look

The System folder contains some new entries since OS/2 Warp 4 including Theme Manager and eCSStyler Lite. Theme Manager allows selection of many pre-defined sets of radio button, checkbox, and title bar button images. You can select to use Warp 3 style, Warp 4 style, Windows style, or any of several new styles most of which use circular images for the title bar controls.

eCSStyler Lite is a limited but clearly more recent version of Alessandro Cantatore's Styler/2 WPS enhancer. As a pre-installed component of eComStation, it provides title bar colors, gradients and background images as well as left-aligned (standard from OS/2) or centered title bar text, 3D-looking title bar text, and configurations for the new pushbutton look. Some options include adding a 3D bevel around the default pushbutton of a dialog window, making disabled buttons appear with a Win95-ish 3D text effect instead of OS/2's old cross-hatching which made the text almost unreadable, and various options for a gradient color effect for the overall appearance of pushbuttons.

eCSStyler Lite also gives you the option to animate the shutdown process, as still one more visual improvement in the system. If selected, your screen will dim similar to entering Lockup mode in the WorkPlace Shell (or shutting down Win9x) but the dimming begins at the edges of the screen and moves inward. Once completed, eCSStyler Lite's own shutdown confirmation dialog box appears with radio buttons to either shutdown or reboot the system. Users of the open source XWorkPlace WPS enhancer will be immediately familiar with this new shutdown dialog.

Some other features of eComStation which I have not yet had time to research include IBM's Java 2 1.3 runtime kit and IBM's Java-based network configuration tool for setting up TCP/IP networks and services such as FTPd, SOCKS, and NFS (Network File System).


eComStation has come a long way since I first installed preview release 1 in December of 2000. It has also given me new hope for OS/2's future by boldly demonstrating that OS/2 can both look good and work well. The speed of the install is incredible. You really must see it to believe it. Sure, it's primarily just taking an image of an installed eComStation and copying that to your hard drive and then making modifications as needed for your system, but if it works then there's no reason to complain. With software being distributed on CDs there really isn't any use in having dozens of 1-2MB files which each must be decompressed during installation. eComStation's approach is a direct challenge to the old ways and in my testing it puts them to shame. I don't care how the system gets the files onto my hard drive, as long as it does so quickly and without breaking anything.

The new look of eComStation is also incredible. From start to finish the fully graphical install is beautiful. It's also modular, so Serenity could quite easily change the default images and colors in their next release if the market demands it. This modularity is primarily the work of Alessandro Cantatore's eCSStyler Lite and I can only hope that he will soon make all of that functionality available in the full Styler/2 product. I am absolutely fascinated by the way push buttons (as found in most dialog windows and applications and the LaunchPad/Toolbar) can be "skinned" to look concave, convex, and so forth.

Serenity Systems have not yet released a Minimum Hardware Requirements list for eComStation, but I would imagine that any Pentium-class PC should be able to run this system quite well. The OS/2 foundation of eComStation is still very lean and efficient compared to the competition. If you haven't yet purchased eComStation and/or if you are undecided about buying eComStation or buying an IBM Software Choice license in order to receive the Warp 4.5 MCP release, I would definitely cast my vote for eComStation. Overall you get more features, a significantly nicer looking system, impressively speedier installation, and a lot of third party applications which would cost extra with MCP. Where MCP feels like what it is -- an incremental update to OS/2 Warp 4 -- eComStation feels like a whole new operating system. Where else can you take screenshots of the system installation with PMView running on the same system as the install?

Article references:
The eComStation Home site:http://www.ecomstation.com/
Where to Buy eComStation: http://www.ecomstation.com/where_to_buy.phtml
Styler/2: http://acsoft.yi.org/Styler2/index.htm

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