Pricey Warp Server disappoints

In the battle for the PC server market, every player needs to set its operating system apart from the others. Microsoft throws mountains of functionality into Windows NT and gives its users massive free updates. Novell NetWare has good performance, leading-edge directory services, and a loyal installed user base. Linux is almost free and a buzzword as well as an OS. And IBM's latest release of OS/2 is expensive.

To give IBM its due, OS/2 Warp Server for e-business is the most powerful OS/2 ever released. It is Warp Server 4 with accumulated fixes and a handful of new features: a journalling file system, year 2000 and euro currency support, a Unix Network File System file-sharing client, four-CPU multiprocessor support, a Java-enabled Web server, and a logical volume manager that permits some changes to the file system configuration without rebooting.

Like Windows NT, this version of OS/2 crams a lot of functionality into one bundle. But unlike with NT, you pay for that power by enduring an outdated user interface, scattered and concealed features, abominable documentation, and a tiny set of third-party applications.

Last December I looked at the beta release before IBM had announced pricing, and I held out hope that OS/2 would be priced to compete with NT. But OS/2 Warp Server for e-business is more expensive than Windows NT Server 4.0, turning out to be no competition at all. Unless you already run an OS/2 shop and do not want to jump ship, you will find few reasons to deploy this OS/2.

I tested OS/2 Warp Server for e-business on a PC server with a Tyan motherboard, dual Pentium II CPUs, 192MB of RAM, and a 9GB Seagate Barracuda ultrawide SCSI primary hard drive. You boot the OS/2 install from a CD, so if you want bootable floppy disks, you must make them yourself. During the installation, you must constantly swap the installation and Server Pak CDs because the boot CD contains no installable software. The installer reboots your server several times, often without warning.

The OS/2 desktop is still painted by Presentation Manager, a Windows 3.1 contemporary. The default desktop's root window icons and taskbar menus look haphazardly laid out by a dreadfully disorganised user. Essential functions are buried in submenus, and administrative tools and utilities are scattered and concealed in the pages of anachronistic on-screen notebooks. It is a GUI OS/2 fans have learned to love, but a hard taste to acquire if you are accustomed to Windows 98 or Linux's Gnome.

If you have the patience (or experience) to find your way around, you will find some worthwhile elements. In a mixed LAN with shared NT servers, OS/2 will replicate the user list and let you set up a single-login environment. The new Journaled File System improves reliability and speeds recovery after a power or software failure. OS/2 Warp Server for e-business plays well as a peer in an NT LAN.

IBM touts online volume management as a key new feature of this OS. The Java-based Logical Volume Manager (LVM) brings less to the party than is needed - you can't format a volume or change its file system type from within LVM, and it does not support software RAID, as do NT and Linux. But you can extend a journalled volume without rebooting, which worked in my testing. The LVM tacked the new space onto the end of the existing volume, while retaining the existing volume's contents.

The one killer app in the package is IBM's WebSphere Applications Server. WebSphere equips Web developers with robust server-side Java programming support via servlets and Java Server Pages. CORBA object broker support is built into other versions of WebSphere, but sadly, not this version. Java outperforms script, potentially making for more scalable Web applications, but the missing CORBA support leaves OS/2 with nothing to compare to Microsoft's Component Object Model technology.

The OS/2 Warp Server for e-business literature winks at a comprehensive Java environment, promising the "OS/2 Warp Developer's Kit, Java Edition". This turns out to be the Sun Java Developer's Kit, which is a free download, some online documents, and an IBM just-in-time Java compiler. An editor touted as the "Java editor" is passable but offers no special Java-related features such as syntax highlighting or statement completion.

IBM also supplies a folder full of links to Sun Java examples, copied to your hard drive during installation. Many of these did not execute during my testing. This may be a good place for an experienced Java jock to work out, but it certainly isn't the best place to start.

The Domino Go Web server, an adapted edition of the Unix/Linux Apache server, does a fine job with basic Web content. Domino Go improves on Apache with a Web-based administrative interface. Compared to Netscape's administrative front end, Domino Go's GUI is fractured and disorganised. Basic configuration requires lots of tiny steps. This is a far cry from Windows NT's IIS, which groups all of your Web parameters together whether you are administering it locally or from the Web.

The Web server is quite functional and includes Secure Sockets Layer and basic (Web, FTP, and Gopher protocols only) proxy support. I am a fan of the Apache server, and I advise you to forego Lotus' tedious Web administration interface and edit the server's configuration files directly. But don't get too attached: IBM is discontinuing Domino Go Web Server. Support for it is scheduled to be discontinued in 2001.

WebSphere holds tremendous promise for hosting server-side Java Web applications, but it is not enough to carry OS/2 Warp Server for e-business. No combination of its features could make this costly OS appeal to anyone not looking to upgrade from a prior release. If you like WebSphere, run it on IBM's AIX, Windows NT, or one of its supported Unix variants. That will cost you less, and you'll be using IBM's advanced server-side Java on an operating system with a future.

The bottom line

IBM OS/2 Warp Server for e-business

Summary: IBM calls this super-bundle a "do-it-all" PC server OS, but at $US1699, plus $59 per client, it is impotent against the less costly, more entrenched Windows NT.

Business Case: If you already run an OS/2 shop, this OS/2 will help you get more power and stability out of your existing servers - for a price. For those not already running OS/2, there is little in OS/2 Warp Server for e-business to justify IBM's high price for its fading OS or to draw users away from Windows NT, Unix, or Linux.


Journalling file system with online managementEnhanced port of Apache Web serverSolid server-side Java support through WebSphereCons:

Priced out of market

Scattered functionality, documentation

WebSphere lacks CORBA support

Cost: Local pricing not yet available.

Platforms: Servers: Intel-based PCs; Clients: Intel-based PCs running OS/2 Warp or Microsoft Windows (3.x, 95, 98, or NT).


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