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Copyright 1998-2024, Southern California OS/2 User Group. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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The Southern California OS/2 User Group

SCOUG OS/2 For You - November 1997

Gene Akins Helps The Common Man

How to install ten IDE drives on your OS/2 machine

by Peter Skye

ENCINITAS - Backups have two purposes: archiving ("The IRS says we have to recalculate our 1995 taxes without the Las Vegas trip write-offs, so get that data back on line") and disaster recovery ("Hello, Police? Somebody stole our computers!").

Backups under OS/2 are often done by MSR Development's BackMaster, the leading OS/2 backup software, and the technical guy to meet when you drop in at MSR's headquarters is affable, encyclopedic and sometimes irreverent Gene Akins, of whom this reporter is still stunned by his depth of knowledge in all things OS/2. Mr. Akins is much more than an engineer, as I can demonstrate with one simple example: when you ask him a question, he actually answers it.

For example, I notice his web page requests (he uses Netscape) appear very quickly, even allowing for his ISDN hookup. "Simple," says Gene. "For one thing, put the Netscape Cache directory on a different drive. That way, you cut down on seek time." Cute.

Or how to cram nine IDE drives (eight hard drives plus a CD-ROM) into one machine. More on that in a minute.

Where do smart guys come from?

Gene was born in Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia and grew up, as he says, a Navy "brat." He was raised in Poway, a few minutes northeast of the Navy's ship yards in San Diego. His dad is a direct descendant of Daniel Boone.

His early career was as a carpenter, which he augmented with licenses for general contracting, pest control operator, and hospital engineering. This first career was invigorating, intriguing and healthy, and it came to a sudden halt when a high-speed extraction machine tore out his right shoulder. While recuperating, someone gave him a computer and, well, we're all the better for it. He's a single parent with a son and a daughter, he's Technical Support Specialist at MSR Development, and he can cram more hardware into an OS/2 system than anyone I've ever met.

On his desktop

Gene isn't shy about his recommendations. "FM/2," he proclaims boldly, "is the best file manager ever - it's awesome." Another essential: the freeware program "PC/2," which gives you 99 independent desktops, allows assigning single and double mouse clicks to customizable menus, and much, much more. Gene says it comes with source code, in case you want to modify it.

He uses RAR for compressing files instead of ZIP. Gene has found that RAR's compression is far superior to ZIP and, in the "I'll show you" test he ran for me, RAR certainly compressed better than ZIP did. Plus, the compressed files are self-extracting, and you've got the option of including installation scripts and ANSI splash screens. Great for sending software to harried users over the Internet. (Since compressed files sometimes go onto a floppy, he uses QFORMAT for one second diskette formats.)

And he's got PM2Java - "a most amazing program" - installed and running. PM2Java converts Presentation Manager interfaces to Java code. Now, this one program is a code writer's dream. It generates the Java code which will duplicate the folders and windows that you see on your screen. You just run PM2Java, select some folder or window that's on your screen, and WHAM your Java code is done. Just like that. For fast Java ports, start with this.

"Email?" I say to Gene. "PM Mail," he responds. "Your ISDN ISP?" I ask. "CTSnet," he answers. MSR has its own mail server: Inet.Mail For OS/2 by Hethmon Brothers.

Gene uses a Matrox Millennium video card, and he's currently powered with a 166 MHz Cyrix chip. "Why a Cyrix?" I ask. "Because there are some problem reports that only come in from guys running on a Cyrix," Gene says. I watch as the cpu usage on Gene's idle machine spikes up for a while, then dies back down. "Those spikes only happen with Cyrix," he says. "And, whatever it is that's going on is affecting BackMaster. I want to see exactly what it is that's going wrong." Now that's dedication. Replacing your motherboard with one you hope will fail so you can identify some customer problem goes under the category of "Things We'd Like To See."

Gene writes code

Gene wrote the BackMaster scheduler in VX-REXX with lots of beta testers making suggestions. You can schedule anything on the system with it; it's not restricted to just scheduling backups. "Watch this," he says, glancing at the clock to see that it's 4:10 and typing a system reboot at 4:11 into the scheduler. We wait as the remaining 12 seconds in the minute tick by. The scheduler dutifully reboots the system.

Gene also writes shareware. He showed me one he wrote a couple of years ago, AutoBMP, which rotates .bmp images on your background. He's gotten hundreds of registrations for it. He wrote it, too, in VX-REXX.

Can you see this problem?

A lot of problems, and not just for BackMaster, are caused by video cards and their drivers. An occasional customer complaint is that the backup is running very slowly. "I tell the user, right while we're on the phone, to start a backup and verify that it's running slow. Then, while it's running, I have them start a full-screen Win-OS/2 session. This releases all the Presentation Manager hooks to the video driver, which sometimes lets the processor pay attention to the backup and the tape drive then takes off. It depends on the quality of the video driver." Gene is quick to point out that Matrox video cards (including his Millennium) have excellent OS/2 drivers, and he's never seen this problem with their cards. He's also found that he can sometimes solve a problem by having the user turn all video BIOS shadowing off.

"Another problem I keep seeing," he continues, "is motherboard jumpers not set properly. Some of those jumpers divide the master clock down so you get the proper bus frequency. Set them improperly, or change them to overclock the cpu chip while forgetting to change the bus divider, and your floppy tape controller ends up getting the wrong bus speed. This sorta makes it not like to work right."

One quick hype

So, Gene, what's new in BackMaster? "You no longer have to tell it what tape drive you're using. Just say whether it's internal floppy, external parallel, SCSI or Trakker, and BackMaster will figure it out from there. What we now do is query the actual ASIC (Application Specific Integrated Circuit) on the drive for an i.d. so we know what tape drive is connected." BackMaster upgrades from version 2 or earlier are $49, and if you're currently using version 3 you should go to their web site and get BackMaster 3.01d. And the next update will add support for Iomega Max 8 GB drives and parallel port interface drives.

You can have multiple tape drives in your system, too, although only one can be connected to a floppy adapter. You just tell BackMaster the name of the INI file to use (that file specifies the drive), or alternately you can rename the INI files. Internal plus parallel is okay, as is internal plus SCSI, or SCSI plus parallel, or even three or more SCSI drives if you're so inclined. BackMaster doesn't yet chain drives, which means it won't automatically switch to a second tape drive when the first drive's tape becomes full, but hey, something for a future release.

Lots of BackMaster licenses are sold to OS/2 voice mail embedded systems; they're also strong in hospital life support, manufacturing automation, and video servers. Most of these machines are 486 systems with little (250 MB) tape drives, and Gene is often asked, "Are you still supporting these small tape drives? We just sold some more boxes and we need to order your backup software as long as it still works on this old stuff." Yes, BackMaster still supports every drive it ever did.

And product testing too

Gene did extensive testing on MSR's newest product, ScreenSavrMaster, to make sure it ran under Win-OS/2. It's a Windows 3.x product they bought from an independent developer, but it's got an amazing capability that makes it a desirable addition to any OS/2 system: the picture files (it's really more of a slide show presentation program) can include sound (WAV) files.

Get this. Take the images you want to use, arrange them however you like, select the various wipes, fades, crossfades and explodes that make you happy, and then add sound. A WAV-file editor is included.

What do you do with it? Product demos, for starters. Or the newest deals at your brother Lenny's Used Car Lot. Maybe the homes your real estate agent sister-in-law has listed. Or architectural services. Linen shop items. Christmas cards. Power tools. All stuck onto self-extracting diskettes and bulk mailed out the same way that AOL took the market by storm. Very impressive.

Hidden knowledge

Gene's office is stuffed. There are computers everywhere, and pieces of computers, and small little things that look like they ought to be part of a piece of a computer. There are notes, big notes and little notes, big funny notes on his bulletin board and serious little yellow notes stuck helter skelter, hither and yon. But the shelves of books which adorn my own office are nowhere to be seen. And this guy knows more than me. How do I get him to reveal his secret?

"Tell me," I coaxingly say to this walking, talking OS/2 database, "where, exactly, do you acquire such a wealth of OS/2 knowledge?"

His eyes light up, his face grins wide and he rocks back in his chair with the expectant delight of someone about to reveal a master plan. "ReadMe files," says Gene.

Say what?

"ReadMe files," he repeats. "They come with drivers, they come with utilities, they come with shareware and freeware, they come with FixPaks. That's the one and only place that master developers divulge exactly what's really going on. And INF files. They're great too. I have a whole subdirectory named OS2BOOK filled with them."

Gene continues. "Take the new Warp 3 FixPak. The README says that IBM may add functionality to OS/2 in the future through FixPaks. And there's a new feature called Reserve Drive Letters, a modification to the OS/2 kernel, which gives you some flexibility in how drive letters are assigned."

How sneaky. The only ReadMe file I ever entertained was one that Mark Abramowitz read to me over the phone. Perhaps I should get out all the past year's installation diskettes and CD-ROMs and do some serious ReadMe-ing.

Grand Finale

Okay, I promised to tell you how Gene created that extraordinary "nine IDE drive" system. Here goes.

Start with a motherboard that already has support for four IDE drives. Add a "busmastering" (it's a technology) PCI IDE caching controller which also supports four IDE drives (your motherboard has to support "busmastering" - for example, the Intel Triton chip set does). Then add a SoundBlaster card which supports an IDE CD-ROM drive.

In CONFIG.SYS, first code IBMS5106.ADD /A:0 /I to have the operating system ignore (/I) the first (/A:0) IDE adapter it finds (the one on the motherboard). Then code the line for the special 32-bit driver for your particular "busmastering" controller. This assigns the system's first four hard drives to the drives on that controller. Next code IBMS5106.ADD /A:0 /U:0 /U:1 /V to assign the four drives connected directly to the motherboard. (With the new 6 GB IDE drives, this gives you 48 GB of inexpensive IDE hard drive storage.) Finally, code IBMS5106.ADD /A:2 /U:0 /ATAPI for the SoundBlaster CD-ROM drive.

You can still install SCSI drives in addition to the above IDE drives. Gene installed (along with his nine IDE drives) two SCSI hard drives, two SCSI CD-ROM drives and a SCSI tape drive. He had no conflicts.

Gene thinks he can expand this to ten IDE drives. He's already got an IDE drive parallel port interface, and he's looking for an OS/2 driver.

Gene Akins,

MSR Development Corporation, 4407 Manchester Avenue Suite #104, Encinitas, CA 92024, 760/633-3900 office and technical support, 760/633-3909 fax, 760/633-3908 BBS,,,


AutoBMP, search Hobbes

FM/2, search Hobbes

Inet.Mail For OS/2, Hethmon Brothers,

PC/2 (Program Commander/2), written by Roman Stangl,,

PM2Java, written by Marc Fiammante,

QFormat, search Hobbes

RAR, search Hobbes

VX-REXX, current status unknown

QIC (Quarter Inch Cartridge) Organization,

Colorado (now Hewlett Packard),

Conner (now Seagate),

Eagle (an Exabyte product),


Iomega Ditto tape drives,

Seagate tape drives,


IBM FixPaks, OS/2 Warp 3.x and 4.0 FixPaks,

The Southern California OS/2 User Group
P.O. Box 26904
Santa Ana, CA 92799-6904, USA

Copyright 1997 the Southern California OS/2 User Group. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

SCOUG is a trademark of the Southern California OS/2 User Group.
OS/2, Workplace Shell, and IBM are registered trademarks of International Business Machines Corporation.
All other trademarks remain the property of their respective owners.