Valuable S/W Tools for Your New OS/2 System

By: Walter Metcalf
Date: 06/01/99

This article is the last in the Primer on Installation and Setup of OS/2 series. I'll be looking at some software products of outstanding usefulness, to the point that they are "must-haves" or nearly so. They are not necessarily expensive, in fact several are free.

Free Software

  1. InfoZip Utilities:

    • The utilities ZIP and UNZIP are the best known and most common archiving and compression utilities in the OS/2 world. Since virtually all files on the large public archives (e.g. Hobbes, IBM, Sun, are in ZIP format, these utilities (esp. UNZIP) are necessities.¹

  2. Netscape Communicator 4.04

    1. If you're reading this article, then in all likelihood you use a browser. Netscape is far from perfect--in fact there is at least one discussion group devoted to users' problems and frustrations with it. Nonetheless it is amazingly full-featured, and IBM is committed to making it work and fixing the problems. Personally I've looked at many other browsers claiming to be in its class, and wound up discarding them fairly quickly. In most cases you have to pay for a product with fewer features and just as many bugs!

    2. For a review, see Netscape Communicator 4.04 Preview Release for OS/2.

  3. PPPDial

    • Despite the fact there are several more sophisticated, easier to use products available, the "Dial Other Internet Providers" (DOIP) dialler provided with OS/2 is still used by a large number of users. If you are among them, this program is extremely valuable because it locks up the parameters needed to access your ISP into a file so you will never have to rebuild them, and because it adds several useful features like auto-redial and the ability to automatically start programs after the connection is made.

  4. BootOS2

    1. Written as a tool to make bootable diskettes and partitions, this program should be in every OS/2 users' library to make maintenance partitions.

  5. Keyboard Plus

    1. Having grown up on a DOS, or DOS-like, environment for many years, one of the things I really missed in the OS/2 GUI environment was the ability to make system-level hot-keys that were quick to use. Keyboard Plus finally filled that gap.

    2. This program allows you to define hot-key as scripts, which can either be recorded (learned) or edited. The hotkey can be almost any non-numeric key (including the special Win95 keys), optionally preceded by one or more of Ctrl, Alt, or Shift. These hotkeys (macros) can be global in scope or limited to a single program, so that it's possible to have to different macros with the same hotkey as long as each macro is scoped to a different program.

    3. This program is ideal for entering login/password combinations and many other tasks. Having gotten used to it, I now can't live without it! Although it's free, I would gladly pay a registration fee.

    4. For a review click here.

  6. StarOffice 5.1

    1. You should at least look at this product. A large number OS/2 users seem to like it. (I personally don't care for it, but that doesn't mean you won't.)

    2. In terms of bang for the byte this program certainly has a lot of value. In one product, StarOffice wraps together a professional wordprocessor, spreadsheet, drawing tool, presentation package, database, email client, Web publisher, and more. All free.

    3. Probably it's single biggest drawback is the size of the download: a single file about 90 MB in size! Alternatively you can pay about $40 and order a CD.

    4. For a review click here.

Shareware/Commercial Software

  1. PMView

    1. This is probably the image viewer of choice among most OS/2 users. It is capable of handling a mind-boggling variety of formats.

    2. In addition it is easy to use, supports a large number of customization and image editing options, and includes TWAIN scanner support.

    3. For a review, see PMView 1.00.

  2. Lotus SmartSuite for OS/2 Warp

    1. In many ways SmartSuite for OS/2 Warp is a parallel product to StarOffice that we looked at very briefly earlier. It is an older product and more traditional in design. It is also not free.

    2. The modules are separate, although they show a somewhat similar "look and feel", and the main ones in particular are very thorough and complete.

    3. SmartSuite is a more heavy-weight package than in StarOffice, but probably not many people would need the extra power.²

    4. For a thorough review, see Lotus SmartSuite for OS/2 Warp

  3. ZipCntrl/WarpZip

    1. With so many files available for download as .ZIP files, an automated method of handling these files once they are on your hard drive would be a big help. ZipCntrl and WarpZip are two excellent programs designed to meet this need.

    2. The basic functions of both programs are similar:

      • pre-scan for viruses,
      • preview the contents before "expanding" it so you can look at selected files to enable you to make decisions,
      • expand all or some of the files in a specified directory. Of course you want lots of bells and whistles too.

    3. Both programs do those jobs admirably; each has a bell or two the other is missing.

    4. Both are shareware so download each, try them, and then keep (i.e. register) the one you like better.

    5. For a good review see the article WarpZip v2.2.

  4. ObjectDesktop for OS/2 2.0

    1. While not a necessity, this product adds a tremendous amount of functionality to your Desktop. For example if you have this product on your system, you don't need either of the above two programs because OD/2 has that functionality built-in. Moreover, whereas ZipCntrl and WarpZip both handle only ZIP, OD/2 handles the UNIX archive formats as well. (See note 1 below.) OD/2 also has a powerful Desktop Backup utility as well. Object Backup lets you backup as much or as little of the Desktop (or any other object) as you want and save it in a separate file and directory.

    2. The outstanding characteristic of OD/2 is the Virtual Desktop. This feature allows you to maintain as many different desktops simultaneously as your hardware (memory and screen) will allow. Changing between them is accomplished by a single click of a mouse button. Depending on your monitor and resolution you can easily see what program or application is running on all of the other Desktops without having to switch to them by glancing at the Control Center, sort of the control panel of Object Desktop.

    3. Other key features include the ObjectNavigator for enhanced viewing and browsing your disks, and TabLaunchpad for multiple enhanced launchpads.

    4. For more details on this product see the review ObjectDesktop 2.0 vs. Everything Else.

  5. BackAgain/2

    1. "You must make a backup, you must make a backup, you must....".

    2. Take my inclusion of BackAgain/2 here as a strong recommendation if you don't have a backup program and don't know what to get. I've used several backup products and I like this by far the best; besides, it won the OS/2 e-Zine! Readers' Choice Award in 1997 and again in 1998. BackAgain/2 comes in three flavours: Personal, Professional, and Enterprise. Be sure to get the one that's right for your hardware.

    3. If you already have a backup program and are using it, congratulations!

I hope this series has helped you install a properly functioning OS/2 system that does what you want it to. If you have more questions or need additional information, please post on the OS/2 Forum at If you need help getting registered or posting, please see the FAQ here.

Next Time: InJoy--The Modern Way to Access the Internet.

¹A major exception to this are files/archives that have been ported from Unix. You may find they have often been created by one of a different, and incompatible, set of archiving utilities. Files created by these utilities can be identified by extensions such as .tar, .gar, .rar., gtar.

²A sterling example is the number of levels of automation available to the Approach user, all the way from recording a few keystrokes, to embedding complex functions in a calculated field, to embedding a REXX or C fragment procedure, to writing an entire application in LotusScript, a proprietary Lotus language that's available to all SmartSuite modules. This level of power is not available within StarOffice.

³A major maintenance release, called v1.1, was put out after this review, and seems to have corrected a number of the problems that existed in the original version.

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