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The New OS/2

A simple OS/2 desktop

By Alex Taylor, hosted by www.os2warp.be.

June 1st, 2001

    • Introduction
      • The Convenience Package
      • eComStation
    • What's New in OS/2 version 4.51
    • New Device Support
    • Video Drivers
    • Storage Enhancements
      • Logical Volume Manager
      • Journaled File System
    • Networking
    • Java
    • Application Compatibility
      • Integrated compatibility
      • The Odin Project
      • Unix compatibility
    • The Future
      • Open source OS/2?
      • Looking ahead
    • Notes
    • Sources & References

Introduction

OS/2 is a much-misrepresented operating system. For fully ten years, its imminent demise has been predicted, and it has been subjected to repeated accusations of obsolescence, irrelevance, or lack of support. Nonetheless, OS/2 has stood the test of time remarkably well, it continues to do so today, and it will no doubt continue to do well into the future. To that end, two brand new versions of OS/2 are currently hitting the market.

The Convenience Package

First of all, we have IBM's own official release, which arrived at the very end of the year 2000. Its official name is the 'Convenience Package', because it is aimed at current licensees of OS/2 Warp 4 and OS/2 Warp Server for e-business. However, the Convenience Package is not an incremental service release, but a complete new OS/2 version. By releasing this product, IBM accomplishes the following:
  • Brings OS/2 up to the latest service levels, and integrates all major enhancements and feature additions which were previously only available as add-on products;
  • Unifies the base code of the client and server versions, updating both to OS/2 version 4.51;
  • Makes many features available to the client version which were previously only available in the server version;
  • And, of course, adds new features and improvements specific to the new version.
There are convenience packages for both the OS/2 4.51 client (commonly referred to as the 'Merlin Convenience Package', a reference to the previous Warp client's development name) and the server (the 'Aurora Convenience Package'). This article is mainly concerned with the OS/2 client operating systems, since the server versions are priced far beyond the means of most individual users.

The main difference between the client and server versions is that the latter includes the IBM LAN Server product, Domino Go Web Server, WebSphere Application Server, various server and network management tools, and 64-way SMP support. (note 1)

The Convenience Package is primarily aimed at business users (which has been IBM's primary market for OS/2 since 1996), and is being shipped to all Software Choice members. (note 2)
[The OS/2 client Convenience Package, after installation]

eComStation

The Convenience Package, while highly significant, is only the beginning of the story. For one thing, it requires Software Choice membership, which (while a valuable product for many) can be considered overkill if all one wants is the one-time purchase of a single product. And, of course, this also requires that you already own a copy of OS/2 Warp 4.
The best answer to this dilemma is a new package called eComStation. Despite the cheesy name, eComStation is a dynamic and promising product, with the potential to breathe new life into OS/2 outside its current market.
Officially, eComStation is a new operating system designed to be the ultimate network client. Released by Serenity Systems (under license from IBM), it uses OS/2 version 4.51 in its underlying technology, but adds significant new enhancements.
At first glance, the most visible change is an enhanced user interface. The object-oriented desktop for which OS/2 is renowned has been updated with new dialogs, icon graphics, and a more intuitive layout.
Considerably more is planned, however, than appears in version 1.0 of eComStation. Serenity has assembled a group of developers and designers to provide continuing enhancements to usability, functionality, and aesthetics, in both the short and the long term.
On the more practical side, eComStation includes a completely new install process (to replace the old and rather awkward OS/2 installer), which allows the user to boot a functional version of the operating system right off the installation CD, and start evaluating before (or even while) installing it to the hard drive.
eComStation provides more than just a makeover, however. Central to eComStation's new technology is a product called WiseMachine. WiseMachine is best described as a universal software deployer. It allows a software product to be installed on a workstation from an existing source, such as a ZIP file, or a previous installation on another disk or LAN drive. Of course, it can also cleanly uninstall anything that has been installed in this fashion.
The implication of this is that, with WiseMachine, product-specific installers and uninstallers become unnecessary. It also becomes trivial to repair a damaged or incomplete installation, or clone an existing installation, with a few mouse clicks.
The fundamental purpose behind eComStation is highly controlled network management. Remote IPL technology allows eComStation to boot on diskless systems (as a 'thin client'), or on fully-fledged workstations. Applications can be run from a central server, or on each individual system -- but in either case, all software can be installed and managed centrally, thanks to WiseMachine and its LAN-based cousin, WiseManager. LAN administration promises to become much easier and more cost-effective under such a model.
Of course, eComStation is also perfectly capable of functioning as a powerful personal operating system. While corporate administrators are more likely to prize its power as a managed network client, individual users may find a great deal of value in eComStation as a significant new evolution of OS/2.
Another major promise of eComStation is its potential to re-ignite both consumer and developer interest in OS/2 as a platform. Discussions are already under way for new device driver development, new APIs, and extended multi-platform application support.
Bundled together with the initial release of eComStation are several useful software products, including: Lotus SmartSuite (the newest release), Sun StarOffice (the most recent OS/2 version), STi Applause (a commercial graphics application), and IBM Desktop On-Call (a remote control service which can be accessed from any Java-enabled web browser).
eComStation is available (note 3) from a number of resellers, including Prism Data Works (previously part of Indelible Blue; United States), Jacaranda Business Systems (Canada), and Mensys Online (Europe). The first general availability (GA) version of eComStation is expected to be released within the next few weeks.

Differences aside

However, this article is not intended as a review, or preview, of eComStation specifically. Its main purpose is to outline the new features and technologies of the operating system core. Consequently, the remainder of this article is devoted to describing these features without specific reference to either eComStation or the Convenience Packages. The term "OS/2 version 4.51", which provides the underlying technology for both, will be used instead.

What's New in OS/2 version 4.51

The OS/2 v4.51 client contains the following significant new features, some of which were previously included in the server edition:
  • USB (UHCI) support*
  • I20 device support
  • UDF filesystem and DVD support
  • Support for booting partitions past the 1024 cylinder limit via INT13h extensions
  • Per-process virtual address limit has been raised from 512 Mb to 3 GB*
  • New 32-bit SMP-aware Kernel Execution Environment device driver API enhancements*
  • Dynamic accelerated video support via multiple-chipset GRADD video driver architecture*
  • Java runtime environment and development kit, version 1.1.8*
  • Java 2 runtime environment and development kit, version 1.3*
  • Graphical locale builder (Glocale)
  • DBCS fonts included in all language versions
  • Wheel and scroll-point mouse support for PS/2 and USB mice*
  • SpeedStep support
  • Journaled File System (JFS), with support for:
    • Data journaling
    • Maximum partition size of 2 TB
    • Maximum file size of 2 TB
    • Inode-level ACL support
    • Unlimited cache size
    • Dynamic volume expansion via LVM
  • Logical Volume Manager (replacement for FDISK), allowing the following:
    • Partition hiding
    • Arbitrary 'sticky' drive letter assignment
    • On-the-fly partitioning without rebooting
    • Partition linking into virtual partitions or 'volumes'
    • Disk spanning
    • Dynamic volume expansion (with JFS)
  • TCP/IP version 4.3*, including the following features
    • 32-bit 4.4-BSD compatible TCP/IP stack
    • SSL, IPSec and VPN support
    • SecureWay Firewall components
    • SYN cookie defense
    • 32-bit multi-threaded NFS support (v3.0)
    • Streaming LPD with new security features
    • TIMED support
    • Multi-threaded FTPD
  • Full developers' toolkits included*
* Feature was previously available as an upgrade to OS/2 Warp 4
Some of these features will now be examined in detail.

New Device Support

OS/2 has, of course, had USB drivers available as a downloadable extra for a while. Out-of-the-box support, however, greatly facilitates first-time installation on a system which relies on USB devices such as keyboards and mice.

The Hardware Manager The OS/2 USB drivers have also been improved such that they are now fully compatible with VIA-chipset controllers (a patch was previously necessary for this). There remains one important limitation to the USB support, however: only UHCI type controllers are supported. This specifically means USB controllers with Intel or VIA chipsets, which comprise most "integrated" (on-board) USB controllers. The competing

OHCI standard, which is used in a number of add-on USB controller boards, is not supported under OS/2 at this time.
OS-level USB support does not, of course, mean that any given USB device is automatically usable. Device-specific drivers are still necessary in most cases. IBM has provided a number of these, so that most USB mice and keyboards, as well as some printers, modems and speakers, will work under OS/2. However, other devices such as scanners or external CD-writers will not -- until and unless drivers for these devices are written.
Another new category of driver support is Intelligent Input/Output, or I20. I20 support was introduced in OS/2 Warp Server for e-business back in 1999, but OS/2 v4.51 marks the first time it has been available on the OS/2 client. For most casual users, however, this is not likely to be a major feature -- I20 devices are still fairly uncommon, and are even more so in consumer-grade computer systems.
More significant is the fact that OS/2 now has native filesystem drivers for the Universal Data Format, as used on DVD-ROMs and in some CD-recordable solutions. These media may now be read (and, if applicable, written) under OS/2.
The availability of a UDF filesystem driver also means that OS/2 users are one significant step closer towards being able to watch DVD video on their PCs. Of course, other major pieces such as an MPEG-2 video player, and CSS authentication, still do not exist, although one or two third parties are working on these.

Video Drivers

The OS/2 Graphics Adapter Device Driver (GRADD) architecture was introduced in OS/2 Warp version 4, but did not become genuinely useable until several FixPaks later. GRADD is a generic video driver architecture which allows enhanced graphics support without necessarily having vendor-specific drivers.
There are two parts to GRADD. The core functionality is an API embedded into OS/2's own graphics API. The other part consists of video drivers which use this API. IBM has provided a basic set of drivers for some common video chipsets, including Matrox, ATI, and S3. There is also a 'generic' driver (called 'GENGRADD') that provides unaccelerated Super VGA support for chipsets which are not specifically supported.
OS/2 video configuration What is considerably more exciting is the work now being done in conjunction with Scitech Software. A product called Scitech Display Doctor for OS/2 uses the GRADD architecture to provide advanced video support for a huge range of modern chipsets. Almost all currently popular video adapters are fully supported, and new chipsets are being added constantly.
One of the nice features of Scitech Display Doctor is that, since support for multiple chipsets is integrated into a single video driver, it is possible to completely change video cards (from, say, ATI to Matrox) without having to change the video driver at all. Simply power down, swap in the new video card, power on again, and continue working.
IBM has partnered with Scitech to make Scitech Display Doctor (SDD) an integral part of OS/2. The "basic" version of SDD is provided to OS/2 users for free (although the latest version currently requires Software Choice membership), and supports 2D acceleration and resolutions up to 1600x1200x32bpp at 85 Mhz. A "Professional" version of SDD is also available for purchase from Scitech (USD $39.95). SDD Professional adds support for custom resolutions, portrait and HDTV (16:9) resolutions, refresh rates up to the maximum supported by the hardware (with on-the-fly switching), 3D acceleration, and more.
The Professional version of SDD is still in beta, although most of the above features are already implemented and are extremely stable.

Storage Enhancements

Logical Volume Manager

One new feature that has caused a great deal of excitement and consternation is the Logical Volume Manager (LVM). Like I2O support, LVM has been part of OS/2 Warp Server since 1999, but it is now available for the first time in the OS/2 client.
LVM is two things. First, and most simply, the LVM program is a replacement for the seasoned FDISK utility. (A stub FDISK executable still exists, but the only thing it does is output a message saying that FDISK has been replaced by LVM.) Like FDISK, LVM allows the user to manage disk partitions, but it also allows much more, thanks to some crucial OS-level architectural changes.
These changes make up the other part of the Logical Volume Manager: a revamped storage-management subsystem and API. A new layer of abstraction -- logical volumes -- has been added on top of the now-old concept of disk partitions.
A volume is essentially a logical drive. Under LVM, partitions are treated as little more than allocations of raw disk space. A volume consists of either a single partition, or a group of 'linked' partitions, and has a drive letter and a file system. The user sees only volumes, not partitions.
LVM - viewing volumes This new arrangement provides several advantages. For one thing, drive letters need no longer be assigned to partitions on a 'first come, first served' basis. Drive letters may now be assigned arbitrarily, and will remain at their current settings even when new volumes or disk drives are added. Volumes may also be hidden (or unhidden) from the operating system. And all of this may be done without having to reboot the system afterwards. As mentioned, logical volumes may also consist of more than one partition, even partitions on separate physical hard disks. If the volume in question is formatted with the Journaled File System (see below), then new partitions may be added to such a volume at any later time, without affecting the existing contents of the volume. (Partitions may not, however, be removed from a volume.)
A special type of volume called an LVM volume must be used in order to use multiple partitions per volume. LVM volumes are not compatible with other operating systems which are not 'LVM-aware'.
To allow backwards compatibility, however, the default single-partition volume type (called, appropriately enough, a compatibility volume) is designed to be usable by other operating systems. In fact, a compatibility volume is really nothing more than a standard partition with some extra volume-specific data (a 'fingerprint', essentially) stored in an otherwise-unused part of the partition table. This means that other operating systems will simply see most volumes as standard partitions, without having access to the extra features of LVM.

The one potential pitfall in this arrangement is that this 'volume fingerprint' can be erased if the disk is later partitioned with third-party software that doesn't understand LVM. This includes the FDISK program from other operating systems (including Windows, Linux, and prior versions of OS/2); it also includes such software as Partition Magic from PowerQuest.

Attempting to use this software will most likely erase the volume data that LVM uses. In such a case, it would be necessary to run LVM (possibly off bootable system diskettes) and re-apply the volume information. However, this only works in the case of compatibility volumes. If you have LVM volumes on your system, using FDISK or Partition Magic will probably destroy those volumes, and all data on them, irrevocably.

For these reasons, it is strongly recommended that you avoid the use of partition-management software other than LVM, once OS/2 v4.51 is installed. If you must do so, then be aware of the complications, and avoid using LVM volumes.

The other major difference between compatibility and LVM volumes is that only compatibility volumes may be made bootable. LVM volumes cannot be booted from; therefore, there must always be at least one compatibility volume (per installed operating system) present on the system, to contain the operating system files.
There are two versions of the LVM executable program, both of which interface with the LVM engine in LVM.DLL: LVM.EXE, which is an interactive panel-driven text-mode program; and LVMGUI, a graphical front-end written in Java.
LVM - text version  LVM - GUI version
 

Journaled File System

Along with LVM, IBM has introduced a new file system for OS/2. The Journaled File System, or JFS, has a number of features that give it the advantage over HPFS (note 4), and in some cases even over HPFS386 (note 5).
First of all, JFS supports the major features of HPFS like native long filenames, extended attributes, and bad block relocation. It also includes some features previously exclusive to HPFS386, like direct inode-level support for ACLs (access control lists), and an unlimited cache size.
But JFS does considerably more. Maximum volume size (previously 64 GB under HPFS and HPFS386) is 2 TB (2048 GB) under JFS. The maximum single file size is also 2 TB, and the maximum number of files per directory is documented as 4 billion. JFS also supports 'sparse files': a feature which allows large database structures to be defined, yet only occupy the amount of physical space required by the data in them. (For instance, a 90 GB database file could be defined on a 10 GB partition, as long as the actual data in the file consumes less than 10 GB.)
As its name implies, JFS uses 'data journaling', meaning that file system transactions are logged in a journal. This journal is used to maintain file system integrity in the case of a system crash. The most noticeable benefit of this is that the amount of time required to run CHKDSK on a JFS drive is drastically less than that required on a FAT or HPFS drive (mere seconds as compared to minutes or even hours).
JFS also supports dynamic volume expansion. When an LVM volume is formatted with JFS, additional partitions may be added to that volume on the fly, and the volume's file system expanded as required.
Finally, JFS is optimized for SMP support. While its performance scaling for LAN server tasks on one or two processors is significantly worse than that of HPFS386, the comparison improves in JFS's favor as more processors are added. In a system with five or more CPUs, JFS is expected to yield superior performance.
JFS is not a complete replacement for HPFS and HPFS386 just yet, however. Its major limitation is that, in its current version, JFS is not bootable. It also may only be used on LVM volumes, and not on compatibility volumes. Therefore, OS/2 itself may not be installed on a JFS volume. JFS is, however, well-suited for dedicated data or application drives.
JFS also lacks some of HPFS386's advanced features, like DASD limits and RAID-1 fault tolerance.
It should be noted that both LVM and JFS originated on the AIX operating system, and both are being ported to Linux. Source code for both is available under the GNU General Public License.

Networking

Since OS/2 Warp version 4, IBM has made some major upgrades to the OS/2 networking subsystem. Besides various improvements to the NetBIOS and NFS implementations, the most noticeable enhancements are to TCP/IP networking.
The old 16-bit TCP/IP stack has been replaced by a fully 32-bit, 4.4-BSD compliant stack, ported from AIX. (note 6) To accompany this new stack are a new set of 32-bit TCP/IP applications and services. Several of these, such as NFS and FTPD, are now multi-threaded instead of multi-process.
Many security features have appeared, such as SYN cookie defense, and Secure Sockets (SSL) support. IBM's powerful AIX firewall software has also been included, although it is sparsely documented and does not include any graphical configuration program. However, with this software, OS/2 now has integrated rule-based firewall support, one-to-one Network Address Translation (NAT), IPSec, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) support.
The old TCP/IP configuration program has been replaced by one written in pure Java. Together with a new administration security mechanism, this allows machines to be configured remotely as well as locally.
And, of course, the new networking components are all fully SMP-capable.

Java

Almost ever since Java was first introduced, IBM has pushed OS/2 as one of the best possible platforms for Java development and deployment. Consequently, the OS/2 Java virtual machine has long been one of the fastest and most efficient available.
OS/2 version 4.51 includes two full versions of the Java Development Kit. For the sake of legacy applications which may have compatibility problems with the newest version, the default JDK included is version 1.1.8, with the latest service updates as of October 2000. Whether or not the development kit itself is selected as a component during operating system installation, the Java 1.1.8 runtime environment will always be installed. (The TCP/IP configuration program requires it; so do the Logical Volume Manager GUI, and the Universal Database control center if IBM DB2 is installed.)
The other Java version included provides more cutting-edge support. IBM Java 2 version 1.3 provides support for the latest Java platform as designed by Sun. The JDK 1.3 installs alongside JDK 1.1.8 so that the two may coexist on a single system. A file system that supports large cache sizes (such as JFS or HPFS386) is recommended for installing the JDK 1.3 files.

Application Compatibility

Integrated compatibility

OS/2 continues to support both 16-bit and 32-bit native OS/2 applications, as well as Java applications (depending on the Java runtime versions installed).
As it has for years, OS/2 allows DOS and Windows 3.1 to be run in seamless virtual machines, providing near-100% support for DOS and 16-bit Windows applications. Since multiple DOS and Windows sessions may be run simultaneously, such applications can be pre-emptively multitasked without compromising system stability. A misbehaving DOS or Windows program may simply be terminated, along with the virtual machine it runs in, without adversely affecting the rest of the system.
OS/2 includes versions of DOS and Windows, specially optimized for running virtually, out of the box. The DOS implementation (called MDOS) is more or less equivalent to PC-DOS 5.0. Of course, it is possible to run other versions of DOS (such as MS-DOS 6.2 or DR-DOS 7) if tA Windows program in seamless modehey are available, through the use of of bootable image files.
The OS/2 Windows implementation, Win-OS/2, is an optimized and recompiled MS Windows 3.1 (to which IBM apparently now owns the source code). Win-OS/2 sessions may be run full-screen, in which case the old, familiar Windows 3.1 interface takes over the screen; or seamlessly, in which case Windows programs simply appear as windows on the OS/2 desktop (with the old-style Windows widgets, however).
The application compatibility in Win-OS/2 can be upgraded to support a few, mostly older, 32-bit applications by installing Win32s version 1.25 (later versions, which contain some key Microsoft "improvements", will refuse to install).
Full 32-bit Windows compatibility, of course, remains a holy grail of sorts; but it is slowly starting to be realized.

The Odin Project

"Odin" is the name of an ambitious community undertaking which aims to allow Windows 95/98/Me/NT/2000 applications to be run seamlessly under OS/2. Although it was originally a separate, ground-up project, it has incorporated (and continues to incorporate) work from the WINE project, which has similar goals for the Unix platform. However, it is more than a simple port of WINE.
A Win32 program running under Odin Odin operates on two levels. First of all, it enables the execution of Windows "PE" format executables under OS/2. Actually, it provides three alternative ways of doing this: a program loader, a ring-0 kernel driver, and a conversion program which can actually convert PE binaries (both executables and libraries) to OS/2-native "LX" binary format.
The second level is the Win32 API. OS/2 actually includes a sizeable subset of Win32 already (called Open32), originally designed to make application porting easier. The Odin Project is updating and extending this with the goal of eventually having a completely functional Win32 implementation under OS/2. It is this part of the project that benefits most from work done by WINE.
A number of Win32 applications are already capable of being run under Odin, with varying degrees of usefulness. Examples include RealPlayer 8, which has a few quirks but is generally quite useable; Lotus Notes Release 5, which supposedly runs extremely well; and CyberLink PowerDVD, which runs but cannot properly play DVD movies -- yet. Microsoft Office is not yet working, but it remains a high priority objective.

Unix compatibility

One of the major sources for new OS/2 software these days is, interestingly, the open source Unix community. OS/2 is much more "Unix-like" in architecture than DOS and Windows, and consequently most major Linux applications have OS/2 ports.
A free library package called "EMX" is a valuable part of this effort. EMX provides a standard C library, the GNU compiler (gcc) and development tools, and a small set of runtime libraries (DLLs). For those who simply want to run ported programs on their OS/2 systems, the EMX runtime libraries can be copied into the system library path, and then all ported Unix applications should run transparently. (It is also possible, of course, to statically link the EMX routines into an executable, making the runtime DLLs unnecessary.)
Applications ported via EMX include most of the common Unix utilities (bash, tar, zip, unzip, sed, awk, man, less, etc.), as well as more advanced software such as ssh, cdrecord, Apache, Perl, Samba, and even XFree86. Through XFree86, it is also possible to run ports of X software such as GIMP and GNOME.

The Future

Open source OS/2?

Although OS/2 has benefited a great deal from open source software, the core operating system remains a closed, commercial product. One wistful suggestion that is frequently raised is the possibility of IBM making OS/2 itself open source. Unfortunately, this suggestion generally comes from those who do not understand OS/2's rather unusual position in the marketplace.
It is very unlikely that OS/2 could ever be released as open source. The first of the many reasons for this is the simple fact that IBM still makes a great deal of money ($46 million in 1999, according to this Sm@rt Partner article) just from selling OS/2 licenses. Changing OS/2 into free software would deny them that sales revenue.
Many people who suggest the open source route seem to be under the mistaken impression that OS/2 has been discontinued or placed in some kind of "end-of-life" limbo. Although this impression seems to be encouraged by certain media elements, it is quite untrue. OS/2 remains an active product line which IBM still develops and sells.
The important thing to remember is that OS/2 is not marketed (by IBM, anyway) to individual consumers. Although it functions extremely well as a personal or SOHO platform, IBM long ago recognized the difficulty of competing with Microsoft for that market. Consequently, OS/2 is aimed primarily at large business environments, especially financial institutions like banks or insurance companies.
Thus, most of IBM's OS/2 revenue stream comes from large, traditional, paranoid, enterprise-level customers: exactly the kind of establishment that still regards open source software with suspicion and scorn.
Moving from practical to legal reasons, OS/2 includes many technologies (PostScript, TrueType, OpenStep, OpenGL, to name a few) which are owned by companies other than IBM. These would have to be removed or replaced, at no small expense and effort, before an open source release would be possible.
Finally, one must keep in mind that OS/2 originated as a joint IBM-Microsoft creation. Although Microsoft left the project years ago, they still have partial copyright over certain components. Microsoft would therefore need to agree to any opening of the OS/2 source; something they are very unlikely to do.
Alternatively, were IBM to totally remove all trace of Microsoft's contributions, it would most likely be necessary to completely rewrite the kernel, much of the driver architecture, the graphics layer, the installer, and most of the network subsystem. Although very little actual Microsoft code likely remains, a single semi-colon would probably be enough to keep the joint copyright in effect... and it may no longer be possible to determine exactly who wrote what.
In short, open sourcing OS/2 would force IBM to spend a tremendous amount of time and money, cause them to lose sales revenue, and probably alienate their largest customers at the same time. The perceived benefits would have to be truly overwhelming; and in any case, IBM currently prefers to spend its open source energies on Linux, which has a promising future on their System 390 family of mainframe computers.
It would be much simpler to just start an open source project to clone OS/2 from scratch. (In fact, such an undertaking is in the early planning stages right now, under the working name "FreeOS".)
 

Looking ahead

Some commentators have opined that the Convenience Package, while it may be a promising step, is not in itself worth getting too excited about. After all, they point out, it is an evolutionary rather than revolutionary release; and does not seem likely to expand the OS/2 market.
The best opportunity for the expansion of OS/2 as a computing platform is most likely represented by eComStation. By offering a powerful, managed network client, Serenity is targeting CTOs and network administrators (primarily at the sub-enterprise level) who are losing patience with the runaway support and licensing costs associated with other popular software platforms.
What is more, since eComStation contains all the standard OS/2 technology (including all the features previously discussed here), it has a solid range of application and hardware support already.
IBM has demonstrated its willingness to license out OS/2 technology to such endeavours. If eComStation proves as successful as Serenity believes it will, this may well mark the beginning of OS/2's re-emergence as a networked productivity platform.
And that just might be worth getting excited about.

Notes

1

OS/2's SMP (symmetric multi-processing) support is renowned for its stability and scalability. Up to sixty-four (64) CPUs in a single computer may be utilized (although, since OS/2 runs only on Intel-compatible hardware, encountering more than sixteen processors per machine is rare).

Any program which uses multiple threads will automatically have its threads divided between the available CPUs, without the need for programmers to specifically write code designed for SMP. In the event that a program is unsuited to running in SMP mode, individual applications may be explicitly set to uni-processor mode. There are also APIs available which allow "processor affinity" if the programmer wishes to designate specific CPUs for specific threads.

Currently, IBM only makes this SMP support available on the server version of OS/2. The standard OS/2 client is uni-processor only, although it is possible (but probably not legal) to hack the SMP support into the client by lifting the required files from an OS/2 fixpak.

2

Software Choice is a subscription-based upgrade protection service, which includes a number of additional products and features besides the Convenience Package. A two-year subscription costs USD $249 (IBM price; discounts are available from some resellers); this entitles the recipient to continuing updates throughout the subscription period.

The subscription terms state that you must already own a license for OS/2 Warp version 4 (which itself has a SRP of $279 US), or else be a Passport Advantage member.

3

The basic version of eComStation currently has a suggested retail price of $279 US, or $139 US if the user is upgrading from OS/2 Warp 4. A 'Professional' version adds SMP support, and is listed at $389 US. These prices are expected to increase after version 1.0 is released.

If these prices seem expensive, remember that Serenity Systems is required to pay IBM substantial licensing fees for each copy of eComStation sold.

Also, the value is considerably more apparent when comparing the prices for OS/2 Warp. An OS/2 license is $279 US for version 4; without eComStation, a user would normally need to pay an additional $249 US (subject to reseller discounts) for a Software Choice subscription, in order to acquire the equivalent version of OS/2.

eComStation also includes a great deal of commercial software bundled in, and its own significant enhancements to the operating system.

Serenity does plan to make free, limited-functionality versions of eComStation available for evaluation purposes.

4

HPFS, the High Performance File System, is the primary file system used under OS/2. HPFS uses a B-tree to store its directory information, which gives it a significant performance advantage over list-based file systems such as FAT. File names in HPFS may be up to 254 characters in length, and are case retentive (though not case sensitive).

One of the most important features of HPFS is support for "extended attributes", or EAs: arbitrary key-value pairs (any number up to a maximum of 64 KB in size) in a file's directory entry. EAs may contain anything from a bookmark in a text file to an image thumbnail or window position.

One common use for EAs is to denote file types. This eliminates the awkward system of determining type based on filename, and also allows any given file to have multiple types. (For example, a C header file may be "plain text", "C code", and "header file", all at the same time.)

5

HPFS386 is the server-enhanced version of HPFS. It is written in speed-optimized 32-bit assembly language, and adds a number of features on top of the HPFS file system, such as unlimited cache, fault tolerance, direct ACL support, and local security. HPFS386 is extremely fast, stable... and expensive.

Due to royalty issues (IBM shares the copyright with Microsoft, a legacy of the joint development agreement made back when OS/2 was a cooperative project), the OS/2 client does not include HPFS386. A license for HPFS386 costs several hundred dollars, and is only sold together with the advanced OS/2 server product.

For those who do happen to own a HPFS386 license, it is of course quite possible to install it on the new OS/2 client.

6

One oddity with the newer TCP/IP stack is that the popular Netcraft web server benchmark site consistently misreports it as Compaq Tru64 UNIX. Apparently, the OS/2 stack is so similar to the UNIX implementation that Netcraft is unable to differentiate.

 Sources & References

  • IBM Convenience Package for OS/2 Warp version 4
  • IBM Software Announcement 200-082. Continuing Support and Features for IBM OS/2 and IBM OS/2 Warp Server for e-business - All Yours Via IBM Software Choice
  • Basavalingaiah, Girish, et al (IBM). Inside OS/2 Warp Server for e-business. IBM Redbook SG24-5393-00. ITSO, July 1999
  • Sipples, Timothy (IBM). "What's New in Warp Server for e-business?". Usenet article <37ADAC87.49FAE052@us.iNoSPAMbm.com> posted to comp.os.os2.networking.server and comp.os.os2.misc on August 8, 1999
  • Schindler, Esther. IBM to Update OS/2 Client. Sm@rt Partner, Febuary 7 2000
  • IBM Software Choice
  • The Odin Project, home page and design overview
  • The Enterprise Volume Management System project (open source release of the Logical Volume Manager)
  • JFS for Linux project (open source release of the Journaled File System)
  • Information on FreeOS.
  • Scitech Display Doctor for OS/2. See also press release on IBM-Scitech partnership.
  • eComStation web site
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Last modified: 2004/08/30, 16:35 | This site is sponsored by Mensys B.V.