eComStation — Is it eCommunications Station? Maybe eCommerce Station? I’m not sure, but it’s certainly built for both. eComStation is the next great operating system for x86 (Intel-compatible) PCs. Built on proven OS/2 multi-threaded, multi-tasking, crash-protected technology, eComStation offers a harmony of technical excellence and user friendly intuitiveness. I’m not talking about the “user friendliness” of an OS that talks down to you like you’re a five year old child with dancing shifty-eyed paperclips, I’m talking about being easy enough to use that you don’t need animated assistants to teach you how to use your programs.
eComStation doesn’t get in the way, it lets you be the master of your PC. It enables you to run cross-platform programs reliably and efficiently. DOS, Windows, OS/2, and Java programs all run easily alongside one another on eComStation’s familiar desktop interface. Are you frightened by command line interfaces? eComStation lets you work entirely in the graphical user interface if you so desire. But if you’re an old-time PC user or if you have a rich UNIX/Linux background and you prefer using the command line, eComStation has a fully protected mode CLI that very much resembles DOS in terms of command structure but which can be made to resemble BASH or CShell or any other shell which has been ported over from the UNIX world. By default, all of your common DOS commands such as DIR and COPY and MOVE and DEL are available in eComStation just as they were in OS/2. But unlike Windows 9x/Me, eComStation’s command line interface runs in 32-bit memory with multi-threading and full long filename support even when the graphical shell is not running. eCS users need not worry about incomprehensible filenames such as longfi~1.txt showing up in a directory listing.
eComStation is Fast
Now for the most incredible part — eComStation can be fully installed to your hard drive in as little as 5-10 minutes! The bootable installation CD goes into your CD-ROM drive, you boot your system (assuming your system supports booting from CD — most do these days) and up comes a pre-boot configuration screen where you can select some important pre-installation options such as specific device drivers for IDE and SCSI based systems and a default system resolution and color depth. Within a minute of this you have a full drag and drop enabled graphical interface complete with icons, mouse pointers and a slew of applications ready to run right from the CD. An installation dialog box displays options for reading installation guides, disk partitioning, and final installation to your hard disk drive. I actually clocked the install on my system to be less than 4 minutes 50 seconds.
So what is this godly PC I’m using that allowed me to install a complete networking operating system in less than five minutes? Just a run-of-the-mill 800MHz AMD Athlon with a 30GB IBM UDMA hard drive and a 32x SCSI CD-ROM. Really nothing that’s particularly high-end here except for the operating system itself.
Those familiar with my earlier exploits installing the fabulous BeOS will recall that I was able to install that OS in an incredible 10 minutes. Well now eComStation has cut that record fully in half and I could not be happier. I’ve always felt OS/2 was the best (and most under-appreciated) operating system yet developed and this new version has left me with no doubt that I was right all along.
This is Not Your Father’s OS/2
But hold the phones, eComStation is not “just another OS/2 release”. In fact eComStation is not developed or distributed by IBM, it’s just “based on” OS/2 Warp 4.51 by IBM. There are plenty of new applications and utilities bundled into eComStation, not the least of which is that spectacular fully graphical system installer I mentioned. IBM’s version of OS/2 Warp 4.51 is still pretty much the old Warp 4 with the latest fixes applied. Not much to get excited over unless you really like 5 year old ideas. eComStation brings the whole thing nicely into the twenty-first century and gives users a real reason to walk tall and cheer.
There is a whole team of proven eye candy experts from the OS/2 world working to enhance eComStation’s visual appeal, including Ulrich Moeller (of XWorkPlace fame) and Alessandro Cantatore (of Styler/2 fame). Dialog boxes have been redesigned, icons updated and application title bars were totally revamped to be essentially “skinnable” so they can look like pretty much anything you wish. Title bar colors, gradients, and background images (yes, title bar background images) as well as redesigned buttons for minimize, maximize, hide, restore, close, etc are all part of eComStation.
And that’s still not all. eComStation obliterates it’s OS/2 Warp 4 predecessor in the arena of video card support by including the SciTech Display Doctor for accelerated, high resolution and color depth support on virtually every graphics chip and graphics card in existence. For example, SDD supports Matrox G100, G200, G400 and G450 chips as well as NVidia’s TNT, TNT2, GeForce and GeForce 2 chips. A vast number of older S3, Trident, Cirrus, ATI, Intel, and Cyrix MediaGX graphics chips are also supported in SDD under eComStation, right out of the box.
Unlike BeOS which I used to think was the best thing since man created fire, eComStation has a respectably large support base for hardware devices. USB mice, keyboards, modems, speakers and many dot matrix, inkjet and laser printers are all supported out of the box. Device drivers are also readily available for many audio processors and soundcards from ESS, Ensoniq, Creative Labs, Aureal, Turtle Beach, Crystal Semiconductor and AOpen.
A Wealth of Applications Support
As to applications, over a thousand OS/2 programs, untold numbers of DOS and Windows 3.1x programs, and equally untold numbers of Java programs all run under eComStation. There is additional support for an increasing number of Win32 (Win9x/NT) programs through Project Odin which itself is in pre-release form but working nicely here to run OpenOffice.org 6 (the open source StarOffice 6), RealPlayer 8, the HJSplit file split/merge utility and AOL Instant Messenger 4.3 run on my desktop. Others are running Quake II and hundreds of other Win32 programs under eComStation with the help of Odin.
Now in 2002 VirtualPC for OS/2 has been released and an eComStation optimized version is in the works. This comes with a full Linux distribution included for use as a “guest” OS running on your eComStation desktop but just like VirtualPC for Macintosh or Windows, it will run any x86 operating system including a full Windows9x/NT/2000/XP install if you’ve got one. This would be a boon for those who want to use a quality operating system but feel obligated to run Windows programs from time to time.
eComStation also includes HOBLink/X11, an X server (like those from UNIX and Linux) which runs on the eComStation desktop. There are two key uses for HOBLink/X11. First, to run Linux/X apps from a remote PC across a network in the true X11 fashion. Second, to run those Linux/X apps which have been ported to third party OS/2 X servers (such as XFree86-OS/2) directly on the WorkPlace Shell instead of forcing the user to exit to command line and then load a second, very different, user interface. Under HOBLink/X11 each X app can run individually on the eComStation desktop (WPS) as if they were native programs, or you can run a single X window showing a full X desktop with all those applications in that one window, which is similar in design to the way VirtualPC works.
eComStation comes bundled with its own wealth of applications, including two full office suites (Lotus SmartSuite For OS/2 Warp 4 version 1.6 released in 2001 and StarOffice 5.1a), a remote system management tool from IBM called Desktop On Call which allows a system administrator to directly access their eComStation desktop from any Java-enabled web browser (unlike NetMeeting or PC Anywhere which require proprietary, Windows-only client programs), a universal applications installer called WiseMachine which can deploy and redeploy applications and rebuild a lost user desktop with the click of a button, eCSStyler Lite (advanced user interface customization tool), eCSCalc calculator, eCSClock and Scheduler, an enhanced internet dialer and firewall utility (InJoy) and numerous other utilities which make system installation, configuration and maintenance easier than ever before.
eComStation Has a Future
eComStation users also enjoy many benefits of IBM’s Software Choice subscription service. New features and updates which IBM requires normal OS/2 users to now pay for are part of the eComStation deal, including updated networking (TCP/IP 4.32), updated Java Virtual Machines (both 1.1.8 and 1.3), system fixpacks (fixpack 2 for eComStation was just released in March 2002 following IBM’s release of fixpack 2 for their Warp 4.51 “convenience pack” version) and updated drivers for USB devices and so forth.
IBM has now (yes, only now in 2002) ended OS/2’s life and relegated it to maintenance mode. Meanwhile eComStation continues to add features, fix bugs and be tested for use on numerous new PCs being sold through retail channels. A new version 1.1 of eComStation is expected within the next few months. While I am not privvy to any inside information, there has been discussion about releasing a lower-cost “entry level” version of eComStation as just the OS and user interface updates along with all non-royalty-bearing 3rd party utilities (such as Lotus SmartSuite), as well as a version which will include the VirtualPC for eComStation software so that users have a significantly wider range of support for applications they feel forced to use directly on the operating system which they choose to use.