Software Review


For the benefit of Windows users, we've been tapped by The Crimson to review IBM's new operating system, OS/2 Warp. IBM is marketing the product heavily in the face of stiff competition from Microsoft, which virtually monopolizes the operating system market for PC-compatibles.

"OS/2" stands for Operating System/2, and "Warp" is the name given to the newest version (3.0), coined by "Star Trek" fanatics at IBM. OS/2 Warp is Big Blue's latest challenge to operating systems like DOS and Microsoft Windows.

An operating system determines the way a computer is used, fromhow files are copied to how programs are run. In DOS you have to type in the name of the program you want to run, whereas in Windows you have to double click on the program icon. OS/2, like Windows, uses a graphical user interface (GUI); you can click and drag an icon to run a program.

So what's the big deal about OS/2 if it acts like Windows? The most important difference is that OS/2 is a true multi-tasking operating system. In other words, it can run many programs at the same time. You can check e-mail while your computer prints your hundred-page thesis, formats a floppy disk or recalculates a spreadsheet--all while having a dictionary program open for reference at the same time. Multi-tasking can totally change the way one uses a computer.

Since Windows relies on old-fashioned MS-DOS, its performance is very limited. OS/2, on the other hand, does not rely on MS-DOS and can therefore manage resources more efficiently.


OS/2's ability to use virtual memory (using part of the hard drive as memory, similar to the Windows swap file) allows most computers to run as many as 10 programs simultaneously without crashing. And there is no need to worry about memory managers, TSR's, high memory, extended memory, expanded memory and all the other things you need to know about for DOS. Read: No more fiddling with AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS to squeeze programs into memory.

Another advantage of OS/2 is its ability to run DOS and Windows programs, so Windows users have no need to buy new software to fit the new system. Windows programs may take slightly longer to start, but once started, they run as fast as before.

In fact, some DOS programs run faster, thanks to OS/2's more efficient memory management. This means that you can just add OS/2 to your existing DOS and Windows system and immediately start taking advantage of all of its advanced features. DOS and Windows programs can be multitasked as well--you can run multiple DOS and Windows programs at the same time, and more smoothly than possible in Windows.

There is also a small but increasing quantity of software written specifically for OS/2. Lotus has an OS/2 version of their Smart-Suite, which includes the Ami Pro word processor and Lotus 1-2-3. Users of WordPerfect 6.1 for Windows can get an OS/2 integration package. And OS/2 itself includes a set of applications in its Bonus Pack, including simple word processing, spreadsheet and PIM (Personal Information Manager) programs.

IBM seems to be abusing the phrase "onramp to the Information Highway" in advertising OS/2. Students with Ethernet access will be disappointed with the most recent version of OS/2 Warp; it only includes support for connecting to networks over the modem, and there is no support for Ethernet connections.

Right now the only way to get Ethernet under OS/2 is to buy the IBM TCP/IP kit for the operating system, a rather expensive product priced at $150. But IBM has announced a network-capable version of OS/2 Warp, which should come out soon and will include everything you need to take advantage of an Ethernet connection.

Depending on the computer, users may or may not have problems installing OS/2. We have one computer which crashes about once every installation, but other computers don't seem to have any problems. An easy installation feature gives beginning users a straightforward way to load the system.

The extensive on-line reference and documentation during and after installation makes opening the manual hardly necessary. During installation, help windows appear on the screen to clarify the options.

Once installation is complete, a rather useful OS/2 tutorial pops up. It teaches you everything you need to know to use the operating system. But OS/2 is similar enough to Windows that it shouldn't take long for an experienced Windows user to learn to use OS/2.

So how well does OS/2 perform? This is highly dependent on the hardware. According to IBM, OS/2 requires a 386 or better CPU and 4 MB of RAM. However, we recommend against running it with 4 MB if you plan on getting any useful work done on the computer. Eight MB is usually adequate, and 16 MB is bliss. Increased memory doesn't add any capabilities to the operating system, but it speeds up most operations by requiring less data to be swapped out to the hard drive.

We also recommend having at least 20 MB free on the hard disk, in addition to the 35 MB or so that OS/2 takes up itself. While many people recommend a 486 or better, we found that OS/2 performs adequately on a 33-MHz 386 with 8 MB RAM.

So who should get OS/2 Warp? If you ever do anything more than simple word processing and e-mail, and have a computer that can run OS/2, you should definitely consider it. Even if your computer is a little short of running OS/2 comfortably, the added capabilities may be worth the cost of the program--especially if what you need is a little more memory.

Ken Kobayashi '96 and Hsien Y. Wong '96 are members of the Harvard Computer Society with a special interest in OS/2 and Windows operating systems.