Successful Operating Systems- by Paul Muir

Applications, Applications and Applications

When most people buy a computer or upgrade an old one it is usually because they have some specific goal in mind, whether it is playing games, teaching the kids or improving productivity in the home or business environment. People will not buy a computer and load an operating system because it is technically the most advanced on the market unless it comes with something built in that they need (or at least, think they need).

The life blood of an operating system is not the operating system's features but the applications that are available to utilize those features. If you have a technically excellent OS but nobody writes applications for it, then nobody is going to buy it.

Poor operating systems can often survive and prosper if they have developer support -- the applications "work around" the inefficiencies or deficiencies in the base OS. More than any other reason, this is why I believe that Microsoft's Windows 3.x was successful at a time when OS/2 was available. I do not believe that even the most diehard supporter of Windows would argue that OS/2 with its multitasking, multithreading architecture was a poorer technical choice than Windows 3.x and yet Windows maintained its market dominance.

Based on the above, if OS/2 (Warp or Merlin) is going to be a popular OS with general "Joe Public" acceptance rather than just with power users and specialists who appreciate a high powered OS, the applications must be available. So, for the record here is my "wish list" of applications that I consider to be essential for a successful OS, broken down into general categories with comments where I believe OS/2 is ahead or behind the pack:


Good file handling utilities are essential to managing a system. The Warp drives object is cumbersome and (at least to me) not very intuitive or informative. Also a good set of utilities to monitor system performance, system optimization, disk defragmentation, duplicate file elimination, etc. are essential.

Personally speaking, I have not yet found the perfect file manager although several shareware and commercial applications come close to this. As far as the other utilities go most of these needs are satisfied by shareware and commercial applications but they tend to be scattered. What is really needed is one single package with a consistent interface. A classic example of this kind of package is PC Tools for Windows by Symantec which bundled some simple and some complex functions into one product.

Work Related

An "office" suite of coordinated applications including a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation/graphics creator and database manager is also essential. The ability to use the word processor to write web pages, buttons to access the developers' web sites for instant support and fault finding and automatic upgrading of fixes and patches is also appreciated.

OS/2 has been sorely lacking in this field but the new Lotus SmartSuite promises to not only rectify this, but to take OS/2 to a very advanced level. The one button access to web sites should be relatively easy to incorporate if it is not already there and Warp's automatic software downloading and installation procedure exists and could easily be adapted and expanded to these applications.

Internet Related

Obviously in today's Internet-hyped environment a good set of Internet tools, including a web browser, e-mail and news reader is essential, but given the fact that standards are changing daily, they must be capable of taking add-ins to upgrade their capabilities (one button download and installation again please).

OS/2 appears to be doing reasonably well in this field, ahead in some areas and behind in others, especially with the various shareware offerings around as alternatives to the IBM provided applications (outside of the web browser).


As with the Internet, multimedia is "the thing" to have. I define multimedia as the ability to create, store and output sounds and pictures (single frames or movies). Any good system needs to be able to manipulate and play all the various formats available today. OS/2 appears to have the basics already built-in and there are some good applications out there for some areas, but the system's developers need to exploit all the features that are available.


Although the Internet is a form of communications it is sufficiently specialized to be a subject on its own. Here, I am referring to the more general form of communications such as faxing, e-mail, telephony (answering machines) and dumb terminal emulation.

Generally, OS/2 appears to be reasonably well equipped although I believe that much more can be done to integrate the applications together. For example, when the phone rings let's have software (rather than hardware) that detects whether it is a voice call for the answering machine, a fax or a data transfer. Several applications are under development for Windows 95 which start to address this communications integration but I have not yet seen any for OS/2.

One area where I have found OS/2 very lacking is in the file transfer arena. Yes, I have purchased Kopy Kat and I have downloaded trial copies of other similar applications but none of them come anywhere near Traveling Software's Laplink for Windows in terms of functionality and ease of use. This is one area where tremendous potential exists for a developer -- if anybody is working on this please let me know!

Gimmicks, Razzmatazz and Games

Sorry, but no OS is going to be truly successful and popular without its share of machine gun sounds, sexy voices and pretty interfaces with dancing ladies (or gentlemen if you prefer) to impress friends and colleagues.

OS/2 goes some way to meeting this requirement but seems to fall short when it comes to the glamorous stuff. If you ever compare the Microsoft Intellipoint and Intellitype features with OS/2 you will see what I mean -- accelerated pointers, snap to pointers and keyboards that sound like typewriters are all within the capabilities of OS/2. It's just that nobody has created them (yes, I have tried BocaSoft Sounds and it is a start, but it needs more bells and whistles).

On the games side, OS/2 is starting to catch up with some very sophisticated and highly acclaimed applications but the choice appears to be limited. For example, I haven't seen any good flight or car simulations on the market yet. Anybody know if Microprose or similar is working on any ports to OS/2?

So why am I writing this?

Good question. For a start a good way to relieve high blood pressure and frustration is to write something down and circulate it -- who knows maybe those "killer apps" are out there and I just don't know about them yet. Maybe IBM will read this and decide that Merlin should have some of these features built-in or maybe a developer will read it and decide to survey the market to see how much interest is truly out there in a new product. Whatever happens, it can't do any harm and it might just help OS/2 to become a better and/or more popular system, which helps all users.

And please, do not shoot the messenger. I am just a typical user who likes OS/2 and respects its technical merits.

Paul Muir uses OS/2 Warp and Windows 3.11 at work as tools and enjoys tinkering with them at home as a hobby. So far he has assembled three computers without really understanding the detail of why they work, just that they do (so far anyway).

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