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.comment: The Great, the Pretty Bad, and the Breathtakingly Stupid - page 2

The Great

  • August 7, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

This section has little directly to do with Linux, but in that a substantial portion of the Linux community comprises OS/2 refugees (many of whom initially came to Linux as part of an anybody-but-Microsoft rage, which beats stronger than maybe it should in some, who are positively frothing at the mouth even still), it's worth a mention. That and the fact that it probably won't be mentioned many other places.

Version 1.0 of eComStation has been released, and I got my copy last week. It is an attempt to extend OS/2 Warp4 beyond where, and in different directions than, IBM has taken it. The basic question is whether eComStation represents a rebirth of a once-promising operating system or merely another of the post-mortem spasms on which OS/2 diehards have placed so much hope in the five years since that last release of the product by IBM. There is much emotional baggage carried by eComStation.

One of the problems that always plagued OS/2 was a fairly difficult installation routine. It got easier with subsequent releases, but it was never really easy. eComStation has managed to take this a giant leap backwards, producing possibly the most maddeningly complicated, for no good reason, installation I've ever encountered. This is not especially helped by the documentation, which comprises two pages with printing on both sides and which makes frequent reference to documentation (including some in .pdf format) on one or another of the three CDs. Of course, if one is installing on a clean machine, as I was doing (K6-2-550, 256 megs of memory, 10-gig hard drive), there's really no way to get to those files. Nice.

When booting from the CD, the preferred method of installation, one is presented with a menu of sorts. The default item is curiously labeled both as booting from the CD and booting from the 2.88-meg floppy drive (and when was the last time you had anything to do with one of those?), which throws an immediate disk read error (big surprise); a standard boot from CD, easy install option (which waited until it got to its config.sys before announcing that there was insufficient memory to load pmshell.sys, which I take to be an error -- 256mb is enough memory for most install routines); and an advanced install routine, which is necessary if there are SCSI drives on the system and which was necessary here because it was all that would work. It spawned a screen the likes of which I haven't seen this decade or last decade, either, reminiscent as it was of the old 1dirPlus file manager thing for DOS. Text mode, lots of colors and things that flash, and this stark statement:

>>> PLEASE READ INSTRUCTION BOOKLET BEFORE EXECUTING CHANGES! <<<

Which would have been well and good, had an instruction booklet actually shipped with the product. (This reminded me of the sad events surrounding the late, lamented Textra word processor, whose final version shipped okay, but the company, Ann Arbor Software, disappeared before the docs were printed.)

I would have to wing it, but there was nothing on the first screen, at least, that seemed much out of the ordinary. And except for its failure to detect the USB ports and its desire to run my 17-inch Sony monitor at 800x600, there was nothing that needed changing. It then launched into a process that looked a great deal like the installation of previous versions of OS/2 with a coat of very nice paint, little animations, and so on. Soon a nice desktop appeared, but this was apparently being run from a RAM drive, in that I'd made few installation decisions yet. There was in the center a documentation pop up that let you read, among other things, documentation for a different though similar IBM product. Weird.

This is the phase where the user is introduced to IBM's Logical Volume Manager, something spoken of in terms suggesting that it is so wonderful that it's too bad it will kill you. Well, not quite that bad, but there was an ominous tone to it, particularly as pertained to any other drives that might be on your machine to be sucked into this vortex. In that I didn't especially care if it set the hard drive on fire, so long as the fire didn't spread, I strode boldly ahead. I clicked on the "Install" button. A screen appeared in which I was asked what I would like to install; among the options were "IBMGenGradd," "Classic VGA," and "Scitech Display Doctor." The documentation papers (there was no Help button at this point) offered no guidance other than to name them as the lone three display driver choices. Well, duh. I knew I didn't want VGA, but what was to recommend one over the other? I didn't know then and don't know now, but I had heard of Scitech from some OS/2 partisans who liked it, so it's what I chose.

Then came the Logical Volume Management stuff, which began by informing me that the partition table on my second physical hard drive might be corrupt. I had no second physical drive in the machine, though. The Logical Volume Manager fought like hell to keep me from partitioning the drive, then refused to let me set a partition bootable. Something was definitely wrong here. Though the only operating system that had ever been on the drive was OS/2 Warp4, I decided that I'd better back out. I dug up an old bootable DOS floppy with fdisk on it and booted from it, then ran fdisk /mbr. No joy. The thing wasn't going to install.

Which is too bad, in that I had already downloaded the secret registration code required to get eComStation to complete installation once it reached that point, which it never did here. (I do not at this point think that if the thing were put on the web for free download there would be many takers, so I'm not sure of the necessity of this kind of copy protection, but it's theirs to do with as they please.) I cannot, therefore, tell you about the new tcp/ip stack, or the "Wise Machine," which appears to be some sort of applications deployment thing, or the new version of Lotus Smart Suite for OS/2 that ships with eComStation, or even of the new IBM web browser that may or may not be included -- there seems to be disagreement on this. And I feel confident that if I had a day or two and managed to summon a very high threshold of frustration, I could probably get it more or less installed. I'd like to see the thing running, because . . . well, just because.

But this ain't the week for it. And the background frustration was already pretty high, as you shall see.

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