The eCS OS/2 uses the same GUI engine ('WPS' for its friends) as in previous OS/2 versions and while it does the job, it also shows its age. 16-color, huge icons, big fonts that makes a 1024x768 resolution make you feel that you work on a 800x600 workspace instead (extra tweaking is required to change icon and font settings), while there is an over-customization and at times too many (confusing) choices in the context menus or properties panel windows. There is no font-antialias (no one wants to touch that part of the Presentation Manager source code, I hear). There is no alpha blending and I did not experience any support for non-rectangle windows or double buffering. The GUI engine is old, but at the same time, is extremely fast.
I must say that OS/2 is the most 'different' operating system that I have tried recently. It was a pleasant shock for me when I first tried BeOS in March 1999, but I had not felt the same since then for any other OS I used. OS/2 was indeed a pleasant surprise for me, even with its given aesthetic shortcomings. OS/2 does not normally come with a filemanager, but eComStation comes with a filemanager that does the job just fine, but still needs some UI fixes. On OS/2 I came across some new widgets that you can't find in any other OS, like, multiple pages within a single tab view, tabs which are colored differently from each other and arrows that appear in menus that have a double meaning (open the sub-menu or execute the first/default command found on that sub-menu). Despite these interesting ideas in the UI design though, it still leaves a lot to be desired. Object Desktop 2 (from the same people who wrote WindowBlinds) and XWorkplace are the two third party must-have applications for OS/2 which can help a lot on many aspects of the UI. Object Dekstop also adds the functionality of Workspaces (virtual desktops), better ZIP (and other compressed formats) integration and more. I just wish that the product was either part of the eCS, or that a demo was available from Stardock.
OS/2 supports technologies like drag-and-drop very well, and it also utilizes the concept of Shadows. Shadows are like the symlinks found in other OSes, but because OS/2 exercises node monitoring extensively, they are one step beyond symlinks. A change in the original file, it will also change the attribute in the Shadow as well. You can have Shadows that link to files or folders on computers over the Network or Internet, not just your local computer. It is an excellent way of keeping track in real time what is going on in an object that is far away from your own workstation. Shadows and the OOP nature of the GUI itself are the best parts of the OS/2 in my opinion. And speaking of the OOP nature of the GUI, I should mention the nice context tree way of navigating your mounted filesystems. It works very similarly to the BeOS Tracker.
The OS comes with a powerful control panel where you can change a lot of the aspects of the OS, like window manager, colors, network settings, screen resolution, and install additional drivers etc.
There are some 5,000 to 6,000 OS/2 native applications found on the web for your downloading pleasure, plus OS/2 supports running both 16-bit DOS and Windows 3.1 applications out of the box. In fact, a full Windows 3.1 version is installed within the eCS OS/2. There are also ports of Mozilla (called WarpZilla), Star Office, Netscape and more. eCS includes all these applications on the 3rd CD, so you can install them at any time. We should also mention that a full version of Lotus SmartSuite Office Suite is also included, additionally to Star Office and IBMWorks Office offerings. All these applications can be managed with WiseManager, a software managing application, but once again, I experienced severe UI problems with it.
An interesting feature that can save you lots of time in the day-to-day use of OS/2 are Templates. You can save almost everything as a Template and then create new instances on new applications based off of these saved settings. Even the Desktop itself is a special folder that has saved its settings in a Template that are called every time WPS is runs.
Another feature that can save you time and micromanaging is the WorkArea feature. You can mark a folder as a WorkArea and all the applications inside this special folder will behave seamlessly. For example, when you open the folder, all the apps inside will launch and when you maximize the window representing the folder, all these applications will also maximize. And speaking about folders, they can have their own background images and colors assigned to them, and each folder can have its own settings. You can also assign a folder as an FTP or a web folder with an Internet address and each time you drag something into it, it will upload the object automatically to the assigned destination. OS/2 does not exercise the MIME types for the file type problem, but rather uses the extension of the application. However, unlike Windows, OS/2 supports multiple associations for any data files, a way that offers a pretty good flexibility. For example, you can right click on an image file and if you just click on the 'Open' command found on the context menu it would open the image with the default image viewer. However, if you click on the little arrow on the right of the word 'Open', it will present you with a choice of additional applications that have registered themselves to the system that can handle the specific image type.