“As a long-time fan of GeoWorks Ensemble (now Breadbox Ensemble), a DOS based graphical user interface and office suite popular in the 80s, I’ve run it under a variety of operating systems and emulators over the years. You see, Ensemble requires an underlying operating system to provide a DOS compatible file system, not unlike early versions of Windows that required DOS. […] With the release of eComStation 2.0 I thought I’d revisit the challenge of getting Breadbox Ensemble running under OS/2 again […] but to add a further twist, since I didn’t want to do this on a dedicated machine, I chose to see if I could get things running under VirtualBox.”
As a long-time fan of GeoWorks Ensemble (now Breadbox Ensemble), a DOS based graphical user interface and office suite popular in the 80s, I’ve run it under a variety of operating systems and emulators over the years.
You see, Ensemble requires an underlying operating system to provide a DOS compatible file system, not unlike early versions of Windows that required DOS.
DR-DOS (Digital Research DOS) was an excellent host for Ensemble, providing excellent integration between DOS and Ensemble and powerful task-switching between DOS applications and Ensemble. PC-DOS was also an able host and of course since MS-DOS was ubiquitous, Ensemble ran under it as well.
Back in the 80s, when attending COMDEX the infamous computer trade show, I received a free copy of IBM Warp (Blue Spine, I recall) and was able to run GeoWorks Ensemble under it was well, putting to test IBM’s promise for OS/2 Warp at the time, “a better DOS than DOS and a better Windows than Windows”.
I’ve also had success getting the latest version of Breadbox Ensemble (with the fast CPU patch) running under DOSBox 7.3 (interestingly requiring a change to the GEOS.INI file that replaced the default file system driver with a the OS/2 driver).
So with the release of eComStation 2.0 I thought I’d revisit the challenge of getting Breadbox Ensemble running under OS/2 again. So I dropped my $149.00 for the 5 System Home/Student License, and combined with my $80.00 purchase of Breadbox Ensemble a year or so ago I thought I’d try and get it up and running on eComStation 2.0, but to add a further twist, since I didn’t want to do this on a dedicated machine, I chose to see if I could get things running under VirtualBox.
My first attempt to get eComStation running under VirtualBox was unsuccessful. The installation would hang. After a search of the web I found a couple of hints. Disable “paging” under the processor settings in VirtualBox, but make sure that the AMD-V or Intel VT-x support is enabled.
I did that but still, part way through the install things would hang. So I did a little more searching. This time I investigated “custom” changes to make to eComStation. I’d read somewhere online to make sure that one setting to enable in eComStation is using “virtual hardware”. So I enabled that, rebooted and things hung again. I then set eComStation to use the “IBM Compatible” disk driver. Things still hung. Then I’d read somewhere that someone had some success using eComStation’s “journaled file system” instead of the HPFS file system. That was the key. I formatted the virtual drive partition as JFS and the install completed relatively easily after that.
It took a few minutes to acclimate myself to the WPS (Workplace Shell) as it had been years since I’d first used it. Here’s a hint, the Workplace Shell uses the right mouse button for dragging and dropping. Once I’d remembered that, it was pretty easy to navigate.
After playing around with the 16 Bit Windows system called Win-OS2, playing with card file, calculator and revisiting the early days of Windows 3.0 (eComStation, and OS/2 includes a full 16 bit Windows layer so you can run early Windows applications), I dropped to a “DOS Prompt” and played around in DOS both in a windowed session and full screen. I’m amazed that I can still remember most of those old DOS commands, cd (change directory), dir (directory), copy (copy *.* c:dosapps), etc.
Next it was time to install Breadbox Ensemble. Recognizing that I probably wouldn’t be able to run Breadbox Ensemble in a Window due to the graphical nature of the program, I dropped to a DOS full screen session (but I could always get back to the graphical eComStation desktop with a CTRL-ESC like we did in the early days of DOS task switching) and began the installation process.
Unfortunately, upon completion of the install, Breadbox Ensemble would crash. After a little head scratching I remembered a change from using Breadbox Ensemble under DOSBox, you needed to change the default file system driver from the default to (ironically) the OS2.geo driver in the GEOS.INI file. Once that change was made and a few other tweaks (I prefer the Motif interface instead of the “Industry Standard” interface inspired by the Windows Start button) were made I was running Breadbox Ensemble, on eComStation under VirtualBox.
Next up, I’ll try to run an older version of GeoWorks Ensemble on eComStation, and patching GeoWorks Ensemble to use the “Presentation Manager” user interface.
You see, in the early days of GeoWorks Ensemble, one of the most impressive features, particularly when GeoWorks was trying to get other companies to adopt GeoWorks as their default operating system in their David versus Goliath battle with Microsoft, GeoWorks created a variety of familiar user interfaces that could be swapped out depending upon the customer.
For those companies that preferred a “familiar” Windows style user interface, they could choose the “Industry Standard” user interface, patterned after the familiar Windows 95, Start menu interface. For those companies who preferred simplicity, they had a “Push Button” interface (remember those early DOS based AOL installation disks?).
And most important, when courting IBM to run GeoWorks Ensemble on their lower end hardware, they created a “PM” interface based on the early OS/2 “Presentation Manager” interface. IBM required later versions of Ensemble to drop the “PM” interface and integration code in Breadbox Ensemble which is why I need to install an earlier GeoWorks version.
So while we took the long way to get here, we really have come full circle and I’ll report back on any success I’ve had getting the Presentation Manager interface to run under GeoWorks Ensemble, running on eComStation under VirtualBox emulation. Oh, and one more thing, doing so running the latest version of OS X on my MacBook Pro!
About the Author: Michael Hill
Michael Hill has been involved with computer technology for over 30 years. A GUI fanatic, he’s used and experimented with a variety of different graphical user interfaces and operating systems over the years including GEM, GEOS, PC/GEOS, Windows, OS/2, MacOS, OS X and others.