eComStation: Why I Have Chosen eComStation

By: Walter Metcalf
Revised: 12/10/00

The original version contained several confusing and/or erroneous statements regarding eComStation pricing. These have now been corrected.

By now, probably most OS/2 users know that after 31 January 2001, a major shift will take place in the way OS/2 is supported by IBM. Hitherto, IBM has provided a steady stream of software updates free of charge. These software updates came to us through these main channels:

  1. Fixpaks

    1. These have been the primary source of bug fixes.

    2. Although IBM's official policy is NOT to introduce features in fixpaks, this policy has been routinely disregarded. Some of the most important features released through fixpaks are:

      1. New version of CHKDSK (FP 1)

      2. Graphics Adapter Device Drivers (GRADD) (FP 5)

      3. OS/2 Warp Server for e-Business kernel (FP 13/14)

      4. Upgraded BootManager and Logical Volume Manager compatibility (FP 15)

  2. Software Choice (Free section)

    1. This was IBM's official mechanism for releasing additional products to users. For example, until recently, new releases of Netscape for OS/2 and Java were posted here.

  3. Miscellaneous Patches and Additional Modules

    1. From time to time IBM released patches to reported bugs and additional free enhancements to OS/2 by posting them onto its public servers.
After 31 January 2001, basic support for OS/2 will delivered via Software Choice by means of Convenience Packages. These Packages (or CP's) consist of two CD's, delivered once a year, each containing the following items:

  1. Refreshes of OS/2 Warp 4 and OS/2 Warp Server for e-business components

  2. Software Choice features, such as Browser, Java (TM) Virtual Machine (JVM) and TCP/IP enhancements

  3. Updated collection of device drivers

  4. OS/2 Warp Client and Server updates with available fixes (FixPaks) already applied. The most current e-business enhancements will be included as well.1
There will be no more free support, either by downloads from Software Choice or by fixpaks. The fixpaks will only be available on the Convenience Packages which are obtained only by subscribing to Software Choice. Telephone support will continue to be available on a fee basis. The fee structure is arranged so as to be useful primarily to IBM's enterprise customers. Contracts are also available, again primarily for large customers.

If individuals and small businesses (i.e. SOHO users) are to continue using and maintaining OS/2, as I certainly intend to, you have basically two choices:

  1. Subscribe to Software Choice. The subscription is for two years and includes Convenience Packages which are shipped annually on CD's. (According to the December 1, 2000 WarpCity Newsletter, the first one shipped on November 27 2000.) The cost from Indelible Blue is $215.27 US. Slightly lower prices are reportedly available at other outlets.

  2. Purchase a copy of eComStation from from one of Serenity Systems' distributor's. To compare the subscription to the CP with the eComStation purchase, let's compare the cost of a basic Software Choice Subscription (2 yr) with the purchase of a two-year "upgrade protection" contract for eCS. Cost = US$225.00. This is Indelible Blue's eCS55 package.2
So the subscription prices are pretty much a wash, as Serenity planned them to be. eComStation, however, must initially be purchased. The Indelible Blue price for those already having a licence for OS/2 Warp (i.e. the upgrade price) is US $139. This initial price, of course, covers the cost of the add-on software, especially that developed by Serenity Systems.

However, there are some other differences between Software Choice and eComstation. What are they?

  1. Software Choice

    1. The Convenience Paks are, presumably, just one aspect of Software Choice. IBM may release additional products for download via Software Choice that it will not include in a Convenience Pak. Those subscribing to SC could have access to some or all of that in addition to the CP's. Such additional products would not necessarily be available to eCS customers.

  2. eComStation

    1. Additional Software

      Serenity Systems has announced a host of products, bundled and otherwise, that will be included in eComStation. These include Lotus SmartSuite 1.5.1, LVM, JFS, WiseMachine, IBM's Desktop on Call, the Bonus Pak software, plus a host of other software. For a more complete list, see last week's article.

    2. Convenience Pak

      One point that has not been stressed enough is that Serenity-Systems is an OEM customer of IBM, and their contract is such that whatever IBM puts into the Convenience Pak, Serenity also gets. In effect, purchasing eCS also gets you the contents of the Convenience Paks.

    3. Support

      Where does the subscription to Software Choice say anything about support to the small to medium user? Subscribing to Software Choice leaves you in the same position as you were before--pretty much on your own. Purchasing eCS with an Upgrade Protection plan, on the other hand, means that if you have a problem, you can go to your Channel Partner. If they can't solve it, they can take the problem to Serenity; and if they can't fix it, they can pick up the phone and call IBM. In other words you get three levels of support. This is a stark contrast to the support available with a Software Choice subscription.

    So why have I chosen to support Serenity Systems and, since I live in Canada, its Channel Partner, Jacaranda Business Systems, instead of taking IBM's Software Choice Convenience Package option? To me the answer is quite simple. Here is the breakdown:

    1. The Software Choice option consists of Convenience Packages, nothing more-nothing less. Well, the eCS upgrade subscription, as we have seen, contains everything that's in the Convenience Packages.

    2. Even though there is an initial outlay of $139 US for eComStation itself, now that I have used the preview for several months, I feel this is money well spent for the following reasons:

      1. Additional features added to OS/2 Warp (I realize most of these are in the CP's as well.)

      2. Serenity's own software, WiseMachine, which allows far easier manipulation of remote workstations

      3. Lotus SmartSuite for OS/2 Warp 1.5

      4. IBM's Desktop on Call

      5. Other bundled software3

    3. I have met and spoken with all the key players in both Serenity Systems and Jacaranda Business Systems. (Actually I haven't met Steve Harris from Jacaranda in the flesh yet, because a blizzard intervened. Our user group meeting has been rescheduled for January.) So if a problem arises, I know several people I can contact to find a solution. I have no such recourse with the Convenience Packages with IBM.

    4. In the same two years that the Software Choice subscription would provide me with 2 CD's, the eCS two-year protection plan would provide me with eight CD's. If nothing else, this suggests I would get the updates, fixes, etc. sooner than the SWC subscription.

    5. eComStation is still a developing product, and Kim Cheung and Bob St. John are remarkably sensitive to users' wishes as they develop the product. In other words my (and yours) comments are far more likely to impact the final product than are similar comments directed toward IBM.

    In the light of the above facts, for me the decision was easy on a bang-for-buck basis. Additionally I have the satisfaction of supporting two dedicated ISV's who are working very hard to support OS/2 and its users.

    I'm aware that for various reasons others in the OS/2 community are taking the opposite view on this subject, and this is a good thing as it leads to competition. However, I am very dismayed to witness the attacks by some of these people on Serenity Systems. If they don't want to purchase eComStation, that's fine; however, they should respect Serenity's principals as hard-working Independent Software Vendors, people whom OS/2 desperately needs more of. At each Warpstock, we hear pleas about how OS/2 needs more ISV. We should, therefore, be supporting the ones we already have, not flaming them.

    This is the last article I have planned until after the Generally Available version is released. Next week we will round out an earlier series on installing high-speed internet OS/2 service with an article by a guest author giving us his account of how he installed DSL in his OS/2 system. Please join us then.

    Walter Metcalf

    For Further Reading:

    eComStation(tm) Features and Benefits
    Good description of eComStations features and potential uses.

    EComStation Advocacy
    eComStation's "official" advocacy newsgroup


1 This wording is taken directly from the IBM Announcement; I have not made any attempt to clarify or elaborate on it.

2 Because of its contract with IBM, IB cannot ship outside the U.S. Therefore if you live in Canada, Europe, Latin America or elsewhere you will have to contact your local distributor. The Jacaranda Business Systems web site has an excellent chart showing which distributor to contact depending on where you live.

3 These are the features and products that are especially important to me. You may substitute your own list.

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