eComStation: Not for Everyone

By Ed Hurst | Posted at 5:19 PM

In the coming months, Serenity Systems and Mensys will be offering the latest release of eComStation, 2.0. This is the new name and face on the venerable OS/2. It's all too easy to find websites discussing the history of OS/2, articles that walk through the installation process, and lists of drivers, software, and so forth. Despite the ardent love for OS/2 one finds in the user groups, it remains a fairly small niche operating system. This has little to do with the technical merits or demerits of OS/2.

Most of my exploration of different operating systems takes place on used computers, largely older and low-end stuff. I'm not in a position to buy the best stuff, and seldom even good stuff. There are a lot of other folks out there in the same boat, needing computers and what they do, but lacking the corporate grade budget. If you can afford it, our Senior Editor, Tim Butler, will tell you to go Mac. He's not quite as bad as those who suffer from the Doctrine of Insufficient Adulation Syndrome, but he does love it. For those who have to scrounge as I do, I attempt to point out possibilities I've discovered. We've done a few things with Linux, of course, but I decided to attempt demystifying FreeBSD for those who needed something a little different. I still love it, and can't wait for nVidia to offer a 64-bit driver so I can switch back to it for this, my first system I managed to build from all new parts. FreeBSD works the way I do.

However, that doesn't dampen my curiosity. The fundamental call to explore other ways of computing reflects more my interest in helping people find what they need for what they do. I'm not often that interested in the canonical methods promoted by the core community of advocates for each OS I try. I'm much more interested in how the larger number of those who use an OS as a primary tool of their work use that tool. It's easy to get fanboys to tell you why their demigod OS is best, and some of it may actually have roots in reality, but the religious fanatics aren't representative of the larger user base. The nature of the OS as product is found among those who can't get their job done as well with anything else.

The first thing we note is many devoted users are simply accustomed to the peculiarities of their OS. Investing a great deal of time and effort learning something makes it expensive to switch. For example, my first contact with computers was compliments of the US Army, where I spent hours working with a DOS office suite called Enable. I loved it. For the first time, here was a tool where I could merrily type away and not worry about losing my train of thought while fussing over minor corrections. Once I was through, I could go back and fix all the typos and grammar errors before it was committed to print. This was a major improvement in my world. I became the local guru of that office suite. Later the military abandoned it for Windows and GUI office applications. For long years I remembered the oddball keystrokes, but could never get a copy of the software. Recently, I found if I joined the Enable users' group at Thog's Cave, I could get a copy of the last release of Enable/OA "Office Automation." While I've forgotten many of the keystrokes, I'd gladly trade OpenOffice for Enable any day, simply because I know more about it, and prefer the way it works. It's much the same about Linux and BSD, where I run Enable in DOSEmu. Unix seems to me what computing should be. I could never go back to Windows comfortably because one cannot make it act like Unix.

Source: Serenity Systems

OS/2 and eComStation (eCS) aren't Windows, either. Yes, they share some code and heritage, but the differences are still huge. It has always been undeniably a better DOS than DOS. For those whose minds function well in the object-oriented environment, eCS is home. Everything is an individual object, to which you can make all manner of unique adjustments to suit your purpose. No other object has to share those settings, regardless of shared features between them. While the lack of significant change in the OS itself is often frustrating for those longing to see certain new features, many users hail it as their salvation from the loss of backward compatibility. So eCS isn't really all that dramatic a change from OS/2. The newest version still runs about the same on the same older hardware. The only significant code bloat is in the added system tools, such as Java, or the Mozilla family of web applications. Indeed, some would say a major element in keeping eCS current is code ported over from Linux and BSD.

That it remains such a small presence on the Net helps to explain why there are no viruses for eCS. It's as close as you can get to Windows without being a malware magnet. There are some security advantages by design, as well. eCS simply will not allow certain things typical of viruses. People I know personally who run racks of OS/2 servers have never suffered any electronic intrusion of any sort. Their biggest threat is lightening and physical theft of the property. As a server OS, it's just as solid as Linux and BSD, and works quite well on older machines.

However, therein lies the major barrier to wider adoption. You can't run eCS and OS/2 on just any old computer. The hardware I can get my hands on is mostly inadequate. Sure, I suppose I can find drivers, and get lots of help running them down. OS/2 folks are generally one of the nicer communities, with flame wars relatively rare in the forums and Usenet groups I've visited. However, the process for getting and applying these fixes is unlike any other OS I've tested. The OS can be quite intolerant of imperfect tweaking, and while I'm sure there is a way, I've not yet run across the means to booting past critical errors to fix things. And it's not getting any easier, in some ways. Just recently, the only supplier of graphical drivers -- SciTech -- ceased development. I note the latest kernel patching still lacks any approach to using 64-bit extensions, though it will run quite easily in SMP mode. You can run it on lots of newer hardware, but it has to be that better grade of stuff. Even then, some of it simply can't be made to work. The OS/2 forums are loaded with discussions of narrowing down the few motherboards which are the best, and avoiding the rest.

It's not enough you have to pay retail for eCS at prices comparable to Windows, but you have to pay a pretty penny for your hardware. For a lot of drivers not already included, the means to installing is fairly involved, calling for editing config files with a high degree of specialized expertise. I thought selecting the right options for DOSEmu on Linux was just a little tough, but I'm still months from understanding the tweaking required for eCS configuration files. And it seemed to me there was an awful lot of it, all fairly demanding. Serenity supplied me with one copy each of the stable release (1.2R) and the current release candidate (2.0 RC4). So far I've gotten one or the other to run on the half-dozen machines I've tried, but there was always something which made the results unusable. The fixing was typically quite involved, and it always came down to cheaper hardware being poorly supported.

Over the coming weeks, I'm hoping I can locate and test eCS on hardware more suitable. I'm not put off by the initial failures. The way in which things did work well indicates there's something valuable beyond the barriers. OfB will have more to say about eComStation in the coming days (Serenity Systems, $255).

Ed Hurst is Associate Editor of Open for Business

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12 comments posted so far.

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

Your article title sums up eComStation very well. I am a reseller in Eastern Canada and although I love eCS it’s very difficult to bring new people to the os because of the very installation/configuration problems you are speaking of.

Even for seasons computer veterans switching to eCS is almost as difficult as it was to switch to linux/unix 5 years ago. To get things to work well you need to configure everything to high heavens before anything will work.

You mentioned the SciTech drivers and that is a shame that they dropped this product. On the other hand, eCO Software ( is working on the new Panorama Vesa driver which will eventually replace SciTech SNAP.

Anyway great article! Thanks for taking the time to write it :)

Posted by Dennis - Apr 28, 2008 | 3:47 PM

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

I’ve used one form of OS/2 or another since the early 1990s and now use eCS. Yes, it does require some configuration, but on my system, at least, the configuration that resulted during installation worked fine. I’ve just added to it. And yes, finding drivers can present problems, but the system is so much faster than Windows and works so well with my older and still very useful DOS and Win31 apps that I have no desire to change. I even have a WinXP program that runs on it. And I understand progress is being made on a virtual machine that will allow running Windows under eCS. Please do try eCS on a better system. The community of volunteer developers are doing some terrific things to keep it viable. I dread the possibility of risking my livelihood to Windows or having to learn Linux.

Posted by David - Apr 29, 2008 | 6:11 AM

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

Hi and thanks for your article. As others have commented, it’s a fair-ish assessment of the main Archilles Heel of eCS - installation.

OS/2-eCS enjoys neither the market dominance of MS-Windows (pre-installed) nor the free-as-in-beer status of Linux, so it isn’t easy to overcome people’s inertia. I guess that Linux installs are nearly on the same footing as OS/2-eCS, although the FOSS community is working hard on the installation ‘experience’ :-)

As you have explored, you may have already found that most of the present OS/2-eCS community have settled into their systems without a lot of re/installations.

For instance, where I work using a Win-XP system, I had taken my OS/2 thinking too far and forgotten the value of regular re-installation. It’s been umm… 3 years I think since I re-installed OS/2 on my home network, because cleanup is generally easier than ‘wipe & re-install’, filesystems like JFS tend to be more robust, and system performance doesn’t degrade so severely with accumulation of cruft in the Registry. Lack of capacity (memory and disc space or network bandwidth) are the most common culprits of OS/2-eCS performance issues.

Where OS/2-eCS shines is post-install, once you get it working - as you discovered, not always the easiest thing to do. ‘YMMV’ appears often in support emails/newsgroups and so on because of the finicky relationship of OS/2 with hardware.

By contrast, for those helping other OS/2ers, support can be a problem in itself since fixed problems usually stay fixed and one’s mind loses track of the solution after a while. The community recognises this and is quietly working to compile the repositories of knowledge which will eventually help you do a smooth install.

Some areas like multimedia/games/entertainment cause more trouble because of OS/2’s origins in the work-focused IBM-world. This is gradually being remedied but we have to admit that niche status means we may never fully catch up to other platforms.

But development is not totally dead, and most OS/2ers have a reasonable level of confidence in OS/2-eCS as a niche platform.

Best wishes, and thanks again for the article.

John Angelico Co-Convener OS/2 SIG Melbourne PC User Group

Posted by John Angelico - Apr 29, 2008 | 10:17 AM

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

I’ve been a user of OS/2 since the early 1990s starting with version 2.0. Recently, I wanted to install Linux on an old Thinkpad 390 which is a PII 233 MHz, 192MB of memory and 3 GB of hard disk space. This Thinkpad runs perfectly with ECS 1.2 and does not use up more than 1.5GB of disk space with everything installed (including emx-gcc for development). However, with Fedora 8, I can only get a non-GUI version running and it took up about 2.5GB of disk space! I abandoned Fedora 8 and tried Ubuntu last night and it’s still trying to install as of this morning! I’ll probably try Xubuntu next. So Linux is not quite the solution for old machines.

Posted by cytan - Apr 29, 2008 | 2:49 PM

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

I was drawn back into my favorite OS when Serenity starting offering the Academic upgrade license from OS/2 Warp v4 (for $79) and I have found the Software Subscription Services to be rather fair in price. Though, I do agree about the issues with initial cost for new users.

I do understand your difficulty finding the right hardware; but, once you do, it’s a great experience. I am currently using eComStation 2.0 RC4 on a ThinkPad T42. All the hardware was detected and works great (using the Panorama VESA drivers for video and the Wireless LAN Monitor for .11G support). Which in my opinion is saying alot, because I’ve never had any luck with .11G and Linux. I do kind of wish that I didn’t have to add a config.sys line for automatically turning on the firewall though. =)

Posted by Nate - Apr 29, 2008 | 9:55 PM

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

I’m using eCS since 1.0 and began with OS/2 in general with version 2.0 in 1992(?). The installation of eCS 2.0 rc4 is much better now compared to OS/2 Warp 3, 4 or WarpServer for eBusiness.

eCS 2.0 and ACPI has made some great progress but the progress is slow. I’ve got two different computers, one with an Intel Core2Duo 6600 and 3GB RAM and another one (my new server) with an AMD Athlon64 X2 3800+ EE. The ASUS Pundit P1-AH2 Barebone has the AMD Athlon64 processor inside while the other system is build from different parts.

The first eCS 2.0 betas had problem with Intel Core2Duo processors because of a driver called TESTCFG.SYS (only needed for the installation to get some system informations). Veit Kannegiesser created a replacement driver TESTCFG2.SYS to get around those problems. Then the ACPI driver development did jump from v2.22 to the v3.xx line of drivers where my AMD Athlon64 couldn’t no longer use both CPU cores as the driver broke something. This has been fixed in May 2008. So far, it really looks promising on the latest hardware.

While most of the standard applications like Firefox, Thunderbird, Sunbird/Lightning and even OpenOffice are up-to-date there are a few areas where it’s not the case. Most users can do everything they need to do and won’t have problems with worms, viruses and other malware.

One thing is where the support lacks is the available Java Runtime. Currently there is the better Java 1.4.1 from Golden Code, which you have to buy and the free Java 1.4.2 from Innotek. The difference between those two is basically the concept they use. While Golden Code Java has been created from scratch Innotek uses the normal Sun Java and build a wrapper around it. Two month ago some users where able to get even a Java 1.5.x version running with the wrapper approach. Personally I had more problems with the Innotek Java version then with the native Golden Code Java.

I’m a Java developer and the lack of the latest Java Runtime is becoming more and more an issue, not for my own applications but for a lot of other applications available. More and more move to Java 1.5 or even 1.6 and it’s getting harder to create backports using Retroweaver or Retrotranslator.

On my website ( you’ll find some of those backports and packages to get some applications working on eCS and OS/2. Some also need a port of SWT which is not available but there is a project SWTSwing available that replaces SWT with Java Swing (Eclipse and Azureus need that approach). There are still some issues but the basic stuff is working (see links at the end of this message).

Here some examples: -Eclipse IDE v3.2 (only Innotek-Java) -Azureus v2.x (GC and Innotek Java) -Subsonic Streaming music server (works only with GC-Java) -…

You should also take a look at this threads (includes some screenshots of the applications above):,com_smf/Itemid,63/topic,277.0/,com_smf/Itemid,63/topic,728.0/,com_smf/Itemid,63/topic,298.0/


Posted by magog - May 05, 2008 | 5:20 PM

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

I would consider it if I could buy a book about it; like “OS/2 Unleashed,”. How about a new edition of “eComStation for Dummies”? I think that eComStation news a major patron like BSDUnix [Apple!] to preload the operation system and sell books for it.

Posted by Ramon J. Sanchez. - Nov 29, 2008 | 8:15 PM

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

I can’t get past paying for eComStation when I don’t know if I can use it. As an early user of Windows, I helped many people implement and accept Windows. Now I have become a regular Linux user, and everybody who knows me is aware of this and some even tried Linux because of me.
I remember the Windows - OS/2 wars. Part of why OS/2 never made it was because guys like me couldn’t get their hands on a bootleg copy. These days Microsoft sends their established supporters free copies and Linux gives everybody free copies. I guess Serenity needs a license fee more than they need my help to grow their user base.
I very much enjoyed reading your article, and I like the first comment by Dennis, especially how he relates it to installing and using Linux five years ago.

Posted by Michael Rea - May 31, 2009 | 12:48 AM

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

In today’s world full of great OS / working environment (call it whatever you want), why OS2?

I’ve been a very early adopter (and supporter) of OS/2. Since the very first awesome OS/2 (3.0), I tried (sometimes very hard) to work with it. As a professional programmer I have also at certain point developed several applications for OS/2.

After several years I still read about OS/2. eComStation is its successor: but I was very surprised to see they charge $150 for a copy. Not even Windows cost that much (that, by the way, I believe is way too much for what it offer compared to the competitions).

An OS os no different than any other product: the final price should not be defined by the real cost of the product, instead, it should be set by the various and complex market rules.

I understand eComStation is just a way to continue to support the thousands of installations of custom applications, but wouldn’t be better to eventually open source OS/2 (eComStation) and simply maintain the existing installations as a per-basis consulting contracts ? Think of that in the same terms as openSolaris (pre-Oracle)…

In my VM repository I have Linux, OpenSolaris, and various experimental OSs, but unfortunately I cannot have eComStation… I’m sorry, but I will never shell $150 just for trying it…

Posted by mahamed - May 04, 2011 | 8:50 AM

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

Hi, first of all I would like to say I enjoyed the article. I’m a strong supporter of OS/2-eCs since reading about it in 2006 (about IBM canceling support).

In reference to the above comment claiming that you have to “shell $150 just for trying it” is simply not true. There is a Demo CD available for download from this will run straight from the CD as a live CD. You can then try out eCs and decide if it is something that you would like to buy.

I am currently running eCs 2.1 on a Lenovo Thinkpad T420 (this is a relatively new system) it has an Intel Core i5 and eCs recognizes all 4 cores. It was a little difficult to install but after getting the right options it installs and runs very well.

I’m currently transitioning all of my systems over to eCs. It is a little steep for a new user but after that it’s not nearly as high of a price as there is the software subscription service. This price is to help the company fund the development of the OS. They also have excellent support for any sort of problems you might come across.

I do definitely recommend it if you can find all the right hardware that is supported by eCs (although more and more hardware is becoming supported).

Posted by Matt - Jan 06, 2012 | 12:53 AM

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

I forgot to mention that the initial price of $149 is for a license to install on up to 5 computers. So per a computer this is a cost of $29.80. Compare this to Windows 7 Professional for $199.99 (or even Home Premium for $119.99) and this is for a single license. If you have more than one computer you have to buy a license for each of those computers. So to me eCs is a lot cheaper…. but maybe that’s just me.

Posted by Matt - Jan 06, 2012 | 1:01 AM

Re: eComStation: Not for Everyone

Thanks, Matt. eComStation is like so many other things in the world of computer technology, in that it draws a very polarized range of comments here. We did have a chance to review 2.0 after the above review was published. While I enjoyed it, it simply does not do anything your humble reviewer needs better than other choices easier to manage. I hope my whole point was obvious: It’s a good thing we have it, because it really suits that certain group drawn to it.

I wish there was something out there I liked half so well as eCs fans like theirs.

Posted by Ed Hurst - Jan 06, 2012 | 1:10 AM