The IBM OS/2 Warp Teleseminar 2- by Chris Wenham

The second in a series of OS/2 Warp Teleseminars was designed to show both developers and customers that OS/2 is still an important and strategic platform for IBM. The main speaker was John W. Thompson, President of IBM's Personal Software Products division. He was joined by David Barnes (well known OS/2 advocate); Kevin Daly, General Manager of BFA Data Systems; and Anthony DeCristofaro, President and CEO of MGI Software Corp.

Although live, the Teleseminar started with a taped presentation of OS/2 Warp's role in the upcoming 1996 Olympic Games. Everything from Warp Server to Warp Connect is being used at the Olympics to coordinate the hundreds of teams, reporters and athletes as well as to gather information from each event as it happens. Goodness knows there'd be havoc if the results of a record-breaking 100 meter dash were lost... because of a General Protection Fault! Keep in mind when you watch the games this summer that the world's most popular 32-bit operating system is being used to run the world's most popular sporting event.

Fade to John W. Thompson. The Teleseminar was broadcast from what looks very much like a mix between a talk show studio and an infomercial studio. However, the cheering audience and wild camera swoops were all gone--this was a serious affair. In his speech, Thompson talked about the Internet and its importance to IBM and the OS/2 platform. OS/2 is for the "connected user", people on the move and connected to LANs, WANs and the Internet. Not just as a client though, but as a server too. Thompson reported that over 50,000 copies of Warp Server have been shipped so far, with the State of California, Dean Whitter and others being major customers.

In his speech, Thompson mentioned that he'd recently come back from Japan where a major Japanese bank was making a major platform move. Since IBM's database software, DB2, is an important part of their network they compared DB2 running on OS/2 and other platforms (DB2 has been ported to Windows NT, for example). OS/2 came out as the clear performance leader, and thus was chosen for their entire operation.

The seminar quickly moved on, and we were treated to something very special indeed...

Merlin

David Barnes gave an outstanding demonstration of Merlin (the codename for the next version of OS/2) at the Teleseminar. The copy he was showing was an Alpha version, but as Barnes said, "An Alpha version from IBM is like a Release version from anyone else!" You could not possibly watch this demo without being very impressed.

Your voice is Merlin's Command

The big "Wow!" feature of the demonstration was the fully integrated voice navigation. Barnes, wearing a headset with microphone, commanded the machine to, "Wake up," and, "Open System Editor." Up popped the System Editor and Barnes proceeded to dictate directly to the computer. "This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System..." he started, and the audience watched as every word he spoke appeared in the VoiceType dictation window and was then pasted into the System Editor.

But more than just dictation, the voice integration let him navigate through, not only Merlin itself, but the Internet too. "Jump to my homepage" he commanded, and seconds later the integrated web browser was open and displaying his homepage. Interesting, too, about this web browser was the fact that he could drag hotlinks from a page to the desktop. (You can drag URLs from WebExplorer right now, but these were links not yet visited.) To top it off he then opened the Settings notebook (which itself has been improved, as I'll describe later) and recorded himself saying, "Jump to someplace cool," instantly associating the phrase with the URL he had dragged to the desktop. Subsequently, saying "Jump to someplace cool" into the microphone would immediately open the URL object associated with that phrase.

Now this is darn impressive in itself, but that wasn't the end of it! Barnes explained that this voice recognition technology required NO TRAINING at all (training the computer to recognize a person's voice has, until now, been necessary with most voice recognition technology). With this technology, a complete stranger could walk up to a machine and start giving it voice commands without having to train it. This was not specifically demonstrated, though, and Barnes noted that persons with strong accents may need to spend a short time training the computer to recognize them.

IBM didn't just throw this voice technology on as an extra gadget, it is integrated with the SOM (System Object Model) giving each Workplace Shell object a "Speech Page". From this we gather (and it was implied) that any object on your desktop can be "Speech driven".

The New Look

Seen right away in the demo of Merlin was its new graphical look (see the cool screen shots in the incoming directory of Hobbes). IBM has enhanced the visuals with more "3D" effects and a much nicer looking tabbed notebook. In current versions of Warp, the settings notebooks have tabs down the side, and are somewhat plain. According to Barnes, "After [IBM] moved our developers from Boca, Florida to Austin, Texas, we discovered that there were more colors than just gray!" The tabs now appear at the top of the notebook, plus they're color coded giving the humble Settings notebook a much brighter appearance.

A somewhat familiar looking "Warp Center" bar ran along the top of the screen too. While watching the demo we gathered a sense of De Ja Vu from this new component, which had a button from which you could pull down a cascading menu of options to start up applications or System Objects. Yes, it looked like the Windows 95 "Start" button and icon bar. But "Warp Center" was different, it had a lot more built into it such as a CPU monitor and something described as "Trays" with which you could place objects by dragging-and-dropping. It looks to be a sort of supercharged Launchpad-meets-Win95 Start button.

Barnes also pointed out that there is a new system font in Merlin, one that makes it easier to read on laptop computers with liquid-crystal displays.

Want coffee with that?

Not much was said regarding it, but according to John W. Thompson "Merlin completely integrates Java support." He claims that Merlin will be the first operating system ever to do this. We don't know what was meant by, "completely integrated," but it certainly bodes well that Merlin will be an important player in the Internet arena. Indeed, the Internet was very much emphasised throughout Thompson's presentation.

Merlin will be able to connect to any kind of server, Thompson claimed, and will be fitted with OpenDoc technology.

Kevin Daly

Kevin Daly, General Manager of BFA Data Systems, spoke on how BFA uses OS/2 to help their customers improve their business. He commented on the furious and saturated Windows market, where it is "impossible to get a competitive edge."

Daly claims OS/2 is different though, and BFA uses it to give themselves an edge over their competitors. "We're seeing a 250% increase in OS/2 business year to year," he said, also citing that their average profits from Windows are only 15%, whereas with OS/2 they're nearly 30%. He enjoyed pointing out that one customer previously used Corel Draw 5 under Windows 3.11 and Novell Netware. A large file would take 20-30 minutes to load with this environment, yet when BFA switched the customer to Warp Connect and Warp Server the load time dropped down to only 5 minutes. An impressive feat.

Were you one of those that never got too excited about the FaxWorks application bundled in the Warp BonusPak? Daly described a customer who experienced a 100% increase in sales thanks to the efficiency OS/2 gave them, keeping documents grouped in folders on the desktop and faxing information to the client while still talking on the phone.

Daly said he expects to see active migration to IBM servers (including OS/2), citing how his customers have found OS/2 easy to grow with and use.

Anthony DeCristofaro

Anthony DeCristofaro is president and CEO of MGI Software Corp, makers of a product called PhotoWorks (an image management, cataloging and painting package). He opened a few eyes by describing their process of porting their Windows 3.11 application to Win32 (Windows 95 and Windows NT) and OS/2 Warp.

In February of 1995 MGI began porting PhotoWorks from Windows 3.11 to Windows 95. It took them 5 months, using 7 toolkits and 2.5 person-years. In August of 1995 they decided to port to OS/2 and settled on using DAPIE (The Developers API Extensions for OS/2, a package that implements over 800 of the Win32 API commands as native OS/2 code). It took them 5 days and just one toolkit (DAPIE) to do the job. This was with about 200,000 lines of C++ code to port!

The Commitment

In this Teleseminar, John W. Thompson did an excellent job of showing that IBM is indeed behind OS/2 100%. You couldn't possibly come away from the presentation without feeling optimistic about Warp and its future.

We didn't get the chance to have our questions answered during the Question-and-Answer session, which lasted for only 20 minutes, but we're sure there'll be many more opportunities to come later. IBM is holding a third Teleseminar in July of this year and we'll bring you coverage on that one too!

Anyone can attend IBM's Teleseminars as they are free and open to the public. If you live near an IBM facility or have a satellite dish you can watch the video portion of the broadcast, and the audio-only portion can be heard simply by calling their special 1-800 number. Details about the IBM OS/2 Warp TeleSeminars, along with transcripts of previous TeleSeminars, can be found at their web site.


Chris Wenham is a Team OS/2er in Binghamton, NY with a catchy-titled company--Wenham's Web Works. He has written comedy, sci-fi, HTML, Pascal, C++ and now writes software reviews.

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