Probably the single coolest feature of eComStation is the outstanding support for Windows 3.x and MS-DOS. eCS comes with a full installation of Windows 3.x, and you can easily load an instance of this operating system. You can select to start a windowed instance, or a fullscreen instance. The same goes for DOS sessions, with the added bonus that you can run mutliple DOS sessions side-by-side. Basically, eComStation is a better DOS than DOS, and a better Windows 3.x than Windows 3.x. The instances are isolated, so crashes in the virtualised boxes do not crash eCS itself.
For me, it was all a trip back to childhood. When I first started using computers, in 1990, the first computer my parents bought was a 286 with MS-DOS installed. Hours on end I played Keen and other games on that computer, and all that gaming made me a master at using MS-DOS. I was 6 at the time, but I could easily use "all" aspects ("all" does not really mean a lot in this context) of MS-DOS, and later on, of Windows 3.x. We had a huge dot-matrix printer attached to the computer, and this way, I even printed my first school assignments back in the day. I still have all manuals and floppy disks from that era, safely tucked away in my humongous collection of manuals.
But I digress. The fact that you can so easily run DOS and Windows 3.x applications simply lowers the bar for actually doing so. I have a large collection of old DOS games, for instance (The 7th Guest! The 11th Hour! SimCity 2000! Keen! Monster Bash!), but performance of these games under i.e. DOSBox was never acceptable for me. Under eCS, however, they run just fine, and I am really happy with that.
Experiencing the stability and lack of online documentation
eCS has not let me down in the stability department. The operating system is fast, stable, and seems really robust. I have not experienced a single crash during my use of eCS; nor the OS itself, nor any of its application have crashed so far. I also have not encountered any weird bugs in this release candidate (save for the audio chip not working).
My biggest gripe with eCS is the apparent lack of decent documentation and how-tos online. When a newbie like me encounters a problem, I do not really know where to go. IRC channels were empty (save for a few bots), and the forums were sometimes outdated. This can be really aggravating if you are trying to solve a problem (for instance, my sound issues). A friend of mine noted that the lack of online documentation might be caused by the fact that os/2 used to come with a huge manual.
As always, giving an encompassing conclusion about such a legendary operating system is very hard. On top of that is the fact that I was a complete newbie at os/2, and hence, I probably even barely scratched the surface of what eCS can actually do. In the coming weeks and months, I plan to learn a whole lot more about eComStation and os/2.
Anyway, you are expecting a judgement. First and foremost, eCS is a good system. It is stable, relatively easy to use, and fast. It offers interesting GUI elements, and a lot of configurability. Installing applications is painless (Windows-like installers, mostly), and the excellent compatibility with Windows 3.x and MS-DOS gives major brownie points to eCS.
However, it is not all sunshine and roses. The GUI could definitely receive a beauty treatment; I am not proposing flashy effects and pointless transparency, but more things like antialiased text (a definite must for readability) and more up to date colour schemes and window decors. Widgets in general have an outdated feel, and with the current focus on pretty GUI effects, this could be a real weakness for many people.
There are also more structural problems. The installer definitely needs some form of hardware recognition, and the various system settings dialogs and applets should receive an overall treatment, making them more consistent among one another, while also doing a better job at hiding advanced features (using the interesting multiple pages per tab option).
Now, the problem with eCS for us 'normal' users is the price. Since eCS is aimed at professional and corporate users, the price is substantial: EUR 235,- including sales taxes. In other words, you must be a real os/2 fanatic to shell out that amount of money for eCS. But, even if you are not a fanatic, and have the money to spare, eCS is a very interesting and relatively complete (and fast, even on older hardware) operating system, despite its deficiencies.
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