Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 159 / DECEMBER 1993 / PAGE 100

An end user's look at OS/2 2.1. (Personal Productivity) (Column)
by Bradley M. Small

OS/2 has arrived as a fullfledged, widely supported operating system. But many people wonder whether they're safe giving up Windows and DOS in favor of this much-heralded entry from IBM.

Technically, there's a lot to talk about in OS/2 2.1. But if you're like most people, you probably don't care to hear about operating systems, device drivers, and other low-level techie esoterica. So I will do my best to avoid such discussion and cut to the chase. I'll begin by discussing how OS/2 can affect your productivity.

Can the right operating system increase productivity? It can--if it meets the following criteria. It must allow you to retain current systems that already work properly. It must be relatively simple to implement. And it must provide faster or more efficient ways to solve your current problems while allowing for growth.

OS/2 2.1 allowa you to retain current systems. If you have it, you can run most of your existing MS-DOS, Windows, and OS/2 1.x applications. Under OS/2 you can run a specific DOS session (which is the equivalent of running a specific version of DOS). If all else fails, you can have DOS on your hard drive and boot from it using either Boot Manager or Dual Boot. So even in the worst-case scenario, you can still maintain your current systems until you've completely changed over to OS/2 and found more efficient ways to service those systems you intend to keep.

I found OS/2 2.1 relatively simple to implement. Installation was straightforward (by simply following the manual, I was able to install it without a hitch). It comes on either floppy disks or CD-ROM. Both versions install easily, but after going through the 20-odd disks in the set, I considered the CD-ROM version (which comes with a 2-disk boot set) to be a godsend!

The manual has an interesting feature: On the inside of the front cover in bold black print is the phone number for free technical support. I called it several times both during business hours and during the evening, and each time, after a cheerful greeting, my problem was solved--either immediately of in a callback within 24 hours. In these times when companies are either offering no technical support or charging exobitant fees for it, free, high-quality technical support is much appreciated.

Once OS/2 is installed, you'll need about 15 minutes to an hour to get used to the Workplace Shell, depending on your experience with graphical user interfaces (GUIs). In my opinion, OS/2 is much easier to use than Windows, and it behaves more like a realworld desktop.

OS/2 2.1 provided faster and more efficient ways to solve your problems. Think how many times you've said, "I can't look up that phone number right now because I'm recalculating this spreadsheet" or "I'm formatting a disk; you'll have to wait." If you've ever had to wait while a program accessed information or while some DOS command was operating, then you've experienced a loss of productivity.

OS/2 is a 32-bit mutlitasking operating system. That means it can do more than one thing at a time. The fact that it's a 32-bit environment also means that it will use memory much more efficiently. You can format a floppy disk, download a file from your favorite BBS, and work in your word processor all at the same time (which is what I'm doing right now).

OS/2 has a text mode and a GUI mode; it will run DOS programs, Windows programs, and OS/2 1.x and 2.x progams. That should cover almost all of the software that you're running right now. I say "almost" because there are still some programs that won't run under OS/2 because they use low-level hardware or non-standard memory access. However, OS/2 does provide methods for running some troublesome programs (as well as a listing of the programs that just won't run).

OS/2 claims to be a "better DOS than DOS." I thought that meant that it should run every DOS program ever written, but after I thought about it, I realized that was unrealistic. There are many DOS programs that I can't run from DOS without creating a special boot disk or different AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files.

What makes OS/2 a "better DOS than DOS" is that DOS programs run faster under OS/2 than they do under DOS. More than one program can be run at once, and each program can have its session adjusted to run as efficiently as possible.

OS/2 can rightly be called a better Windows than Windows also. The Windows applications that I can were noticeably faster under OS/2, although they seemed to load more slowly. I found out that once you have a Windows session going, the loading time is reduced, so the advantage is still OS/2's.

Whole suites of applications are being ported to OS/2. In next month's "Personal Productivity" column, we'll take a look at the third-party support for OS/2 and the potential for growth of this ingenious operating system.