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October 2000

A True Revolution for OS/2 - eComStation

Article by David J. van Enckevort and Joachim Benjamins ©October 2000

eComStation: http://www.ecomstation.com
Mensys eComstation Page: http://ecomstation.mensys.nl/us/ecs_what.html
Mensys (For European area Ordering): http://shop.mensys.nl/catalogue/mns_eComStation.html
For other eComStation Distributors: http://www.touchvoicecorp.com/ecs/ecshowtobuy.html
DISCLAIMER: This article is written on personal title, and does not constitute the official point of view of Mensys BV or any of its partners.

In this article my colleague David van Enckevort and I (Joachim Benjamins, Mensys) will try to enlighten the OS/2 community on what we think may be a true revolution for OS/2 as we know it!

We probably all remember the day in 1999 when Stardock was *not* allowed to go forward with their implementation of a new client of OS/2. We were all hoping for so much. I certainly was hoping for a revamped Stardock OS...

Well, lucky us! What Stardock wasn't able to pull off, Serenity Systems managed to accomplish! They convinced IBM of the added value their solution offers to the OS/2 platform of computing and talked them into allowing a new client release of OS/2 Warp. The name of this product, as most of you will have heard by now, will be eComStation.

Most people are not real sure of what eComStation is, so I'll try to make it a bit clearer by mentioning some of the features and possibilities of this new product.

As a reader of OS/2 Voice we assume you are aware of the excellent support for non-native applications our beloved Operating System has. Just to make a short summary of the compatibility eComStation will offer, I'll list those:

eComStation will be able to run:
- DOS applications
- Windows 3.x applications
- Possibly in the near future Windows 9x and Windows NT applications through Odin - http://odin.netlabs.org/
- Ported Unix/Linux applications through XFree86/2 support
- Java applications through one of the best Java Virtual Machines available in the industry
- Native OS/2 applications

Currently, there will be no extended eComStation API over the available OS/2 API's. This may change in the future however.

To give eComStation an edge over the Convenience Pak IBM will release in late november, we added considerable value to the eComStation package:

For starters, with every copy of eComStation you will receive a full license of SmartSuite for OS/2, which in the latest release (1.5.1) actually is really usable, with enhanced import filters for MS Word (and MS Excel) and which is highly optimized for running on OS/2 (and eComStation) which can be noted by fast startup times (within a few seconds). This alone is a 400 dollar value!

There will be a copy of StarOffice in the package, if you prefer this over SmartSuite, or you may use both office suites if you like! Personally I'm really impressed by the PalmPilot integration within StarOffice.

eComStation also includes IBM's Desktop on Call, a premier "remote control" software package. Although Serenity Systems put it in there to provide improved user support options, all users can benefit. Desktop on Call does not require any software on the controlling workstation ... so you can access your eCS workstation from any Java enabled browser. Access your home systems from your Windows machine at work, for example. And Serenity Systems just announced JFS in the base product. There is a lot of value crammed into eCS in it's first release.

Most likely we will put several development tools in the package so we may see a lot of new applications being developed for the already very active share- and freeware software market for OS/2. REXX alone is a very powerful and web-enabled programming/scripting language which enables you to do very advanced things relatively easily.

In addition to these, several of the BonusPak applications will be available, like IBM Works for example. [*]

Furthermore, one of the most requested features for a possible new OS/2 release has been the support for multiple processors (SMP). Well, you can now purchase exactly that, the eComStation Pro version will be able to use up to 64 processors simultaneously (if you can find a computer that has that many, of course!) This kind of performance has until now been unavailable to the client-desktop!

All of this is unavailable in what IBM has announced in the Warp 4 Convenience Pak, as of this writing.

However, the real difference, what makes eComStation really new are the Managed Client components, WiseClient and WiseMachine(tm), and the ability to participate in a network with WiseServer and WiseManager..

The Wise technology, introduced by Serenity Systems as an extension to Warp Server for eBusiness, enables you to have your workstation managed centrally, by a server. Read up on this amazing technology in this whitepaper: http://www.ecomstation.nl/us/features.htm. The implementation of WiseClient is done by means of WiseMachine, a locally running version of the WiseManager technology. It enables you to do drag and drop deployment of applications or even application groups. (To give you an example, you could install the group SOHO tools and install say, FaxWorks, SmartSuite and more all in one go). The installation of XFree86 and Odin can be a real problem, but will be an easy drag and drop operation with WiseMachine!

We would like to stress that eComStation is a new 'distribution' of OS/2. Much like the different distributions of Linux, this one will add extra choice for the customer.
And the customer is you.

Please remember, that OS/2 can still be purchased from IBM right now (until January 31, 2001 at least) After that the only possibility to purchase an OS/2 based client operating system will be the purchase of eComStation. (The Warp Server versions are still available).

A lot of people asked us if they have to order the Preview version of eCS separately. Well they (and you) don't. By purchasing eCS, you will receive a preview release as soon as it is available (probably by the time you read this) and after a feedback - debugging - enhancing -cycle of a few months you will receive the full product. This will most likely be available in several languages. See http://www.ecomstation.nl/uk/ecs_faq.html. The preview will be available only as an US-english version.

Of course your feedback is valued and appreciated, so please do install and test the preview version!

eComStation still supplies the user with the "OS/2 experience", but it is supplied, distributed, and developed by a company who wants to improve the product, and who wants to actually sell it to end-users (much unlike IBM).

IBM supplies Software Choice subscribers (and Passport Advantage owners - i.e. large companies) with a Convenience Pak, David will elaborate on that. JFS will be one of the added features, which is also available in eComStation (both Preview and GA version)

To ensure yourself of FixPaks for eComStation you would be required to subscribe for the Support Contract for eComStation, which entitles you to FixPaks IBM releases to Software Choice subscribers (so it is a SWC subscription) as well as other enhancements Serenity Systems provides (so it is more than SWC). The pricing of these support contracts are competitive with Software Choice pricing. You can purchase a Support Contract at a later time, after you purchase your eComStation license.

As a follow-up to Joachim Benjamins' discussion of eComStation, I (David vanEnckevort, Mensys) am taking the opportunity here to discuss some of the technical background of eComStation. I hope this will clear up a bit more how eCS technically relates to OS/2 Warp 4.0 and Warp Server for e-Business.

The base of eComStation is the same OS/2 version that the IBM Convenience Pack will contain. The convenience pack consolidates all changes made in the last four years into a new installable, bootable CD. Also it mostly merges the source tree for the client version (OS/2 Warp) with the server version (Warp Server for e-Business). However eComStation adds to this a host of other products, like WiseMachine, Lotus Smartsuite and StarOffice and improves upon the ease of installation. (Microsoft would have code named it Whistler, touted this as a major new release long before they actually started coding and promised it would contain all the solutions needed to achieve World Peace).

With the code base of eComStation coming from the IBM OS/2 Convenience Pack, eComStation will be ready for the future without the need to install any fixpack. It will have (depending on which version you order) support for new hardware standards like USB, JFS and Symmetric Multi Processing (Pro version) and out of the box support for more hardware. To accommodate these new technologies eComStation has the same kernel as Warp Server for eBusiness (and similar to FP13/14, though these Warp 4 fixpaks have slightly different compiled kernels then WSeB, but based on the same source tree) and will be using Logical Volume Management instead of FDISK.

The introduction in Fixpak 13 of the Warp Server for eBusiness kernel has caused quite a stir in the otherwise tranquil world of OS/2, with quite a few reports of failures with this new kernel. However I believe much of this fear can be taken away. In Warp Server for eBusiness the new kernel has already proven to be very stable, and rather problem free. The problems seen with some Warp 4 systems can be explained by the different mechanics of a OS/2 fixpak vs. a fresh install. Besides the improved stability of the new kernel, it also offers some interesting new features. There is no real worry for your hardware compatibility with the new kernel. I have seen few reports of issues with Warp Server for e-Business and most of them seem to have been resolved by now, which means it should also run without problems on eComStation. From the point of view of the software running on eComStation you will happy to know that the new kernel takes away the 512MB per application limit that was one of the last limits for a (in theory) complete support of the 32 bits Windows API by Project Odin.

Another issue that seems to worry people is the LVM which was heavily discussed on the eComStation mailing (eComStation@egroups.com) list. LVM makes some changes to your Bootmanager/partition table to allow for the extra features of LVM and JFS, such as assigning drive letters or partition spanning. These changes mean that FDISK from OS/2 Warp 4 doesn't work anymore. The latest fixpaks made some changes to the OS/2 fdisk so that it recognizes the LVM managed volumes. My own experiments with LVM volumes and FDISK also suggest that FP14 solved the issues that prevented FDISK from working. However to be on the safe side we will most likely prepare a small package for people to install on OS/2 Warp 4 all files from LVM that are necessary to replace FDISK.

The installation of the Preview release in major lines still uses the IBM installer, which according to IBM has been improved. The major improvement of the eComStation Preview is that it will be provided on a bootable CD and that WiseMachine kicks in later on in the installation to provide drag and drop installation of additional parts. The months between the Preview and GA edition will be spent to improve the installation mechanism of eComStation, where we want to kick in the WiseMachine drag and drop installation as early as possible.

In the time between the Preview and the GA version you will undoubtedly see some reports of problems with eComStation. But rest assured that Serenity Systems, we and the other distributors are resolved to solve these issues.

[*] IBM stripped the Convenience Pak release of OS/2 down and excludes VoiceType, and other typical BonusPak software.

David J. van Enckevort is working for Mensys BV for one year; before that time he has been an enthusiastic OS/2 user since version 2.1, and has written several programs for OS/2 (mostly unfinished).

Joachim Benjamins has been working for Mensys for almost 5 years now, and switched from DOS to OS/2 (3.0) there. He never looked back. He's mainly involved in customer support, developing little REXX scripts and maintaining several websites.

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