OS/2 eZine

16 June 2000

Richard R. Klemmer has been using OS/2 since 1995. He currently works as a programmer for the Department of Agriculture. In his spare time he works for WebTrek L.L.C, an Internet consulting company.

If you have a comment about the content of this article, please feel free to vent in the OS/2 eZine discussion forums.

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eComStation: an Interview with Bob St. John

OS/2 eZine talks to Bob St. John, Director of Business Development for Serenity Systems, about eComStation(TM).

OS/2 eZine: So, what is eComStation?

St. John: My partner and friend, Kim Cheung, says you have to be able to tell someone what something is in five words or less. I've never been able to do that. eComStation is the easiest way to build a desktop which leverages the network connection. It actually uses that connection to change the behavior of the PC and help the user. eComStation is a blueprint for a new computing model.

Last October, at Warpstock, we demonstrated WiseManager's ability to automate building an intranet, creating OS/2 clients in 20 seconds. Peter Coffee's column* that week began with a comment about our demo. What he actually said was that seeing "this fulfillment of the vision of network computing delivered by Serenity Systems' technology based on OS/2" had made his trip to Atlanta worthwhile. For some reason, I just never get tired of quoting that.

WiseManager and our Managed Client are an outstanding implementation of capabilities enabled by OS/2 technology. Outstanding .. what you can get done with OS/2. With eComStation we are trying to push that technology to the next level .. and make it useful for a wider audience of PC users.

OS/2 eZine: In WarpCast, Kim Cheung mentioned eComStation and eComStation Professional, what's that about? And at WarpTech you announced that the agreement with IBM was not complete ... what is the status of the product and it's availability?

St. John: With reference to the "Entry and Professional" versions, Kim was addressing a packaging of features .. and this work is not complete. We want features which IBM has never made available in a client before, such as SMP and JFS. Features like this could be made available as optional features ... or by creating a different version which is targeted at power users or specialized application requirements.

As I speak, we are still working the process with IBM. However, both IBM and Serenity Systems were comfortable enough with the agreement to permit announcement at WarpTech. I expect we will announce by mid-June and start shipping product by early July. That would be the Preview product.

OS/2 eZine: Would you run through what "Preview product" means?

St. John: It means we're impatient. We designed our product with components of Warp Server for e-Business -- IBM suggested we use the Convenience Pak, instead. We're delighted to use the Convenience Pak, but we want to be shipping product now. So, IBM and Serenity Systems agreed to use the Convenience Pak for the GA release of eComStation product. And that is what people are actually buying. But, until that is available, they receive preview software based on Warp Server for e-Business These users are required to upgrade to the GA product when it's available. We anticipate the GA product will be available by end of the summer, if not earlier than that.

OS/2 eZine: Is eComStation a rebranding of IBM's Convenience Pak for OS/2 V4, Merlin?

St. John: No, but that's our starting point and use of that code is exciting to us. Last June, right here in eZine, I indicated our interest in an Aurora based client. Now we are there. However, the big news about eComStation is not the upgrade to the Convenience Pak software.

The big news is the planned implementation of the Mobile Managed Client. With this implementation we introduce Network Centric Computing. Bringing the benefits of network computing and server managed clients to users who can detach from the network. This is sort of Warp meets Deep Space Nine.

In our eComStation group in e.groups, Kim has described this as letting the "ugly duckling walk away from Mother Goose". I like the "ugly duckling" reference. It communicates a message that, once you know what it is, you realize how beautiful it is. Mother Goose is the network connection, including the Internet Here you have a server managed client which can detach from the network. That's a big deal.

OS/2 eZine: In what way is this a big deal to users? How does the Mobile Managed Client differ from the product we saw at Warpstock? Why is this important?

St. John: Probably the biggest obstacle to adopting network computing or a Managed Client has been the requirement for a constant network connection. Works fine for workstations that have that connection, but what about lap top users and such? You can add home users and SOHO user, who are not typically connected to a server.

What we are preparing to implement is a Managed Client which can boot off local resource when no network connection is available. Users would be able to deploy software from the server ... or even the Internet connection. And they would also be able to do a "local install". This new function is accomplished by taking components of our software which ran on both the server and the client workstation, and running them on the Mobile Managed Client.

Even though the workstation can detach from the network, it can be supported by WiseManager and derive the same operational benefits as Network Managed Clients. With this implementation, we complete the convergence of PC and NC, providing the benefits of each model to the user.

OS/2 eZine: Can you provide an example of how this works, how this might be used?

St. John: Anyone who has seen a WiseManager demo has seen the ability to deploy software. The administrator using WiseManager takes an application icon, dragging and dropping it on a user folder. Then, with apologies to the Far Side, a miracle happens.

The WiseServer and WiseClient applications take over and "install" the application. The access control list (ACL) is automatically updated and the application is ready for use, even placing the icon on the user's desktop. From the standpoint of the desktop user, we have gone one better than a "one button install" .. we now have a "no button install". Just "poof" and there it is, on the user's desktop.

The product plan for eComStation extends this functionality to a lap top user who connects over the network, even the Internet. This means the same technology would allow a user to connect to a reseller like Indelible Blue, order a product ... and instead of a simple download, the reseller would be able to put the application right on the user's desktop, ready for use.

I was talking with a claims processing company which requires doctors' offices to install a communications utility so claims information can be submitted electronically. He told me that they couldn't make the install process simple enough for these offices. It's the old "You can't make something fool proof because fools are so clever."

Well, the eComStation Mobile Managed Client technology would provide a technique to accomplish this. The user doesn't have to install the software ... the administrator at the "management console", wherever it is, does the installation.

While all this function may not make the first release of eComStation, we have all this running in our Network Managed Client implementation. Now we begin the development effort to bring the Mobile Managed Client to the same level of functionality. This puts the Managed Client type product on the radar of every PC user.

OS/2 eZine: Other than the Managed Client aspect, what differences will there be between IBM's Convenience Pak and eComStation?

St. John: The key to remember is that the Convenience Pak is our starting point. By it's nature, eComStation will have more functions than the Convenience Pak. Essentially, the Convenience Pak is a set of features. eComStation is a product implementation which incorporates those features, and then goes on to deliver on the promise of those features. As Peter Coffee said, "fulfillment of vision".

We will continue to incorporate IBM Convenience Pak features into eComStation, probably through a subscription service or upgrade protection. So ... eComStation will continue to be a superset of the Convenience Pak which, for most users, is likely to cost less.

So, we expect the user will lose nothing by choosing eComStation, gain more function, participate in a channel with a vendor, resellers and channel partners who regard the user as their customer, and is likely to spend less money. So, for a user to choose the Convenience Pak might be a little like saying, "Yeah ... I'll take the lesser product .. but, here .. take more of my money. I insist!" I know, I'm being a bit facetious .. but that is the reality.

There is one other issue. Support for Merlin is supposed to end on 01/31/01. Support for the Convenience Pak extends beyond that. Since eComStation extends is based on the Convenience Pak, eComStation participates in the extended support.

This is an important consideration for a vendor, because we need to be working with a supported product. We will be phasing out our OS/2 V4 support and focusing on eComStation and Convenience Pak users so we can get support from IBM to resolve problems, issues, or defects. I would expect other vendors are in the same position.

With this in mind, I would expect OS/2 users to give serious consideration to moving up to eComStation or the Convenience Pak ...... so support is available from IBM and the other vendors.

OS/2 eZine: How would eComStation benefit the HOME and SOHO OS/2 user?

St. John: First, they benefit by having an OS/2 vendor who appreciates that they exist. A vendor who has made a decision to support them. Even before eComStation, Serenity Systems had already focused on applications of interest to home users and SOHO, like HOUSE/2. With the Mobile Managed Client focus on "connected users" .. we are in a better position to enhance this support.

Serenity Systems itself does not have the infrastructure to sell to and support home users and SOHO Our focus has been and will remain the fee service consultant supporting business accounts. But the interest in eComStation by users has spurred us to begin discussions to have Indelible Blue provide packaging, distribution, service and support for home users, SOHO, consultants, channel partners, and perhaps other customer sets.

I am, and most of the OS/2 community, is familiar with Indelible Blue and their support of OS/2 users. They have a good track record and I think it speaks well of eComStation that Indelible Blue wants to be involved. While we are still working out our agreement, I think folks will appreciate that both Serenity Systems and Indelible Blue will focus on requirements of home users and SOHO Serenity Systems from a product function standpoint.

I expect that Indelible Blue will take eComStation and build solutions, packaging, and product bundles, directed at these and other target markets. I expect they will craft support offerings to meet these requirements as well.

Personally, I'm delighted to develop this relationship, which complements our relationship with Mensys in Europe, as well as Mati and Orion Solutions in Mexico and Australia.

These relationships demonstrate our desire to support a range of users around the world with technology ... and applications. We are prepared to work with ISVs to get their product "certified" and supported on eComStation

OS/2 eZine: Kim Cheung previously stated that eComStation would be backward compatible with existing native OS/2 applications. Do you foresee development of native applications, as well as browser or Java based applications, being made easier with eComStation?

St. John: Even with the diminishing focus on the OS/2 environment, ISVs continued to deliver new, quality products for OS/2. The lively interest in eComStation is bound to generate additional support, additional products. And we are delighted to work with ISVs whose products add value to users of eComStation

The fact is, native OS/2 support provides additional support for DOS and Windows 3.1. With the Netlabs Projects, Odin and Everblue, things like Project Concorde and IBM support for Java, users and ISVs should feel that eComStation is ready to take on a wide variety of applications. This level of support makes OS/2 the most powerful application engine in the world today.

People should keep in mind that a lot of what you see in WiseManager originated from Kim's work at TouchVoice in the telecommunication industry. TouchVoice has and will continue to infuse their technologies into eComStation, and that makes it unique.

For instance, the REXX accessible telephony API is a native set of API with performance and scalability not seen in any other Intel platform. eComStation's support of WiseTalker products makes it the most powerful CTI product in the Intel space.

Other groups have done their part as well. Netlabs made a WPS tool kit available which makes it far easier for developers to develop WPS applications. The WPS is still a powerful reason to use OS/2.

And we certainly want to encourage the developers of the new XWorkplace to make it an extendible application. Allowing other developers to "contribute" to the project. The one thing that makes OS/2 so remarkable was how extensible it is. I certainly would like to see more developers take advantage of this characteristic, this ability to stretch out.

OS/2 eZine: Do you believe eComStation should be targeted at home users, SOHO, consultants, businesses ... and large accounts?

St. John: Yes. We plan to be very aggressive marketing this product. From a technology standpoint, as the Mobile Managed Client function is implemented .. any user who connects to a network, including the Internet, could benefit from improved software deployment and operational support. By the way, something we haven't discussed much, if at all, is the work going to evaluate putting IBM's Desktop on Call into the product. That would certainly offer improved remote support opportunities.

In fact, we think our integration of Desktop on Call can help many users and ISVs with the "co-existing with Windows" issue. Suppose there is an OS/2 application you want users to buy .. but the organization is committed to Windows. OK, here comes eComStation and perhaps Project Concorde. Now the Windows user can open the browser and run the applications on an eComStation. Even a remote eComStation This is consistent with the application hosting model which is gaining so much acceptance today.

With respect to support of large accounts, this month we are conducting training for IBM's Rapid Deployment Team (RDT), certifying them to install, support, and debug eComStation I think the RDT can be an excellent resource for large accounts and consultants who need to outsource aspects of a service contract. What better services partner could you have?

The desire of this IBM services organization to learn how to use and administer eComStation speaks well for the value of the product and its ability to coexist with products like IBM's WorkSpace on Demand and Network Client Manager.

OS/2 eZine: What effect do you think this will have on the OS/2 community?

St. John: Let's not forget that we are part of the OS/2 community, and have been for years. I think eComStation is really a reflection of what is taking place in the computing industry today. In that sense I'm in agreement with John Soyring's comments about a new relevance for OS/2 in today's computing environment.

Remember, IBM was always focused on business users. Even Warp, in the early '90s, was less targeted at home users than an attempt to respond to the requirement that people wanted to use the same OS and applications at work and at home. If people had been willing to use Windows at home and OS/2 at work, IBM PSP would never have targeted home users.

The biggest issues OS/2 faced were an industry and customer set which did not want to support two operating systems. IBM, especially Lou Gerstner, was told over and over again by customers, OEMs, and ISVs, including those within IBM: Keep it simple. Support Windows on the desktop.

There was the issue of native applications, the lack of support for Win32 APIs, and the cost of putting product in the indirect channel. Retail promotions, shelf space, end caps, were all much more expensive than IBM would allow ... and OS/2 marketing never benefited from the lucrative OEM preload contracts which supported Windows in the retail space.

But look where we are today. Everyone one of those issues is less important or nonexistent. e.commerce has leveled the playing field much more than any court ruling ever could. The monolith which is Windows is ill suited for the network responsive environment being implemented today. Marketing, promoting, selling and distributing in an e.commerce environment is something IBM is well suited to do.

Reliability is more important in the network environment than it was on the old desktop of the '90s ... and the tolerance for system crashes is lower. Perhaps most important is the desire of users to load only the software they need ... not the entire, bloated magilla. Focus on the ability to manage the workstation or the entire environment, from anywhere. All this points to strengths of OS/2. Everyone wants to get to a place OS/2 has been occupying for years.

Applications are now becoming truly cross platform. The emphasis on browser based applications again plays to something OS/2 does, or could do well. OS/2 needs to be able to support a world class "Internet Suite" just like users once needed an "office suite".

Ironically, the industry is arriving at a place where OS/2 makes more sense than it may have in recent years, for large numbers of users. OS/2 users understand this, things have gotten better. Service providers should leverage OS/2 skills for revenue opportunities. OS/2 ISVs have reason to feel good, as well. In fact, I expect we will implement a "designed for eComStation" certification program to help ISVs participate.

What I'm saying is that the emphasis is not on the operating system. It is on the ability to support the environment. As it happens, the environment which is evolving is well supported by OS/2. So, OS/2 derives benefit and opportunities for those ready to engage.

OS/2 eZine: Are you predicting an OS/2 "resurgence"?

St. John: I'm saying that managed clients and network centric computing make a lot of sense today. We demonstrated a Windows9X Managed Client implementation at WarpTech. We are exploring the suitability of Linux. But our experience with these other platforms keeps demonstrating the superiority and suitability of OS/2. I'm again talking about extensibility ... and the ability to manage the OS and the environment. The ability to work with components of the product. OS/2 is where everyone want to be ... to get to ... and when they do ... they might realize that the trip could have been easier, faster, and less expensive on OS/2.

I heard an analyst on National Public Radio comment that Windows isn't going anywhere because "it's what we are all using". That, for something to displace Windows, it will have to be significantly better ... not incrementally better than Windows.

I can agree with that comment .. but he was too focused on "function" and applications when he said that. Applications are becoming more and more capable on running on other platforms. I've already commented on that. But beyond that, there are issues of expense and reliability. Both OS/2 and Linux, and other alternative operating systems can provide significant benefits to users ... not incremental superiority ... significant superiority ... where it counts: the financial statement.

As reliability and security and performance cost businesses more and more in expense and revenue dollars ... the "alternative OS" becomes more and more attractive. OS/2 is now in a position of alternative OS ... and it benefits from over a decade of development and some of the best technology in the industry.

I just can't believe we are the only ones capable of noticing this.

OS/2 eZine: Before we conclude, could you give us some information about Project Concorde?

St. John: Project Concorde is not a product. It's a development project to allow a PC to determine the best implementation and the feasibility of allowing a PC to host multiple instances of an operating system by adding cards, which are computers themselves. This is technology which has been around for some time and Kim has used it frequently in his Computer Telephony Integration applications with TouchVoice Corp.

As we looked at the requirement to run OS/2 Line of Business applications and Windows productivity applications, we determined that the best approach would be to support both operating systems. Microsoft would have no effective way of breaking this type of support, not that they would want to break it.

And we felt that the additional hardware would be required so both operating systems could provide the user with applications running at "native mode responsiveness". This native responsiveness is not available from implementations where there is server based sharing of application space or software emulation's supported by virtual machines.

More to the point, the Freedom Card, a name suggested at WarpTech by Bill Nicholls of Byte Magazine, would not be limited to any specific environment. You could set up a Freedom Card and load Windows one time, Linux the next. Or you could take a rack mount PC and put 10 or 15 or more cards into it. Put a group of these PCs into the rack and users would be able to "pass through" their PCs and access a "session" running on one of hundreds of Freedom Cards.

Sort of roll your own application server ... but the user would not be sharing the session space with other users. So performance is not changed by the number of users, or the type of application being run, and the ability to scale is both phenomenal and relatively inexpensive. And these cards can be reused to support almost any Intel computing environment ... offering investment protection which is simply not available with any other implementation.

You can see why Bill suggested the Freedom Card.

For now, most folks see it as a way of OS/2 users to support something that is a "full screen Win32 session", and that's fine. But the capability extends far beyond that. Readers can send an email to Info@Serenity-Systems.com for a log on which will allow them access the Project Concorde document.

We feel we have addressed the issues we needed to address in a prototype, using off the shelf products. Now we need to start exploring real demand and designing the custom hardware which can elegantly implement this product solution.

OS/2 eZine: Thanks for your time. Good luck.

St. John: You're welcome and thank you.

eComStation will be available from Serenity Systems. http://www.Serentiy-Systems.com


eComStation Entry Product for OS/2 V4 users - SRP US $119
eComStation Entry Product for new users - SRP US $269

Professional version pricing not available yet.

* Peter Cofee's Column - http://www.zdnet.com/eweek/stories/general/0,11011,2377721,00.html

eComStation e.groups site - http://www.egroups.com/group/eComStation

Indelible Blue - http://www.indelible-blue.com

Mensys - http://www.mensys.nl

Mati - http://www.mati.net.mx

Orion Solutions - http://www.orion-solutions.com.au

Touchvoice Corp. - http://www.touchvoicecorp.com