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December 2002

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Warpstock 2002 Review -- The Innovation Continues

By Tom Nadeau© December 2002

Last month's Warpstock 2002 in Austin, Texas, USA, was another example of quality and innovation continuing to move forward, despite the monopoly conditions of the PC marketplace. Over 150 hardy souls listened to two dozen seminar sessions covering topics as diverse as device driver programming, broadband Web access, and PC hardware compatibility. Located near IBM's world-renowned Austin computer facility, WS2002 offered an inside view into the latest innovations on the most advanced, mature PC platform available.

IBM's Oliver Mark gave a thorough presentation covering desktop, notebook, and server PC's with IBM support. The NetVista desktops Series 41 and 42 are officially OS/2-supported, as well as Thinkpad Model T series notebooks, and eServer X-Series server units. The two main problems to be overcome are typically sound card drivers and the so-called Winmodems. Although the Thinkpad models X, R, and A are not "officially" supported, they will often work acceptably. Other features found on many of these systems but without OS/2 support include Bluetooth, Firewire, and wireless connectivity. IBM claims there is not yet a sufficient "critical mass" of enterprise demand for such features.

Actually, many top-tier enterprises are probably happy to find a platform with a tightly-controlled, limited set of external interfaces. With security issues, software license disputes, and privacy concerns, many major corporations are grappling with the problem of how to limit connectivity instead of merely how to extend it. So we can see once again that individual desktop OS/2 users are not the main focus of IBM's support philosophy.

IBM promises continuing, evolving OS/2 support for various public standards such as USB, UDF, IDE, SCSI, AC97 Codecs for sound, and other device driver standards on "selected" mobile, desktop, and server computers. A universal sound driver base is also under development; it currently provides support for Creative Labs CT5880 PCI audio, ALSA chips, and Yamaha YMF754 audio chips. On the server side, the 440X server is under test at the Raleigh, NC, USA facility to use Connectix Virtual PC to provide multiple simultaneous OS/2 VM's (Virtual Machines) for server consolidation of PC networks based on OS/2 servers.

While IBM's device driver support is growing from the top down, a bottom-up or enduser-driven device driver movement is also under way, led by elite coders such as Daniela Engert. Daniela's device driver presentation covered such issues as documentation and user notification of successful driver loading, registration methods, and dynamically linked code. She emphasized the importance of not making assumptions at load-time about what kind of environment will be available to the device driver, and to carefully specify every variable characteristic when coding in assembler instead of C. She also provided some undocumented driver coding features of OS/2.

IBM provided the "inside scoop" on the IBM Web Browser or IWB ("certified okay for corporate use") versus the Mozilla open-source browser for OS/2 ("raw, uncertified version"). Visual Age 3.65 compiler is the preferred development platform. IBM typically takes a milestone release of Mozilla/2, verifies the code is stable and secure, then bundles a spellchecker with it and releases it as the latest version of IWB. The spellchecker is not public domain, so only licensed IWB users (Software Choice, for example) get it. This is an excellent example of IBM letting the bulk of the debugging and development take place in the open-source community, and then providing a "proven" version for its internal customers. Fixes for Unicode support and OS/2 drag-and-drop are currently in progress. One important tip was to not install IWB on top of an old Mozilla install; instead, remove the "Components" directory first. There will soon be an automatic uninstaller/installer to simplify IWB installation.

Greg Shah of Golden Code showed off the new multiuser, account-based tool called "Sesame." This program captures all vital keystroke combinations including Ctrl-Alt-Del, and provides individualized access based on levels of passwords. Instead of merely parsing keystrokes, however, this program limits functionality on a low-level, system-command basis. In other words, I could write a .CMD command file to do something that I did not have permission to do, using a non-standard command name, but the Sesame would not be fooled by my attempt to use it. I could rename the "chkdsk" command and substitute my rogue command in its place, but Sesame would not be fooled. Simultaneous multiuser access is provided, but boot-disk security has not yet been implemented. This feature and many others are in the works; Sesame will continue to be developed based on the high level of demand by Golden Code's corporate customer base.

The highlight of the show was the Serenity Systems pre-release of eComStation 1.1. The new eCS includes a dramatically improved installer, particularly in using less aggressive settings to ensure a clean install on a wider variety of systems. A demo was run using a free eCS demo CD which loads in RAM and does not touch the hard disk, allowing any PC user to experience the superior performance and reliability of OS/2 first-hand without having to format and load the operating system. It is truly "try before you buy!" The demo product even allowed Web access right from the CD. The actual release of eCS 1.1 is expected this month.

Many other presentations were given, but I could not attend them all. Probably one of the most telling events occurred during an eComStation Remote-Boot presentation, when the Windoze2000 part of the presentation apparently "crashed" the video projector. As usual, the OS/2 system continued to work fine.

Such is life for those of us who have made the wise choice and moved beyond the stifling, bloated world of monopolized software. OS/2 Warp and its eCS cousin continue to move forward on the path of innovation, progress, and reliability. IBM does the heavy lifting, but our computers are the ones getting stronger.


Other links referenced:
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Tom Nadeau's web site is OS/2 Headquarters --

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