Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed...

IBM has set about making OS/2 installation less painful than it has been in the past and they have succeeded -- partly.

The programming wizards at IBM seem to be working on all parts of OS/2 at the same time as opposed to fixing one piece then moving on to the next. This shows in the installation routine as much as in any other part of Merlin. There are some improvements, some new bugs and some features that will obviously be great improvements when they are completed.

IBM is encouraging beta testers to install Merlin over existing OS/2 partitions to test migration of various files. This is certainly a good idea for testing purposes but if you have the space, our recommended installation setup is to free up 200 MB of disk space (350 if installing VoiceType; 550 if you're doing so on FAT) by using PartitionMagic or deleting old unused partitions. Install Merlin there and save yourself the headache of losing your existing (and working!) OS/2 partition.

The beta shipment received here included two CDs, one with the actual OS and BonusPak on it and one with device drivers and directions to where users can find more. It also included a stack of printed READMEs from the CDs for those who don't want or can't print them from the CD. These were appreciated. An introductory letter casually mentions how to make the three floppy disks necessary to start the CD installation. Instructions are also here to make disk images for an entire install but you would be crazy to try; there are 35 or so disk images not including miscellaneous stuff (there are 108 disk images in total in the \DISKIMGS\OS2\35 directory!).

When first starting a Merlin install you'll notice that it looks pretty much like the OS/2 v3.0 installation program: blue screens, text mode, pretty boring stuff. Once again, users have the choice of "Easy" or "Advanced" installation and, if choosing "Advanced", can jump to FDISK to modify their drives and point to which should be the install partition.

After Merlin gets cooking, the familiar OS/2 installation screens with an "OS/2" progress meter are displayed. Much later in the installation we see some of the new "eye candy" that IBM has introduced to liven things up. By the time the installation gets basic OS/2 interface DLLs loaded things have a definitely more chiseled look and feel. There is a more 3D looking progress bar and a fancy new animation (which will be changed before the final release).

As promised, much of Merlin's quite formidable file list can be installed on drives other than the main boot drive. This includes, among other things, multimedia, Voice Type and the BonusPak. A welcome change is the ability to install BonusPak applications during the time of install without changing CDs.

As you might imagine, there are still flaws in the installation program. The local test machine has never had major problems with OS/2 Warp installs in the past, and we were not surprised to find that Merlin had none either. Installation was nearly flawless; however, many people have reported significant problems. As always, the likelihood of success will differ from machine to machine.

A few strange quirks we noted were:

While these and other minor flaws are not bugs exactly, they will certainly trip people up or at least slow them down.

A complete installation from inserting the first boot floppy to a finished system took about one hour and ten minutes on a DX266 with 32 meg of RAM and a double speed CD ROM. However, that time was excluding installation of tcp/ip support which, adding it later through the "Selective Install of Networking Products" in the System Setup folder, took another 20 minutes or so. Other than the problems mentioned above, the installation was quite good.

The default installation takes users to a clean desktop with a nice looking OS/2 Warp logo over a blue burlap background and objects down the left side for: OS/2 System, Assistance Center, Connections, Programs and (if you have installed tcp/ip support) WebExplorer, as well as a shredder object in the bottom right hand corner of the desktop. The other default installation object is the new WarpCenter which appears at the top of the standard desktop.

The one component of the test machine not recognized, a Trident VLBus video card, caused us to pop the included Device Driver CD into the drive. This is nicely set up with an HTML main index so you can browse through the available drivers or seamlessly jump to companies' web sites with the built-in WebExplorer.

While our video card chip is identified as the TVGA9440AGi on the box, the CD index for Trident listed only a TVGI9440. However, using this driver seems to have worked fine so apparently it is a typo or a minor difference. And while our device driver was available on the CD itself, there seemed to be only a very limited number of drivers there (about 60). Perhaps IBM will include more by the time OS/2 v4.0 ships.

In short, overall, installation was a largely painless process. There will likely still be some people who encounter problems, even after beta bugs are ironed out, but IBM seems to be making strides in the right direction.

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