As
one of the early registrants of Serenity Systems' eComStation operating
system, I have been anxiously awaiting the final GA (General Availability)
release for many months. There have been a half dozen preview releases,
most sent only to distributors for testing purposes, but at least three
preview releases were easily available to those who had purchased a license.
Please see my last month's article for my
experiences with eComStation previews 1, 2 and 3
.

Now the eComStation 1.0 Release Candidate has been made.
Those who purchased licenses will soon be receiving their CDs in the mail
from their local vendor, including Prism Data Works (formerly Indelible
Blue) in the US and Mensys in Europe.

Any previous reviews you may have read about eComStation
1.0 should be ignored, as even the version demonstrated at SCOUG on May
19, 2001 was an earlier copy than the version I received on June 14.

First a very short background. eComStation comes on three
CDs. The first contains the Serenity installer and all the files needed
to setup your system. The second CD contains the old fashioned IBM installer
and files needed to setup your system (primarily this is the Warp 4.5 MCP
release available direct from IBM through the Software Choice subscription
plan). CD number three contains third party programs and utilities including
but not by any means limited to Lotus SmartSuite 1.6, StarOffice 5.1a,
and IBM Desktop On Call remote system management server. The installer
CDs are bootable, as long as your hardware supports CD booting. Most modern
hardware (from the past three or four years) supports this. Be sure it
is enabled in your system BIOS. Otherwise, you will have to boot your system
with some other operating system (like a DOS boot floppy for example) and
create a few install diskettes (1.44MB) in order to boot the installer.
This review is based on the bootable CD installation.

Meet The Press

My hardware consists of an AMD 800MHz Athlon processor on
an Asus A7V mainboard with 512MB of PC133 memory, a 16MB Matrox Millennium
G450 AGP graphics card, IBM DeskStar 75GXP 30GB ATA-100 hard drive, and
a SCSI 32x CD-ROM and SCSI 6x4x16 CD-RW drive both attached to a Symbios
875 based UltraWide SCSI adaptor card.

Upon booting my system with eComStation CD #1 in my CD-ROM
drive, I was presented with three convenient options; boot from the CD,
boot from the CD with additional options, or boot from my hard drive as
normal. This third is extra pleasant (and is the default if no selection
is made) because even with the CD in the drive you can choose to boot from
an already-installed system -- something which usually can't be done when
you have a floppy diskette in your A: drive.

I chose option #2, knowing from past experience that I
will need to change a few things in the initial bootup. First and foremost,
I needed to use the JJSCDROM.DMD driver instead of the IBM OS2CDROM.DMD
driver. If you read my article last month, you know that I had problems
with the IBM driver constantly seeking my CD-ROM and CD-RW drives while
creating disk partitions. I further knew that I needed to install support
for my Symbios SCSI adaptor or else the rest of the install would probably
fail, being unable to locate my CD-ROM attached to it.

One nice feature which Serenity Systems has added to this
so-called pre-boot screen is the option to select your initial display
resolution and color depth! Instead of old OS/2 releases where you were
dumped into standard (ugly) VGA at 640x480 with 16 colors, you can now
choose options such as 800x600, 1024x768, and 1280x1024 as well as choosing
between either 256 colors (if for instance you have an older video card
with 1 or 2 megabytes of memory) or 64K colors. I selected 800x600 with
64K colors as this is close to what I run on a daily basis (800x600 with
16M colors).

The pre-boot screen had one very minor flaw that I noticed
-- the selection arrows for the various resolutions were all colored yellow
except for the 640x480 option whose arrow was colored white. No loss of
functionality was seen, but those people who go over the visual details
of an OS with a magnifying glass just looking for reasons to not like it
will complain.

After making my selections here, I clicked the Enter key
and was taken to the boot logo which I am happy to say looks quite nice
now. The overall lack of colors available in this old OS2LOGO image format
may be somewhat depressing, but Serenity chose to use only a few shades
of blue to give a 3D shaded effect to their new "spinning e" logo and there
is little reason to complain about the visual quality. I was then presented
with the typical black screen showing the various drivers loading, including
the UDF file system driver (for DVD data discs) version 1.0.0.

Laying Down the Law

I began the install at 8:55pm after selecting options from
the pre-boot screen.

At 8:56pm the WorkPlace Shell (OS/2's familiar graphical
desktop interface) had loaded in 800x600 resolution with 64K colors just
as I had selected in the pre-boot screen. The visual attractiveness of
this new OS is astounding! Right away you will notice that title bar controls,
push buttons, radio buttons and checkboxes have all been redesigned. We
will find later that this appearance can be changed as well.

Shortly after the WPS loaded, there was a short video
(apparently in FLI format) of the blue "spinning e" logo which really grabbed
my attention. I was not expecting multimedia support to be running at this
early stage of the install and it reminded me that OS/2's multimedia capabilities
really are not dead, they've just been forgotten for so long.

By 8:57pm the eComStation graphical install program had
loaded and was ready to be used. This program gives a step-by-step walk-through
of installing eComStation, including some documentation about using the
Logical Volume Manager (LVM) to create partitions, since IBM's old FDISK
is no longer used.

Logical Volume Manager allows multiple physical partitions
to act as a single drive with a single drive letter, allows disk spanning
so that partitions on different hard disks can act as a single drive with
a single drive letter, and allows the use of the Journalled File System
(JFS) which provides many functional advantages over the aging High Performance
File System (HPFS) such as the ability to expand the size of a drive without
needing to reboot your system. In reality, all of the new features of LVM
are only usable by JFS, but be aware that JFS is not currently bootable,
so eComStation must still be installed to an HPFS formatted drive. The
installer walks you through all of this.

I encountered one annoying bug after quitting out of LVM.
An eCS Window (OS/2 Window for those who realize that eComStation is essentially
OS/2 Warp 4.5 with a lot of add-ons and some re-worked graphics and tools)
opened and began displaying what appeared to be an endless loop of writing
[A:\]. I had to kill this process with the Window List (Ctrl-Esc). This
bug is mentioned in the known.issues text file located in the root directory
of the eComStation CD #1. I recommend that anyone installing eComStation
(or any piece of software for that matter) read through the provided documentation.
At first I did not read this file and then I felt stupid when Glenn Hudson
of Serenity Systems pointed it out to me in regards to this bug.

Before selecting where you will be installing eComStation,
you are asked to select which system components to install (base system,
which must be installed obviously, and multimedia). You are also given
three choices for display drivers, including the IBM GenGRADD driver which
should provide high resolution and color depths for most video cards, classic
VGA if your system just can't handle anything more than that, and SciTech
Display Doctor which provides acceleration and several other options on
top of the IBM GenGRADD features.

Next you select a drive (volume) on which to install eComStation.
Note that at this point my install volume (D:) was not yet formatted, so
it shows only 5MB out of 502MB free space.

The next screen seems redundant to me, as I had already
selected to format the disk using the long format option and here I was
asked again to select between long format or quick format.

Once you select the format option (assuming your volume
was not already formatted) you are presented with a very nice animated
3D pie chart display of the progress of the formatting, and then another
such pie chart showing the installation progress. The charts sure look
nicer than the ages old percent bars from the Windows and OS/2 Warp days,
but perhaps most important is the time required to perform an eComStation
install. The estimated install time during the beginning of my own install
was about 8 minutes, but upon completion of this stage I was presented
with a window showing that only about 5 minutes had elapsed.

And then comes a reboot which brings you back through
the boot logo, display of drivers being loaded by the system and then your
WorkPlace Shell with all its new icons and buttons and bitmaps.

You've Got the Look

The System folder contains some new entries since OS/2 Warp
4 including Theme Manager and eCSStyler Lite. Theme Manager allows selection
of many pre-defined sets of radio button, checkbox, and title bar button
images. You can select to use Warp 3 style, Warp 4 style, Windows style,
or any of several new styles most of which use circular images for the
title bar controls.

eCSStyler Lite is a limited but clearly more recent version
of Alessandro Cantatore's Styler/2 WPS enhancer. As a pre-installed component
of eComStation, it provides title bar colors, gradients and background
images as well as left-aligned (standard from OS/2) or centered title bar
text, 3D-looking title bar text, and configurations for the new pushbutton
look. Some options include adding a 3D bevel around the default pushbutton
of a dialog window, making disabled buttons appear with a Win95-ish 3D
text effect instead of OS/2's old cross-hatching which made the text almost
unreadable, and various options for a gradient color effect for the overall
appearance of pushbuttons.

eCSStyler Lite also gives you the option to animate the
shutdown process, as still one more visual improvement in the system. If
selected, your screen will dim similar to entering Lockup mode in the WorkPlace
Shell (or shutting down Win9x) but the dimming begins at the edges of the
screen and moves inward. Once completed, eCSStyler Lite's own shutdown
confirmation dialog box appears with radio buttons to either shutdown or
reboot the system. Users of the open source XWorkPlace WPS enhancer will
be immediately familiar with this new shutdown dialog.

Some other features of eComStation which I have not yet
had time to research include IBM's Java 2 1.3 runtime kit and IBM's Java-based
network configuration tool for setting up TCP/IP networks and services
such as FTPd, SOCKS, and NFS (Network File System).

Conclusion

eComStation has come a long way since I first installed preview
release 1 in December of 2000. It has also given me new hope for OS/2's
future by boldly demonstrating that OS/2 can both look good and work well.
The speed of the install is incredible. You really must see it to believe
it. Sure, it's primarily just taking an image of an installed eComStation
and copying that to your hard drive and then making modifications as needed
for your system, but if it works then there's no reason to complain. With
software being distributed on CDs there really isn't any use in having
dozens of 1-2MB files which each must be decompressed during installation.
eComStation's approach is a direct challenge to the old ways and in my
testing it puts them to shame. I don't care how the system gets the files
onto my hard drive, as long as it does so quickly and without breaking
anything.

The new look of eComStation is also incredible. From start
to finish the fully graphical install is beautiful. It's also modular,
so Serenity could quite easily change the default images and colors in
their next release if the market demands it. This modularity is primarily
the work of Alessandro Cantatore's eCSStyler Lite and I can only hope that
he will soon make all of that functionality available in the full Styler/2
product. I am absolutely fascinated by the way push buttons (as found in
most dialog windows and applications and the LaunchPad/Toolbar) can be
"skinned" to look concave, convex, and so forth.

Serenity Systems have not yet released a Minimum Hardware
Requirements list for eComStation, but I would imagine that any Pentium-class
PC should be able to run this system quite well. The OS/2 foundation of
eComStation is still very lean and efficient compared to the competition.
If you haven't yet purchased eComStation and/or if you are undecided about
buying eComStation or buying an IBM Software Choice license in order to
receive the Warp 4.5 MCP release, I would definitely cast my vote for eComStation.
Overall you get more features, a significantly nicer looking system, impressively
speedier installation, and a lot of third party applications which would
cost extra with MCP. Where MCP feels like what it is -- an incremental
update to OS/2 Warp 4 -- eComStation feels like a whole new operating system.
Where else can you take screenshots of the system installation with PMView
running on the same system as the install?

Article references:

The eComStation Home site:http://www.ecomstation.com/
Where to Buy eComStation: http://www.ecomstation.com/where_to_buy.phtml
Styler/2: http://acsoft.yi.org/Styler2/index.htm

This article was orinaly published in OS2VOICE Newsletter
- visit http://www.os2voice.org