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|By Michal Necasek © December 2001|
In May 1993, IBM released OS/2 version 2.1. It was an incremental improvement over
2.0, especially since at first sight OS/2 2.1 didn't look noticeably different from
its predecessor. That's good for you because you won't have to read a boring technical
description of the wonders of OS/2's architecture, and you can feast your eyes upon
the glorious screenshots... umm, okay, I'm exaggerating a little. OS/2 2.1 in fact
had the same boring look of OS/2 2.0 with the weird (but no doubt determined by
careful scientific research) color scheme and the same old boring icons:
Actually I think even the greatest OS/2 aficionados would have hard time telling
whether this is OS/2 2.0 or 2.1. So you'll just have to take my word for it. Another
thing you can't tell from the above screenshot is the fact that it's actually OS/2
2.1 Special Edition, better known as OS/2 for Windows, released in October 1993.
That got me past the first hurdle. The second one followed very shortly. As I
mentioned, I have the CD-ROM version. I really wasn't going to create 20 floppies
although in retrospect, it would have saved me a lot of time. I actually have two
CD-ROM drives: new IDE DVD-ROM and an old SCSI CD-ROM attached to an Adaptec 2940
PCI controller. It's really too bad that OS/2 2.1 had drivers for neither - I believe
both IDE CD-ROMs and Adaptec 2940s appeared just a short while after OS/2 2.1. I
tried the Adaptec driver from Warp but it wouldn't even load under 2.1, apparently
due to missing PCI support. So I had a nice shiny CD-ROM but couldn't get at the
data it contained.
Fortunately, I had more tricks up my sleeve. I used to have similar problems
long long ago with OS/2 Warp and an old Mitsumi double-speed CD-ROM that had its
own proprietary controller. Because back then I could access my CD-ROM from DOS,
I learned that it is possible to copy the contents of CD-ROM onto harddrive and
install from there (the file OS2SE20.SRC in root directory tells the installer where
to look). So I did that.
I went through the first phase of the installation process without problems.
But then the partially installed OS/2 wouldn't reboot and locked up right after
Boot Manager. This was fixed by reenabling L1 and L2 CPU cache - don't ask me why.
Unfortunately that only led to the biggest hurdle of them all. I still couldn't
boot and was getting errors about missing VIOTBL.DCP, DOSCALL1.DLL and more. I knew
this had to mean something else because all the files were present. I tried many
different things until I had the bright idea to edit the CONFIG.SYS to boot to CMD.EXE
instead of the installation shell. When I saw that the command prompt was sitting
on drive L: - which I didn't have - I knew what was happening.
This is a (mis)feature of Boot Manager and LVM. You see, when you boot via Boot
Manager, it tells the system which drive letter it is on. I am not quite certain
why but that's how it works. The volume I was installing OS/2 2.1 on was configured
as L: under LVM but OS/2 2.1 saw it as D:. So the files were all on D: but poor
old OS/2 was thinking it was booting from L: and couldn't find anything there. Once
I understood the problem it was a matter of minutes to fix the drive letters.
Then there was one last problem - disk drivers again. OS/2 still wouldn't properly
see the disk. This was solved in an unexpected way - that is, I didn't expect it
would work. In an act of desperation I simply took the latest IDE drivers (dated
June 2001) from IBM's DDPak site and put them onto OS/2 2.1. Guess what, they worked.
Not only that, I also discovered that I can put them on the boot floppies and install
the IDE CD drivers. And with updated floppy driver, I didn't even need to disable
the CPU cache! Too bad I hadn't found out earlier. Well, if you get an urge to dig
out your old OS/2 2.1 and install it on your new machine, remember that you heard
this tip here first. Moral of the story: if at first you don't succeed, modify one
or more variables and try again. It might just work.
Yup, I had shiny new multimedia icons there. And of course, I had sound! OS/2
starting up, windows opening and closing, error windows popping up, everything had
a sound bit associated. Remember, this was 1993! There was even software motion
video included, although to be really able to use it I'd need to install video drivers
supporting at least 256 colors (and I don't have any for my Matrox G400). At 16
colors, Ultimotion videos look just horrible and Indeo clips don't play at all.
The 2.1 CD included the same sample videos included later on OS/2 Warp CDs.
There were few other not so visible enhancements in OS/2 2.1. It had the new
32-bit Graphics Engine that didn't make it into OS/2 2.0. It included APM support,
primarily for laptop computers. And last but not least, version 2.1 offered wider
selection of printer and display drivers.
The codename of OS/2 2.1 was Borg. This certainly fit OS/2 for Windows
well, given the situation on the market. Microsoft had OEMs under tight control
and prevented them from preloading anything other than MS-DOS/Windows. This was
later found illegal but that did not help OS/2 in any way. With OS/2 for Windows,
IBM found a way for OEMs to preload OS/2 while still honoring their agreements with
Microsoft. I remember that in 1993-94, several major German retailers were offering
I have presented Borland C++ in the OS/2 2.0 article and networking is not the
focus of this series. That leaves WordPerfect and Lotus. In 1993, WordPerfect Corp.
released WordPerfect 5.2 for OS/2. Like many other ported applications, it used
Micrografx Mirrors. It looked like this:
Unlike the immensely popular WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, version 5.2 for OS/2 (and
Windows too) was a WYSIWYG word processor. And it was a powerful word processor.
It looked pretty much like every other word processor, but it had the wonderful
"Reveal Codes" feature:
Last time I criticized Corel for doing a quick and dirty job with their CorelDraw
2.5 port. WordPerfect 5.2 for OS/2 was totally different and yet very much the same.
It offered comprehensive WPS integration and was in fact a model WPS enabled application:
It had document templates, supported extensive drag and drop operations on WordPerfect
documents (printing etc.) and all those goodies. Unfortunately, most WP 5.2 users
complained that it was also very slow (I didn't notice that on my PIII-600 of course)
and buggy. An interesting fact is that WP 5.2 was a 16-bit application and was in
fact built with Microsoft C 6.0. I'm sure that made Microsoft very happy. It seems
that most OS/2 WordPerfect users preferred (and still prefer!) DOS versions 5.1
or 6.x to this (sort of) native product. WordPerfect Corp. was working on an OS/2
version of WordPerfect 6 for OS/2 but canned the product in December 1993, probably
because WP 5.2 for OS/2 was not received very well. Whether the fault was with WordPerfect
or OS/2 users is anyone's guess.
Now let's take a look at WordPerfect's competitor from Lotus Development Corporation:
AmiPro 3.0 for OS/2, released in 1993. AmiPro in my opinion was never as powerful
as WordPerfect but it was OK for typical office use. AmiPro was also able to work
together with other Lotus products like 1-2-3 or Notes.
Just like WordPerfect 5.2, AmiPro 3.0 was port of a Windows product. But unlike
WP 5.2, AmiPro did not use Mirrors and it was a purely 32-bit program (built with
Borland C++ 1.0 for OS/2).
AmiPro 3.0 for OS/2 was missing some features of its Windows counterpart (drawing
and charting) but on the other hand it had a few OS/2 specific features such as
REXX integration. I am not sure if AmiPro 3.0 was Lotus' first OS/2 word processor,
but I am certain it wasn't the last. There were several updates to AmiPro 3.0 (the
latest was 3.0b I believe) and it was later followed by WordPro. I am not certain
how good AmiPro 3.0 for OS/2 actually was but I have heard many criticisms regarding
lack of stability.
The word processor preferred by many OS/2 users was DeScribe, developed by DeScribe,
Inc. It was a native application developed for OS/2 from the beginning - I believe
the first versions of DeScribe ran on OS/2 1.x. Just out of curiosity I looked at
the program executable and determined that it was built with IBM CSet++ compiler.
DeScribe was fast and powerful - it even offered some Desk Top Publishing-like features
such as text frames and it included a drawing package:
The above screenshot is from DeScribe version 5, released in late 1994. It would
be more appropriate to present a picture of DeScribe 4 or 3, but version 5 is all
I have. While many users of AmiPro 3.0 and WordPerfect 5.2 stopped using those products
because of bugs and instability, DeScribe users claimed that their word processor
wouldn't buckle even under heavy load.
VX-REXX conceptually resembles products like Delphi or Visual Basic. The user
creates windows and places GUI controls (objects) on them. Each object has an extensive
set of properties, neatly presented in a notebook control. Objects can receive events
and each event can be associated with REXX code. Simple yet powerful.
Watcom VX-REXX was (and still is) a popular tool thanks to its ease of use, power
and flexibility. Creating simple GUI applets is very easy with VX-REXX and several
nice sample programs were included.
I should probably mention that Watcom VX-REXX 1.0 came on a single 3.5"
HD floppy and had extensive online documentation (identical to the printed manual).
Products like that just don't seem to happen today. And VX-REXX had competition
too - VisPro REXX. I'm sure if I didn't mention VisPro REXX, I'd get hate mail from
You can immediately see that it's not OS/2 2.1 - the color scheme makes a big
difference. If you look closer, you will see that the desktop layout and all the
icons are unchanged, but the color scheme is about the same used later in OS/2 Warp.
And it looks way better. Technically, OS/2 2.11 SMP was an amazing beast. Its authors
took OS/2 2.11 - which was not really designed with SMP in mind - did some magic
to key components (primarily kernel, loader and DOSCALL1.DLL) and ended up with
one of the best SMP operating systems. This is because SMP support in OS/2 was (and
is) very fine-grained and not only can different processes run on different CPUs
but threads within a single process can as well. Thus even applications not specifically
designed for SMP can take advantage of it if they are multithreaded.
I nearly didn't get OS/2 2.11 SMP running in multiprocessor mode. On the only
SMP machine I have access to, an IBM IntelliStation M Pro equipped with two 300
MHz Pentium II CPUs, it would just lock up early in the boot process. But that didn't
surprise me too much because OS/2 2.11 SMP had a reputation for being very very
picky about the hardware it would run on and this machine was made when 2.11 SMP
was not supported anymore. But then I had the bright idea to use OS2APIC.PSD (the
SMP Platform Specific Driver) from Warp Server for e-Business and to my surprise,
it actually worked!
Above is a screenshot of the multiprocessor CPU monitor utility which shows processor
utilization as well as lets you selectively turn individual CPUs on or off. It is
one of the very few visible differences between SMP and regular version of OS/2
2.11 so take a good look at it.
As usual, this was not without difficulties. Object Desktop doesn't really look
very well in VGA resolution, making me search for some kind of SVGA solution for
OS/2 2.11. The drivers for my Matrox G400 should have worked on OS/2 2.11. But didn't.
Why wasn't I surprised? Fortunately I have access to what might be world's largest
collection of graphics cards. After several more failed attempts I finally found
an ancient S3 928 which worked with the drivers that came with OS/2. In the process
I learned to appreciate the boot to command line feature - that was sadly not present
in OS/2 2.11. I also got quite good at manually installing VGA drivers by editing
CONFIG.SYS and OS2.INI. And here are the results of my hard work:
You can see the wonders of Object Desktop 1.0 - Enhanced Folders, Tab LaunchPad
(there was no LaunchPad in OS/2 2.1 yet) and the Control Center with perhaps the
single most valuable feature of Object Desktop: virtual desktops. Oh, and I mustn't
forget the close button added to every window. But Object Desktop didn't stop there:
This is the Object Navigator and Enhanced Data Object with a nice little text
viewer. And looking at the Control Center again, there are all the little monitors
of CPU utilization, RAM, swap space and disk space (and a time monitor a.k.a. clock),
plus shadows of the Desktop and important folders. Doesn't it just look cool? Object
Desktop had many more features but I really don't have enough space to describe
half of them. Installing Object Desktop was almost like upgrading to a new version
of the OS.
Compared to OS/2 2.0, version 2.1 and 2.11 wasn't all that interesting. There
was a number of enhancements but most of them weren't very visible (that didn't
make them less important though). Nevertheless, OS/2 2.1 had a substantially wider
selection of available applications and attracted a number of new users frustrated
by the inherent instability of Windows 3.1 and looking for something better than
DOS. And perhaps most importantly, OS/2 2.1 set stage for the version of
OS/2: Warp. But OS/2 Warp will be the topic of the next article.
Again, thanks to Kris Kwilas for the copy of Object Desktop 1.0.
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