Duelling operating systems: a tentative look at
OS/2 Warp and Windows
by Alan Zisman
(c) 1995. First
published in Our Computer Player, January 1995
Get a bunch of computer users together these days, and
easy to feel like you watching in a movie like "The Big Chill".
Intense, passionate discussions. And what's that in
background? Songs from the mid to late '60s. I think I hear Sam
Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come". Or the Buffalo Springfield,
singing "For What It's Worth"... 'There's something happening
here. What it is ain't exactly clear....'
A few years since the last massive shift, from DOS to
we're being told that it's time to get ready to change again.
But to what? IBM's solution is OS/2 Warp. Microsoft would
like networks to move to Windows NT, but is asking end-users
to hang on just a few months longer for Windows 95. Apple
would have us make the big jump to a Power Mac.
Do you need to change at all? All too often, changes
imposed from above, with the actual users unclear about the
benefits, and simply left in the lurch to learn how to get
the same jobs done in a new way.
Here are a few suggestions:
1) Any major change should provide clearly
benefits-- these might be in ease of use, or in power.
Preferably, both will improve.
2) While you may need to upgrade your hardware to make
fullest use of the upgrade, it should work on your existing
hardware, and it should support your peripheral equipment--
printers, scanners, video cards, cd-rom players, etc, as well as
software and documents.
3) It should install easily, and provide support for
during the transition from their former platform.
4) Where possible, end-users should be involved in the
decision to upgrade.
If we look at the mass succss of Microsoft Windows 3.x
1990 and the lower levels of market penetration achieved by
OS/2 and the Macintosh, some patterns emerge--
1) All three offered improved ease of use and the
software designed for graphical environments.
2) Windows supported the widest range of existing PC
hardware. It would run (poorly) on a 286 with 1 meg or so of
ram. OS/2 version 2 required at least 8 megs of ram at a time
when most computers were shipping with 4 megs, and supported
only some of the widely used peripherals. Apple, of course,
suggested throwing out all your existing hardware.
3) While installation is almost a non-issue if you
move to a
Macintosh, Windows was designed for one-button installation.
When I tried to install OS/2 2.1 (the previous version) from
the CD-ROM, on the
other hand, I was instructed:
"At the command prompt, type: d:\DISKIMGS\LOADDSKF d:\
DISKIMGS\os2\35\disk0_cd.dsk a: (where d: is the CD-ROM
Not exactly a transparent start for installation. Then
didn't support my CD-ROM drive anyway.
Back on the shelf.
4) Involving the end-users is not just an issue for
offices and companies. At home, my computer is used by me,
but also by my children. Currently, it boots up to a DOS menu
program, allowing them to quickly and easily start games,
educational software, or a word processor or graphics
program. If I make any major change, I'm going to have to
deal with their wrath.
So when my editor, Lee called to tell me that she had
shipping copy of OS/2 Warp and the latest beta of Windows 95,
I was both excited and apprehensive.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
Despite all the ads and gossip pushing one platform or
the other, in
many ways, WARP and WIN95 are more similar than they're different.
Both are 32-bit operating systems that replace your
current DOS. Instead
of booting to DOS and then running a Windows session, you boot right
one or the other, then (if desired), run a DOS session, either
or a in a window.
Both have borrowed ideas from small, fast Windows
WIN95 has a TASKBAR, by default along the bottom of the screen (you can
move it or even hide it)... it shows all open programs as buttons (no
icons), and on the left, has a START button (no more Program Manager).
This gives you access to your programs, and a list of your most
accessed documents, as well as letting you safely shut down.
WARP has added a LAUNCH BAR, with a many similar
a quick and easy way to access commonly used programs, without having
fuss with opening windows and finding the right icon.
Both have some variant on the familiar Mac Trashcan--
WARP has a paper
shredder, WIN95 a recycling bin.
Each requires some getting used to for Windows 3 (or
Mac) users... they
both make extensive use of tabbed dialogue boxes (a la Word 6 or Excel
5), but the new habit required will be to use the right mouse button.
use it (again similarly to many newer applications) to bring up a
dialogue that changes with the item being clicked. In both
for example, right-clicking on the desktop gives the user to set
of the desktop-- the colors, for example.
Both are designed to run on 4 meg machines, and will
do so, but slowly.
Both cry out for more ram. Each takes from 30 to 50 megs or so of hard
drive space, depending on options selected, and each is most easily
from a CD-ROM drive.
Each lets you break the DOS 8+3 letter filename
limitation. In order
to do this with WARP, however, you need to create a HPFS partition...
your current DOS and Windows programs won't be able to make use of
saved on that partition. Without that, on a DOS FAT partition, even
OS/2 software is still limited in its naming abilities.
WIN95 extends the current DOS FAT to allow 256
While only upgraded WIN95 software will be able to make use of long
your current software will still be able to access those files, though
with more cryptic names, and WIN32 software (for WIN95 or Windows NT--
don't you just love all the acronyms?) can use long filenames without
a special disk partition.
Both systems run your common DOS and current
generation Windows ('WIN16')
programs pretty well-- either runs DOS games better than Windows 3.1
but both run those WIN16 programs a bit slower than the current Windows
for Workgroups 3.11.
Installing either results in a system that's pretty
much ready to use
your existing applications-- WIN95 moves your existing Program Manager
groups over to its START menu. WARP actively searches your hard drive
applications, and sets them up for you. But be prepared-- either system
takes longer to boot up then you may be used to. Once they're up and
though things become peppier. And both want you to 'shut down' properly
when you're done. No more simply flipping the power switch and walking
Both include SLIP/PPP support, letting modem users
connect to the Internet.
WARP includes a full-set of Internet applications in the BonusPak;
Internet applications are more modest. For other telecommunications
both include a version of Hilgraeve's well-reviewed HyperAccess
Goodbye forever to Windows' Terminal!
As you'll see, I wasn't able to test out WARP's
Internet access, but
IBM is providing one-button Canadian Internet access through 1-800
to IBM-owned AVANTIS service provider... if you want to use a local
service provider, you need to manually configure the software, which is
as complex as any other SLIP/PPP Internet setup.
Despite all the similarities, these are two different
with somewhat different, though overlapping capabilities.
One difference-- OS/2 WARP lets you run your WIN16
programs in separate
sessions-- requiring more ram, and slowing things down a bit, but
the added stability of real pre-emptive multitasking. WIN95 lets you
DOS programs, or WIN32 programs in separately multitasked sessions, but
runs all your WIN16 programs in a single, cooperative session-- just as
Win 3.1 does today.
The currently-available version of WARP requires that
you already own
your own copy of Windows in order to run Windows software. It will let
you use Windows for Workgroups, but doesn't support that version's
While OS/2 needs a working version of Windows 3.x to
support (a version with built-in Windows support is promised for
WIN95 obviously includes built-in Windows support, and includes
networking (including TCP/IP) built-in. As with the current Windows for
Workgroups, it will run fine on non-networked, stand-alone machines.
Each will run at its best with software that's native
to it (similar
to what happens with a PowerMac and old Mac software). There hasn't
a lot of popular software native to OS/2... so IBM is providing a
with WARP, including a nice Works-type intergrated program... certainly
a step up from what's been provided with either Windows or OS/2 up to
In fact, for the cost of a copy of Microsoft Works, WARP users get the
BonusPak including IBM Works, CompuServe Information Manager and the
Internet Access collection, AND a new 32-bit operating system (i.e.
By some measures, this may be the software bargain of the year.
WIN95 comes with native, 32-bit versions of what we've
gotten used to,
but with some extra features. PAINT replaces Paintbrush. WORDPAD
both Write and Notepad. EXPLORER replaces File Manager.
Here's the catch, however. While Microsoft is in no
great hurry to run
OS/2 software, most OS/2 users have used it primarily to run Windows
And each time Microsoft changes the requirements for Windows software,
OS/2 gets left a generation behind, and has to race to catch up.
So while WARP will happily run most of the current
WIN16 programs, it
will be unable to run the next generation's WIN32 programs. And
is putting all its muscle behind getting software developers to write
the new standard. These programs will make full use of WIN95, and will
run under Windows NT as well, Microsoft's high-end, network-server
But OS/2 will be left out in the cold.
This may not matter to you now... currently there are
currently no WIN32
programs to speak of. And I'm sure IBM is busy making trying to let the
next version of their operation system run WIN32 software. Still,
on the timing, this could be a critical factor next spring, when WIN95,
and a whole new generation of software upgrades are expected to be
Another big difference is in the installation
process... even though
it's still in pre-release beta form, WIN95 has a pretty clean and slick
installation. It can start from a DOS command line, or from your
Windows, and does a good job of identifying your hardware. It correctly
identified the video card on several computers, and found installed
While better than previous versions, OS/2 WARP, by
a smaller number of peripherals than even the beta WIN95. You need to
two boot disks, even if installing from a CD-ROM. And the manual comes
with instructions to manually (from DOS) edit those boot disks to
them to recognize several popular CD-ROM brands.
It never was able to recognize my Media Vision SCSI
IBM's free tech support wasn't much help-- they said it was up to Media
Vision to provide drivers.
And my copy did not include a set of floppy disks (the
WIN95 beta came
on both CD-ROM and floppies). All was not lost, however... I could boot
back to DOS, enabling me to use the CD-ROM dirve, and type
to make each of the required 30 disks.
(Hasn't IBM heard of batch files? Forcing the user to
like this is a far cry from the ease of operation that I would expect
an advanced operating system).
And there was no similar process for the CD-ROM only
have to wait to exchange my CD-ROM version for a full disk version to
IBM Works or the much advertised one-button Internet access).
By the way, at the end of WARP's installation process,
you'll need to
insert a few of your original Windows floppies... you do still have
original Windows disks, don't you?
Of course a big difference between the two is that
WARP is shipping
now... WIN95 is still in beta. Microsoft hopes that we will patiently
a much-delayed shipping date now set for 'the first half of 1995' (i.e.
sometime before June 30th). So as OS/2 users gleefully point out, while
there may not be much commercially popular native OS/2 programs, the
of native WIN95 programs is currently zero.
WHO'S ON FIRST?
As indicated, both operating systems provide the
benefits of true 32-bit
computing, with appropriate native software. Either will run most of
current generation of DOS and Windows programs. Both are different
from the current Windows standard to take some getting used to.
While Microsoft has gotten the most advance press,
OS/2 has the most
passionate and vocal defenders.
For the past couple of years, OS/2 supporters have
claimed, with some
justice, that theirs was the technically superior operating
and that they've often been ignored by the media.
With the release of OS/2 WARP and the upcoming release
of WIN95, Windows
will have caught up with much of OS/2's technical superiority, and
a somewhat slicker (though similar) interface. WARP, however, retains
OS/2 users the advantage of providing stabler multitasking for WIN16
For that reason, and even more so since WIN95 won't be
before next Spring, many users will make the move to OS/2 WARP. If
a current OS/2 user, you owe it to yourself to upgrade right away!
However, I suspect that Microsoft's marketing
juggernaut will be successful
in keeping the number of Windows users defecting to a minority of their
huge installed base.
And if the next generation of software upgrades
provide real benefits
that are only available to WIN95 users, I suspect that IBM and the
of OS/2 WARP users will be back to playing catch up.
It'll make for an interesting year.