The New OS/2:
Warp 4 "Convenience Packs"

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By now, you have probably heard the great news: IBM has formally announced a new release of OS/2 Warp. And you have recognized the "bad" news: OS/2 does not get a version-number change.

Frankly, it is almost humorous to contemplate what this means. Imagine that it is now the year 1994, and you are describing two software platforms seven years into the future: Platform A has regular changes in version numbers every 2 or 3 years, but it never gets any more reliable, it never gets any faster, and in fact it just gets more bloated and unpredictable with each version increase. Platform B never gets a new version number, but every few months it gets a free set of updates, and it also gets a once-a-year full refresh release that neatly loads on top of the original install.... with each refresh getting a little more stable, a little more feature-rich, and gradually better in performance and compatibilty. Buyers of Platform A must pay a heavy price to get the retail versions, and often must erase their hard drives and reload everything from scratch. Buyers of Platform B just apply the patch or updated version and keep right on working, without paying for a retail product.

Which product would you call "well-supported" by its author: Platform A or Platform B?

Reason dictates that the OS/2 Warp platform, with its year-after-year cycle of free updates and constant performance enhancements (as well as the no-regression policy), qualifies as the better-supported platform. Now a new form of update is being provided by IBM, although not a free, giveaway version. IBM's new approach is called "Convenience Packs".


Microsoft has a dopey little saying in on their Office2000 ads, "What Productivity Means Today". However, they want you to forget about the zero-productivity part of the typical Windows routine: downtime, crashes, system reloads from scratch, version and file compatibility problems, and worse. Fortunately, IBM has a better idea. IBM believes that real productivity results from having a stable, reliable platform with no sudden changes, and certainly no need to format hard drives and start over again. IBM values customer data, whereas Microsoft does not. To IBM, data means business. To Microsoft, data is an annoyance that is better off just being ignored.

Since IBM puts the safety of your data and the complexity of your carefully-tuned, personally-optimized desktop environment as its first priority, any new version of OS/2 will necessarily involve a set of incremental adjustments to the base OS/2 platform, not a full-blown product redesign. Since OS/2 is already designed with a more futuristic, technologically superior architecture than Windows, it is only natural that IBM would "not try to fix what is not broken". Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the Convenience Packs will do exactly what the name implies: add convenience to the installation and update process.

The way IBM approaches convenience in the new CP's is to supply a Warp 4 CD-ROM with all the latest fixpacks, device drivers, performance enhancements, and new features blended right in at the factory. This means no more multi-CD loads of base OS, fixpack, device drivers, Java updates, Browser updates, etc. Simply load the Convenience Pack on a blank hard drive or right over the top of your current OS/2 system. Nothing is more convenient than that!


Unlike Fixpacks, Convenience Packs are not free. You or your organization must be a subscriber to Software Choice in order to take advantage of this new benefit from IBM. Software Choice for Warp 4 client is usually $249 for a two-year subscription; however, Indelible Blue recently priced this option at $209 for the two-year period. When you consider that $209 pays for your own PC for two years' worth of constant improvements, the price seems on par with more mundane, run-of-the-mill operating systems. But enterprise customers -- even with only a few OS/2 PCs -- can benefit even more by taking advantage of IBM's volume pricing of Software Choice. A recent IBM price list showed 50-user packs priced at approximately $130 per seat for two years of upgrades, or only about $65 per year per seat.


Convenience Packs or CP's will transform your Warp 4 computer into a uniprocessor version of the Warp Server 5.0 kernel. This is excellent for maintaining client-server application compatibility at the kernel level. (Will the SMP kernel be bundled later? Who knows?) Since the new kernel is included with this version, we can expect OS/2's already superb performance to be tweaked even further upwards. Recent observations of the enhanced kernel with FixPack 13 have shown a snappier system response. Another benefit of this kernel is breaking the virtual memory barrier that has kept OS/2 users from taking full advantage of the Win32 emulation provided by Project Odin and others.

The latest device drivers will be blended in to the installation routine, improving the installation process and enhancing the OS/2 compatibilty with an ever-wider variety of PCs. This includes USB and DVD/UDF support. At present this is data only support, not videos. (Will the video support be bundled later? Who knows?)

The new OS/2 CP adds LVM or Logical Volume Manager, which supersedes FDISK and provides bridging across multiple drive volumes. Now adding more storage space does not have to mean adding new drive letters!!! This is another fine example of IBM's determination to provide upgrade paths that are non-disruptive and non-destructive.

Enhanced video support is provided for such chipsets as NeoMagic, S3 Savage, Trident, and Matrox G200. IBM is accomplishing this feat by bundling the Display Doctor software subsystem, which means that further video enhancements are just a download away.

Plus, the Java 1.1.8 OS/2 Developer's Kit will be included in the new version. IBM has definitely "bet the farm" on Java, and Java will IBM's premier development platform for the foreseeable future. With OS/2's already excellent, industry-leading Java performance, IBM is encouraging developers to migrate to Java.

(Of course, some of us also want improved native OS/2 development tools. OS/2 HQ will discuss this issue in a future article.)


OS/2 has proven to be Timex, American Tourister, and Toyota all rolled into one: it just keeps working no matter what. Even PC-industry know-it-alls cannot stop it! The OS/2 Convenience Packs will further increase this value by providing the equivalent of one new version per year, indefinitely, yet without requiring the risky Microsoft-style approach of trying to absorb everything into the base OS every few years. (I hope Windows users like the taste of mustard.... Microsoft has threatened to start bundling "ham sandwiches" with their operating systems! It's in the DOJ court files!)


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