eCS boots quickly, and during boot, you are warned if device drivers fail to find the devices they try to, ehm, drive. For instance, I had first chosen the wrong network chipset driver, and hence, an error message during boot alerted me to that. You need to press enter to continue booting.
The desktop eCS comes with, still the Workplace Shell, definitely shows its age. There is no support for antialiased text, and icons look quite outdated, and overall, it has a very Windows 98ish feel to it. This is certainly not automatically a downside, but more of an observation. The interface is very quick and snappy, almost BeOS-like when it comes to responsiveness (probably due to the use of multithreading). As Eugenia already noted in her review of eCS 1.0, the context menus used in WPS can be extremely confusing. A long list of options with or without expanding menus lead to a dazzling array of options.
Behaviourally, WPS works mostly like Windows' Explorer, although there are a lot of differences as well. Most notably (and one of the first things you notice) dragging and dropping works by using the right mouse button instead of the left. Another difference is that eCS uses coloured tabs (easy for differentiation purposes), and also multiple pages per tab. This can be a bit confusing at first, but it does allow programmers to easily hide the more advanced options. In addition, the order of the titlebar widgets is a bit odd: close, minimise, maximise. Lastly, the file manager is spatial, and very reminiscent of Finder in Mac OS9.
eCS also supports multiple desktops out of the box (contrary to Explorer), and the menubar can be enriched with plugins; by default, it includes things like a performance monitor, lock/shutdown buttons, a search button, a sort of menutray which provides quick access to settings panels and drives, the inevitable clock, and of course a taskbar. An interesting feature of the taskbar is that you can tell it to not display certain windows. For instance, adding a filter named "Desk" will filter out all instances that start with "Desk". Since eCS and WPS are very configurable, you can even tell it to do things like minimise windows to the desktop, known as iconify. A very welcome feature.
The eComStation user interface elements look, just like the icons and text, quite outdated. I really am the last person on earth to advocate the use of flashy effects and pretty colours (in fact, I consider CDE to be the pinnacle of usability, and trust me, roadkill is prettier to look at), but some beautification and pretty colours are sorely needed on eCS. WPS and eCS support themeing, but the themes are quite limited, and do not make the situation any better.
System administration is in some cases a very easy matter on eCS, but sometimes, it is quite problematic too. For instance, configuring things like themes, icons, system sounds, kernel options, screen options, etc., are all pretty easy to do. However, some things, like networking, are a bit of a mess in that there are a lot of different configuration panels, and it can be hard to determine which does what. On top of that, the most important one (where you configure your LAN card and DHCP and such) uses a different UI scheme; I suspect it is a different toolkit altogether as the application is also a lot slower to respond compared to the rest of the operating system.
Overall, eCS is a very configurable operating system, almost along the lines of KDE. Sadly, eCS does not use the concept of the multiple pages per tab to its fullest; it could be used to hide the more advanced, less-used options, and while it does do this in some places, for the most part, it does not. A missed opportunity if you ask me.
eCS comes with Firefox and Thunderbird 188.8.131.52, which work quite well on eComStation; in fact, these releases are more stable for me than the Firefox and Thunderbird versions for BeOS/Zeta. Fonts in the two ports are, contrary to the rest of the operating system, properly antialiased, making for a pleasant browsing and emailing experience.
By default, eCS does not handle .doc files. A port of OpenOffice.org is available, however, this version needs to be bought separately, so I could not test it out. Instead, I downloaded StarOffice 5.1a (from 2000), and this way, I could easily open office files. You can understand, though, that the switch from an Office 2007/Office:Mac 2004 environment to the 7 year old release of StarOffice is a bit... Odd. You are probably better off buying OpenOffice.org.
As for multimedia, my lack of a working sound card obviously hindered me a great deal in testing out the multimedia capabilities of eComStation. It supports various codecs, including the RealPLayer and w32codecs using Odin and WarpVision. WarpVision also plays DVDs, DivX files, and just about any other audio/video codec. WarpVision also integrates with Firefox/Seamonkey, and can use hardware acceleration.