Sunday, May 06, 2007

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue

Something Old and Blue is IBM's venerable operating system OS/2
Something New and Borrowed is the code in OpenSUSE Linux (more on that later)

I am proud to say that I am writing this post from OS/2. I am even happier to say that I am writing it in the latest version of Firefox without needing the old trickery I once did to get anything "advanced" done in that operating system. Why bother messing with this old meager competition to Windows whose best days were in the 20th century? The answer? Because Microsoft made it easy for me. As Moody can tell you, this is Irony with a capital "I".

In the early 90s, IBM and Microsoft had a split in direction. With the advent of the slick-looking Macintosh screens, it was clear that a graphical user interface was needed to compete in the brave new world of personal computing. IBM chose to stay with OS/2 and Microsoft decided to move on and create Windows. Until Windows 2000 came out, OS/2 was clearly a more stable and reliable operating system and Microsoft prevailed not because of better functionality, but rather from better marketing and, more importantly, from nurturing their developers with easy-to-use tools and a cooperative and inexpensive means to make Windows software. IBM felt that their better OS would stand on its own without thousands of programmers dreaming up ways of using the power of the personal computer. They were dead wrong of course. Only uber-geeks like yours truly and those I could evangelize into coming with me (Moody and my Dad) really used OS/2. The rest of IBM's installations were relegated to ATMs (many of which are still in use) and corporate desktops.

Windows 2000 was the operating system that finally led me to abandon OS/2 on my home PC. Windows XP was not much more than some minor software updates. Windows Vista looks like it was written for the music and movie industry rather than the people buying it, so I don't see much reason to upgrade.

As a result, I've been stuck in Windows 2000 and getting kind of bored. Enter Microsoft Virtual PC 2007. For reasons I am not too sure of, Microsoft has decided to give away this piece of software. Virtual PC allows a computer to run a virtual copy of an Intel-based PC inside of itself. Virtual hard drives are created, so incompatible file systems can reside on the computer. For an ubergeek like me, this represents on opportunity to expand my horizons on one computer without needing more PCs to run other operating systems. I've installed OS/2 and OpenSUSE Linux on my little Windows PC. The interesting and cool thing is that Microsoft actually developed OS/2 device drivers to make the OS/2 desktop integrate easier and better with the main Windows desktop. If you had told me a few years ago that Microsoft would make this concession to a former enemy, I would have laughed in your general direction...and I would have been wrong.

In OS/2, I went through my archive and scrounged up several of my old programs (which I spent thousands of dollars on) and now I can use them any time. Graphics programs were of special interest and, all together, their capabilities may exceed Photoshop and they definitely have unique filters etc. The games are fun too. Mahjongg was worth the install in and of itself. IBM did a great job on the tile art. That is really saying something as it took a few dozen patches with many, many reboots to bring OS/2 version 4 from its state in 1996 to a level where it could run the latest Firefox.

More importantly, I found myself enjoying computing more than I have in a long time. I am amazed at what I remember and also what I forgot in the years since I used OS/2. Although IBM killed OS/2 off a few years ago, the OS lives on as eComStation which is maintained by Serenity Systems. The price is a bit steep at $259 new, so I think I'll stick with what I got.

Why stick with one OS when you can virtualize more? I also installed OpenSUSE Linux as a virtual machine. This will allow me to learn more of what places like Google, eBay, and other major web designers use to create their software. It is surprising how many server and web apps are Linux-based rather than Microsoft-based. Also, the wages for those jobs runs higher, so I thought I should get up to speed on Apache, MySQL, the Linux languages and so forth.

The best part about Linux is that it is FREE. The worst part is that several segments of the interface still expect you to know all the geeky stuff to make it work right. I know some geeky, but not always enough geeky to do what I want in Linux. However, with learning comes comfort and ease of use so I will give it a try.

We've been rearranging here at El Rancho Snabuloso and I dragged our low-functioning Flower Power iMac from its perch and hooked it up. It actually works fine, but the screen is very fuzzy and difficult to use. Being an all-in-one unit, changing out the monitor is either impossible or hideously expensive, so I set it up as a workstation with can be controlled with a VNC remote client. So that means I can have up to FOUR operating systems sitting on my desktops at any given moment.

Me likey.

Whatever your operating system is, I hope it works well for you.


The Moody Minstrel said...

Behold, the Son of BLUE(!!!!!!!!!) hath arisen, cheating hell, death, obsolescence, and IBM's chronically stuffed-shirt way of thinking!

Hmm, I wonder...I think I still have all my OS/2 disks around here somewhere. Does that virtual PC take a lot of power? It would be great to see my old investment put to use even if only for its novelty value.

Pandabonium said...

I installed "Virtual PC for Mac" on my PowerBook G4 (only because I was using a stock trading program at the time that required it).

It was like a Bela Lugosi Dracula, sucking the life blood out of the memory and performance! Not only that, but since I had to go online with it for the stock trading program, I needed a virtual condom to keep out the deluge of viruses, trojan horses, etc. that I normally don't have to deal with. In short, I hated it.

The one thing I would have liked to use it for is Flight Simulator, but the drawbacks were too high a price to pay.

Perhaps I can sell it to Moody to experiment with on his school's Macs (evil laughter).

For your purposes it sounds like the flip side - allowing you to a use better OS. MS doing that? Sounds fishy to me... what's the catch? (pun intended).

Pandabonium said...

PS - I should perhaps clarify that the program I have allows one to operate XP - not OS/2 - on a Mac.

Don Snabulus said...


I think it depends on how much oomph you give to the program (you can define memory, hard drive space etc.)

My system has 1GB of RAM and I set aside 128 MB for OS/2 along with about a gig of hard drive space.

I can zip up my OS/2 stuff if you want and you can save yourself about 2 dozen virtual reboots and a day and a half of installing.


I am not surprised at your results running XP and I definitely empathize. Other than some testing for work, I never had anything that required a Virtual environment; it has always been for fun or education. The virus-ridden world of Windows can be maddening for those who are new to it.

I have the Connectix version of Virtual PC (before Microsoft ate them up) for OS 9. It ran Windows and OS/2 slowly, but I only had a G3 running at 350 MHz. I think the problem is that Windows is designed to be a system hog, whereas OS/2 was designed to run on a 486 with 4 MB of RAM. I think that fact alone makes it a much better Virtual PC candidate.

There is a way to get OS/2 to run on VPC for Mac, but I needed a big geek hat to get it to install at the time.

ladybug said...

I sure wish the Flower Power Mac hadn't had a screen problem, or else I'd still be using it! I'm glad it's being used, and I can access all my old files & programs, (when Snabby isn't using it that is...) which is kind of nice.

Plus, I just like the color, I'm REAL tired of basic, boring BLACK as a computer color, and frankly, white is not much better in my opinion.

DewKid said...

Windows XP is simply some "minor software upgrades"!?! LOL.

Win XP is leaps and bounds above Windows 2000. I know, because our company went through this upgrade, and I can't tell you how easy it was, and how much things have improved since. I use WinXP at home and at work, and it is one of the slickest, and most stable OSs I've ever used. {insert Macvangelist gasps here}

I agree that Vista looks a little too bubbly and happy for me. That, and the enormous price-tag they put on the thing. Cripes, now I gotta fork out $300/machine, and then only for a scaled-down home version! Screw you Microsoft. I'm using my WinXP until you shut it down, which I'm sure will happen in the next year or so.

Thanks for the Virtual PC link - that sounds interesting! :-)

Dean Wormer said...

Hey Snabby,

This conversation brings up something (at least in my head) I'm trying to do with virtual memory and XP.

I have the hard drive partitioned down the middle but can't seem to get Windows to dedicate that empty half of the drive as VM. Any thoughts?


Don Snabulus said...


I hear you. Maybe I can figure out how to mod a Mini Mac and a flat-screen to put in that awesome Flower Power casing.


Feeling saucy, eh? I am glad you see XP as a huge improvement over 2000 but, other than the new "skin" which I turned off, I don't see any real difference. Now, Microsoft did some built-in obsolescence stuff with WMP and IE, but they could have built that into 2000 and it isn't enough to impress.

I am curious as to what you see that is much better than 2000, because Carl Sagan knows that I haven't spent much time getting into the new groove. Clue me in, baby! I would like to know what I am missing.


Give me a call if you wish and we can look things over. I can borrow a GotoMeeting subscription to see your setup. If you want to do your own setup, try this:

1. Go to Start and right-click on My Computer.

2. Choose the Advanced Tab and find the Performance section. Choose the Settings button.

3. Under performance options, choose the Advanced tab.

4. In the Virtual Memory sections, choose the Change button to allocate a different amount of virtual memory. Press OK for the changes to take effect.

If you want to make your virtual memory and your whole system boot faster and better, find the Microsoft Bootviz utility for Windows XP. I got mine here...

This is an undocumented download because Microsoft says Windows XP does this stuff eventually anyway. Okie dokie!

Dean Wormer said...

Thanks don. I know it was Off Topic but while we were on the subject of computers...

DewKid said...

Sorry about the saucy comment, I'm just a big fan of WinXP, and you got me fired up a bit. :-) Here's what you are missing:

Remote desktop
Remote assistance
Built-in firewall
Built-in CD burning
Built-in Zip file support
Driver Rollback
Skinnable GUI
Fast user switching

Knowing you, you'll probably now go through each item above, and tell me either that:
a) Win2000 has something just as good
b) You don't need/want that feature
c) I suck
d) Cranberry juice is great with toast

It doesn't really matter though. I'm sure that in a year or two, WinXP will become "unsupported" anyway, and you'll be forced to move to Vista... Well, unless you opt for another OS.

DewKid said...

I have to add, that of the features above, Remote Desktop is the neatest thing ever. I can use my work computer at home, and I barely notice the lag at all!

Oh, and fast-user switching is very handy, especially when my wife walks into the room, and needs to print out some documents from her workspace. It doesn't matter what I'm doing, I simply switch users (takes about 5 seconds) and let her do her thing. When she is finished, we switch back, and everything is back where it was before the interruption. Heck, even the paste clipboard still has my last copy! The last time I checked, OS-X can't even do this!

Okay, I'll shuddap now.

Don Snabulus said...


A. The Gauls invaded Sussex in 1643, not 1644.(1)

B. The atomic number of Zarquon DOES make it an inert gas.(2)

C. In a standard orchestra arrangement, it would be impossible for 2nd chair flooggolo player to see the music of a 1st chair tromboonet player.(3)

So don't throw down here, girl, cuz you done got yourself served. (Snap, snap, snap)

1. The Windsor Incorrect Guide to History (1945, Windsor Press)

2. Billy Bancroft's Chemistry Report, 3rd Period, Ms. Trafalgar's Class, 2003.

3. The Complete Idiot's Guide to Seating Arrangements (Harcourt Brace, 2005).

4. Fast User Switching on OS X

5. Remote Desktop on Windows 2000

DewKid said...

Fast User switching on OS-X came after WinXP, though. I used OS-X when it first came out, and it definitely did not have that feature. You had to log completely out (closing all apps) before anyone else could log in.

That's cool that you can install WinXPs Remote Desktop on Win2000 - definitely a valuable feature. Have you tried it? Does it work well? My dad still uses Win2000, and I'm often lamenting he doesn't have that feature so I could help him from 1000 miles away.

DewKid said...

Oops, on closer inspection, the Remote Desktop for Win2000 is only the client portion. In other words, you can connect TO a WinXP machine from Win2000, but not the other way around.

Guess that wont help my Dad after all!

And stop calling me a girl.

Don Snabulus said...

For your Dad, check out UltraVNC or RealVNC. They both do a good job of doing the remote control thing.

Unlike Remote Desktop, you get the actual desktop rather than a virtual machine (more like Remote Assistance I guess).

Microsoft NetMeeting might also work although I haven't delved into it. It is part of both Win2k and XP (but not Vista).

What? We're not girls? And we don't know ebonics? Crikey, mate. Those Shielas are Blokes!

The Moody Minstrel said...

Cranberry juice IS good with toast!

WD-40 isn't, however.

Pandabonium said...

Never lubricate a toaster with WD-40 while it is operating.

Never lubricate a trombone slide with cranberry sauce.

DewKid said...

Ugh, VNC!! Yeah, I know all about VNC, but it is gawdawful slow. That's why Remote Desktop is so sweet - it doesn't have to transfer full screenshots (which is how VNC works). VNC is definitely a good solution when you've got nothing else, though. I used to use VNC to telecommute, but since the upgrade to WinXP, its Remote Desktop all the way baby!

DewKid said...

Unlike Remote Desktop, you get the actual desktop rather than a virtual machine (more like Remote Assistance I guess).

I have no idea what you mean by this. With Remote Desktop running, you can't tell the difference between whether you are running locally, or running remote: everything on the screen (including the desktop) is identical. The only clue that you are even running remotely, is a tab that drops down from the top of the screen to allow you to disconnect. Heck, even the sounds translate remote (something VNC doesn't do), though I wouldn't recommend listening to your favorite mp3s this way!! :-)

DewKid said...

(Sorry, I didn't mean to hijack your post to talk about WinXP.)

Swinebread said...

I gave it the old “college try” at being a computer geek, but alas I guess I’m gonna have to stick to comics and movies. I bailed out right as XP was coming in. I could still take a computer apart but that it. Never could get the programming down.

Hey Snab I think I still have one CPU left, maybe we can do something with that. I also have a several programs for PC from the 2000 era.

Pa've said...

I'm obviously late to what has been a ruskusing party.

I use Windows XP, but when I purchase my next computer, which is likely to be a quad processor arrangement, the choice of whether to stick with XP or Vista will not be an option. The Quad Force Processors will require the most expensive version of windows ever offered to the computing public.

In fact, I'm not sure the latest version of Vista will support the four parellel processor but it definitely will support two if you get the $500 dollar version.

I'm pleased as punch with XP, and as long as you have enough MEMORY!!! it does just fine.

Needs at least a gig, if not more.

I installed it on my brother in law's computer, and it drags like a horse's weiner.

Don Snabulus said...


I usually run Remote Desktop off of Windows Server machines where it spawns a virtual machine with its own desktop (same icons, etc. but virtual) kind of like Citrix Metaframe (who Microsoft bought some of the technology from). Maybe peer to peer gives you the other person's actual desktop. My experience is that VNC is slower but Remote Desktop breaks connections more often. I use both quite a bit and they BOTH better than PCAnywhere.


We can help you find a use for that CPU I am sure. I'd like to see them programs. Maybe some would work on my setup.


Welcome to the party! It is always good to have plenty of memory. Now, Intel has Quad core chips coming out, but that is a bit different behaviorally from quad processors. Quad core processors should work with any newer OS although perhaps not 100% optimized for the environment. Quad processor PCs, on the other hand, would require an OS that administrates doling out processes to four different chips. I think that is how it works anyway. Must be a short horse. :D

DewKid said...

I see. Yeah peer-to-peer is nice, and about 5 times faster than VNC. I have never had the broken connection problem, so maybe that's the same issue (peer-to-peer vs server).

The Moody Minstrel said...

This machine, a Sony Vaio with an AMD processor, came with XP installed. It has only 256mb of RAM (which I upgraded to from the stock 125mb), and it runs just fine. Yes, I admit that it can bog down if I really load it, but with my normally modest needs it works just great. The laptop I use at work is a similar setup, though it's a Vaio laptop that was a slightly later model, so it has a 10% faster clock speed and about 500mb of RAM.

I heard a lot of naysaying about XP when it first came out, but I've really come to like it. I probably haven't used (or at least noticed) its finer features, but I agree with Dewkid that it does seem to run a bit smoother than Windows 2000, which I also use on some workstations at work (all with clock speeds of at least 700 mHz if not a gig or more) and used to use at home. XP seems to boot up a lot faster, too.

I haven't even seen Vista yet. The few people I knew that got it for their home machines (free upgrade) got so disgusted with all the crap Microsquish put them through with the hardware registration, etc., that they advised me not to touch it with a ten meter pole unless I get a new machine with it preinstalled.