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December 2003

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WarpWeekend Wrapup

By Thomas Klein, Christian Hennecke  © December 2003

WarpWeekend Wrapup WarpWeekend Wrapup

As many of you might have noticed, this year's Warpstock Europe didn't actually happen to take place. The reasons for this are quite simple to explain, yet difficult to overcome: Simply speaking, there were internal disagreements within the organisation that was chosen to host the event (and had already hosted it in 2001 as well). Just to make sure everybody gets the clue: It wasn't our fault. ;)

Gladly, there were some enthusiastic people who managed to set up an alternate event within as little as three weeks only. I've been there. Believe me - there wasn't much of a difference from other "official" Warpstock Europe events as far as I can tell: It was great, fun, interesting and at least worth twice cost of the trip to the Netherlands.

Let me first say a big thank you yet again to the guy who's should be named first (amongst others) for his efforts in making this WarpWeekend happen: Roderick Klein or - as some folks call him since that event (including myself) - "a man with a mission". If you know him in person, you will have to agree with that in an awful way.

The event was held on Friday, October 31st and Saturday, November 1st in Roermond, a town very close to the German border (which actually doesn't exist at all anymore) and took place in the conference center Keerpunt, a sort of multifunctional public building which - as far as I can tell - hosts a "Family church". That was the main reason for the event to stop on Saturday, because the facilities which were greatly provided had to be used for the congregation gatherings on Sunday.

Now you might be wondering whether eComStation CDs were sold on the aisle or MMPM was attached to an organ... no, no... the rooms didn't remind one of a church at all as you might notice by the pictures we included in here. In fact, I even noticed the "family church" plate on the front door rather by chance about half way through the event. Anyway - good to know that we had some guidance from above. It seems to prove what we knew already: OS/2 users are kind of blessed. ;)

Christian Hennecke and myself arrived promptly at the event location. While checking in at the welcome desk, Peter Koller came up to welcome us. It's always fun being with Peter as he not only is an OS/2 and community enthusiast but also a very friendly guy. He would have enjoyed to talk longer, but he was just having his lunch and his first presentation was scheduled to go, so we left and went upstairs into the room that hosted user groups and commercial exhibitors.

By the way - please excuse me for the poor picture quality. I had some trouble with the camera I borrowed and some pictures were even inaccessible on the CF-card.

When entering the room, there was (clockwise) Mensys and the C&L books booth;

C&L at the right with Roderick Klein, Mensys at the left

The German Team OS/2 Ruhr;

and the Dutch HCC.

who had set up a projector to show one of their computers' display. I installed myself in an unused spot, hooked my notebook onto the Team OS/2 Ruhr switch and was ready to go to display the VOICE website for visitors to show that "we are here too". Unfortunately, I first had to change from static IP to DHCP (which I never had done before), but hey - where else could I find people to show me what to do if not at WarpWeekend? ;) If the DHCP server wouldn't have been overloaded by requests, it could have worked right from the start. Later I was told that the machine running the DHCP server seemed to have trouble with a network adapter as well, but with that being fixed everything worked.

The first session we wanted to attend was Mensys' news report about eComStation. We missed it due to chatting with other visitors. Next, there was Peter Koller with his presentation of the latest Maul version. Again, he managed to extend and improve Maul's functionality. Funny thing is when Peter shows Maul printing text to a curved line, the people that haven't seen it before go "ooh" and "aah". Both accuracy, features and speed of Maul are impressive. Maul now has a table handler built into, and is capable of direct PDF output thanks to a special plug-in provided for/with ePDF. Peter switched the spell checker and hyphenation to MySpell, which is well-known from and provides a far greater selection of dictionaries for free. Peter also announced the upcoming German version of Maul, a preview of which is available on the product's home page.

Next, I took a chance and went to Bart van Leeuwen's presentation of Security/2. Though not finished yet and with quite a long wishlist ahead, it was very interesting to see how Security/2 implies user profiles along with program and directory-related ACLs (access control lists). Bart showed how a user logs onto his eCS desktop and after logging off, you're back to the Security/2 login screen. Security/2 is definitely an interesting piece of software for it will provide OS/2 with the means to imply local access control on a per user basis and last but not least multiple users with their own desktops and settings on the same OS/2 machine.

Well, Maul would have been the most impressive presentation, if I had not already seen it before. Still, the snappy little executable is unbelievable fast and featured when compared to other programs, but for me, the most interesting presentation that day was the one of Rüdiger Ihle about video capture under OS/2. Rüdiger started to explain the way that information is compressed in order to achieve a "computable" amount of data.

This already took up 3/4 of the presentation time, but I think he managed to have everybody in his audience understand what's under the hood in matters of computing power and data amount when dealing with video streams.

To achieve a quite in-time processing of such amount of data, a software-based capturing solution would suck up almost the entire power of a contemporary CPU - far too much to be usable in a multithreaded multi-tasking environment. It's feasible, but only when taking into account loss of quality. This is the main reason why special hardware is required. Rüdiger showed a list of products which are currently available and probably will be in the near future. These boards (mainly of the Hauppauge PVR series) are not as affordable as a simple TV card, but one never knows if you're lucky at eBay. ;)

Finally, Rüdiger turned on his machine and showed a tiny program which appears to be something like WarpAmp at first sight. He said that this was the program's screen which didn't show anything great, but it was running in radio mode. Then, he took the remote control of the Hauppauge board, pressed a button and then - a video screen in a framed window on the desktop came up (Jumanji starring Robin Williams by the way).

Okay, so far, so good. Nothing surprisingly new compared to TV cards... but... Rüdiger then did video capturing of the live stream into a file. I couldn't believe my eyes - the CPU pulse of the Warp Center still was a "flatline". Obviously, the CPU isn't involved at all, when a hardware-based mpeg encoder/decoder unit pumps its data onto the hard disk, nevertheless it was impressive to actually see it. Then, to show that recording was successful (OS/2 users are not convinced the easy way, you know) Rüdiger played back the recorded stream. Yes it worked. No quality loss. Perfect sync of video and audio. Now that was impressive.

Of course, the most predominant questions were "When will it become available?" and "What's the price?". The driver and application are still in internal alpha test, but Rüdiger dangled the first beta release for about the new year - a nice belated Christmas present, eh? He also said that it's going to be released as shareware, and that the final price hasn't been decided yet. Confronted with many people persistantly asking about it, Rüdiger gave an estimate of 40 to 60 Euros. Given the amount of work that went and still goes into the driver and application (the hunt for hardware specifications of the cards' chips falls into the "The truth is out there" category, for instance) that's a very reasonable price for sure.

Christian also attended Mensys' session on TwoOSTwo, the upcoming new virtual machine solution for OS/2 and a bunch of other operating systems like FreeBSD, Linux, and Windows. The OS/2 host version is still in alpha stage, and compared to Virtual PC, the feature list is considerably smaller so far: no sound, VMs cannot be "frozen" to avoid having to boot them each time, no internal VNC server, etc. However, with Microsoft having killed off the OS/2 host version of Virtual PC (see their latest press releases regarding Microsoft Virtual PC 2004), TwoOSTwo is the only VM solution with a future. And its future looks quite bright. A definitive eye-catcher is the planned USB support. According to Joachim Benjamins from Mensys, the host will just have to know how to address the USB port for the guest to be able to run scanners and the like. A licence will include running one copy of any host version at a time - quite interesting for those with multi-boot setups.

That was it for the first day. We thought about having dinner somewhere and Peter came up and proposed to meet him in his hotel as there seemed to be a nice restaurant in it with moderate pricing. We agreed, went to our bed-and-breakfast to check in, drop in the luggage and went back to the event location. We took a pal (Who spent the night in a mobile home, by the way. OS/2 users know how to keep their expenses low...) in our car, followed Peter to his hotel and were presented with a comfortable dinner. We first were a little worried about finding a seat, but by surprise there were some other Warpers around who had reserved for a dozen people without actually being a dozen people and we had a great evening. Delfi Reinoso from the Spanish OS/2 community was at our table, John Gow, who was scheduled to give a presentation next day and his girl-friend, Peter, and later also Roderick Klein joined in. Daniela Engert and Rüdiger Ihle - among others - were at the adjacent table.

We went back to our B&B, dropped into our beds and slept well. At least I did - as usual, when Warpstocks (or WarpWeekends) take place, I had a cold and Christian told me that my nose seemed to have made strange noises which kept him from falling into sleep rather quickly. Sorry, Christian.

During breakfast, we saw Gerrit Schoenmaker walk in. Apparently he had chosen the same B&B for his stay. Of course we started to talk immediately and Gerrit's coffee was getting cold. Later, at the event location we saw him having a coffee and maybe also having his real breakfast as the first one was probably spoiled by two guys from VOICE talking to him the whole time. Sorry Gerrit. ;)

The first sessions on Saturday didn't quite interest me that much and I took the chance to meet people and chat.

I met Chris Wohlgemuth downstairs in the cafeteria. Speaking for all programmers using DrDialog, I thanked him for his latest set of enhancements which enables the use of any picture format that MMPM/2 is able to handle (instead of just .bmp) and having better control of child/parent-relationships of dialogs. We talked a little and I told him about my "personal wishlist" of stuff. He listened and agreed, that some things could ease life while not being too hard to create because some code in fact already exists. Hmmm... I hope he'll be able to do some of the developments in question. That would be great - let's keep fingers crossed.

Later, Christian had the chance to hear Chris talk about WPS Wizard. The main focus of this session was WPS Wizard's REXX interface to WPS methods. It provides an easy way for users to extend the WPS themselves without having to write actual WPS classes. Chris demonstrated sample REXX scripts which could be used to add a 'collect copy feature', i.e. you could mark files from different folders for copying and then paste them all into the same target folder with a single mouse click. He also encouraged people to submit their home-made scripts so he can build an archive everyone could download from.

The only session I wanted to attend on Saturday was held by John Gow who explained what the high resolution timer replacement was about. OS/2 suffers from a "vulnerable" timer for VDMs (virtual DOS machines - DOS boxes if you prefer) which can be observed by interrupted sound in dos boxes or Win 3.x sessions which will "kill" the sound in all other VDMs too. John actually wrote a replacement driver for this, which provides a more stable and better timer sharing. He also explained what the DTA (data transport agent) is about. This is a replacement technology (or driver if you prefer) for providing high-speed data transfer for buffers which are established between ring 0 and ring 3. IIRC ring 0 is the "hardware" level ring in OS/2 and ring 3 is where applications are running. This affects for example data transported from and to an audio player software and the audio card itself. John has analyzed the way OS/2 does it and he came up with the concept of DTA - which does it a lot better. According to what I understood, the DTA in its final stage will be able to serve as the buffer transport mechanism for OS/2 multimedia applications that need a fast and stable transport system to access the hardware. Thus, DTA will not replace MMPM/2 itself but rather the parts of MMPM/2 which provide data transfer from applications to drivers. And all that while retaining compatibility with old applications and providing new features for new ones. This project sounds very promising and I noted that amongst the audience, Ruediger Ihle (who did the video capturing session the day before) was quite interested by what John was telling.

Christian also took the opportunity to attend Mensys' session on the future of eComStation that we had missed the day before. Apparently, Serenity Systems has big plans for eComStation. The list of planned features included a partition resizing feature for the installer and replacing IBM's MMPM/2 classes with Chris Wohlgemuth's from the start, for instance. The latter should eliminate all those problems people have experienced due to INI file errors and remaining traces of the old classes, and improve MMPM/2 stability a lot.

Unfortunately, we both missed Christian Langanke's session on his WPS Toolkit. Christian has created a library that takes many tedious tasks of the WPS developer's shoulders and eases the creation of WPS classes a good deal. So if you are thinking about writing your own WPS class, this is definitely something to look at.

After the last session was over, Roderick Klein climbed on stage and gave credit to the people that helped him in making WarpWeekend successful. He also informed us about the status of Warpstock Europe 2004 which will be held at Arnhem. Before he was able to get down from stage, Gerrit Schoenmaker took the occasion to do what everybody felt to be necessary: He gave credit to Roderick for what he had done for the community by making WarpWeekend happen. Yes, thank you Roderick! Christian then drove me back home - there was only one traffic jam - and we had dinner together with my family. We talked a little about what we had just enjoyed and then he went home to Bochum. All in all it was a great event and I really loved to be there. Sadly, there was no third day. But it was a great pleasure to meet all those folks again and sit, talk and laugh about OS/2. And I'm looking forward to next year!


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