Installing OS/2 On Your New Computer

By: Walter Metcalf
Date: 12/16/98

Have you received a new PC as an early Christmas present? Are you hoping for or expecting one on Christmas? Odds are it came or will come with some version of Windows, probably pre-installed, that is Windows has already been loaded on the hard drive. In this feature I want to show you why OS/2 is a better alternative, where to get it, and how to install it. (Note: unless other indicated, the term Windows in this article refers to an operating system that is either Windows 95 or Windows 98.)

Preparing Your System

  1. Make sure you have the manuals and disks

    If your system does come pre-installed with an OS (Operating System), my first suggestion is to check that you received all the CDs, manuals, and diskettes for the OS. Some dealers copy the OS on the hard drive but keep the manuals and disks. I believe this is less common now than a few years ago, but you should still check. If you received the documentation, it probably has a list of the items that should accompany your computer. If either this documentation or any other items are missing, return to the dealer as soon as possible and demand the missing items. Your benefactor paid for them and you have a right to them. You need them to properly maintain your Operating System.

  2. Keep your Windows system

    Even if you have already decided to go with OS/2 or you decide to as a result of reading this feature, there are solid reasons for keeping Windows, especially since you didn't have to pay for it!

    1. Windows is a better game machine

      Before OS/2 game authors lynch me, let me hasten to point out what I mean. I'm simply referring to the fact that applications running under control of Windows can more easily take control of the hardware, a feature that games often require; and to the fact that the vast majority of games for the PC are written for Windows. OS/2 was never designed as a game machine, though it's a testimony to OS/2's power and flexibility that some stunning games can be and have been written for it; e.g. Entrepreneur and Avarice: The Final Saga. (For more see the list of Games here on this site.)

    2. Some applications are available only for Windows

      Since you have Windows on your disk, why not leave it there and setup a menu to select the desired OS when you start your computer? Many experienced OS/2 users, including the author, do this.

Why OS/2 Is a Better Alternative to Windows

  1. OS/2 is more reliable

    The existence of an active newsgroup called alt.os.windows95.crash.crash.crash should cause you to pause and re-consider whether you want to depend solely upon Windows. I've heard the statement that the average uptime of a Windows 95 system is 19 minutes! Maybe that's apocryphal, but I've quoted that statement to Windows 95 users and not been challenged. On the other hand it's routine for OS/2 systems to be up for days, or even weeks at a time!

    There are several ways to measure reliability; I have in mind three areas.

    1. Stability of the Operating System

      1. Windows is based on a single-tasking system

        As the above newsgroup and a conversation with almost any candid Windows 95 user will tell you, Windows tends to crash if even little things go wrong. There are many reasons for this, but one fundamental reason is that Windows 95/98 is over-driving MS-DOS. DOS was a good system for what it was intended to do: provide basic system services for a single task. DOS's design takes for granted that there will be one task in the system which has complete control over the hardware. Windows 95/98 is at base a DOS shell, but it tries to make DOS run multiple tasks at once. It is inevitable that DOS will "overheat" and crash.

      2. Single misbehaved application will shut down Windows

        Applications and utilities frequently have bugs; in fact that is the norm. A common bug is for an application to access memory (RAM) that doesn't belong to it. Windows calls this a "General Protection Failure" or the dreaded GPF. Windows' standard response to that error is to display the message and then shut down everything. OS/2 calls the same error an "Access Violation Exception." OS/2 simply terminates the application in error, writes the vital information to a log file, and carries on with the other tasks in the system. The OS and the other applications are unaffected by a misbehaved application! This difference is crucial and guarantees the integrity of the system as a whole.

    2. OS/2 protects applications from other misbehaved applications

      Each application (task) is given its own virtual machine, including disk space, memory, and processor. This virtual machine is protected from and invisible to other applications in the system, making it nearly impossible for one application to damage another.

    3. OS/2 guards the hard drive against severe damage

      People who have used Windows on a serious basis over a period of time often testify that they've experienced system problems (crashes) that rendered their system disk virtually unusable. They've been forced to restore their entire drive from a backup device, often having to re-install Windows first. OS/2 uses a number of advanced techniques that make such situations rare amongst OS/2 users, especially among those who select the native OS/2 High Performance File System (HPFS).

  2. OS/2 DOES have lots of applications

    One of the most common reasons (excuse, really) for not choosing OS/2 is, "There are no applications." That statement is misleading at the very least. The person saying that is undoubtedly referring to shrink-wrapped products available on the shelves on the local computer store. That is largely true due primarily to pressure tactics applied by Microsoft. (That statement can easily be proven.) To be fair, another reason is that IBM has found the consumer market relatively unprofitable, and so has turned to concentrating on the "Enterprise" (i.e. medium to large businesses) market. However there are several other sources for OS/2 products.

    1. IBM

      Any product made by IBM, including applications written for OS/2 can be purchased from IBM directly. Many third-party products are also available from IBM. Many of these products can be purchased from IBM's online store.

    2. Mail Order Stores

      The two most common in North America are:

      1. Indelible Blue

        This pioneer store carries a wide selection of OS/2 products, mostly commercial, and some shareware as well. IB, as it's popularly known, has distributors almost world-wide.

      2. BMT Micro

        Another pioneer, this company began carrying shareware products, acting as an agent for the developer. However many commercial products are now available as well.

  3. Developer

    Most developers (i.e. software authors) are more than happy to sell you their products directly, either by phone, or over the Web using encrypted web sites. This site attempts to keep you informed of what products are available. In addition reviews are provided giving you information to decide if the product meets your need.

OS/2 Installation

The safest way to install OS/2 on a system preloaded with Windows 95/98 is to first delete the Windows partition using the OS/2 Fdisk utility. (If your system contains a backup device, e.g. a tape drive or another disk, you should first back everything up.) There are three reasons for deleting Windows first:

  1. A new system preloaded with Windows almost always has the hard drive partitioned as one large logical disk formatted as FAT32, a proprietary Microsoft format that OS/2 cannot access without specialized software.

  2. When Windows is installed on a new system, it usually formats the entire disk as FAT32, leaving no room for another system.

  3. While it's possible to resize a FAT32 partition to make room for OS/2, it's a risky business, and could possibly damage your Windows system drive.

The procedure for installing the two operating systems, first OS/2 and then Windows 95/98 is outlined in a guest feature by John Edwards entitled "Installing OS/2 Warp 4 and Windows 95 Revision C on the Same Drive". The article, however, does not cover actual installation of each operating system. For that you will need the manuals of the respective operating systems.

If you are new to OS/2 then by all means select the Easy Installation option. You can easily add or delete features later. One drawback of the Easy option is that it formats the system partition in FAT, not the best mode for OS/2. For several reasons you should try to acquire PartitionMagic, preferably v3.0, as soon as possible. When you do, you can use it to upgrade the system partition to HPFS. Doing so will give your system a new level of flexibility and security and is highly recommended. (If you're familiar with the OS/2 installation procedure, you can use the Advanced Install option that, among other things, allows you to format the system partition in HPFS directly.)

Finally, if you are very experienced with OS/2 you can try adding OS/2 to your system directly without removing Windows. You'll find instructions on how to do this in the article "Installing OS/2 WARP on a > 8.4G HDD preloaded with Microsoft WIN9X", by John Twelker from the VOICE Newsletter, December 1998. However I should warn you that article is quite technical in nature and that under some conditions you will have to remove Windows anyway.

For further reading:

Timur Tabi's Guide for New and Potential OS/2 Users by Timur Tabi

"The Good, the Bad and the Pitiful: A Journey in Search of the Perfect OS" By Kelly King RN from the IACT Quarterly Newsletter

"Installing OS/2 WARP on a > 8.4G HDD preloaded with Microsoft WIN9X" by John Twelker from the VOICE Newsletter, December 1998

"Installing OS/2 Warp 4 and Windows 95 Revision C on the Same Drive" by John Edwards.

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