April 16, 2003
Robert Basler is the president of Aurora Systems, Inc. and has been a dedicated OS/2 user since he tired of rebooting Windows 3.1 twenty times a day. He spends what free time he can manage travelling the world. Photo was taken at Franz Josef glacier, New Zealand.
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eComStation 1.1 - Gold Baby!
eComStation 1.1 is scheduled to be released this month, the gold master has gone to duplication, but should you buy it?
Should you skip it? What's it got to offer? I've had a little sneak preview, so I'll try to answer some of these
What's NewLooking at the screenshot below, the thing that should jump out first is that it is prettier than eCS 1.0. They've obviously spent some time sprucing things up. I particularly like the new red and blue menu buttons shown in some of the other screenshots here. The virtual desktop pager window is new, as is the eCenter.
Also new in 1.1 is read-only NTFS support, and while they are being pretty cautious about promoting it, apparently it even works with the latest Windows XP NTFS partitions as long as they aren't encrypted or compressed. The SIO 2K version 2.00 serial port drivers are back, but this time they are the default COM port drivers. These drivers have a long and well-earned reputation for performance. Scitech Display Doctor Special Edition is also back, and this time they are the default video drivers.
The version reviewed here is the new eComStation 1.1 Entry which is based on MCP 2 (Warp 4.52.) Unlike eComStation 1.0, this time Serenity has unbundled the applications in order to bring the base price of eCS into line with its competition. This is a big plus for those of us who already have these applications, however if you don't have Smartsuite, or if you want to do scanning or run X applications, the eComStation 1.1 Application Pack (not yet available) is a pretty good deal. The application pack includes:
The rumor department says that the Application pack will also include Acrobat 4.05, Flash 5 and Java 1.41 from Innotek. I'll be very interested to see what other goodies appear in the final product.
Also available as an option is the eComStation 1.1 Multi Processor Pack which provides up to 64-way SMP support. If you were wondering about support for Hyperthreading, the docs say that people have had success with Intel Xeon 4 HT machines, provided the machine's BIOS reports multiple physical processors. Nice!
IBM's Web Browser based on Mozilla is back in its latest incarnation, as is Flash 4. eWorkPlace (a WPS enhancement based on XWorkPlace) eConnect (ISDNPM) and Desktop-On-Call Version 4 are also in the package.
If you are running an eCS network, there is also the new eComStation Server Edition. It includes SMP, the Application pack, and a special Server pack based on Warp Server for eBusiness which includes a domain controller, authenticator, replicator, and RIPL Server.
InstallationInstallation is greatly improved over eCS 1.0. I spent days getting eCS 1.0 to install, and it never did end up working right. Well, the eCS developers have apparently taken my criticisms to heart, because the installation this time was pretty smooth. Notably absent this time were any complaints from the installation about my giant hard disk, tons of RAM, my GeForce 4 Ti, and other little installation speedbumps that have crept into older versions of OS/2 as hardware has advanced. The only oddity I noticed was that the installer beeps at you from time to time, no apparent reason for it. Upon asking support about this, I was told that the IBM parts of the installer beep, and not to worry about it. If they're still looking for suggestions, they should get rid of that dumb activity status bar and give me an actual progress bar during setup so I can tell if I have time to get coffee, or to have a nap. I can't recommend strongly enough that you should take the time to read through the README and FAQ's on the installation CD's. They list a number of solutions to problems you might encounter depending on your system. Overall the eCS install took about 45 minutes and two restarts. I do miss BeOS and its ten minute, one-pass installation.
The giant registration code I had so much trouble with last time has been improved. Although the key is now a whopping 128 digits, they've broken it into manageable chunks and at least in the one I have, they've eliminated easily confusable digits. Also fixed is that when you're entering the code, it won't let you continue until you get it right. Unlike last time, I had the good fortune to have a diskette drive on the test system, so I just had it read the code from a floppy disk. If you don't have a floppy, you can also put the code on the hard disk before the install and read it in from there.
The version I reviewed included the old IBM multimedia installer which provided a long list of new options to choose from. The final version shipped with an automatic multimedia installer, so you won't ever see this. For some reason my WinTV wouldn't work with the provided drivers. I commented out the WinTV lines from CONFIG.SYS for now, I'll have to install the drivers I was using before when I want to get that working again. eCS 1.1 doesn't include automatic sound card driver installation so I had to download and install the SoundBlaster Live! drivers from Netlabs. Apparently an automated sound card installer is in the works.
Network installation was pretty painless, it accepted my driver disk, and I had TCP/IP and NetBIOS running immediately.
Printers and other last-minute installer items are a lot prettier this time around, and run smoothly.
I was a little disappointed to see that FAT32 support is not included in the package, fortunately there are some excellent drivers available from Netlabs.
eCenterOne thing you'll notice immediately new in eCS 1.1 is the eCenter. This replaces the eComCenter from eCS 1.1 (WarpCenter in OS/2 Warp 4 and later versions) although you can have WarpCenter back if you like. While I really like some of the new capabilities eCenter offers such as selectable widgets to display CPU usage, disk space, TCP activity and the like, it took me half an hour of concerted clicking to figure out how to change them. And I spent quite a bit of time reading the online help searching for assistance. The information is in there, but you sure have to dig, so here is what I learned: To add new widgets to the eCenter, right click on the teeny dividers between the widgets and select "Create New Widget" from the popup menu. If you don't see that choice, you've clicked in the wrong spot.
Once you figure this out however, the widgets are very cool and you'll quickly find yourself adding far too many of them to the eCenter.
I like that the active programs display in the bar as little buttons so you can switch to them quickly like in Windows. Where this is a net usability gain, it is offset by having to select "Desktop" from the eCS "start" button menu before you can select the programs you want to start. I could certainly live with the eCS menu being a little taller if it saved me that extra mouse click every time I wanted to start a program.
Of particular note with eCenter is the Run dialog. It has all the options you could want, but the thing I like best about it is that it keeps a listbox of the programs you have run previously so you don't have to type it in or browse if you've ever run it before. Nice.
Desktop PagerOne particularly cool new addition to eComStation is support for virtual desktops. If you've never used UNIX before, you might not have seen this. The way it works is that each little window in the pager window represents one desktop area. You can change the number of desktops you can have, although six is the default. If you click on a different desktop in the pager, you'll be taken there and the apps on your current desktop will be hidden. This way you can have your email open on one desktop, your browser on another, your word processor on another, and still be able to open that command prompt to move some files around.
When you select an application from the eCenter, you are instantly taken to the correct desktop. Nice.
The only hangup I found with this feature is that occasionally it just doesn't work. I haven't found a reason for it so far, but sometimes after boot it just will not let me use any other desktop than the one I am on. The bulk of the time however, it is very nice.
UpgradingI really like the new features in eCS 1.1, but it has one big strike against it: it doesn't "officially" support upgrading, either from OS/2 or from eCS 1.0. Let me quote from the FAQ on the CD:
Q: Can I install on top of Warp 4? MCP1? MCP2? WSeB?
(notice there is nothing after the = sign), either remove that
line or replace it with:
SRVCOMMENT = This is my computer
or else the peer installer will fail.
(notice there is nothing after the = sign), either remove that line or replace it with:
SRVCOMMENT = This is my computer
or else the peer installer will fail.
Q: Can I install on top of eCS 1.0? Will I be able to continue using
the bonus applications?
Yikes! As someone who has upgraded OS/2 a number of times, this is pretty disappointing. I don't relish the thought of a wipe and reinstall or trying to manually migrate everything. Checking with the folks at Serenity I was told that it "should" work with Warp 4 and eCS 1.0, but that with the flexibility and configurability of OS/2 that there was always the possibility of a failure and because of that, they couldn't make upgrades "officially supported." They also told me that a migrated CONFIG.SYS will be present on the upgraded system, but that it won't be active due to the possibility of problems with it.
Buy? Or Pass?The bottom line for current eCS users is that if this was an easy upgrade, with all the cool new goodies, updated codebase, slick installer and the $59 upgrade price, I'd definitely say go for it. However if you have a working eCS 1.0 system, the uncertainty of the upgrade path makes the decision a little more difficult. In the end, I've decided I'm going to buy the upgrade for my eCS system, but I'm not looking forward to it as much as I would be if installation was a matter of just putting in the CD and waiting.
If you haven't used eCS before, or have a new computer in mind, go for it! The installation is a lot smoother,
it is based on the latest OS/2 base, works straight-away installing on modern hardware, offers a number of handy
new features, is prettier overall than eCS 1.0, and at $199 it is competitive with other choices.
Product: eComStation 1.1 Entry
Manufacturer: Serenity Systems
Buy: Global Resellers
Prices: U.S. $