1996 WarpOnline Technical Excellence Awards

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WarpOnline's editors weigh in on their picks for best technical achievements in the OS/2 world last year.

1996 was a fascinating year for OS/2. It saw the growth of the install base by several million users worldwide, as well as the fast start and eventual rejection of Windows 95 in the corporate world. In fact, in December of 95, just 2 short months after the introduction of Windows 95, OS/2 enjoyed its strongest month of sales ever - topping out at over 1 million copies sold in that month alone.

Your Turn
Here is your invitation to give your opinion. WarpOnline is sponsoring our first annual WarpOnline Reader's Choice Awards. Just send E-Mail to Readers Choice at WarpOnline with your picks for the best OS/2 software introduced in 1996. In a future issue we will total up all of the votes and let you know what our readers think.

WarpOnline's editors thought it would be a good idea to start a tradition: a tradition of recognizing the best of the software for OS/2. This wasn't easy - one of the hardest parts was simply finding out what software was for sale, since you just can't go down and browse the CompUSA for OS/2 applications (and why is that, we wonder, with over 13 million users worldwide?)

We have gathered together our non-scientific picks for the best in OS/2 software. It is far from complete, but represents what we feel to be examples of the best that OS/2 has to offer. At the end of the review you have a chance to submit your votes for what you feel is the best software for our Readers Choice awards.

Word Processor

Lotus WordPro '96 (Lotus Development) http://www.lotus.com

Long awaited, but worth the wait, Lotus finally shipped in December the SmartSuite '96 for OS/2. Inside the box are native OS/2 versions of WordPro '96 and Freelance Graphics '96, as well as the Windows 3.1 versions of 1-2-3, Approach, Organizer, ScreenCam and SmartCenter. They are integrated into the OS/2 versions, but not as well as if they were native. Lotus has promised the complete SmartSuite '97, including updated copies of WordPro and Freelance, as well as full OS/2 versions of the rest of the suite. After that, the future versions of SmartSuite will be developed in tandem with the Windows versions.

The reason Lotus can do this is both the strength and the weakness of the SmartSuite product. WordPro was developed using the Open32 API extensions for OS/2, an extension to OS/2 that has been called DAPIE and DAX in the past. This extension allows developers of Windows 95/NT code to port over about 80% of the original source code to OS/2. This means that the program looks, acts and smells just like the Windows 95 version, because at its core, it is. Unfortunately, this meant delays in introducing the OS/2 suite, because not only did they have to be completed on Windows 95 first, but Lotus had to help IBM debug the Open32 standard in the process. The result is the best word processor that has ever been introduced under OS/2.

WordPro's strongest features lie in its collaborative text editing and routing features. You can directly open and save documents off the internet using both HTTP and FTP from right inside the program. You can take a document you are working on and route it via Notes or cc:Mail to your peers for markup and comment, then incorporate changes and edits with an interactive reviewing system. A fantastic product - and we look forward to the promise that the completion of Open32 means for other developers.

Presentation Software

Lotus Freelance Graphics '96 (Lotus Development) http://www.lotus.com

Inside of the SmartSuite '96 for OS/2 package is the other new native OS/2 product, Freelance Graphics for OS/2. A huge leap from the previous Freelance Graphics, this new version allows you to incorporate all kinds of multimedia and interactive elements into your presentation. You can now link in live movies, sound, bullet-building, movement, interactive buttons and scripting and all kinds of other tools to build incredible presentations. With the addition of the collaborative computing features that are in WordPro, you can now route presentations around your business, load and save to the Internet, and enable group computing on your OS/2 system.

Groupware

Lotus Notes 4.1 (Lotus Development) http://www.lotus.com

Clearly this was a product in a category all its own. Notes invented the category, and is really the only alternative for any platform, not just OS/2. This product is by far the one that could have the most far-reaching impact on OS/2's future - nearly all of what IBM does from a software perspective is related to Notes in some way.

Notes 4.1 brought a stable version of the new 4.X platform for Notes. The 4.X standard includes a brand-new user interface, organized to be easy to use and navigate. E-Mail is greatly improved, as well as the programming tools and scripting tools. Agents are a function you will fall in love with immediately - they are programs that you attach to certain events that will run automatically for you in the background. For instance, an Agent could pre-sort your e-mail for you, or even delete mail from people you don't like. Connected to an InterNotes server, your client can even browse newsgroups or web pages and send you information you are interested in. This is definitely the future of computing, and you can get it now.

Web Site

Indelible Blue http://www.indelible-blue.com/ib

This was a really tough category. The editors had lots of different opinions about this, but one site appeared on everyone's list - Indelible Blue. Beyond being the one-stop-shop for all of the software for OS/2, Indelible Blue maintains a well-kept listing of important OS/2 links, as well as a knack for posting information on their online News and Blues section that seems to be one step ahead of everyone else. This deserves the top spot on your quicklist - stop there first and often.

System Utility

WatchCat 2.1 http://www.uni-passau.de/~normann/watchcat.html

Written by Felix von Normann and Thomas Opheys, this has to be one of the most useful OS/2 utilities of all time. Simply put, it allows you to kill any process that is running on your system, as well as view any threads that process has strung and other statistical data. In practice what this means is that you can shut down errant programs, kill off unneeded tasks to improve performance, even force a shutdown of OS/2 when all else fails. All-in-all, this is one you must have in your toolbox.

Graphics Utility

ColorWorks V2 (SPG) http://spg-net.com/

Although there are some things that can be unclear about how the program works (like: where is the eraser tool? Or, where is layers support?), ColorWorks remains the single best alternative for general OS/2 photo manipulation and drawing. Other programs may do specific functions better, but none beats ColorWorks in reading and writing file formats and being a general workhorse around the office. If you do any desktop publishing or web design on OS/2, this is a must-have for your software library. The best part about this package: a fully-bound hardcover user manual that is over an inch thick. In these days of declining documentation, this is a welcome change.

Scanning Software

ImageScan/2 (Danmar Systems)

Speaking of tools that you must have in your toolbox, if you do any scanning at all, ImageScan/2 is our favorite for connecting to our TWAIN-compliant scanners. ImageScan/2 is quick and solid - but we can't find their web page!

Disk Utility

Partition Magic 3.0 (PowerQuest) http://www.powerquest.com/

This program will make you wonder what you ever did without it. Partition Magic lets you resize and move your disk partitions in place without losing the data on them. In addition, it lets you convert FAT file disks to HPFS with all of the data still on them. Cool, eh? Version 3.0 now lets you create NTFS partitions to store Windows NT on, and includes IBM's Boot Manager in the box to let you switch between multiple operating systems. There simply is no substitute for this software.

Internet Tool

tie: Netscape Navigator 2.02 (Netscape Communications) http://www.netscape.com/

Post Road Mailer 2.0 (Innoval) http://www.innoval.com/

OS/2 users have long suffered through the shortcomings of the venerable WebExplorer for OS/2. Ahead of its time when it was introduced, development of the product literally stopped when IBM and Netscape started to produce an OS/2 version of their industry-standard browser. Even so, this product was well worth the wait. Now OS/2 users can see Java-enabled web sites, use frames and text formatting tags, and even run OS/2 native and Windows plug-ins for Netscape. If you are still using WebExplorer, now is the time to change.

Innoval Art Even though the new Netscape includes some E-mail support, Post Road Mailer has long held the hearts of true OS/2 users. In 1996 the product got even better, most notably with support for SkyTel text paging. Direct integration with the WorkPlace shell, easy drag-and-drop filing and printing, and a host of useful features means that this is still the E-mail standard to beat.

Desktop Utility

Object Desktop Pro (Stardock Systems) http://www.stardock.com/

One of the best-selling programs for OS/2 got even better in 1996 with the introduction of Object Desktop Pro for OS/2. Most users of Object Desktop have fallen in love with the really cool things it does to the Workplace Shell. But there is so much more to Object Desktop. One of the most technically interesting and useful features is the ability to capture the objects on your desktop (or any part of it), and encapsulate them into a transportable object. This lets the enterprise user create standardized, restorable desktops for their OS/2 users, as well as easily package URL objects or folders and send them to others. Object Viewer provides the ability to read, print, and work with files from virtually any file format including the recently released Office95 (Excel95, Word95, Access95, PowerPoint95, etc.). With Object Desktop Professional installed, users can simply double click on a file and the Object Viewer feature quickly identifies the document and views it in a fraction of a second. End users do not have to know what type of file is being viewed; view operations are completely transparent. A host of other enterprise features are also available.

Communications Program

FaxWorks Pro (Keller Group) http://www.kellergroup.com/

Many OS/2 users became familiar with the FaxWorks product via the BonusPak that shipped with Warp 3, and again with Warp 4. But what you may not know is that there is an upgraded version of this product that is available for you to purchase. FaxWorks Pro 3 takes the reliable fax send and receive platform and takes it to a new level. For example, you can now e-mail automatically anything you would fax, or sent Internet Relay faxes around the world. There is now support for voice modems and other new hardware, as well as an upgraded interface. There is no better choice for your fax solution on OS/2.

Game

tie: Galactic Civilizations II (Stardock Systems) http://www.stardock.com/

SimCity 2000 (Maxis) http://www.maxis.com/

The original Galactic Civilizations was so good, that it won Game of the Year for 1995 - a competition that included all platforms, not just OS/2. Pretty good for a game that you can only play if you have OS/2. The new Galactic Civilizations has now ranked as the 5th most popular game on any platform around the world. You have been worm-holed to a distant galaxy. You must colonize this galaxy in order to compete with your alien neighbours. As you build new colony ships and bring new worlds into your realm, you will have to decide what to spend your newly acquired wealth on. Do you research new technologies in order to improve your quality of life, get better weapons, newer space ships, etc.? Do you spend it on building a mighty fleet for your defence? Perhaps spend your resources aiding the environment (being a nice guy to the environment isn't so easy once you realize the costs of doing so)? Do you put your wealth towards spying on your neighbours and destabilizing your enemies? This game is definitely one of the best ways to waste time with your OS/2 computer.

SimCity 2000 Art Another great way to waste time is SimCity 2000 by Maxis. This game has won dozens of industry awards. You are the mayor of a huge parcel of land with nothing but rivers and trees. By spending your money wisely, you try to create your own metropolis. Start by zoning land for commercial, industrial and residential areas. Build a few roads and drop in some parks. Pretty soon you'll have to start planning for police stations, fire stations, schools, prisons, marinas, airports, subways, underground water systems - all while avoiding and handling disasters such as tornadoes, floods and earthquakes. Want a challenge? Take over San Francisco just as the big earthquake hits, or Tokyo before Godzilla stomps across the city. SimCity is a fantastic, realistic simulation that will chew hours of your time.

Children's Game

SimTown (Maxis) http://www.maxis.com/

SimTown takes the concept of SimCity 2000 and customizes it for children. Big graphics and an easy-to use interface are coupled with businesses and concepts that children can identify with and have fun with. Children are challenged with city-management puzzles and math skills, as well as having a great time building their own creation. There were many great OS/2 children's programs introduced in 1996, but this was one of the best.


The overall message is: there is some fantastic software available for OS/2, and more is being created every day. Some of the producers of software you are familiar with (like Netscape, Lotus and Maxis), but some you may not be. There are still gaping holes in some categories, but if you need to get it done, you can get it done with OS/2.