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The Southern California OS/2 User Group

Whither OS/2?
The President's Message

June 2006

by Tony Butka

Recently one of our longtime OS/2 supporters wrote a letter to me, basically asking for an assessment of OS/2 and where we ultimately go in the future. He (well, actually I shouldn't call him 'he''; his real name is Mel Stimmel and I would like to publicly thank him for the letter – I'm sure there are a number of folks out there who would never write but have similar questions.

He makes a number of very valid points that I will attempt to address:

  1. Since IBM dropped support it seems that going to eCS would just be 'pouring money down a rathole' and delaying conversion to another platform

  2. The biggest problem with OS/2 now isn't the base OS, which is very usable and stable, but there is a growing lack of hardware driver support

  3. The second biggest problem is that the applications are stagnant and not updated – thus creating interoperability problems with the Windows (read Microsoft Office) world

  4. As an example, Mel cites the need to access a client's system via a Web Browser and VPN via a wireless connection, using a laptop.

Mel wrote, “Some of the things I'd appreciate seeing on your web-site are:

  • an overall assessment (where we're at, potential migration paths;
  • what does the future look like, etc.) of how users like me can survive comfortably now and in the future (with or without OS/2);
  • the pros and cons of staying with OS/2, subscribing to eCS, migrating to Linux,etc.”

First, let me try to give you my highly personal and skewed vision of where we're at with OS/2 in the near term, especially as it relates to Serenity Systems (eCS). At this point in time, with IBM formally abandoning OS/2, Serenity Systems, Mensys, and NetLabs are the key players in continuing support for the Operating System. I have personally chosen to plunk down around $100 to Serenity Systems for what they call a “Media Refresh” (read OS/2 Warp4 with all kernel, fixpak, and driver updates – and installable on modern motherboard/cpu systems, from CD), OpenOffice 1.1.5 & an upgrade to OpenOffice 2.0, as well as a number of beta projects. I have done this for two reasons. First, I still really like OS/2. It's small, it's stable, I don't get viruses (hey, except for a very few dos or Win 3.1 ones nobodys writing OS/2 viruses), and I avoid getting a bunch of hotfixes and upgrades which simply break some of the software that I already have installed on my system. Thus I can spend more of my time actually using my computer for productive work.

The second reason really revolves around your second question as to what we are going to have to migrate to, and when. Here my short answer is some version of Linux, and probably we won't have to make the migration for quite some time. My reasoning is that more and more, the various operating systems are becoming less important as users do their computing via the Internet, using browsers, with a few 'office' applications, and big time use of e-mail as the basic tools for connectivity. From this standpoint, so long as the browser can handle 'it', the it being plugins like java, flash, video formats, pdf files, and such, then the underlying operating system doesn't make too much difference at all.

From this standpoint, I'm interested in a few basic programs that work cross-platform with OS/2, Unix & Linux, and some version of Windows. For the present, these basic programs that I use under all of these operating systems are Mozilla (Firefox, Thunderbird, and SeaMonkey), and the OpenOffice suite, with reasonably current Java versions. I'm also interested in LAMP/XAMPP stuff – Apache, MySQL, Perl, PHP, and such, since that's what the big servers out there use, and these programs are all available under the three operating systems I currently use. The good news is that all of these basic programs I use are constantly being updated for both Linux and OS/2, as well as Windows.

Beyond these basic programs, the operating system only makes a difference if the piece of hardware or application that you really really need only runs under one operating system (or one version of an operating system). For example, I'm in love with my semipro Epson Stylus Photo R1800 printer, and use it to do high quality 13”x19” borderless photo prints using specialized photo glossy paper, with the printer applying gloss to the prints. Very awesome stuff, and as it happens this printer ONLY works under either Windows 2000 Pro or Windows XP (thanks a bunch, Epson). While there are a few features that benefit from using Adobe PhotoShop, I often print using PMView for Windows, which is also my basic OS/2 Image Editing program. You can tweak the image better in PhotoShop. PMView prints faster and with as much clarity. Take your choice.

Now to point out the flip side, I also have another piece of hardware that I use which is a Fujitsu ScanSnap color image scanner. I use this a lot to directly scan documents to pdf files and store them on my computer. It will handle color, two sided documents, will scan at around 20 pages per minute, and I like it a lot. It will also absolutely not work under Windows XP Professional x64 Edition. My inquires to Fujitsu were met with barely concealed disdain that I would try to use their low end consumer product with Windows x64, and that they had/have absolutely no plans to ever produce a driver. Even more fun, the scanner came with Adobe Acrobat 7 Standard. While you can load Acrobat 7 to Windows x64, you can't print to the Adobe PDF printer object because it is not supported under – you guessed it – Windows XP Professional x64 Edition. Inquiries to Adobe were met with the same kind of too bad so sad that I got for Fujitsu. As to Microsoft, I was not so gently chided in a newsgroup for expecting that a 'beta' operating system would have drivers. At $140 when I built my current computer, I was not amused, and from my point of view Windows XP Professional x64 edition has all the stability and driver issues that OS/2 2.0 did. The only difference is that this os came on a cd instead of a bunch of floppies, and cost more.

So. For me the solution is to move to generic, cross-platform hardware even if it costs a bit more. For example, I use mostly postscript (inkjet, laser or color laser) printers, with an ethernet network card. They work just spiffy out of the box with any of my operating systems. You can also get higher end document scanners from Xerox and other vendors that will run on a network, do the scanning and conversion internally, and spit out the pdf files to wherever you say. This way, whatever operating system I move to, I don't have to worry about the hardware under either OS/2 or Linux.

In terms of the readers question about wireless and portables, I believe that we've had presentations on it at several of our SCOUG meetings. Perhaps my President's Message for October 2005 or Michael "Rocky" Rakijas's presentation outline on Networking Your House will be useful.

When and if I really need to shift operating systems, it will probably be to Linux, since there's a natural affinity between OS/2 and Linux – most of our ports coming from the Linux world (thank you, thank you all) For now, that is not necessary, since I can play with all these operating systems, as I slowly get through the learning curve for Linux (believe me, there is one). As I use all of the three operating systems, OS/2 seems to me to have the best GUI (still) and doesn't drop me off the edge of the learning cliff when I drop to a command line.

Just to give everyone verification that OS/2 isn't dead, currently I'm triple booting a mid-level AMD 64x2 box (Athalon 64 3800+ x2) with pcie video (Nvidea 6200), 2 Gb DDR RAM, SATA as well as IDE drives, Sound Blaster Audigy 2 ZS audio, with an nForce4 USB controller, and network printing via a $200 Samsung 2500NP w/postscript & pcl drivers. With a couple drivers from eCS, all is well. I did have to put a Realtek NIC into the system, but I probably could have obtained driver support via the 'net to run the Marvell/Yukon nic on the motherboard. I chose the $5 NIC which works better than the other one anyway (and I just didn't see spending an hour or two fiddling when the cheap solution was available).

This system is currently running Windows XP Professional x64, and SUSE 10.1 (just released), along with eCS 1.2 Medial Refresh. Of the three, OS/2 is far and away the most stable, and at this weekend's SCOUG meeting (June 17, 2006), we're going to see about setting up SMP support to really get things going. Not too bad for a 'dead' OS. Hope this helps people sort out their mid range strategies.

Questions or comments, contact me at

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

Copyright 2006 the Southern California OS/2 User Group. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

SCOUG, Warp Expo West, and Warpfest are trademarks 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.