posted by Eugenia Loli on Mon 5th May 2003 18:18 UTC
IconeComStation 1.1 is finally available for purchase one and a half years after the release of eCS 1.0. What's new in this release and is it really worth $200? Read on to find out.

To start with, I am puzzled if I should write at length about the installation process (which has changed since 1.0) or just describe the experience in a few sentences. I think I prefer the second method, as I don't want it to be as painful for our readers as it was for me over a span of two weeks.

Click for a larger view So, Serenity Systems re-wrote the installation procedure. It is now simpler overall. It has three stages (like SuSE's); the first stage deals with partitioning and what software is to be installed. The second and third stages (with equal number of reboots) deal with the networking settings, etc. However, the 'normality' of the whole thing stops there. The experience I had from the installation could only be called "good enough" if it would actually work as expected. It didn't. I had to try three machines to get eCS 1.1 installed. After it didn't install on previously-compatible hardware, I got a newer ISO directly from Serenity Systems, but that didn't work either. It finally installed on the third system I tried.

Please let me say at this point that the Serenity Systems guys are great. They were as helpful as they could be, and I am grateful to to work with them for the creation of this review. But the fact remains, the installation procedure is buggy and it might work or might not work for you. Three major bugs stopped this new installation procedure from working on the first two machines (which are fully eCS-compatible and were able to run eCS 1.0 before with no problems). From the three bugs found, the most annoying is the one that wipes out your current bootmanager even if the user is very careful to not install any boot manager (in detail, this new app that does the partitioning needs a real debugging kickout).

As I wrote earlier, the third machine was the lucky one and I got eCS 1.1 installed on a 12 GB primary partition (it still wiped out the boot manager on that machine too, but at least eCS did install fine). All my hardware works fine except the sound cards. I have two sound cards there (a very common VIA on-board AC97 (1.5 year old version) and a Yamaha YMF754 PCI one (3 year old version) and while they have been out on the market for a while, eCS didn't come with drivers for any of them. Later, we found in the IBM software update web site a driver for the YMF754, but it wouldn't work. After installing the driver, it recognizes the sound card, it now displays the sound card in the "hardware manager" folder, but playing sound files results in errors like "no audio hardware device found." I ran eCS with ALT+F1 in recovery mode in order to force the system to re-detect hardware and then rebooted, as per the sound card's README, but still no audio joy.

However, eCS does come with enhanced hardware compatibility, just not the one I needed. Thankfully, my RealTek network card and graphics card are all working, and the mouse wheel too (though not at the speed I would like it to). There is also a USB preference panel to identify and access your USB devices.

Click for a larger view eCS boots fast; it usually comes up in about 30 seconds or so. Launching applications and using the system is also fast and responsive. The OS comes with Java 1.3.1, a number of networking tools (with ways to log on to workgroup/domain networks) and of course DOS and Windows 3.1 compatibility, as expected. Mozilla 1.0.x is also ported, and there are a few thousand applications to choose and download over at Hobbes.

The main new feature that a 1.0 user will notice (besides the new installation procedure) is the new SciTech Display Doctor preference panel. It makes changing monitor resolution, color depth and refresh rate very easy. And of course it adds 2D support for a truckload of graphics cards. Additionally, you will find this very panel able to control the brand new virtual desktop application. Truly, a nice addition to the OS.

The rest of the OS hasn't changed though. It is pretty much as we described it in our review of eCS 1.0, so if you are really curious about eCS and OS/2 (or want to check more screenshots), please refer to that article for a more detailed description of the OS.

Now, is this version worth the $90 of upgrading your 1.0 or the $200 for the full purchase of 1.1? While I am a huge fan of alternative OSes, I simply can't justify these amounts of money only for a new installation that doesn't always work (at least the previous installation method was difficult, but quite usable), some additional hardware/internet support and a virtual desktop application. The eCS OS still looks dated (even more than it did one and a half years ago), it still requires hacking around config.sys and autoexec.bat to add new features to the OS. OS/2 started in the same time and level with Windows back then, but Windows has evolved and eCS 1.1 still feels like a small update over 1996's OS/2 Warp.

I don't believe that Serenity Systems has a winner with this OS running on its own (maybe this is why they are moving their business to trying to run eCS as a guest OS over FreeBSD/Linux and Windows). Linux has already gained the place of the "Windows alternative" and while eCS does many things better than Linux (faster, responsive, easy application installation, unified looks and expected usability, some integration), Linux is evolving much faster, supports more hardware, it is sexier, it has more applications (including Windows 9x/XP apps via WINE) and has an active developer community. eCS can still survive by focusing its marketshare on existing customers who still run important software under OS/2 in their companies. But these people are certain to migrate one day and eCS may not present a compelling option for this price.

OS enthusiasts are encouraged to try it out if you have the money, but don't try to install it on mission-critical computers since your boot manager is likely to be deleted. Other than that, eCS is a pretty good OS to run.

Installation: 3/10
Hardware Support: 5/10
Ease of use: 7.5/10
Features: 7/10
Credibility: 7/10 (stability, bugs, security)
Speed: 9/10 (UI responsiveness, latency, throughput)

Overall: 6.41 / 10

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