The support for OS/2 2.1. (Personal Productivity) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Bradley M. Small
Last month, we took a close look at the power of OS/2. This month, we'll look at something equally important: third-party support for OS/2.
As we showed last month, OS/2 is highly compatible with Windows 3.1. The million-dollar question is how long OS/2 will be able to maintain Windows compatibility. IBM and Microsoft had a contract that involved each company's having access to the other's source code. This contract expired in September 1993. IBM will continue to be able to use the technology of 16-bit Windows (Windows 3.0 and 3.1) forever but will not have access to 32-bit Windows code (Windows NT) or any future version of Windows unless IBM and Microsoft renegotiate.
On the software side, OS/2 provides potential for growth. To start with, over 1700 OS/2 applications exist, both commercial and shareware. IBM will provide a list on request.
Will software continue to be written for OS/2? Peter Cohen, spreadsheet PR manager of Lotus Development, told me that Lotus is committed to developing for OS/2. "We've demonstrated this commitment with the [OS/2] products that we've delivered over the last few months." Lotus has released 32-bit OS/2 versions of cc:Mail, Lotus 1-2-3 2.0, Freelance Graphics, and Lotus Notes. And by the time this column goes to press, Lotus will have released Ami Pro for OS/2, making it the first company to have a full suite of OS/2 desktop applications.
WordPerfect has released and is shipping WordPerfect 5.2 for OS/2. It supports all of the features of the current DOS and Windows versions, and it comes with a 32-bit version of Grammatik for OS/2.
In the OS/2 version, WordPerfect adds the document summary to the file's detail view. There are other important features like drag-and-drop printing and document registration that give it advantages over other versions of the product.
WordPerfect for OS/2 is a Mirrors port of the Windows version. Mirrors is a library use for porting existing Window apps to 16-bit OS/2. Since the port is 16-bit rather than 32 bit, there is a performance hit However, this product is intended as an interim solution until the full 32-bit 6.0 version is developed sometime in 1994.
Another important OS/2 developer is DeScribe, maker of the OS/2 word processor of the same name. DeScribe is a 32-bit product boasting many of the same features as the high-end DOS and Windows word processors and a few special features all its own. DeScribe has been available for OS/2 since version 1.1.
Hilgraeve has the top-selling communications product for OS/2, HyperAccess 5 3.1. It boasts network support (giving you the ability to use shared modems over a LAN), all of the popular download protocols, scripting with script learning, and many other features. Using host mode, you can control the host computer and even run DOS and OS/2 text-mode applications over the telephone lines from a remote computer.
Stac Electronics, the creator of Stacker, has released version 3.1 for OS/2 FAT systems. It provides on-the-fly file compression. It comes with both OS/2 and DOS drivers. Currently, OS/2 can't read PC-DOS or DOS 6 compressed volumes. Stac Electronics offers a special package for owners of DOS 6 that includes a conversion utility to convert DoubleSpace volumes to Stacker volumes which are readable under both DOS and OS/2.
Soft Touch Systems make a set of file- and disk-related tools called the GamaTech Tools. This is an essential package for OS/2. It handles both HPFS (the optional High Performance File System for OS/2) and FAT (the standard DOS file system). These utilities optimize, repair, and provide general maintenance for files and disks. They also provide file locking, system protection against boot-sector modification, and more.
Of course, Borland International has released an excellent OS/2 2.0 C/C++ compiler (a COMPUTE Choice Award finalist). Borland is currently working on an upgrade for the added functionality of OS/2 2.1. With the popularity of Borland development tools, more applications should soon appear as a result of Borland's interest in the operating system.
An indispensable book on getting the most out of OS/2 is OS/2 2.1 Unleashed by David Moskowitz, David Kerr, and others (published by Sams, 11711 North College, Carmel, Indiana 46032);
The major drawbacks of OS/2 are the question of future Windows compatibility and the hardware demands. With Windows-to-OS/2 ports becoming commonplace, perhaps compatibility isn't so much of an issue anymore.
On the hardware front, OS/2 requires at least a 386 and 4MB of RAM as well as 15MB to 40MB of disk space for installation. This is the minimum that will provide you with all of OS/2's capabilities. As you add more memory, you'll see more speed and efficiency. When you consider the requirements for Windows NT, OS/2's requirements are modest by comparison.