eComStation: Interview with Bob St. John

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By: Walter Metcalf
Date: 10/27/00

I originally couldn't wait for the end of November for IBM's Convenience Pak to be released so I get all the goodies such as the Logical Volume Manager and updated Boot Manager.1 Then Bob St. John, Director of New Business Development at Serenity Systems, and I began an extended email conversation on a different matter, leading me to investigate his product--eComStation--more closely. To make a long story short, I decided eCS was well worth doing an in-depth review on this site, so I could find out what eComStation was really made of and pass this on to the readers of this site.

Recently, however, I have noticed several postings in newsgroups and the like indicating that people are confused about eComStation, what it contains, its pricing, etc., and so are opting for the Convenience Paks. Certainly people have the right to order whichever product (or neither or both) they wish. I am concerned, however when they are making their decision based on confusion and incomplete information. Therefore I decided it would be a good idea to interview Bob about the some of these matters--getting it from the horse's mouth so to speak. As well, such as an interview could serve as a kick-off for an extended review of eComStation. The following is that interview.

The following interview is comprised of two parts: an email exchange of questions and answers, followed a live chat session.


[Focus on OS/2]According to the eComStation forum on eGroups, eCS was "born" on 29 April 2000. When was it "conceived"? That is, when did the idea first come into your heads?

[Bob St. John]It was conceived when IBM made the announcement that there would not be an "Aurora" client. We went to IBM the same time and a similar approach to Stardock. Stardock seemed to have more support and be further down the process than we were ... so we simply supported their proposal.

[Bob St. John]However, when Stardock's plan as put on the shelf, I made the statement in OS/2 eZine that we had not terminated our interest and we would be continuing with our request. That would have been June of 1999. In October of 1999 (I think), John Soyring was announced as the new head of what became e-business Operating Systems Solutions. I contacted Mr. Soyring and a series of actions led to a meeting in Austin in March, 2000. At that meeting we got an agreement in principal and we moved on from there.

[Focus on OS/2]How long have you been working on it so far?

[Bob St. John]We've been working on it, from a Managed Client standpoint, since Warp Server for e-biz came out. The essentials of what we wanted were already in the server.

[Focus on OS/2]How many man-hours?

[Bob St. John]You know ... I don't know, specifically. Most of the development hours take place in California and I'm in Texas. I would have to defer to Kim .. but I'm not even sure that's a question I'd like to see answered.

[Focus on OS/2]What gave you and Kim the idea to develop or release eComStation?

[Bob St. John]We wanted to take advantage of the enhancements which were in WSeb, including the improved memory management and thread support. We also wanted SMP and JFS. We simply wanted a client which had features not available in Merlin.

[Focus on OS/2]What does the acronym mean?

[Bob St. John]electronic Commerce Station. We think our client is the premiere Tier 1 client for e.commerce. Keeping in mind that we still see network centric model as "fat clients" participate more and more with the prevailing networks, primarily the Internet. Now, with DSL and cable becoming popular .. a lot of PCs are now clients in a Wide Area Network called the Internet.

[Focus on OS/2]What have been your major challenges in getting the product this far?

[Bob St. John]You know, there is no shortage of things to do ... just a shortage of resource, hours in a day. But OS/2 is a wonderful platform. Reliable, well behaved. It keeps giving you ideas to push things forward a little more. A principal challenge is just getting it ready for users so we can assess the real interest levels. So we can start campaigns to expand the user base. That will help us prioritize and determine how much to invest and where.

[Focus on OS/2]Are you reasonably satisfied with your progress so far?

[Bob St. John]I'm proud of the progress ... I don't think folks in our industry are ever satisfied.

[Focus on OS/2]A lot of people in the newsgroups, etc. seem to be confused as to the contents of the eComStation package. Would you list the contents of the basic (non-upgrade) edition of eComStation?

[Bob St. John]Well, eComStation is a Managed Client, a term that many PC users are not familiar or comfortable with right now. That's OK ... over time, this the function and advantages of Managed Client Computing for all users will be more clear.

[Bob St. John]Next, users purchase the GA version of eCS. We are looking toward the end of the year for the release. In the meantime, users receive a Preview of the software and we are looking for their input on the Preview. Users have already helped us establish several development projects for the GA version.

[Bob St. John]Users of the Preview will notice a modified installation program and WiseMachine. WiseMachine is the first step towards Managed Client computing for these users. One on system, WiseMachine uses some of the same technology and functions which are normally spread across clients, on one system.

[Bob St. John]Anyway, people receiving the Preview get two office suites, Star Office 5.1 for OS/2 and Lotus Smart Suite 1.5. They also get IBM's Desktop on Call, excellent remote control software. KellerGroups FaxWorks Lite, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Voice Type, HyperAccess Lite from the Bonus Pack, Hank Kelder's WPTools, WiseTalker Database Server Utilities, and various utilities and drivers.

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