Trevor's Rant- by Trevor Smith

I've got two things to yell about this month, so hang on to your hats.

Why is it you can't walk into a computer store and have someone service you instead of sermonize you?

I just went for a walk and stopped into a new computer store in the neighbourhood. You should know, this wasn't a Business Depot, or Future Shop or CompUSA or what-have-you. This was a hole in the wall, nickel and dime clone shop. Still, I wasn't in there for two minutes before the Microsoft propaganda started.

Before I go any further, this is not a Microsoft bashing so put your bats away. I'm sure whatever the trendy, over-marketed product of the day was, these people would have given me the same line. It just so happens that being in a near monopoly position, Microsoft has the trendy, over-marketed product of the day.

Anyway, back to my gripe.

They had a nifty little P90 machine with all kinds of gadgets (including Windows 95 and a slew of Microsoft CD's) coming in at around $2,000 Canadian (not a bad price). I sat down and started playing just as I was attacked by the sales person. As if I couldn't read the sign on top of the computer (or hadn't seen the lighted display outside) she commenced to tell me what came with the machine. OK, some folks need to have their hands held.

We hadn't gotten too far when I asked, "Does it come with Windows 95 preloaded?"

"You bet. That's what your using right now!" she said gesturing at the screen. Um, OK again. Maybe some people are so dumb they can't remember how little they know and need to be reminded once in a while.

I was disappointed because I would hate to pay extra for an operating system I'll probably never use (even if it is only a dollar or two) and I would really hate to be added to the meaningless statistics of Windows 95 sales figures. I tried another angle. "Can you preload OS/2?"

This puzzled her a bit. "If you buy it we could probably put it on for you," she said.

This was obviously getting me nowhere. I tried to explain that I wasn't exactly the world's largest purchaser of Microsoft products but I don't think it sunk in. "You see, I'm not really keen on Windows," I said.

"Oh, yeah, our tech support guy says that from the support side it can be a bit of a headache, but as far as ease of use goes Office (for Windows 95) is the best thing in the world!"

"I take it you've never used a Mac," I said. See, I don't always maintain that OS/2 is the best solution.

"Oh, well, no. All my machine's have been PC's." She might as well have said, "I grew up in Redmond and never did travel much."

It was obvious she wasn't going to stop pushing Microsoft's wonders so I came out and told her, "You see, I publish an OS/2 magazine a-"

I had more to say but she cut me off with, "Which you can do with Microsoft Publisher!" while rushing over to the shelf to point it out to me, as if I disbelieved its existence.

I gave up and left it at, "That's not too likely." Even this couldn't be the last word, though.

"Yes you can, why . . ." I stopped listening about there.

I don't know what was going on here, but I suspect it was one of two things. Either she just wasn't listening to me (probable) or she was just plain stupid (also probable). I don't mean that she was stupid because she hadn't heard of this glorious publication, or because she didn't share my personal view on operating system superiority. I mean because she, like almost every other person in this industry, from sales grunt to editor-in-chief of certain magazines, opens her mouth and swallows whatever foul smelling propaganda overcharged marketing departments shovel into it.

I don't want to be told what the latest and greatest thing that I absolutely must have is when I walk into a computer store. I want to tell the clerk what I must have. I don't care if it's hardware or software, from Redmond or Boca Raton. I want to be able to walk into a store and have a salesperson ask me what I want. Not tell me. At least they can pretend they're interested until they get my money.

Enough about that. Let's change the subject before an artery explodes.

I was playing with a nifty little utility called Change Controls by Matt Schellhaas yesterday (you can find it at Hobbes somewhere:, thanks to a tip from my colleague, Chris Wenham. This little gadget is so keen it warrants a rave of its own, but that spot is already filled this month and it's a little small anyway.

What it does is just what it sounds like - it changes the control buttons (maximize, minimize, hide, system and scroll bar) in OS/2 windows. The new buttons are very similar to Object Desktop's defaults - so if you installed OD just for that, uninstall it - and even more similar to Windows 95's. They are nice, but not exactly what I prefer, so I played around and DREW MY OWN (gif 5.5k)! That's right, with the simple instructions included in the zip file I drew my own buttons for my OS/2 windows. The author even included a replacement button for NPS WPS' exit button so it matches his colour scheme (although I changed the colour). If all this went right over your head, just believe me; Warp looks better with nicer buttons.

It's so simple it makes me want to cry. And that's what I want to talk about.

I'm assuming the author is not an IBM employee since he states in his readme file that he has no idea if his changes will work for versions of OS/2 earlier than Warp. What his program does is find the places in OS/2's PMMERGE.DLL file where the bitmaps of the buttons are stored, and change them. It's not rocket science. I'm no crackerjack programmer, but I doubt it's even difficult. This guy seems to have managed to do it from a reverse engineering viewpoint.

So, why the heck is it, that in one year of comments that Warp isn't very pretty with the imminent release of the oh-so-slick Windows 95, that no one at IBM took 45 minutes to sit down and do this!?!?

I'm so mad about this I could scream. The people at IBM, in my opinion, should have bought a full time design person, paid the additional $40,000/year it would have cost them (a drop in the bucket compared to OS/2's expense) and thanked their lucky stars that they could add so much value to their OS for such a small price. Prettier buttons and flashier icons go a long way in selling things to consumers - just ask Microsoft.

But if they can't do that, then at least do what Matt Schellhaas did. My God, the guys at IBM wouldn't even need to guess what went where, they could just change the source and recompile. What's that? You can't give some people a snazzier version of Warp because it's not fair to those who have already received the plain vanilla version? Then write a small utility like Matt did and put it on the retrieve software updates and every other ftp site and bbs known to creation. What's that? You don't want people fiddling with their PMMERGE.DLL files, just in case? Then just update the file at IBM and offer an alternative PMMERGE.DLL on the ftp sites. What has to happen to these people to wake them up?

If this was a major amount of work I would understand. I didn't choose to buy OS/2 because I wanted a prettier OS (although that was part of it - I was using Windows 3.1). I wanted a stable OS and I got it. And I wouldn't want the boys and girls in Boca Raton (or wherever they are madly working on Merlin) to sacrifice that stability and power for glitz. But this glitz doesn't take any significant time! Fine, don't redraw the entire screen, but we're talking about 24 18x18 pixel bitmaps here. Yes, 24! This is so insignificant a cosmetic fix that it's embarrassing to think that they haven't done it. I am embarrassed for them.

If someone doesn't get their head out of wherever it is, and soon, I'm just going to give up on these guys.

I had better stop now. I think I feel that artery pulsing again.

Trevor Smith is the editor of OS/2 e-Zine!. Back when he had spare time he used to like a lot of things, but those days are long gone.

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