Virtual OS/2 International Consumer Education

September 1997

The WarpGuru
OS/2 Hardware
OS/2 Reviews
VOICE Board Member Interview
OS/2 Tips
View from the END (User)

The WarpGuru

Crash Test Dummies

By: David Both (

Almost every one of us who uses a computer has experienced many crashes. I have had hundreds of crashes for various reasons including, hardware, application programs, and the operating system. Those are just the direct causes. I have also had many crashes due to external causes such as aircraft radar (I spent several years in an office just a few hundred yards off the end of the main run away of Dobbins Air Force Base in Marietta, GA), static electricity discharge, power failures (before I had my UPS), power line transients, low voltage, dust and dirt, flourescent light fixtures, power lawn mowers (a long story), high ambient temperatures, poor grounding, paper clips and staples (wait till you see what one of these can do to a printer or disk drive), and of course, I/O (Idiot/Operator) errors, as well as many others.

I can't even begin to list all the reasons why systems I or my customers have used have crashed. There are too many. There is, however, one reason I want to discuss here and now: Ignorance.

Yes, ignorance. The ignorance of the vast majority of computer users has contributed greatly to the number of crashes they - and we all - experience.

Before you go getting upset with ME, let me explain. Perhaps then your anger and frustration will be directed where it belongs. Not at me for being the bearer of the news. :)

It all started with the original IBM PC - again - and the ISA bus which still plagues us. Even the term ISA is misleading because it is NOT a standard in any way.

We should all be aware by now that the ISA bus is over fifteen years obsolete and yet it is still the most common bus you can buy in a personal computer. PCI, EISA, and the new serial bus notwithstanding, the PCs you can buy today are totally obsolete. They use technology designed for the original PC in 1981. Each of these so-called new designs, especially EISA, is in some way based upon the original ISA bus design.

All of these buses suffer from serious flaws. In addition to being quite susceptible to lost interrupts, external electrical interference, slow speeds, and poor compatibility between vendors, they have deficiencies like too few IRQ's available and they are terribly difficult to configure despite - or perhaps because of - plug-n-pray.

IBM is the largest single hardware and yes, software vendor in the world. When the PC was designed that design was based on the premise that PCs would not be particularly useful in business - at least not in the large businesses where IBM held sway and dumb terminals were as common as tribbles in a grain storage bin.

IBM recognized very quickly, however, that PCs were being used by large enterprises, and began to react to criticisms by the information technology people in those companies. The criticisms included the fact that PCs were hard to configure, there were too few interrupts, too susceptible to crasher for many reasons, and so on.

In short, the PC did not represent the best of IBM. It was not reliable enough or serviceable enough to appeal to many IT leaders. It was not capable of being entrusted with mission critical applications like the IBM hardware which the IT movers and shakers were used to. And DOS left a lot to be desired, as well.

IBM's answer to this was the Micro Channel bus and OS/2. These two products were designed to work together, even though they were not initially to be available at the same time, to provide the mission critical robustness required in the large enterprises where IBM was king.

Let's talk about crashes some more. How many times a day does your computer crash? For many folks, the answer to that question is very frequently.

I was at a Chamber of Commerce meeting recently and was talking to a person who, when he noticed that I am a computer industry consultant, told me how badly their computers worked. I asked him how frequently his computers crashed and he said two to four times a day. Many times they could not go more than a couple hours without having to reboot. I think his editorial comment on that is very informative. He said, "...But what can you do. Computers just crash a lot."

"Computers just crash a lot." Hmmmmm.

Well, "computers" don't just crash a lot. Just PERSONAL computers crash a lot. Many mainframes average less than ten seconds - yes, that is 10 SECONDS - per year of unscheduled downtime. Many of my customers use IBM AS/400 systems and several have never had a single second of unplanned downtime on systems which run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, year in and year out.

Why do we put up with anything less from personal computers? It seems that even the IT people have become used to the idea that personal computers crash frequently.

Why has this come about? That we tend to accept crashes so readily, that is.

I think that it is due to ignorance. I think that the average user has no idea that it can be any other way. They have never heard of the idea of "mission critical."

A friend of mine tells the following interesting true story. A large company hired a new IT executive to take over from a retiring predecessor. He spent several weeks getting to know the people and the technological make-up of his new domain. Having identified almost every nook and cranny and piece of hardware which belonged to his department, he finally found a locked door to which no one seemed to have the key. The new man determined with some difficulty that the door had been locked for at least five years; no one could ever remember seeing it open. They searched for days before finding the key. When they finally opened the door, it was a very small room, a closet really, which contained a single IBM PS/2 model 80. After a little investigative work, one of the programmers determined that the PS/2 was running OS/2 LAN Server and was serving one of the company's most important applications.

I will allow you to draw your own conclusion from this.

***Author Biography***

David Both is President of Millennium Technology, Inc., a computer
technology consulting company based in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is also
Coauthor of the book "Inside OS/2 Warp", from New Riders Publishing, and is
currently writing a new book "The Warp DataBook" which is available only on
the internet. David can be reached at His
web site is


OS/2 Hardware

Speeding up your storage sub system under OS/2

By: Nigel J. Clarke ( )

A recent article in PC Magazine comparing 266MhZ and 300MHz Pentium II system noted that the major bottleneck that prevented better performance from the faster CPU was the slow I/O system. They pointed at the system bus, RAM and the hard disk as the components that caused the lack of performance. A figure of 1.0% is quoted for the performance improvement between the two CPU speeds.

Now while the system bus really can't be pushed to a greater speed unless you are using a motherboard supporting the 75MHz system bus, and there isn't much that can be done about the speed of the RAM, the disk subsystem is another matter. Using an Ultra Wide SCSI disk running at 10,000 rpm PC Magazine found the performance gap improved to 2.5%. ( editor note: Hmm, wish I knew this before I spent all that money on a new Cheetah 9.1 gig drive :-( ).

In order to make the best use of the features of the Workplace shell most people use OS/2's High Performance File System rather than the old 1980 vintage FAT file system. This is fairly fast, but performance can be improved both by using the correct parameters for the cache and by optimizing the hardware.

Hardware Performance improvements

The two choices for disk hardware are Enhanced IDE or SCSI. EIDE is a development of the old ST506 interface, but with the controller now mounted on the hard drive and a direct interface to the motherboard. SCSI is an intelligent bus design originally developed for workstations and minicomputers.

Recent improvements to EIDE include bus-mastering which reduces the overhead on the CPU and Ultra DMA transfer rates. Both of these help speed data transfer from the drive to the system while reducing the work required of the CPU. Changes to the SCSI specification increases the transfer rates to 80MB/sec via a 16bit bus in comparison to the original 5Mb/sec over an 8bit bus.

For maximum performance power users often seek out RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) systems which use multiple disks set up to appear as a single device. In their simplest form these use disk striping to read or write consecutive blocks of data to/from different disks in sequential order. This allows each disk to achieve maximum throughput without waiting for the heads to seek to the next location before accepting more data.

Ordinary users can maximize the performance of their disk subsystems by following a few simple rules. HPFS is laid out with a directory block at the centre of each partition ensuring reduced head movement between the directory blocks and the actual files. Should a disk have more than one partition in active use (excluding a Boot Manager partition) then the disk heads must switch between the two or more directory blocks and two or more sets of files. This leads to a loss of performance as the heads spend time moving across the disk rather than reading or writing data. Doug Azzarito, the IBM guy responding to queries about HPFS on USENET, refers to having more than one HPFS partition on a disk as really screwing up HPFS. He recommends avoiding this if you possibly can.

IBM also recommends that the swap file be placed on the most used partition of the least used disk for best results. Now this can be tricky if you only have a single drive, but performance can be improved by using more than one drive. After conducting a lot of experiments I found that by using two drives with the operating system on one and programs and data on the second, together with the swap file, performance was much snappier. This is probably good news for those people with a full hard drive as buying a second drive will boost performance noticeably when run in tandem with the original drive.

In my quest for improved performance I worked with a variety of setups using both EIDE and SCSI drives. On older systems, without the busmastering option of EIDE drives, I found that using two IDE drives barely improved the disk throughput as the disk controller would only operate on one drive at a time and needed a lot of CPU overhead to process the data flow. I then went to a ISA bus based SCSI controller and found that the features of the SCSI standard really boosted throughput.

Investigating further I found that by ensuring that the host adapter had a good sized command buffer (250+ commands) and that the SCSI devices used the connect/disconnect option I could get very good data transfer rates. SCSI uses a system where commands are placed on the bus for devices to operate on. With the connect/disconnect option the device receiving a command relinquishes control of the bus allowing another device to send or receive commands and data. While it is disconnected the device processes the commands independently of the host system. This allows multiple devices to process data very quickly. In fact Byte magazine tested a SCSI Fast Wide system with seven drives and was able to achieve transfer rates of nearly 40MB/sec which is the limit of the current bus design.

After testing with an ISA bus based host adapter I moved to a PCI system with a PCI SCSI host adapter. The high speed PCI bus really boosted throughput proving the ISA bus limited the data transfer. I've found that generally speaking SCSI hard drives have a larger cache than EIDE drives also giving a slight performance boost.

Intel offer a FAQ page covering busmastering IDE which explains the benefits of the technology. <> It recommends that to make use of busmastering then you need the following features.

If your motherboard is a recent design then you should have the first requirement. OS/2 takes care of the second and the ibms506 driver in Warp 4 (and recent patches available on the 'net) is the third part of the equation. All recent EIDE devices have the fourth requirement built-in. In earlier versions of the ibms506 driver the busmastering had to be turned on using the /bm switch but the version released with FP3 appears to default to that mode.

To gain the best performance from an EIDE storage subsystem then slow ATAPI devices like CD-ROMs should not be on the same EIDE channel as hard drives. The slow response times of CD-ROM drives and the one command per channel design of the EIDE system prevent the hard disk from being accessed until the CD-ROM has finished. This means that only two hard drives can be used as the secondary channel operates a CD-ROM or ATAPI tape drive.

Summing up the hardware choices I would always opt for a SCSI storage subsystem with a busmastering PCI host adapter as the best choice under any multi-tasking operating system. Cost considerations make an EIDE based system attractive but the need to separate fast and slow devices and the limited number of devices restrict this to low end systems. A compromise system with SCSI hard drives and EIDE CD-ROM/ATAPI tape drives give many of the cost advantages of an EIDE system with the performance boost of SCSI hard drives.

Software Performance improvements

Under OS/2 with HPFS the parameters for the cache and swap file need to be set to their optimum for best performance. IBM's OS/2 Warp 4 capacity Planning and Performance Tuning Guide gave me an insight into the various settings.

The swap file size depends very much on the amount of memory in your computer. The IBM guide gives the following suggested values for a 486-33 with 16MB RAM.

Warp 3 2,024KB
Warp 3 Connected 6,144KB
Warp 4 12,288KB
Warp 4 Connected 18,432KB

Your initial size of swap file (the second parameter on the swappath line in config.sys) should equal the above value adjusted down to a minimum of 2MB as your RAM is increased over the 16MB indicated.

The other setting that has an effect on disk subsystem performance is the cache value. Due to some problems with the cache program being started before the cache initializes IBM recommend that it is started using detach in startup.cmd. Values that I have seen recommended have been to set the diskidle value to 1000 (1 second), the maxage parameter to 7500 (7.5 seconds) and bufferidle to 6000 (6 seconds). In any case the value of bufferidle should be smaller than maxage. The larger the values of bufferidle and maxage the more HPFS lazywrite can do to optimize disk I/O. The value of diskidle needs to be kept as low as possible to enable the lazy write threads to work as much as possible. HPFS uses these threads to do buffer clean up which prevents disk thrashing.


OS/2 Reviews

Element.ary! for OS/2

By: Mark Dodel ( )

Initial Impressions:

I'm always on the lookout for something new and interesting. One day a couple months ago, while scanning hobbes incoming, I saw I downloaded it to give it a try. After playing with it for a couple weeks I registered it. It's not something I'd say I couldn't live without, but it's a very useful information tool if you need to know the weather. Not just the weather in your own back yard, but just about anywhere in the United States, Canada, New Zealand or Australia and a small number of areas in Europe.


To install Element.ary!, you just unzip it into a directory of it's own and run the install.cmd. It's a REXX command file that creates a folder and several program objects and shadows of text files. During the install you are asked if you agree to the usual shareware type license agreement, and then the folder and objects are created. These objects include the Element.ary executable, Documentation for the program, a color palette, font palette, a BMT Purchase program and something called HTML to Text.

Using it:

To use Element.ary, just click on the program object. You'll see registration reminder screen that counts down from 10, then the data viewer is shown with dated messages from the program's author giving program update information and a request if the user is interested in a java version. I'm not sure if this is hard coded in the program or a link to the developer's site, since the data hasn't changed since I installed it. If it's the former then it really should have stopped after the initial run, or at least after I registered the program. If it's the later, then Mr. DuPre needs to update his information more frequently.

You can then select a weather report locale from about 290 US locations covered by the University of Michigan weather underground project. There are a slew of locales for Canada and Australia/New Zealand as well. There is just a few selections for Germany, the UK and Croatia and one for France. There are also some sample reports for a subscription service called 'American Weather Concepts, Inc.'. There are also Storm and tide reports from the US weather service as well. There is so many different selections, that I may have missed some.

Essentially these reports are linked to a web page that then translates the HTML to text for the viewer. You can setup the viewer to automatically refresh the report in intervals from 1 minute, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 120 minutes. The only problem is that my local forecast through the University of Michigan seems to only be updated a couple times a day. I guess that is why these are free, and others require a paid subscription.

But this text report is only half of what Element.ary provides. If you are a weather map junky, this app is a great deal of fun. It supports bitmap images as well as movies, so you can review storm paths, or just watch the clouds go by. If you find an image you really like, you can use the Set Background Image button on the Image Viewer to create a Bitmap of the image and use it as your Desktop background.

Image selection entails selecting an area of interest - US Weather, US/Canadian Weather by Subscription or World Wide Weather, Images and Movies. After picking a category, you can then select from a drop down list of Radar images, Satellite Images and movies from such sources as the Weather Channel, Yahoo, Accuweather, University of Hawaii,, and more. You could spend days looking at all the individual images. And of course they change with the weather, so it's an endless source of amusement. A speedy connection is a real benefit, since these graphics, especially the movies are big downloads. for example a 48 hour satellite movie for North Africa is about 900K. Once you hit the Show image Button, the button text changes to give a status of the download, showing how many bytes have been received. While the movie is playing my Pentium Pro 200 pegged the cpu at 100%, but I was still able to keep on typing in Describe while the movie played on. Finally there is a print button on the Image Viewer so you can print the displayed image to your printer.

If you select one of the movies, a separate viewer is spawned. It has options for window size, use of color, use of dive, and whether to play the movie as an endless loop or not. There are also the standard VCR controls - Play, Rewind, Advance and Stop. Finally you can save the movie as an .mpg file.


It didn't take me long to decide to register Element.ary. It is a great deal of fun just looking at all the different weather images and movies available, but it is also a useful tool for finding out the weather in locales you may be traveling to. I have little time to watch the news anymore, and this app, let's me check the weather whenever I feel like it and for any place I care to choose.

Reviewed or mentioned in this article:

Element.ary! for OS/2 - Home user $36.95, Business user $99.95 ( BMT )

( BMT => )

Author: Mark Dodel, RN, BSN, MBA (<>) or
VOICE Newsletter editor and health care computer consultant.


Interviews with the VOICE Board

In our continuing series of interviews with the people who make up VOICE, we now interview Mark Dodel (MADodel), VOICE Reporter/Editor:

VOICE > How long have you used OS/2?

Mark > 5 years. I went from DOS/Windows 3.1 to OS/2 2.1 to Warp 3.0 and now Warp 4.0. As with most folks, I was just tired of dealing with Window's lousy interface and constant crashes and hangs. Actually prior to that I had done some work for an employer setting up and supporting an application called Transcription Assistant under OS/2 1.3. I wasn't very impressed at the time, of course the boxes were 386SX PS/2's with 40 Meg hard drives. They had to constantly keep purging stuff from the hard drives to keep the machines running, or else they'd run out of swap file space.

VOICE > How do you currently use OS/2?

Mark > I only boot to OS/2 now. I did away with my last Windows app - CrossTalk for Windows a couple years ago. I use SPF/2 as my programming editor (it emulates TSO, a mainframe editing system) for writing main-frame programs and IBM's PC3270 for terminal communication with my client's mainframe. I also use DeScribe and Word Pro for Word Processing, CopyShop/2 and Fax Works for faxing and copying and a slew of OS/2 apps for the internet. And for producing the VOICE newsletter I use Home Page Publisher and HTML Studio.

VOICE > What is your background in computers?

Mark > I took my first computer course - in Fortran, in 1977 at Penn State. It required using a card punch to write programs and a teletype machine to read the output off the mainframe. I didn't do anything else with computers until I went for my Master's degree in 1985. After I received my MBA degree, I went to work as a user co-ordinator for a hospital Information Systems department and then moved into programming. I've been doing mainframe programming for hospital clinical systems for the past 11 years. I've been doing contract programming, and support work for the last 5 years. Mostly in COBOL and in a now pretty much defunct IBM hospital development language called PCS-ADS.

VOICE > What other OS/2-computer related activities are you involved with right now?

Mark > Besides working on this thing all day, I spend time on IRC and in the USEnet groups looking for help and trying to help other OS/2 users. I also spend a little time on my home page and trying to set up a small network in my home.

VOICE > How did you get involved with VOICE?

Mark > I honestly don't remember. I showed up at a few meetings on IRC when it was still being called Promote OS/2. I started helping out by logging the meetings, and then when Mark Rudy couldn't do the newsletter due to some personal issues, I took over.

VOICE >What does the "VOICE Reporter" do?

Mark > I try to get people to submit articles for the features page of the VOICE newsletter and come up with some general and VOICE related news. And then I format them in HTML and create a corresponding .inf file for posting to our web site and hobbes once a month. I think for a very part time enterprise, the contributors to this newsletter are first rate.


OS/2 Tips

Sept 10, 1997 - Ever have your email get corrupted? You know the mail is there on your hard drive, but you can't get to it because it doesn't show up in your mail program's list window. One thing to try is to see if your mail program has a re-index function or program. Email programs are like database programs in that they need to have an index of what mail you have received and sent. In MR/2 ICE, there is a program called REINDEX.EXE. In PMMail, there is a menu function on the "Folder" drop down menu to reindex all your email.

Sept 5,1997 - Have a problem with your communication package or internet dialer not finding your modem. Well after you have checked for all the obvious things like the correct com port setting, and the correct modem init string, try dropping to an OS/2 command line and keying MODE COMx DTR=ON where the COMx is the communication (serial) port assigned to the modem.

It seems that with some combinations of modems and software, the DTR is dropped and the application can't find the modem. If this is the problem, look to see if your modem has an AT command to reset the DTR, or just put the MODE COMx DTR=ON command into a simple batch file to execute ahead of your communication app.




By: dON k. eITNER (

I have often heard users of other operating systems complaining when it came time to upgrade. The complaints were usually about needing to spend a good deal more money just to fix bugs and to remain compatible with the rest of the world who would be moving on to this new release. When the new version was acquired, it was quickly discovered that there were now many more bugs and complaints began about having to wait until the next major upgrade to have them fixed.

Meanwhile, IBM has a history of not leaving their corporate customers flat, and many of IBM's corporate customers run OS/2 at some level. OS/2 releases are fairly well supported for years with free fixpacks and minor bug fixes. Furthermore, it seems not entirely impossible to get by with an OS/2 release which is one version behind the current release. For instance, as an end user I am running Warp 3 and see only minor incentive to upgrade to Warp 4. I can already run Java 1.02, OpenGL, and OpenDoc by downloading them from the internet and could go out and buy VoiceType if I so desired. On the other hand, someone running OS/2 v2.11 would see a number of great reasons to upgrade to Warp 4 including hundreds of new device drivers, the Launchpad, WarpCenter, SIQ fix, GUI enhancements, full networking, plus VoiceType and the various open programming standards I listed above.

There are a few dents in OS/2's armor that need to be addressed (the SIQ, anti-aliasing of display fonts, etc) but IBM is at least offering temporary fixes to many of these problems at no additional charge. Therefore, while I await news of another OS/2 upgrade, I am not so desperate to buy it that I would camp out at my local computer store for two days to get it. The OS/2 API (Application Programming Interface) doesn't change often enough for me to feel pressured into upgrading to be able to run the latest applications--they almost all run on any 32-bit version of OS/2 (2.x and up) but to varying degrees of performance.

As time progresses and more applications are written with OS/2 Warp 4 in mind, it is only now becoming necessary for me to think about an upgrade. Programs written for the Open32 APIs (SmartSuite 97, etc) will probably always be better supported on Warp 4 than on Warp 3. Also the latest Java v1.1.1 seems to be made only for Warp 4 and above. Am I now in over my head and in desperate need of purchasing Warp 4? Of course not. I'm hoping the rumors of an upcoming Warp 5 due out by mid-1998 are true. This would be my significant upgrade version and would bring not only the enhancements I would have found in Warp 4 but dozens of other, more impressive updates and rewrites. Am I going to complain when it comes time to upgrade? Only if IBM decides to charge $200 or more for the workstation upgrade package.

It is a joy to be able to upgrade at your own leisure. Any software company that demands that I upgrade at great expense whenever they decide it's time or fall far behind is not deserving of my business. Even though I can still get by with my 1994 OS/2 Warp 3, over the course of three years and two full product upgrades, there's going to be significant reason for me to upgrade by choice rather than by fear. Even if IBM is unwilling to mass market OS/2, I must thank them for providing such a quality product and allowing myself and others to effectively use that product for years without problem.


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