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: • * Writer (word processor) • * Draw (graphics) • * Calc (spreadsheet) • * Impress (multimedia presentations) 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.

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).

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.

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):

• Supported and Under Active Developement:

• the GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program): a port of the famed Linux project; said by some to be hard to use, but apparently pretty powerful
• "Draw": part of the OpenOffice suite; said to be surprisingly useful
• QueenCY: still evolving
• JPhotoBrush Pro: a commercial product ($25), Java-based; some don't like Java-based apps for graphics, as they reportedly can eat a lot of RAM and run slowly • No Longer Supported But Possibly Still Available: (Each of these was once quite well liked, and all are still mentioned in wistful--or exuberant--terms on usenet.) • ImpOS/2: said by many to be, or have been, the best OS/2 image editor; I can find no current source • Embellish • ColorWorks: I can find no current source • PhotoGraphics (download requires "universal key" TSPG20-000K-65WG8 for free registration) • Jim (Java Image Manipulator): it reportedly will save images, despite a disclaimer to the contrary on its download page 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

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:

• the InnoTek OS/2 Kit for Java
• the InnoTek Font Engine
• the Macromedia Flash Player for OS/2

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.

• DaniS506.ADD v. 1.73: IBM1S506 replacement, supports Intel, VIA, Ali, SiS, CMD, Promise, Cyrix, HPT, AMD, Artop, SMSC, ServerWorks, Opti, Nvidia, NatSemi, SiliconImage, ITE, ATI, and NetCell chips, SerialATA, disk capacities up to 2TiB.

• DaniATAPI.FLT v. 3.18: a replacement for IBM's ATAPI drivers (IBMIDECD, IBMATAPI, PCM2ATA.ADD, and OS2PCARD.DMD); it has better 32-bit PIO when combined with DaniS506.ADD, and devices can be used as SCSI (highly useful with certain programs, such as CDRecord or RSJ CD-Writer).

• DaniDASD.DMD v. 1.4: OS2DASD.DMD replacement with FAT32, extendedX, and arbitrary partition support, mini-LVM.

• DaniN512.FLT v. 0.16: non-512 bytes per sector DASD filter driver.

• DaniBOOT v. 1.0.2: a driver to enable making bootable CDs.

Miscellaneous DLLs

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

• VROBJ.DLL: this, the Watcom VX Rexx Runtime DLL, is another widely used by OS/2 programs.

• FastIni.dll: this helps programs, like mINI (cited below), that access the system ini files; it's important if you use any program that does or could use it (mINI can run without it, but is much slower).

• oslexam.dll, as packaged in epmspellus, which also contains us.dct; these enable spell-checking in the EPM text editor. Spell-checking in languages other than English is possible if you can obtain the corresponding .dct dictionary file; such files supposedly appeared on the Warp 3 "IBMworks" CD, but copies may be floating about somewhere on the net.

This whole business is messier than it needed to be: there are older copies of oslexam.dll (with, of course, the same name, just to keep the level of hilarity high) all over the place; a key signature of such an older dll is that it will not work unless the dictionary file is on Drive C. The package linked here is one I uploaded to Hobbes, and contains the dll and dictionary that have long worked for me, and which have no such restriction.

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.)

• RexxLib.dll: this (which comes as a package with the dll listed next), from Quercus Systems, is in my experience the single most useful Rexx extender ever; one can scarcely name even the types of all its invaluable functions, though I might mention especially that it facilitates colorful, exactly placed screen output and easy file reading and writing. But there's lots more.

RxWin30.dll: this ancillary Quercus dll allows opening up multiple screen data-input boxes, saving screens for later re-use, and several other very, very handy screen/window manipulations.

• Rxu.dll (once known as the YdbaUtil set): tons of low-level system-access functions (this dll is wanted by the UPSmon package cited above).

• UnZip.dll: makes the UnZip utility functions available.

• WPTools.dll: this is a set of WPS tools that is part of the WPTools32 package cited above at CheckINI; it is a powerful--dangerously powerful to the careless--set of WPS-related functions.

• XtraRexx.dll: many, many nice additions, notably (to me) the capability to manipulate PM windows: move them, give them the focus, etc. (If the given link does not work, try this one--as I write, the file seems misplaced at Hobbes.)

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 (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. • UnZip - the unarchiver (v. 5.52) • Zip - the corresponding archiver (v. 2.31) • unRAR - open RAR archives • * eZIP - a pleasant PM (graphical) "front end" for ZIP and RAR archive handling. • BZip - the make/open for the Bzip scheme • UNgtz - open unix-type archives • * LXlite - a utility that can compress OS/2 executable files on your system but leave them still directly runnable by the system: saves disk space on size-constrained systems • WarpIn - the easy package installer/uninstaller for eCS: this comes with eCS, but you should at once, after your install, check for and, if necessary, download the latest update (and re-check periodically) 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. • HyperView - a file viewer that handles many different file formats, such as HTML and Describe word-processor files, OS/2 .HLP and .INF files (and more); it can even read ZIPped-up files, and it has a hex-display mode. It's a familiar tale: best thing of its kind, but no longer maintained; I cannot determine its licensing status--it supposedly requires a fee, payable through BMT Micro, but they seem no longer to list it. • FM2 - This was Mark Kimes' FileManager/2 package, but is now being maintained and upgraded by Steven Levine; it is freeware. It's a really fine file manager, with all the bells and whistles (and gobs of ancillary tools, toys, and utilities). • GFC - The "Graphic File Compare" utility, which does just what it says: it presents a nicely colored line-by-line comparison of any two files. GFC is "EWS" ("Employee-Written Software"), a freebie made by an IBM employee; the wonderful EWS ftp site is gone now, but its various packages, including the excellent GFC, remain available through the Hobbes file repository at NMSU. • NewView - NewView, which replaces the old OS/2 view.exe viewer for .inf and .hlp files, comes with eCS, but it is wise to stay on top of versions, and make sure you are using the latest (some early versions apparently had some compatibility issues); do your eCS install, then check this link to see if there is a newer version that what you have installed. • EABrowse - an browser/editor for file "extended attributes"; every OS/2-eCS system needs a tool like this, and this one--from Henk Kelder--is an excellent one. • AssoEdit - another gem from Henk Kelder, this one lets you easily edit "file associations" (the default application that opening a data-file type invokes); not needed often, but essential when wanted. 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. • NISTime/2 - a little toy to get the exact correct time from the National Bureau of Standards, then synchronize your system clock to it--never again wonder if your computer has the right time. Can try several different web sites in turn to get to one with acceptable latency (time delay in delivering the datum). • * StartPMM - a little toy to allow PMMail to be used when clicking on an "email-to" link in Firefox (which does not have a built-in emailer); very handy if you want PMMail as your emailer. System-Maintenance Tools • mINI - eCS-OS/2 keeps its critical system data in a pair of .ini that are not simple ASCII text files, so that viewing and, if necessary, editing their contents requires a specialized tool; this is such a tool, and an excellent one. Be aware that fiddling your OS ini files is a dangerous business, because if you corrupt them, your system can become unusable (so you should have backup copies, ideally on a separate maintenance volume); but sometimes it's just something you have to do, and the primitive RegEdit2 program that comes with OS/2 or eCS sucks toxic waste, so you need something like this item, which I and many think the best of its kind. To get the best, fastest results from mINI, you should also get Dennis Bareis' handy FastIni.dll; Dennis has, in fact, quite a package of free OS/2 goodies, and you should look them over for other toys you might want. A package that makes a nice complement to mINI is ShowINI, which allows you to not only interactively edit ini-file contents (which I would use mINI for), but also to save those contents in plain-text form and even to restore ini files from saved (or edited!) plain-text files. That is a very powerful feature, since one can look over one's ini files "off line", so to speak, and make changes that one can review and "proofread" before implementing--and immediately restore the prior version if an error is made. This is real "must-have" stuff. • * PCI.exe - more or less the standard hardware sniffer for OS/2, giving lots of data that is often crucial to installing drivers and the like. • * SysInfo2 - and this is a powerful software and hardware sniffer, giving all sorts of information about your system. By report, it can sometimes be dicey to install correctly, but if you have any problems, there is a lot of valuable information on usenet (for eCS, use the "T4" subdirectory the SysInfo package makes). This tool requires the free downloadable IBM Theseus 4 dll. Be sure to read the Theseus docfile, as it no longer requires a device driver (nor, therefore, the lines for one in CONFIG.SYS). • * CADh (CAD-handler) - this utility intercepts the CAD "three-finger salute" (Control-Alt-Delete) to allow you to at least try to kill the offending process before having to do a true reboot. It requires Paul Ratcliffe's TOP utility (available from his site, as linked here) to work; it is enhanced by use of the xf86sup.sys driver available in a suitable version from Alex Taylor's site (as linked here). At least CADh itself and TOP now come with eCS. (The older program WatchCat is still used by some people, but appears to be goneware.) • CheckINI - The whole package is "WP Tools", again from Henk Kelder, but regrettably this package is no longer under active development or maintenance; nonetheless, it remains one of the most respected and widely used OS/2 system tools ever. Of the several tools in the package, CheckINI is the most useful one (since we have other, easier ways of backing up and restoring the system ini files, as noted above). Also valuable is the WPTools dll, which allows you to access the functions the package uses through a Rexx interface (that dll is also listed above at "Backgrounders"). • * bootABLE - this package allows you to make emergency-use backups of a minimal OS/2-eCS system, which can then be put on an emergency-restart CD or a maintenance volume (or both). A very neat use is to use bootABLE to make a bootable volume on a data-backup CD or DVD: then, one can, if necessary, actually boot from the backup CD, so as to restore data to a corrupted system. • * ClipView - The clipboard is an invaluable part of any OS/2-eCS system, but it has some painful limitations, which this toy addresses handily. It allows (so far, for text only) keeping numerous distinct clips simultaneously, which can be randomly accessed; that alone would make it worth having, but it can do lots more tricks, too. 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. • BigSort: sometimes you just need sorting capabilities beyond the limited set the built-in OS/2 SORT command can manage (or even the CLU-package SORT), such as multi-field subsorts and/or sorts of really huge files. (Listed as$20 registration fee.)

• More: replaces the crude built-in OS/2 MORE "pipe" command.

• PmPopUp2: an easy way to get useful PM popup windows (which can feed back user button presses) into a Rexx script.

• * Open: lets you open objects from the command line just as if opened from the WPS.

• Elephant Clock: another piece of EWS, it's a small clock with an animated image of a dancing elephant; that is not only amusing, but curiously useful, as the elephant's speed is a far more quickly recognized system-load monitor than anything else I've ever seen--it's not any sort of precision percentage-CPU-use thingy, but it sure tells you fast when something is clogging things up. (The "dancing elephant" is a visual joke: someone once remarked that IBM would make a good OS when elephants learned to tap dance).

• PMGlobe: yet more EWS, this is a beautiful rendition of the Earth as seen from space--and you can set the viewpoint to "hover" over any spot on the planet (here's an example, "seen" from a point directly over Ritzville, Washington State, U.S.A., with Ritzville moving into twilight). The program can be set to auto-update the view to track real time, with updates at intervals of your choice, and can do some other tricks, too. Not terribly useful, but immensely pleasing to look at.

• Java: The latest "official" (Sun) Java as I write is 1.5.0; eCS comes with Innotek's port, which is at 1.4.2_05, so an eCS user is pretty up to date. But there is also available, Because it is a true OS/2 implementation, written in native OS/2 code, whereas Innotek's is a modified Windows version. Is there any material difference? From reading, it seems there are, ah, diverse opinions. You can start with GoldenCode's own comments, then peruse usenet. My take is that unless you are rather cash-strapped, it's probably worth the money to get a solid, full-featured Java, plus it should encourage GoldenCode to move up to the latest 1.5.0 release. (This is no knock, even by implication, on eCS or Innotek: it's remarkable that they've been able to provide a reasonably up-to-date and utile Java at no user cost.)

And remember to keep an eye on . . .

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

• jWPS: "a set of java classes that will allow a java application to operate with OS/2 and eComStation's Workplace Shell"
• jFTP: a Java-based PM FTP client
• WarpVision: multimedia player
• Quick'n'Easy Finances: a personal-finance application

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.

• Open Office: $39.00 -- free alternative = StarOffice (2000) • PMMail:$39.95 -- free alternative = Thunderbird
• ProNews: $21.00 -- free alternative = Thunderbird • NFTP:$25.00 -- free alternative = jFTP
• PMView Pro: $39.95 -- free alternative = Image Viewer 0.02 (??) • MoneyDance:$29.99 -- free alternative = NONE
• NetDrive: $29.00 -- free alternative = NONE • XFile:$15.00 -- free alternative = NONE
• BigSort: $20.00 -- free alternative = system utils, or Rexx script using RexxLib • GoldenCode Java:$42.00 -- free alternative = Innotek Java for OS/2

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.

• On CD #1 (basic install):

• cfgSort v 5.0
• Chris Wohlgemuth's multimedia classes for MMOS/2 and JPEG codec
• eCS Maintenance Tool
• eCSCoNet (OEM ISDNPM)
• Escape screensaver
• eStyler (Styler/2 lite)
• eWorkPlace (XWorkPlace lite)
• Flash 5 browser plugin
• InnoTek Font Engine
• InnoTek GCC Runtime
• Innotek Java 1.4.2
• InnoTek OS/2 Kit for Java
• Mainconcept MJPEG codec
• MMIO codecs for FLAC file support
• MMIO codecs for OGG Vorbis file support
• Netscape browser plugins
• Open MPEG support
• PMVNC remote-control utility
• QBASIC (interpreter, not compiler)
• Quickmotion 2.0 & Anpo video codecs
• Rexx Tips'n'Tricks info file
• Scitech SNAP video-driver package
• the Dani drivers
• UniAud sound driver
• WarpIN
• Zampa firewall-configuration utility

• On CD #2 (additional software):

• Cinema/2 (TV viewer application)
• Desktop On Call 3 & 4
• FaxWorks lite
• HyperAccess lite
• IBM Mobile File System
• IBM Toolkit 4.52
• IBM Web Browser (essentially a branded Mozilla browser)
• IBM Works (mini office suite
• ISDN drivers (Eicon, Elsa, HST, Teles)
• LBMix audio mixer
• Lucent modem driver for Thinkpads
• Mars game
• Netware Client
• Open Watcom C/C++/FORTRAN compiler
• PostgreSQL
• Stellar Frontier game
• Video/TV-Card drivers
• VideoIN
• Voice Type