Does OS/2 open up your Windows?
by Alan Zisman (c)
publised in Our Computer Player, November 19, 1993
OS/2, like comic Rodney Dangerfield, just doesn't seem
to get any respect.
Maybe it's history... originally announced back in
1987, media 'experts' confidently announced that by 1990 we'd all be
using the new, high-powered operating system.
OS/2 version 1 came and went, mostly unnoticed. Even
though a few powerful applications were released for it, few copies
sold. It suffered the stigma of being designed for the 286 at a time
when people were switching to more powerful 386s, and was cursed by
limited support for printers and other hardware, and limited options
running DOS applications. Instead, 1990 became the year of Windows 3.0.
These events helped lead to IBM and Microsoft's
divorce, followed by the near-simultaneous release of Windows 3.1 and
OS/2 ver 2.0. The new OS/2 was a real 32-bit operating system,
a 386 or better, and was promoted by IBM as "a better DOS than DOS... a
better Windows than Windows".
Well, sort of. While the new OS/2 provided a solid
platform for running DOS programs, Windows 3.1 provided new
challenges... OLE and TrueType support, for example. Still, OS/2
as a solid, 32-bit operating system, and a steady seller.
This spring, IBM released version 2.1... which
provided much of the Windows 3.1 support lacking in the previous
version. This was important, because software companies, forced to
choose between releasing an OS/2 version for a couple of million users,
or a Windows version for tens of millions of users, had been mostly
avoiding the more-powerful, but less popular OS/2. Instead, OS/2 users
have often gotten most of their work done running Windows applications.
In fact, many users have decided that Win-OS/2 is
their platform of choice, rather than the more common Win-DOS. They
claim to be able to have the best of both worlds, running Windows' wide
range of applications, without Windows 3.1's reliance on an archaic
operating system, DOS.
With OS/2 ver 2.1, they get the full range of
Windows utilities... even Program Manager and File Manager, if
they choose to avoid OS/2's own interface for starting programs and
management. As well, they get a wide range of customization options for
each program 'migrated' to OS/2.
Windows programs can be run full-screen, or
'seamlessly' integrated into the OS/2 desktop. A number of Windows
applications can be run in a single 'virtual machine', or with each
application on its own. There are advantages and disadvantages to each
Running each Windows application in its own virtual
machine provides maximum security... if a program crashes, it will
other programs unaffected. As well, programs run this way will not be
subject to the resource shortage that often affects Win-DOS users.
However, running several programs this way can quickly use up large
amounts of RAM... each 'virtual machine' requires at least a couple of
megs of RAM. As well, because each application run this way thinks it's
on its own computer, it is difficult to make use of features like OLE
that require several programs to be running together, on the same
Instead, you can run several Windows applications in a
single Windows session, just as you typically would under DOS. In this
case, your memory requirements are lessened, and you can make use of
OLE. In this case, however, you can have the same problems with limited
resources and system instability as you might under DOS.
The growing popularity of OS/2 has led to an increase
in hardware support... there are finally a wide range of drivers for
printers, video cards, scanners, and CD-ROM players. There are even
large numbers of shareware utilities showing up on BBSs. Still, this
support is nowhere near as widespread as you'll find for Windows.
And in some key areas, you'll still find support
lacking. Some of this may be the result of a conscious strategy by
Microsoft, who are not releasing OS/2 versions of their products. For
example, the millions of users who have installed DOS 6's DblSpace to
compress their hard drives find themselves in a dilemma-- OS/2 does not
support DblSpace, and so to switch to this environment means to abandon
this means of disk compression. (They could switch to Stacker, which
released an OS/2 version).
Similarly, while OS/2 supports a High Performance File
System (HPFS), which speeds up disk access at the same time providing
long filename support, DOS and Windows programs are unable to read HPFS
files. While users can partition their harddrive between HPFS and the
traditional DOS-FAT system, as long as they have few native OS/2
applications, there's little incentive.
Initially, many users rejected OS/2 because they
perceived it as requiring huge amounts of hard disk space and RAM, and
providing few benefits. In the late 1980's, RAM cost $2-300 per meg,
most users had 40 mb hard drives. Today, most computers sold are far
better able to run OS/2. In fact, the 18-31 mb disk space required by
OS/2 seems almost svelte compared to the 70 mb or so to install Windows
NT. A single application, such as Word Perfect 6.0 for Windows asks for
30 mb for a full install, and requires 4-6 meg of RAM... the same
requirements as OS/2.
And switching to OS/2 instead of DOS as a base for
Windows provides a more solid core, with better DOS support, and
speedier multitasking for multiple Windows applications. It still may
not be everyone's "better Windows", but for many people, it has emerged
as the way to go.
(Note from the year 2003): The above
article was originally published in 1993, as a review. A decade and
later, I've gotten a series of emails from OS2 fans hoping that I could
sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is
still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a
vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of
older software to check at eBay or at OldSoftware.com.If
on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly
freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements
for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)