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December 2001

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Interview with Serenity's Bob StJohn

By Jason R Stefanovich © December 2001

What is your previous experience in the industry?

I started with IBM in 1976 and was in the technical support organization as PCs launched. My focus in those days was then and is now, how do you support people who buy PCs. I've done that in IBM customer support programs and business partner programs. I also worked in the IBM OS/2 software marketing for North American, World Wide Software Marketing, and before I retired from IBM I was part of the OS/2 product management group in Austin, what had been PSP, NCSD, and so forth.

My mentors in all these positions have been "customers". Those customers are not always end users. The are service organizations, consultants, ISVs, IT professionals, and end users.

So, my experience in the industry stretches back far and wide.

How was Serenity Systems formed?

One of the people I dealt with while inside IBM was Kim Cheung, an ISV in California. When I was getting ready to retire, Kim suggested developing a channel of fee service consultants providing business solutions to small and medium businesses. These would be packaged business solutions, running on OS/2, but the intent was to focus on the solution, not the platform which enabled it.

Serenity Systems was created to develop that channel. Kim's company, TouchVoice Corporation was and is the supplier of those business solutions. My job involves packaging the solution, developing the business relationships, and developing the sales channel.

How did the concept of eComStation come about?

It had modest beginnings. We were marketing WiseManager, which included an OS/2 client. WiseManager does an incredible job of building networks, especially with diskless clients rpled from the server, similar to IBM's Workspace on Demand.

When WSeb was released, Kim started to develop a client based on WSeb files, already on the server. Just peeling off the files needed as a file index table to create a new client. This client would have improved memory management and improved threading.

In Feb 2000 we met with IBM to license this client based on WSeb. IBM approved but requested we use the Merlin Convenience Pack, due to be released at the end of the year. We agreed.

However, even then our plans for the client were more modest. We announced our product plan at WarpTech in May. Then we opened a discussion group on Yahoo. As we discussed the product with users, the framework of eCS began to evolve into what it became today, and continues to develop. The direction is being set by the users themselves.

When did eComStation go GA?

In North America, on July 30. I'm not sure of the dates in Europe and Australia .. mid-August, I guess.

Who are your customers?

I'm not sure I understand this question ... do you mean target markets?

One obvious market is the "OS/2 User". These are the people who participated in the Preview program. While this is not a principal market, it is certainly a target. There is a lot of discussion about how large this market is. I can't settle that discussion. But this group is important because their participation helps build and improve the product.

These people function as advocates, the provide peer support, they develop applications and utilities, even documentation to help users. The reason to target this group is not simply a revenue opportunity. These people are a market and perhaps a bit of an "auxiliary" to Serenity Systems. I'm very grateful to them.

Next there are the commercial accounts, broken down to SMB (Small - Medium Businesses). This is a group we want to connect with through a channel of fee service consultants. We are working with Jacaranda Business Systems to develop that channel. We think our managed client services can allow consultants to control their costs while lowering the support load, making better net revenues. Even providing the entire desktop computing environment as one fee service ... something I call Total Solution Provider (TSP).

The SMB market will take us longer to setup because the customer is really consultant. We need to develop that channel and the infrastructure; the support vehicles and the certification programs, and so forth. But I think that is a good opportunity.

A market I am actively working is the vertical ISV. In this market we work with the ISV to create a product around their application, with eCS assuming the role of an embedded system, delivering the application to the user. Again, our managed client function and runnable CD work make eCS a great opportunity for these ISVs.

I expect that we will make some announcements regarding some of those relationships by the end of September. But eCS offers these ISVs a stable platform, reduced support load, and the ability to control costs .. which has that important effect on net revenues.

There are the larger commercial accounts currently using OS/2. There is work going on there, but this is a market where access takes time. Standards are adhered to which means that adding a product involves a cycle of testing. I'm saying that this is a longer range opportunity

In the large OS/2 account, we look to support the diverse requirements of the enterprise. Again, the improved ability to handle the support load. But also the ability to support multiple API sets. We do this with HOBLink X/11 and we expect to add feature support of guest OSs. That's right, running Windows or Linux as an "application" under eCS.

This makes eCS a "cross platform" desktop. The software strategy in large accounts is determined by the user organization and the vendor, in this case, IBM. All we want to do is be consistent with that strategy. That strategy now is to reduce dependence on proprietary APIs, manage user and network operations, including software deployment. And we can deliver that with eCS this year.

But the issue with the enterprise account is not simply function. It is access and relationships. So, things will move slowly there. Still, eCS is being tested by some enterprise accounts, so I expect we will establish some penetration in the segment within twelve months.

One more area which we keep in the back of our minds is the Internet appliance, especially for Pacific Rim countries. There it is not uncommon for users to 'buy' time on computers or Internet access. Well, the same features which make managed client computing important to fee service providers support SMB accounts, or the IT organization of large accounts, also play well in the Internet appliance area.

We have found that targeting different markets does not diffuse our product or feature set vision. All the markets we target benefit from network centric computing and server managed clients. The differences can be on who is providing the support to the user, because this is all about supporting the user, delivering desktops and applications to the user, being reliable, managing support. SMB service providers, international enterprise, Internet appliance ... all the same.

The issue becomes one of access to those customers and resources to create that access. So, our initial focus will be the short term, the tactical opportunities which do not drain resource. And, at the same time, doing the relationship building which will result in access to the longer term, strategic opportunities.

This segmentation requires that we have segmented marketing resources. But the product work remains the same, spanning over all the opportunities. Because of the product vision, product development, remains the same, I believe we can do this. It is just a matter or how much and how fast.

What differentiates eComStation from other products in the market?

eComStation is a complete desktop. That alone sets it apart. It consists of an operating system platform and applications. But it also has a focus on being cross platform, being about to support multiple API sets. This includes OS/2's support for DOS, Win3.1, OS/2, and Java, but it also includes HOBLink's support for UNIX and Linux. Win32 and additional support will be provided with a virtual machine application.

What is Serenity Systems doing to get word of eComStation out to the public?

Right now our plan is to focus on refreshing the product. IBM is releasing Merlin Convenience Pack 2 and there are new fixpacks. We know we will refresh the product around the end of the year to include these enhancements.

It seems inappropriate to launch a product to new users, then refresh it immediately. So, the plan is to launch with the refreshed product. Though we are actively selling the current product in the markets outlined in the earlier question.

What is the pricing and availability of eComStation?

I think we should defer that question to the resellers and distributors.

What software is included in the eComStation package?

You know ... there is a lot of software on the CDs. But I don't consider all of it to be part of eCS. eCS is essentially OS/2 V4.51, Smart Suite, Desktop on Call, WiseMachine, InJoy Dialer, Pro 2.3, HOBlink X/11 Server, STi's TWAIN Consumer Pack with Applause image utility. There is also Star Office 5.1a, Norman Anti Virus, PM Fax, and new parts of the desktop, like the eCS Clock and eStyler. There is also the WiseTalker Voice Mail and the CTI Database Server API.

Having said that, I appreciate that it represents only a portion of all the software that's on the CDs. There are some demos, like the new Graham Utilities (200 uses .. and the utilities are available during the installation), RSJ CD burner, 30 day trial, and many more items, like software from Henk Kelder, Pillar Soft, and Ray Gwinn .... frankly, I think it's a bit long to list it all.

What type of support is offered for the product?

We do best effort support on the newsgroups, news:// , but we expect to support a tiered support structure. That is, users should go to the reseller and we will support resellers and distributors. We don't have the resource to support the entire user base.

We encourage people to develop support contracts as products. Duane Chamblee is doing that with his new company, dAcDigital. I think Jacaranda is doing this, and perhaps Jack Troughton. There are folks I would encourage to package their skills for support agreements, like Chuck McKinnis.

To move in this direction I have asked a company to work with us on a certification program for eCS.

Are there any plans for a print manual for eComStation?

Yes, we are developing documentation. But much of eCS is supported by existing IBM documentation, too.

Much work has been done to make eComStation's installation easy, but several early adopters have expressed an opinion that more needs to be done. Will Serenity Systems continue to work on this part of eComStation?

Actually, that work has already begun. An installation process team has been formed and is headed by Mensys, David van Enckevort.

Good device support is an important aspect of any operating system. What is the state of eComStation's device support and is there anything being done to encourage support for new products coming into the market?

We are still very dependent on IBM in this area. We are working with STi ( for some new drivers, but this is an area which is driven by volumes of sales and installed base of customers. So, it will take a bit of time.

Even so, Roderick Klein has been working with some vendors to provide drivers to support MM. Recently Kim announced an agreement with RealTek to provide additional eCS support on their chip sets, especially important for boot prom with server managed clients. Also support for the sound cards using their chip sets.

So, yes .. some important things are happening.

Application availability is always a priority with users. What is Serenity Systems doing to ensure that new applications will continue to be developed for eComStation?

The answer to this is similar to device drivers. eCS has already prompted some OS/2 ISVs to update their applications. But part of the answer is to make eCS capable of running any application, written for any platform.

There are several development tools for eComStation but many of them are out of date, difficult to use, or expensive. Is Serenity Systems doing anything to help improve this situation?

This question is tied into the application question, too. We have talked with some vendors about RAD tools. But right now, I would say that all these discussions are so preliminary that I don't think we want to promise anything, yet.

Because of the global nature of the Internet, users around the world are able to share their experiences in online forums. How is Serenity Systems ensuring that its users have an equal and positive experience?

We are trying to develop an international channel of distributors and resellers. But the key may be in our relationship with the distributors. Many of these manufacture their own product. The intent is to tie the product in with people who are familiar with regional users and requirements.

I don't know if "equal experience" can be a goal because some regional markets will have to lag behind the larger markets. But it is the larger market which pushes forward the development which trickles down to the smaller regional markets. But the regional distributors have flexibility to customize the product for their users. In this way I think we can go a long way to making it a positive experience for all these users.

The first version of eComStation has been released world wide in US English. Are there plans to develop localized versions for international customers?

There is a plan to release National Language Support, including German, French, Italian, Spanish, Nordics, Japanese and Chinese ... but this is going to take us some time and not all the software which is in the English version is available in all the other languages.

eComStation introduces users to a new application, WiseMachine. What does WiseMachine do and what are it's benefits?

WiseMachine uses a script which provides a reference installation of the application and uses this information to deploy the application to the local system. This is the same basic functionality provided by WiseManager across a network, allowing drag and drop deployment of applications.

WiseMachine provides some desktop management support by allowing users to archive and restore Warp Center, or the entire desktop, for quick restore requirements. And WiseMachine also provides a simple means of creating a maintenance partition, see

There are several other new applications that are unique to eComStation. What are they and how do they add value to the product?

I'm not sure which applications we are talking about. I think WiseMachine is the only "unique" application which is part of eCS. Two which are mentioned often are estyler and eCS Clock. eStyler Lite is a cousin to Styler/2. Because we were updating the UI, Alessandro Cantatore developed eStyler to allow users to customize and enhance the desktop. He developed some new features for this purpose. But, time permitting, those features will find their way into Styler/2.

Similarly, eCS World Clock had its roots in DST Switch, the author is Mark Eckstein. At our request, the clock added some 'scheduling' function to the clock. And I would expect that Mark will incorporate any new features into his OS/2 version of the product.

Both these applications were added to eCS because they represented function which we believed should be part of the base eCS desktop, requiring no "add on" software. For example, it seems reasonable for eCS to be time zone aware, including Daylight Savings Time, when appropriate. I think this is consistent with the expectation level today's users have for their desktop.

It is our intention to provide a basic internet enabled business desktop. To support this we included Smart Suite and Star Office, which also provide document interchange capabilities required by many users. We include Desktop on Call which provides some convenience to users, but is also a tremendous tool for in-house support organizations, providing remote access to a users' systems. eCS has a focus, with WiseMachine, WiseManager, and DTOC, of bringing down the support load..

Many users have expressed concern about support for multimedia formats, especially those originating from the Windows platform. How is Serenity Systems addressing this issue?

Right now Roderick Klein of Mensys is heading a team to see what we will be able to do in the short term to improve MM support. Long range would require making some changes to MMOS2, or perhaps creating a new multi-media engine to support OS/2 and eCS. Both those items can be done, but take time and resource.

What are Serenity Systems goals for eComStation within the next year?

First, we want to consolidate and improve the work already done. You already mentioned the need to improve the installation program and this needs to include the selective and network install. We have a two year plan for updating the user interface, working function and appearance.

I mention these two items because they are important to move eCS out of the advocacy into some new space. The installation is the first experience the user has, it must be done well. The UI is important because this is where the user lives.

We have the benefit of the WPS. We need to deliver to the user some features which take advantage of this, as evidenced by the fine work Ulrich Moeller is doing with XWorkPlace.

We want to consolidate the desktop management features of WiseManager and WiseMachine. For commercial users, we want to tighten the integration with a WSeb based eCS Server edition. We think Titan, by Starfire Technologies, offers excellent network management functionality to complement WiseManager function.

Many users bought eCS because of all the software included as part of the packaging. But others indicated all that software had little value to them, and felt the eCS price could be lower and that would be of greater value.

Ready to respond to meaningful feedback, the eCS 1.1 brandings will include an eCS 1.10 Extended Edition, which is a follow on to the existing 1.0x product. Key software packages include IBM MCP2 and Smart Suite 1.7, recent upgrades to both products which were part of eCS 1.00. There are other features in plan for the Extended Edition, including an eWorkPlace feature by Ulrich Moeller.

But ... there will also be an eCS 1.1 Entry Edition, which will not include all the software which is part of the Extended Edition. eCS 1.1 Entry will include MCP2, Desktop on Call, HOBLink X/11, and Star Office ... but not Smart Suite, as an example. The Entry product will have an SRP under $100, likely under $90 for Warp 4 users, and under $200 for new users, which includes the Warp 4 license.

So, for those Warp 4 users who have not upgraded to OS/2 4.51 ... here is a real value which brings the users ot 4.52, the MCP2 Version Level.

There will also be the eCS VPC, a virtual PC application based on the Connectix VPC for OS/2, being developed by InnoTek. This will be an optional feature for eCS users. But there will also be an eCS 1.1 WorkPlace product, which will include MCP2, DTOC, eCS VPC, HOBLink X/11 Server, ... which means that as purchased, users will be able to run OS/2, DOS, Win3.1, Java, X/11, and Linux applications ... and, if they have a copy of Windows ... they can run that, too ... and all the Win32 apps that are supported by their copy of Windows.

Those are things we expect to release in the first quarter of 2002. I think it is the most exciting set of applications the PC users, not just OS/2 users, have had a chance to see ... possibly ... ever.

Where does Serenity Systems see itself and eComstation five years from now?

Golly ... five years? Really? I'm not sure I can go there. I mean, I have trouble thinking what the industry will be like in five years.

I do think that the hardware, software, and general mindset of users will favor more openness than could be supported in the 1990s. When OS/2 was announced, few PCs met the hardware requirements to run it. Today, many PCs are over powered for the task of running an operating system.

We think eCS can support multiple operating systems as part of one desktop. This will give users a great deal of freedom, not being locked in to one API. And we feel that the management of these more complex desktops becomes important, even at the end user level. We address this with features of WiseManager on the network and WiseMachine on the PC.

eCS will deliver a desktop to a user, and the user will "click" and have access to programs and data ...without being concerned what is supporting that application, or where it was stored, or even where in may be executing. The hardware and software for PCs and networks makes this practical. It becomes the user's choice, not the vendor's requirement.

As to Serenity Systems, itself, Kim and I are likely to grow the company through relationships with other organizations. Organizations which allow us to build international distribution channels, provide tiered support options, and provide us with the ability to enhance our products.


eComStation web site -
eComStation support news server - news://

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