OS/2 and eComStation: "Must-Have" Software

Everyone and his uncle has made some sort of "must have" software list. This is just one more that you can add into the mix as you seek out the exact perfect set of tools for your personal needs and tastes.

I am a long-time OS/2 user: went straight from CP/M to OS/2 2.0. I know something about OS/2 and something about computers in general, but I am very far from being what I or anyone would call an expert in those things. Here, I think that works to most people's benefit, because the tools that a deep expert might want or need (and be able to use) are not necessarily the tools an average user not a total lackwit might feel a want or need for. But take it as you please.

Because this list grew out of my personal research into what I need or want to put on the new eCS system I will be booting up for the first time in (as I write) a few days, a few of the items on it are things I have just come across, and have little or no personal experience with yet; while I have tried to research usenet for comments on their performance, and kept only those with wholly or mostly positive comments, I nonetheless have indicated those particular items in these listings with an asterisk *; anything without an asterisk is something I have myself long relied on. As time goes by, and I use those things, the asterisks (or the products, though I doubt that) will come off in these lists. Also: since I haven't loaded up eCS yet, I cannot be positive what third-party products are packaged with it, and cannot anywhere find so simple a thing as a definitive list; I have enumerated below what I have believe comes bundled with eCS, but more of the things listed here may also come bundled (or I might be in error about some). I will, of course, update this page when I know.

It has long been traditional in categorizing software to simply divide it into two parts: "applications" and "utilities". I don't think such broad-brush categorization is of much help, so I have here used four categories: "applications", "helpers", "backgrounders", and "utilities and tools"--each is explained under its heading, though you probably already have a good idea what each comprises.

It is not my plan to update this page just to reflect changes in version levels of packages; all the links here are to--so far as I could determine--what was the most current at the time (mid-2005). It is important that if you plan to obtain anything linked here, you first check to see if there is a newer version available (Hobbes is your friend).

All prices for any non-free software listed here are shown in US dollars.


Applications

An "Application", as the term is used here, means a major piece (or set of pieces) of software that do a major task that is an end in itself--that is, that are not primarily to support or enhance some other software's work, or to do "in house" system maintenance. Applications are the power tools with which we do most of our work. I have subdivided this category, but there is necessarily overlap--a browser is "internet", but is it not also "office"? Well, use your head.


"Office" Applications

Word Processor

Let's be clear about this: the sad but ineluctable truth is that Micro$oft "office" software products dominate at least the North American market, and especially does Word seem to dominate the word-processing market. It is thus essential that any office-type software for other operating systems to be able to process data files in M$ formats. Some otherwise excellent products (such as the Describe word processor that I still use for all my WP needs, but cannot stay with much longer) lose much utility if they cannot "import" the data files that our friends, colleagues, and associates blithely send us under the assumption that everyone in the universe can use them in their native M$ formats--which M$ changes with more or less every new release of any of their software products (just so that competing products will have trouble keeping up).

To say that we should tell all those friends, colleagues, and associates to use some other file format, or or even to save their files in older M$ formats, is risible: most of them can't even figure out how to send emails that aren't in HTML, and probably wouldn't bother with our requests even if they did know how to implement them. This is the world as it is, not as we would like it to be. We want to use excellent software that is native to OS/2, sure, but to be a realistic choice, it must be under current development so it can be kept up to date with M$'s endless market jives. Period, the end. (Those who can truthfully say that they never, ever receive files from or send files to any M$ users may have other considerations, but in my opinion the folk who can honestly say that are very, very few in number.)

Another suggestion sometimes put forth is to use an ancillary program capable of reading and displaying files in the current M$ format, then import the display, via the clipboard, into the (older) OS/2 word processor of one's choice. Not only is that a remarkably clunky way of doing what should be a simple, everyday (and, often, common) task, but it doesn't help the fact that Describe, perhaps the best of the older OS/2 word processors, can no longer be legally obtained--you can cobble up a functional "pirate" version, but only if breaking copyright is your thing--and who would want to go through all that extra work for any older OS/2 word processor other than Describe?

All that said, for OS/2 right now (mid-2005), it's pretty much Hobson's choice for a word processor, as well as the other more or less standard "office" software: the "Open Office" suite for OS/2. Regrettably, though Open Office is now nominally open-source, the OpenOffice.org project has not done an OS/2 port (yet); fortunately, though, Innotek--who do lots of nice OS/2 stuff--have made a version, only it isn't free: there is a modest $39 fee. I have not yet myself worked with any part of the suite, but it seems to be well received. It includes the essential, a word processor, plus the rest of the usual quadrifed "suite" collection:

You can read more about it on the OpenOffice page of the eCS site.

OpenOffice can also be obtained as part of the tripartate eCS Application Pack, priced at $140, which also includes the Lotus Smart Suite and the very neat-sounding SVISTA Virtual Machine; since OpenOffice is $39 on its own and SVISTA is $99 on its own, you are in effect paying $2 for SmartSuite 1.73, which (in my opinion) is an overcharge for a dead-end product--development has now ceased--that doesn't do anything notably better than OpenOffice; but $2 is not a lot of money, so if you look at SVISTA--not covered here because however nice it is, it isn't "must have"--and decide you want it as well as OpenOffice, you might as well pop for the full Pack.

Though I said "Hobson's choice", I should mention the Papyrus product--nominally a suite, but more like an enhanced word processor; the problem is that Papyrus--though highly regarded--has yet, after years of promises, to deliver an English-language OS/2 version of its suite (as one poster put it, "Depending on how old you are now, and your actuarial life expectancy, you might be better off to seek an alternate solution to your problem."). So that is why we accept Mr. Hobson's choice of office suites.


Spreadsheet, Etc.

Because all the OS/2 word processors in current development/support are parts of "suites"--all with word processor, spreadsheet, graphics, and presentations applications--I will not discuss such products separately. There are, so far as I can find, no standalone spreadsheet applications for OS/2-eCS that are currently supported; standalone image editors I discuss farther on; and standalone presentation apps I, at least, do not consider general "must-have" software.

(I still await the day when someone can convince me that a spreadsheet is good for anything besides memorializing bad judgements, or that "multimedia presentations" are useful for any audience with an average IQ over their hat size. One man's opinion.)


Fax

I know of no better package than FaxWorks Pro for OS/2. My experience mirrors that of the many who have posted in various places that this is perhaps the best-running OS/2 app ever made. It's a wonderful "paperless" fax machine (unless you choose to print one out), and--as with most fax packages--you can "print" to it direct from any software that produces printable output just as if it were a real printer on the system. A "lite" version of FaxWorks is included with eCS; I am not sure any more where one goes to legally get the full version (and am apparently not alone in that). There is a version, which appears to be the original Keller Group distribution, of unknown legality available from this Russian site (no English on the site, but the package is, as stated, apparently the original). It is said that the package is now freeware, and the the corresponding "license key" is ** 10-00040-974-912-151-306-952 (whether the asterisks are part of the key, I cannot say).Caveat emptor.


Internet Applications

Browser

Firefox is the one to get. Don't even let the eCS install put anything else on your system. Once you've installed eCS, use its built-in FTP (crude but utile for initial downloads) to get Firefox:

ftp://ftp.mozilla.org/pub/mozilla.org/firefox/releases/1.0.5/contrib/firefox-os2-1.0.5.zip

will do it (but, as always, you should first check, using a browser on a different system--such as whatever you're viewing this page with--to be sure that what's linked here is still the latest OS/2 version). Firefox for OS/2 requires Innotek's GCC runtime library, but that's installed with eCS.

Firefox is 100% free. Be aware, however, that is is a browser: it is not a bloated Swiss Army Knife of internet software. While that is A Good Thing--specialized software almost invariably works better than components of "does-it-all" bloatware--it does mean that you'll need separate email and news-reader programs.

Once you have Firefox up and running, be sure to review the list of available "extensions" to it, and pick out and install those of interest to you. By now, the number of available extensions is quite large, and nearly all are fascinating. (An "extension" is a little piece of add-on software that enhances the utility or operation of Firefox.) Extensions more or less auto-install at download time, are easily removed if you choose, and auto-notify you when updates to them are available. This is how software is supposed to work.


Two tips: first, before you install Firefox, make a dedicated directory--preferably, for your convenience, somewhere on your directory tree near where Firefox will go--and put this line into your CONFIG.SYS file:

SET MOZILLA_HOME=X:\path\to\Mozdir    [the spec for whatever directory you made]

That way, Firefox will always use that directory for its "profile" files, so you can simply throw out your current program installation anytime you want to update to a newer version without losing your all-important personal "profile"--your bookmarks, logins, and so on. (Don't forget to do a reboot after modifying CONFIG.SYS but before the install, so that that directive will be available to Firefox.)

Note that this scheme is known to be correct for the Mozilla browser, but is almost universally believed to also work for Firefox--which it seems to for me. Note further that this setting apparently also controls Thunderbird's profile locating--though it uses a separate subdirectory of the MOZILLA_HOME directory from the one Firefox uses. Finally, do be aware that any plugins you use with Firefox are normally placed within the firefox directory system created when you install Firefox, so you need to copy those over from your current firefox/plugins subdirectory before erasing an older Firefox install preparatory to putting in a new one--or you can try putting all your plugins in a subdirectory of your MOZILLA_HOME directory -- MOZILLA_HOME\Mozilla\Plugins -- so they need not be copied and moved when you do new Firefox installs (I don't guarantee that one yet, "I only know what I read in the papers", but I'll test it soon). Reportedly, you can also set another variable in CONFIG.SYS -- SET MOZ_PLUGIN_PATH= -- to specify a different directory for plugins.

Second, be aware that Firefox will install itself one directory level below the one you unzip it from. So if you want to end up with, just as an example--

E:\PROGRAMS\COM\INTERNET\APPS\firefox

--you need to put the Firefox downloadable into, in this example, your E:\PROGRAMS\COM\INTERNET\APPS directory, then unzip it; you do not want to place the downloaded zipfile into the intended Firefox directory itself. (If you're loath to throw out your old install before putting in a newer version, just rename your extant firefox directory to something else, say oldfox, before installing the new version.)



Emailer

While many praise Thunderbird, the equally free stablemate of the Firefox browser (as I write, at level 1.0.2), many others--including me--remain in love with PMMail. Regrettably, PMMail is no longer actively developed or supported, but so good is it that its numerous fans feel they will run it forever. It is not free: there is a $39.95 registration fee (after a free 45-day evaluation period)--or $15.00 if you're upgrading from a 1.xx series version.

PMMail was, and is, so popular that there are hordes of utilities written for it by third parties; you can see them at the PMMail page of Hobbes. An especially useful one is StartPMM (also described and linked farther below), which calls PMMail whenever one clicks on a "mailto" link in Firefox, thus neatly integrating the two. You might also want to check into * the BogoFilter package--a sophisticated, "trainable" spam-blocking filter for PMMail (I do not use it myself only because my mail host has excellent filtering in place). Both are freeware.

But you should also evaluate Thunderbird, especially if you haven't used PMMail before (so that you are not perhaps biased towards PMMail's mode of operation).


News Reader

The wealth of information on "usenet" (sometimes called "Groups", as by Google, or "news groups"--hence "news reader" for the software) is often deeper and more informative than anything you can find on the web. You can access usenet through a browser and the Google "Groups" interface, but that's something of a cobble-up for a purely text-based service, and--once again--dedicated, special-purpose software will do the job better.

Those who want to use the above-cited Thunderbird email program will find that it does usenet as well, and it is a fair candidate for a news reader. But many, including me (for the moment, anyway, till I give Thunderbird a fair period of assessment) like an old standby, ProNews/2. In what is becoming a familiar story, ProNews/2 was another excellent but abandoned OS/2 item of software; but recently, Trevor Hemsley has undertaken some important follow-up work, and polished the old toy into an even brighter, shinier one. Pronews/2 is a very nice, friendly, yet powerful item, and what I currently use. It is free, if you don't mind a 30-second "nag" delay; but, since the registration fee goes 100% to a worth charity, if you like and use it, you really should register it ($21).


FTP

If you don't already know, FTP ("File Transfer Protocol") is a way to quickly and efficiently download (or upload) files to ftp-based file repositories. With the immense popularity of browsers and the web, file transfer is often done by way of a browser, which can indeed handle ftp transfers. But that is a sort of "dumbing down": it remains so that software developed for an express purpose accomplishes that purpose better than "general-purpose" software, so it behooves one to have a dedicated FTP "client". The eCS package, like all modern OSes, ships with an FTP client built in, about which the less said the better. Its chiefest use is to bootstrap you by letting you download Firefox, after which you can use Firefox to download a good FTP client.

(I do not include instructions on how to use the included eCS FTP client: You'll need to discover that on your own.)

The process of transferring files can have numerous subtle complexities, but since those should be largely invisible to a user, a client to accomplish ftp should present a clear, simple interface. I (and I am far from alone here) very much like the good old NFTP package. It is a "VIO" (text-window) application--a nice, simple, but powerful application. It, too, like so much fine OS/2 software, is no longer being actively developed (though I hear from its developer that he might be getting back to it in the later part of this year, wonderful news), but remains to many the best OS/2 FTP client yet. (NFTP requires the free "emx runtime", a true must-must-have anyway, which is cited farther below.) The program is not free: there is a very reasonable $25 license fee due after the evaluation period of 60 days expires; it applies forever (that is, to all future upgrades).

If, for whatever reason, a PM (graphic interface) FTP client is important to you, there are two you can look at: the old (and abandoned but still available and in use) Emtec ftp client, and the new and still being developed Java-based jFTP; jFTP is free for purely non-commercial uses (most of us), or a mere $25 for use for commercial purposes (but note that it requires a Java at 1.4.0 or above). But I do like NFTP, and will stay with it, especially if there will be further developments.


MultiMedia

This buzzword encompasses most of the things that have to do with sound and with still and moving pictures. I am not well familiar with apps for playing music and movies, so I offer only minimal guidance there (usenet is your friend).


Image Viewer

This one is a no-brainer: PMView Pro. While this is an image "viewer", not an editor, it can nonetheless do an awful lot of things with images besides just display them: convert from one format to another (including icons, both OS/2 and Windoze formats, and even OS/2 bootup images), modify their size, orientation, color balance, and pretty much make them do everything but sit up and say "Arf". A license is only $39.95 (older versions cannot be upgraded--the current product is essentially a totally new one.)


Image Editor

This is another area in which I have no great personal experience or expertise. From reading, it seems that there is no clear winner--but here are the apparent choices, with links to downloads or further information (I also mention a couple for which I can find no source because others may know of such sources):

There is also the curious ImageJ program, which is a sort of scientific-purposes image analyzer, with many different plugins to do many different things; a modest introduction to it is available online. It appears that it can have some nontrivial uses for the general user, and is--especially for a Java program--apparently very fast.

Aside: it seems some users like to run more than one of these (here's an example of using Colorworks and Embellish), taking advantage of the best features of each.


M/M Player

As I say, I'm no expert here, but one obvious candidate is * WarpVision. Ultimately, WarpVision will probably be quite a wonder, but right now--it's still, after years, a beta--it is a "work in progress". By report, it can already do a lot of things, most tolerably well or better, but it does have its rough edges, plus--again, by report--a less-than-ideal user interface.

WarpVision is nominally free, but if you use it past some modest evaluation period, you can and should contribute to the project (they'll tell you how). Important! Do not assume that the project-information web page is up to date about versions! Check their ftp site to see what the latest available download is. There is usually a dated version (something like wvgui20050116.zip), probably considered reasonably stable, plus one or two newer, undated versions for those interested in trying the latest build. Also check for any ancillary DLLs the package may need. RTFM!

(If you're just looking for an audio player for mp3 files, including streaming audio, the z! VIO player is probably your best bet.)


CD/DVD Writing

If you just want to back up data to DVDs (it seems needlessly retro in this day and age to try to use CDs), you don't need any special software: you simply format a DVD-RAM disk, using standard OS/2 commands, to the UDF file system, then treat it like a sort of plugged-in hard drive, reading and writing files as you please.

(For data storage--as opposed to movies or music--you really, really, really want to use the DVD-RAM format: its accuracy is far higher, because it uses a write-then-read-back record methodology that, though it slows writing almost in half, assures bit-perfect storage, which is essential for binary data. You do, though, have to be sure that your optical drive can actually handle the DVD-RAM format; regrettably, many "all-format" drives do only DVD-R and DVD+R. If you are stuck with one of those beasts, and don't want to spend the modest money to upgrade to, say, an LG GSA-4163B [$54 plus shipping], then use DVD-R in preference to DVD+R.)

For movies DVDs or audio CDs, I have little guidance to offer, having no experience or expertise. Look through the files available at Hobbes in the appropriate directories--being sure to have Hobbes sort the directories by File date, so you can see what's recent--download a few, and read the docfiles. (And, as always, remember that usenet is your friend in seeking information.) Try the Hobbes multimedia apps directory, then its child directories--note that DVD stuff will be included under the misleading "CD" headings.

All that said, I suspect from my casual readings that cdrtools, audiocdcreator, and dvddao will be the wanted answers. Also based on my casual reading, I would be inclined to not use the RSJ commercial package--and thus, to not even let the eCS installer put the demo version on my system. (That is not a firm recommendation, just my sense of things: do your own homework; this usenet thread may be of assistance to you.)


Other Applications

Money Tracking

For this function, sometimes called "personal finance", the leading candidate at present appears to be * MoneyDance, a 100% Java application (license fee $29.99). MoneyDance fills in what I would call the last gap in the OS/2 applications world: Quicken is, and long has been, the only non-OS/2 program on my system, and I'm glad to see a replacement appear (there have been earlier OS/2 finance programs, but none seemed to catch on). As the asterisk shows, I haven't yet had a chance to really trial MoneyDance, though from a quick look I am concerned about a bit of clunkiness in the interface (entering transactions seems--unless I haven't mastered all its features yet--decidedly slower and more of a nuisance than with Quicken. Well, I'll keep fiddling with it, and see . . . .

There's also Electronic Teller; though this was first released in 1994, the last revision shown on its web site is two years old now; as I said above, older programs can often do a given job as well as newer ones, but in some areas, and I think that personal finance is one, something that is getting timely current updates seems a safer bet.

(There is a completely new native OS/2 app in the works, but not yet released, which will be called Quick'n'Easy Finances; obviously, one cannot yet comment on it, but there's certainly room for it.)


Helpers

In the category I am here calling "helpers" are software packages that do not meet the definition of "application" as given above, but which nonetheless do jobs that are somewhat above the level of simple system maintenance or monitoring. The category is probably best explained further by simply listing what's in it.


Text Editor

A text editor is one of the most important pieces of software on a system; you need it for more things than can be readily enumerated. It is just what its name says: an editor that works with "plain text" files--think of it as a word processor in "ASCII" mode. A good text editor has to be fast, capable of switching between multiple files all open at once, highly customizeable, and easy to use. Many people have made many versions of what they think are the "best" text editors, but for my money, the winnah an' still woil champeen is the EPM editor that has long been an integral part of OS/2.

There is one drawback to EPM: to really make effective use of its immense power, you need to learn the special "E Programming Language", with which you write the code that customizes its operation. Mind, you can use it "right out of the box" and still have a pretty darn good tool; but till you make it truly your own, you aren't really tapping its abilities to the max. Fortunately, "E" is pretty similar to Rexx, which anyone using OS/2 ought to know anyway (it's a shame they didn't use Rexx itself, but that's now water over the dam, or under the bridge, or some such place).

My one piece of advice regarding EPM is that if you are going to--as you should--take the time and effort to richly customize it, you should roll up your sleeves and set to it as soon as possible after installing--that being so that you don't get too accustomed to its default behaviors, so that your own customizations later come to seem confusing to you.

(The NEPM package from NetLabs supposedly comes with all sorts of things already done to EPM for you; call me old-fashioned, but to me "customization" means adjusted to my exact personal tastes and needs, not to generic ones. If you haven't the interest or the skill to do the simple things required to customize it, you probably don't really need the power such customization makes available. Jörg Schwieder has written a nice little intro to customizing EPM--but ultimately you'll need to peruse for yourself the .inf files on the E language.)


Optical Character Recognition (OCR)

While the FaxWorks package cited above includes a built-in OCR facility, an independent and powerful OCR capability is a significant enhancement of anyone's system. There has been quite a bit of bilgewater spilled over OCR in OS/2 (Google usenet to see some), but I have found--albeit on only a few uses--that the free GNU ocrAD package has done the job tolerably well ("tolerably well" is, in my experience, the best any OCR software will ever work). Note that this package remains under active development, which is A Good Thing.


GhostScript

* Ghostscript is "an interpreter for the PostScript language and for PDF". As its home site says, Ghostscript has several main uses:

  1. Display a PostScript file (avoid killing trees).
  2. Display a PostScript file to decide if you really need to print it (reduce the number of trees killed).
  3. Print a PostScript file to a non-PostScript printer (kill more trees).

Besides Ghostscript itself, you will want the associated GSViewer and PrintMon facilities (OS/2 versions). Downloads of all those, plus a wealth more information about the products and their uses, is available at the Ghostscript link that begins this section. Note that GSViewer with Ghostscript can display (and print) Adobe PDF-format files--and, I am told, create PDF files frpm PostScript files.

(Other PDF-reading products I know little about but which sound potentially interesting and useful include Adobe Acrobat Reader for Java (from Adobe itself) and XPDF for OS/2, an open-source PDF reader; there is also a file-fixer for files that, on the Adobe PDF reader v. 3.0--the last to run natively under OS/2--corrects that in them which creates the infamous "colorspace error".)


ePDF

* ePDF works with Ghostscript, cited above, to allow you to generate true PDF files from anything that can send output to a PostScript printer, which is to say about anything that can output print, period. (You might want to look over this usenet post on installing ePDF.) It is, at least at certain times, very convenient to be able to make PDF files to distribute or post. (The ePDF site also has some links to other PDF-related tools.)


Backgrounders

This is another category of my devising. It encompasses those things that operate in the background--things we do not expressly "call" as users of our system, but which provide some vital or useful functionality to that system. Again, the listing should explain itself; the subdivisions below are relatively arbitrary. Unless explicitly designated otherwise, these items are all (as always, to the best of my knowledge) freeware.


Packages

4OS2

The CMD.EXE "command processor" (the thing that executes commands--such as DIR or DEL--for your system) that comes with OS/2 is almost ludicrously underpowered. While there have been numerous packages that replace and much improve on the original, the 4OS2 package remains far and away the people's choice in this category--despite the fact that it, too, like so many things on this page, is now no longer being developed or maintained. It is still available, as freeware. I--and, I reckon. many OS/2 users--would feel severely crippled trying to work on a system that didn't have 4OS2 installed. It's about as must-have as must-have gets.


* CLU

Slightly overlapping 4OS2 is the set of command implementations collectively named the * Command Line Utilities--but the overlap is minimal, comprising only the commands ATTRIB, HELP, TOUCH, TEE, TREE, and Y. The CLU are carefully designed, fully 32-bit enhanced replacements for (and additions to) the command set available under OS/2. You have to surf the package inf docfile to see how much power there is under the hood in these toys.


* NetDrive

I have yet to try NetDrive, but if it does satisfactorily what it says it will, it's wonderful. It's an IFS ("Installable File System") that looks to OS/2 like a drive (and thus requires one reserved drive letter for itself), but which lets you "mount" (attach to it) virtually any number of other diverse things, from remote network drives (which would otherwise each require a drive letter of their own) to a remote ftp server, so that you can in effect treat the remote files as if they were on a drive in your system. This is not freeware--$29--but sounds well worth it.


UPSMon

Anyone who would regret the loss of anything stored on their computer--or of the computer itself, software and hardware--which, I think, means everyone, period, needs a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). But a UPS typically can only run a system for a few minutes--perhaps 10 or 15, depending on how what capacity UPS you buy--and then shuts down on low battery. That's OK when you're around: you just calmly exit your running programs and shut down the OS cleanly before turning off the power. But what happens if there's a power failure while you're away, or when you're sleeping?

Almost all modern UPS units have the capability of communicating with the computer they power as to their status; the cheaper ones just use a sort of "yes/no" signal, but the better ones (which are only a little more expensive) can send a veritable flood of diagnostic data, typically through a COM port. What's needed, then, is software to read that data and to "keep an eye" on the status of the UPS, and--if things are getting dire--to initiate a controlled shutdown of the system prior to actual power loss.

The UPSmon family of programs do just that for OS/2 ("family" because there are different programs to work with different UPS models). This thing is as urgent a system necessity as a UPS itself is. The programs are freeware, but a modest contribution is suggested, and would be a good way to encourage further development of this and some neat other OS/2 stuff.


UniAud

The * UniAud "universal" audio driver comes with eCS, but--as with all such "includes"--you should check periodically to see that you have the latest version--though that's perhaps a hair less critical here, since basically it works for your sound card or it doesn't. Finding and getting the "latest" version of this thing is not so simple--Hobbes, for example, does not have it. The very latest available, which is probably a beta, is usually at the NetLabs UniAud Download Page. There is also a link, which may be to the latest "stable" version (but it's not terribly recent) on the Kiev Elephant UniAud Download page. For presumably up-to-date information on this (and the other NetLabs projects), check their Wiki's Vladest page (he is their developer).


Innotek WebPack, Etc.

Innotek is one of the jewels of the OS/2 world, actively producing and maintaining fine software products for OS/2-eCS systems, most of it free to individual end users. I already mentioned their OS/2 version of OpenOffice (under "Applications"/"office", farther above); other essentials are their "GCC RunTime" (listed a little farther below, under "DLLs"), the UniAud audio-driver package, and our subject here, the OS/2 WebPack. The WebPack includes:

Everything mentioned here save the OpenOffice suite comes bundled with eCS, but I list it all (like some other things that come with eCS) to remind you that you should check periodically to see if there have been any upgrades you need (or want) to apply to the versions you will already have. (The WebPack is a commercial product in quantity, but is free to individual end users.)


XWorkPlace

XWorkPlace is the industrial-strength version of the "eWorkPlace" and "eCenter" items that come with eCS, but which bundled "lite" versions you should not install if you are going to install this, the full--and free--package. (Here's how to avoid installing the "lite" versions, plus some other install Tips'n'Tricks.) This package enhances your system, and makes it easier to work with, in so many ways it would be tedious to list them all (check the link given here for details). This is another "super-must-have" package.


DLLs

A DLL ("Dynamic Link Library") is not an executable program, but it contains functions that executables draw on as they run. There are a number of DLLs that it is well to have on one's system besides the ones that come with it. Many of the various tools and toys described on this page rely on one or another of these DLLs (or sets of DLLs) being available (especially the very widely relined-on "emx" DLLs).


System DLLs

These are DLLs that many OS/2 programs call.


The emx Set

It is impossible to say how very many highly useful OS/2 programs rely on these tools: you just can't get very far without them. You need the full package if you're going to be creating programs, but to just run emx-reliant programs all you need is the small "run-time" package, emxrt.


The Innotek Set

This encompasses another set of support DLLs used by many OS/2 programs. It really comprises two parts: the Innotek GCC Runtime and the Innotek Runtime (don't confuse those). As with the emx runtime cited above, these come with eCS, but you should check periodically for updates.


The Dani Drivers

OK, these drivers, made by Daniela Engert, aren't actually DLLs, but they're code that your OS/2-eCS system "absorbs" and uses to run. An eCS install comes with these, but--as with much other bundled software--you should at once check for newer versions, and install them if found.


Miscellaneous DLLs

There are (at least) three more system DLLs you should have:


Rexx DLLs

Rexx is one of the truly great wonders and delights of using OS/2; with it, you can, in a very easy to learn and use language, code up not only tools and utilities, but even (with the speed of modern systems) useful whole applications.

But the bare Rexx that comes with OS/2, good as it is, lacks many things (notably in convenience of handling input and output processing), and many people have written extensions to Rexx, which extensions take the form of DLLs that you simply put somewhere on your LIBPATH--once you've done that, all their functions are added right into the Rexx capabilities (though your Rexx scripts will need to load the package, just as they do bare Rexx itself). Here are some of what I think the most useful add-ons; there is inevitably going to be some overlap of functionality among them, but each contributes something quite useful to the mix. (The VR Rexx DLL is listed above as a "system" DLL because many programs use it.)

If you use Rexx much at all--and you should--you can feel like a kid with a bright, shiny new quarter in an old-time candy store by perusing the Hobbes Rexx page.


Miscellaneous Backgrounders

Privoxy

Privoxy (Privacy Proxy), the product formerly known as "JunkBuster", is a "proxy server" that you can connect your browser to; its purpose is to filter out stuff you don't want to get, particularly spam--but it is wonderfully configurable, and you can set its filtering to do all sorts of things with both text and images. It can be complicated to set up properly--power and simplicity are always tradeoffs--but it comes with a default configuration that covers a lot of ground.

Do you need Privoxy if you have the Firefox browser, with its built-in filtering abilities? Some say Yes and some say No; but Privoxy is free, so it literally costs nothing to try it out and see what you think. The Privoxy people put it this way: " Modern browsers do indeed have some of the same functionality as Privoxy. Maybe this is adequate for you. But Privoxy is much more versatile and powerful, and can do a number of things that browsers just can't." Try it and see (or just read the manual--it's on line.)


PMAud/Audt

Playing audio files can be done in many ways on an OS/2 or eCS system, but each involves some little piece of software that loads the audio file then lets you start and, to one extent or another, control its playback. That's swell, but there are times, not infrequent, when what you'd really like is to just hit the file and have it be played, no controls, no explicit "start" buttons, no nothing. The PMAudio package does just that. It gives you an icon you can just drop audio files on, or a VIO (command-line) player that just takes a filename or list of filenames; in either case, hit it, and away you go, playing the audio, with nary a control in sight. Very commonsense, and very handy.


UUDeView/UUView

Usenet, like the web, is founded on what is really just a simple text-based scheme. To send binary files of any sort--executables, images or other multimedia, and so on--across it, those files have to be encoded into something that looks like plain text (it doesn't look like it to the human eye--it looks like a block of gibberish--but it behaves like plain text). To send or receive binary files over usenet, you need a suitable encoder and decoder, respectively. The UUcd package includes one of each. (There are several such packages listed at Hobbes, with no obvious advantages to any; this is just the one I use.) Note that nowadays many news readers have a built-in uudecode capability; but if you want to do some Rexx scripting of binary-file fetches (or sends), you'll want these anyway.


XFile

XFile (no connection to, and not to be confused with, XWorkPlace, cited just above) is a simple-sounding but invaluable little easer of life: it greatly enhances the "open file" dialogue that so many programs--from browsers to text editors--so often pop up when we need to specify a file to them. It's like a dishwasher or a microwave: you may not think you need it till you've had it, then you could never live without it again. This is not freeware: there's a $15 registration fee, and it's worth much more than that.


Scanner Support

A scanner may not be "must-have", but it's close. And to make a scanner work with an OS, you need some appropriate support software--"appropriate" because different sorts of scanner interfaces (SCSI, USB, etc.) need different sorts of software.

I myself have a SCSI scanner, and have been using CFM Twain--a commercial (for-fee) product--together with PMView satisfactorily for years, which is not to say it's the best out there, only that it has worked well enough here. CFM Twain is still available, but is no longer maintained or updated. Nowadays, though, there are interesting-looking (and free) alternatives; I can't help you much with them, because "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", so I'm staying with my current setup at least till I need or want a new scanner. But the leading--perhaps only--current software contender seems to be SANE (Scanning Access Now Easy)--a command-line engine. There is an ongoing OS/2 port of SANE project; but, since bare SANE is apparently tedious, to say the least, to operate directly, one wants or needs a "front end" for it; in the OS/2-eCS world, that would be Tame/2, a PM front end. (Supposedly OpenOffice includes a scan interface using SANE, but whether that's present in the OS/2 port of OO I cannot say.)

On this topic, this page at the OS2warp.be site should be helpful in evaluating alternatives.


Utilities and Tools

Finally, there are the true "tools and utilities": things that help you to organize, run, and monitor your system installation, or just do very focussed tasks (usually, but not always, small tasks). This can easily get to be a long list, but here's what I consider the really useful ones. I will group them, but keep in mind that such groupings are just a convenience for discussion here.


Archiving Tools

These are the utilities/tools needed to make or open up compressed ("archived") files. The commonest form of archive in the OS/2 world is ZIP, but one does find several others, and it is well to be able to handle all of those. The ZIP-related ones are the Info-ZIP.org items; all items listed below are, so far as I know, freeware.


File-Processing Tools

These are utilities/tools for viewing or in various ways manipulating files; except as expressly noted, all items listed below are, so far as I know, freeware.


Internet Tools

There are tons of these, but these few seem to me to be universally useful. As always, all freeware so far as I know save as may be noted.


System-Maintenance Tools


Documentation

While OS/2 and eCS come with lots of documentation, there are some "extras" worth getting from elsewhere. These are a few of them:

The Hobbes OS/2 docs page and Hobbes OS/2 info page will show you more possibilities.


More Resources

The Big Enchilada of OS/2 resources is the Hobbes OS/2 file repository, maintained at New Mexico State University. Virtually every piece of software ever written for OS/2 ends up there, from freeware and shareware to demos of commercial packages. It is your first and foremost source for things OS/2. (Hobbes seems never to delete anything, save by request of the original poster, so you can still find many delicious old goodies there.)

And it could do only good if you remember them next time you're making charitable donations. We've all taken Hobbes for granted for too long: it costs time and real money to maintain it.

Another still-valuable resource is the EWS Repository maintained by Bob Eager at Tavi Systems. It is now, so far as I know, the only reliable place to still get all of the EWS packages, many of which, despite being many years old, are still valuable tools.

And the Belgian OS2Warp site has a wealth of information, reasonably current, on OS/2-eCS software and hardware.




Things Not Needful But Helpful, Pleasant, or Just Amusing

That title pretty well explains the following contents.



And remember to keep an eye on . . .

. . . these developing projects (most mentioned somewhere above):



Appendix 1: Products Mentioned Here That Are Not Free

Rather obviously, if I have listed a non-free program, it is because I felt it was worth the money compared to anything else available to do the job it does. So you can see the items to which that applies, I list them here, with whatever (if anything) that is free that might do the same sorts of things. But, again, free things that do the same sorts of things do not necessarily, to my taste, do them as well.

All prices are current as I write.



Appendix 2: Products Bundled With eCS:

This list is correct as to CD#2; it may be incomplete right now (and may--though I hope not--contain some items not actually bundled) as regards CD #1. I will, of course, update it after I finally get my eCS CD#1 and install eCS. Not everything listed here is listed elsewhere on this page, but some is. This list excludes "demo"/"trial" software items, but includes some "lite" versions; I recommend you not install the "lite" version of anything for which you are pretty sure you later intend to install the "full" (or "Pro") version.



©2005, Eric Walker.