What We Need in OS/2- by Don Bower

What we need in OS/2 is... well over the years I have thought of many things. Some of them actually came into existence. Back in the early 90's, when I had OS/2 extended edition v1.1 on my 386 PC, with 4MB of memory, I had to be able to support not only OS/2 connected to my AS/400, but also the masses who had PC-DOS v3.3. I made two partitions on my hard drive, made them both primaries, and selected which one to boot from using FDISK. Thank OS/2 for Boot Manager.

Today, I am a very busy person. So I do not like spending a lot of time doing things that waste time. Things like waiting on hold for 60 minutes for support, writing down volumes of addresses, configurations of equipment lists or software lists and their levels. Particularly if the problem can be fixed by just restarting my PC. As a software developer myself, I certainly can appreciate the need for all of this minutia of information. I just hate providing it manually. Although rebooting my PC is not my first choice, I must all too often bite that bullet or dine on a cornucopia of elevator music and voice response units that are not always sympathetic to my needs. What sours my mouth most of all, is many of these forced restarts are repeat offenders, leftovers if you will, of a problem that IBM may or may not know about.

So what's the answer? How about a real simple procedure that is similar to CTL-ALT-NUMLOCK-NUMLOCK? A keystroke function, or button or option that would record all of that TRAP error data, along with a SYSLEVEL output and a SYSINFO output into a single, nice, neat file that could be submitted via modem to IBM, or any other ISV for that matter. Then, the file could be analyzed electronically to determine if a PTF is available, or if some other action is required. If a PTF is available, it could automatically be resent back to me during the same phone call, or e-mailed to me via the Internet.

Sound a little far fetched? A little big-brotherish? Well, IBM has this technology today. That's right! Except it does not run under OS/2, it runs under OS/400. It might even run on AIX and MVS for all I know. Under OS/400, whenever the system detects a software or hardware failure, it gets recorded in a place known as the Problem Log. These problems can be filtered and manually or even automatically telephoned in to Big Blue. Ol' Blue, will analyze the problem programmatically and if a PTF is available, it will download the PTF during the same call. It's even a 800 number to boot!

But hey, this technology does not stop here. You can even enter what you perceive to be a problem, without waiting for OS/400 to detect it. You don't always get a PTF every time you phone home, but when there is no PTF available, you get a polite message that tells you someone will call. And they do. Sometimes in a half hour, sometimes the next day. The point is you do not have to wait on hold, missing other important calls, while you are waiting.

There is a benefit in this for IBM. All of this automation leads to more productivity. Support technicians, instead of wading through hours of, "oh, woe is me," and pages of hex data, can actually get the correct information about the environment the first time, and in a timely matter. Why, they can spend more time fixing the new bugs than rehashing old problems.

The benefit for us is not having to solve the problem synchronously, working exclusively on it for the next few hours, during work time. This is a luxury that not all of us can afford. Some of us computer enthusiasts have the type of job that demands our attention all eight hours of the day. For those of us who fall into this category, our time on the computer is limited to late nights and weekends. This feature eliminates this problem.

Come to think of it, ISVs could benefit from this service. All IBM would have to do is identify the owner of the module, and forward the packet on. This would of course benefit us again. The ISV could even upload the fixes for their products to the IBM server and voila! Our Stardock products are fixed, with a simple phone call to IBM.

So you think it would never happen? Don't be so negative! Let me tell you, IBM is a market driven company these days. They dumped the suits for polo shirts, and if you talk to the right people, they will actually listen. If you place your vote with Uncle Lou, or Uncle John, they will be the right people. Tell them you want Electronic Customer Support for OS/2 and ECS for ISVs. Remember this, IBM wants to sell you OS/2 and they want to sell it to other people as well. This added feature would give IBM another advantage over their, a-hem, competitors. Speak your piece, either for this feature or against it. Don't be impatient, though. I recently read that the feature list for Merlin is not yet closed. If enough of us get our votes in now, we might even get a nice Christmas present this year.

Don Bower is a Christian, a Systems Programmer and Project Leader for AS/400 systems, a member of Team-OS/2, and has been an advocate of OS/2 since 1990.

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