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OS/2 Essentials v2- by Christopher B. Wright

OS/2 Essentials version 2.0, now available from Stardock Systems, is a set of utilities Stardock is hoping you won't want to live without. While not all of the features will be useful for all people, there is something for everyone in this suite and most people who buy it should find it worth the purchase.

OS/2 Essentials is a utility suite for OS/2 versions 2.11, Warp 3.0, and Warp 4.0. The main part of the package consists of 5 programs (GIF, 10.4k): a file manager (DirMaster Pro), a disk file size manager (File Graph/PM Pro), a screen saver (Screen Saver Pro, in both English and German versions), a benchmarking program (SDS Bench) and a Mac-like TrashCan object (WPS TrashCan).

Some of the applications available in the first release are no longer included. FileBar, a windowing manager for OS/2, was dropped because it was redundant in light of Object Desktop's smashing success. The arcade game was dropped because, according to Stardock's web site, it made the package less attractive to businesses (apparently, they didn't want games on their business machines. Fascists.)

DirMaster Pro

I was surprised that DirMaster Pro (GIF, 12k) was still included in this version of OS/2 Essentials. Stardock had dropped FileBar because Object Desktop did the same thing (among other things). Similarly, Object Desktop also comes with a WPS-integrated file manager. So why did they keep DirMaster Pro?

Well, if you look at the application you might get an idea or two. DirMaster Pro is a fairly complicated program with a large amount of functionality. It gives you a two-column directory view (and each column can be configured separately) and a large array of tools that require nothing more than a single mouse click to activate. Someone very familiar with DirMaster Pro's workings could easily use this program to do a lot of heavy-duty file maintenance. It's even integrated with the Workplace shell. Although it's not a graphic-intensive program (files and directories are represented by their names, not by icons and folders) you can drag and drop objects from DirMaster Pro onto the desktop and vice-versa.

Unfortunately, I found DirMaster Pro very difficult to work with. It is not an intuitive program -- I found to my consternation that both columns would spontaneously revert to the root level of my C: drive, whether I wanted it to or not. Plus I found that the command buttons on the bottom of the screen were difficult to use quickly. DirMaster Pro is not for those of us who do light-to-moderate disk management, it is for people willing to sit down in front of it for a few hours in order to learn to use it correctly.

If you are a person who is willing to do that, I suspect DirMaster Pro will be worth your time. If you aren't, there are more intuitive programs out there that will probably do what you need them to do.

File Graph/PM Pro

This is an interesting program that will probably be more useful to administrators than end users, but it's neat nonetheless. Think of File Graph/PM Pro (GIF, 8.9k) as a "directory manager". It does for directories what file managers do for individual files -- it tells you how much is being used in each directory on your hard drive.

For example, I keep all of my graphics, documents, and other creations in a file called (creatively enough) "files". "Files" is broken down into five subcategories: Docs, Graphics, MMedia, Projects, and all the web sites I've bookmarked in the Stardock Internet Shell.

With File Graph/PM Pro, I am able to determine how much space on my hard drive is being taken up by each of these directories:

	Files:		60mb
	Docs:		3.31mb
	Graphics:	43mb
	MMedia:	13mb
	Projects:	939k
	SDIS:		13k
This application is enormously useful for people maintaining networks, but it's also useful if, for example, you're working on a project that uses more than one file, and you're trying to see if it can be squeezed onto a floppy disk, removable disk, CD-ROM, etc.

Screen Saver Pro

If you're tired of OS/2's lockup function and have been longing for real screen savers similar in form and scope to AfterDark, you're not alone. At first I was a bit surprised by Stardock's decision to include a screen saver program (GIF, 9.6k), considering their decision to take out the arcade game from the previous version. Aren't screen savers just a bunch of fluff, after all? Most monitors nowadays don't suffer from "burn in", at least not as severely as they used to, so screen savers have become somewhat ornamental.

Apparently, this is not entirely the case. First of all, screen savers are useful in securing your machine while you are away from them. This is essentially what the lockup feature that comes with OS/2 does, but according to Stardock's web site, this feature has a slight problem:

It is not commonly known but OS/2's Lockup feature has a serious bug in that when it activates, it resets the priorities on all threads running on the system. While this isn't very noticeable on many systems, a system that is running programs that run at "idle" priority (such as system monitoring tools, network messaging, etc.) are suddenly reset to "normal" priority which can cause performance loss and instability in some systems.
Screen Saver Pro not only eliminates this problem, it also provides better security features than the standard lockup feature does.

The best part of this program, however, is that it has some very nice looking screen savers (GIF, 11.1k) -- especially the 3d ones that use OpenGL. I have not tested the OpenGL screen savers with the OpenGL 1.1 update (mainly because I can't figure out how to install the update), but they work fine with version 1.0.

Screen Saver Pro comes in an English and German version. It also comes with an option to install Dos support - so your dos and windows sessions can use this feature as well.

I have noticed a potential problem with the program, however. Occasionally my Startup folder will not be able to start everything, and SSPro seems to be the culprit. When I remove SSPro from the startup folder, everything will load normally. This is an intermittent problem and I'm not certain if SSPro really is at fault or if it's another application.

SDS Bench

Stardock has included a basic benchmarking program (GIF, 14.3k) with this suite of tools. SDS Bench 1.0 measures CPU speed (Integer and Floating Point, then an average of the two), Memory (Read and Write, then an average of the two), an average of your video speed, then an overall average of all three categories. It can also measure your hard disk's read and write times.

While this is a potentially useful program, I've not had much luck getting it to work completely. At the moment, the program will measure everything except my CPU Integer speed -- I don't get a CPU Average score or an Overall Average score. I haven't found a way to change this configuration: There don't seem to be any settings to modify, and there doesn't seem to be any online help for this program either.

WPS TrashCan

My favorite of all the items in this suite, WPS TrashCan gives your OS/2 Workplace Shell desktop a TrashCan object just like the ones found on a Macintosh (or on that 16 bit video game they sell in Seattle). You just drag what you want to delete into the TrashCan object, and if you change your mind you [TrashCan Graphic]drag it back out again. Right clicking on the object will give you an option to empty it, which summarily dispatches the offending files.

The TrashCan functions as any other WPS object. You can copy it and shadow it at your leisure. Its settings notebook comes with a few other functions that make sure you remember to empty it from time to time -- for example, you can give it a maximum storage capacity, forcing you to empty the TrashCan when the limit is exceeded, and you can force it to purge itself after certain periods of time.

My only complaint with the application is that it doesn't install with other programs from the main install program. Instead, the main installation program installs another installation program, which will in turn install the WPS TrashCan. There may be valid technical reasons for doing this, but it seems needlessly redundant.

The WPS TrashCan is a great application, and one that is sadly lacking in OS/2. In fact, I'd like to see Stardock provide more tools that emulate other aspects of the Mac environment in the future (for example, it would be neat if Stardock created a folder object that automatically opened when a file was placed on top of it, a la OS8).

Other Goodies

Stardock did more than simply give you a five utility suite for less than $50 (US). They also stuffed the rest of the CD with a lot of useful "extras" that would take hours, even days, to download otherwise.

For starters, FixPak 26 (for OS/2 Warp 3) and FixPak 1 (for OS/2 Warp 4) are included on the CD, along with instructions on how to install straight from the CD, without making diskettes, if you so desire. Warp 3 is now on FixPak 32 or 33, and Warp 4 is now on FixPak 4, so this may seem a bit dated. It is worth noting, however, that Stardock has stated in the past they will not support any Warp 4 machines updated with any FixPak after FP1.

Stardock also include FixPaks for Galactic Civilizations, Object Desktop 1.0, 1.5, and Object Desktop Professional. They also include demo versions[Demos Graphic] of Avarice, Galactic Civilizations, and Trials of Battle and a wealth of third party applications, including:

Final Evaluation

SDS OS/2 Essentials is a useful collection of tools, and the extras that come with it make it a killer deal. Some of the programs are weaker in terms of intuitiveness and usefulness than others, but all in all this is a good product. Recommended.

* * *

OS/2 Essentials v2

by Stardock Systems
MSRP: US$49.95 ($19.95 to upgrade from 1.x)

Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.

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