OS/2 Back From the Grave!

OS/2

There were too many banks and too many ATMs still running OS/2. Honest to God I thought IBM officially dumped it in the late 1990s. Then I read this 2007 article on OS/2. They didn’t publicly kill it until 2001 and really really really kill it by ending support in 2007 according to that article.

ATM running OS/2

OS/2 was more secure. It also did a better job of memory handling and networking, so it was the OS of choice for the ATM and quite a few other embedded system worlds. The fact it was and really still is 32-bit really doesn’t matter there.

A company called Arca Noae is actually producing new OS/2 releases with updated drivers and hardware support. It appears they have USB 3.0 support now. Still has to use MBR partitioning though, but I imagine they can fix that with enough customers.

What we really have to hope is that they got the the code for Lotus SmartSuite as well.

Lotus SmartSuite

I clung to OS/2 because of SmartSuite. Still, to this date, the best office package ever. For a personal database Lotus Approach was fantastic. I kept track of my expenses with it for many years. Wrote quite a few books using WordPro. Honestly the integrated Calendar/Address Book/TO-DO list package was to die for.

For the UI, I really liked the whole concept of desk drawers you opened up. Even had a little wood drawer open/close sound.

Every copy of OS/2 I ever owned came bundled with this. The DevCon subscription made certain you could keep current on all of the compilers/products/documentation.

What is dead may never die!

Thank You For Your Future Abandonware

Few things honk me off quite as much as abandonware, especially when something good is abandoned. Microsoft could abandon everything they make and I would not care, none of it is a quality product. Other things really hurt.

You are reading this because there was yet another Qt question on the Qt mailing list from yet another person creating yet another glorified text editor/crippled word processor. I think this one was supposed to support markup language. I cautioned them against creating future abandonware and pointed them to existing Qt based word processors some of which had already been abandoned and had most of the features they wanted. After building it all they would have needed to do was add support for their special syntax.

Given the fact they were working in C++ and Qt I first pointed them to KATE. This editor has been around a long time and recently made the hop from Linux to Windows. Most importantly, if you scroll just shy of halfway down that page it tells you how to build just KTextEditor, the editor component used by KWrite and KDevelop. It’s probably also used on a hundred other lesser known or private projects. Why re-invent the wheel if all you need is a couple of tweaks to the KTextEditor?

Nah, they didn’t go for that. NIH (Not Invented Here) syndrome in full bloom.

This got me thinking about all of the other text editor and word processor abandonware I’ve encountered over the years. KWord was a serviceable word processor. It was abandoned for the ghastly Calligra Words project. All mention of KWord is slowly being purged from the Internet. You can still find a snapshot of the KOffice source code here which includes KWords.

Adding insult to injury, Oasis was a Qt based word processor which began as a Qt example program. Basically, Oasis was about 2-4 years ahead of where the poster’s editor currently was. There are literally thousands of these things out there.

That brings us to one of the most painful abandonware cases ever.

It’s amazing IBM can make money given how clueless management is

I will skip over the massive OS/2 abandonware issue, well, at least most of it. Lotus SmartSuite was and still is a particularly painful part of the abandonment. Some of these pictures are going to seem really grainy. When you install Lotus SmartSuite on Windows 10 or really any Windows after 98, the fonts it installs are old. They are from a time when SVGA was the bleeding edge of screen resolution and the bulk of the world simply ran VGA. I didn’t feel like lowering the video capabilities of the VM. One adorable quirk the product had was the “floating file cabinet.” A thin little bar you could move around on the screen. Each of those brown wood grained buttons is a “drawer” where things are filed.

SmartSuite File Cabinet
SmartSuite File Cabinet

Lotus 123 ruled the spreadsheet universe. Honestly, the last version of 123 ever released is still ahead of Microsoft Excel.

Lotus Approach was a victim of zero marketing. I’m not saying it was a fantastic database, it was a fantastic report creation system driven by a database. For years I had my expense tracker system in Lotus Approach. Why? The data entry screen took about ten minutes to set up. The actual expense report with beautiful fonts, perfectly aligned columns, group totals and grand totals took about thirty minutes or so to create. It really looked professional too. Microsoft Access is still trying to get where Lotus Approach was when it was abandoned.

calendarThe calendar and address book portions were kind of cool. With hundreds or thousands of such things around today most of you don’t realize just how ground breaking it was to have such things all integrated. This was back when we were still shipping software on floppies remember. You could double click a spot there to create a new appointment for today or you could open up the calendar application and be greeted by a full software version of a Daytimer planner.

lotus organizer

Yes, you could change the view to be a week, month, whatever. I used the Lotus Organizer a lot. Those little Daytimer planners were getting to be hundreds of dollars when I stopped using them.

Address book
Address list

Everything was integrated for the very first time. You don’t think much about that now if your company has a pricey, unstable Exchange server, but this was a major feat. You really needed to have Team Center email at your company to get full use out of the email integration part. As I remember it didn’t work well with the Internet email of the day. Having said that, we didn’t have email standards yet. A regular person couldn’t send email from Compuserve to an AOL user. Every ISP wanted to own the Internet and all its content. The best way to do that was have a proprietary email system. Big Government had to step in and thump that. Today you don’t even think about the @someUrl.Blah portion of an email address when you send an email, but there was a long, dark period when you couldn’t “just do it.”

Don’t dis the layout of the address drawer too hard. It matched what the executive secretary had on their desk. A low level clerical person like a receptionist had a great big Rolodex of cards. The higher you went in a company the smaller and more stylish your list and address tracker became. You had people to do things for you. Those people had the great big Rolodex. You only had to keep track of the executives in Mahogany Row and a few special friends outside of the company. I seem to remember mine having the slider on the left. Honestly, I just threw it out when I changed desks this past fall.

Bates Listfinder image
Bates Listfinder

The slider worked because the cards inside had cut edges. The slider hung well down below the card edges. You slid the slider down to say, K, and then clicked the open button. All of the cards before K were missing the indexer edge.

Bates List Finder opened image
Bates List Finder opened

 

Lotus WordPro was and still is the best word processor for a writer ever created. It has features that were and still are earth shattering. In particular Sections and Divisions are something nobody else has really duplicated. There is a claim Scrivener has something similar, but I haven’t played with Scrivener yet. Installed Scrivener in a VM and basically forgot about it. Had it not been free to try I probably wouldn’t have even done that.

application drawer image

supported file formats image
Supported file formats

As you can tell by the list of supported file formats, WordPro has not been updated in a long time. We really need a Change.org campaign to get the federal government to pass a law requiring vendors to Open Source anything they abandoned posting a fully tested build script with all source on both GitHub and Sourceforge. We have simply lost too much. IBM didn’t kill this off because they launched a competing product. They killed it off because they got out of the PC software business not long after the death of OS/2. At least that was the story, but Lotus Notes is still around.

WordPro document image

Don’t confuse these tabs with tabs for different documents that lesser word processors use today. These are Divisions. You can even change the color of the Division tab along with its name so Research can be one color, To-Do list another, etc.

WordPro print dialog
WordPro print dialog

Notice in the bottom box of the print dialog that you can choose to print only the current division. I should point out that when you drag divisions to different locations you actually change their position within the file hierarchy. The next part should really blow your mind.

creating section image
creating a new section

document with new section image
document with new section

Take a good look. Notice the green “My New Section” tab is within the “Body” division. Every Division can have however many Sections within it. I don’t know if there is a physical number hard coded into the design or the only limit is the combination of physical memory and disk storage. Sections are amazing!

section image 1
Sections for Chapters 2 and 3

Notice that I created Sections for Chapter 2 and Chapter 3. To make them stand out I gave each tab color.

section image 2
re-arrange sections

Notice that you can just drag and drop a section to a new location. When writing a book it is often the case we have to re-arrange chapters. No matter what widely known word processor you are using now you are either selecting huge chunks of text to delete then paste in a new location, or you are simply deleting the stuff and retyping from either a print out or pdf. When an editor tells a WordPro user to make the third chapter the first chapter, it’s no big thing, drag and drop. Oh! You may have to fix some stuff in the text itself due to story line, etc., but the mechanics are no longer a horrible error prone thing.

Section drop down menu image
Section drop down menu

I imagine the cut and copy items are grayed out because Windows 10 has a different paste buffer API than Windows 3.1. Just a guess though. I just wanted to show you the right click section drop-down menu. It lets you do quite a few things. I just don’t feel like going through section mark and combine right now.

section moved to new division image
section moved to new division

The last thing I wanted to show you is dragging a Section from one Division and dropping it in another. People who don’t write for a living or to just be an author probably don’t understand just how indispensable this ability is. A professional writer or someone who hopes to one day be a professional writer must always have an open scraps Division. Never just nuke a chapter, scene, whatever, put it in a scraps Division. This advice is especially true during early external editing phases and “I got lost in the middle of the story” rewrites. That problem spot may get fixed and re-added. You may learn (because your editor informs you) the reason that problem spot was a problem is because you screwed something else up way early in the work.

It happens man. Adding insult to injury, it will be something you dropped in, not even caring about it. You gave some character a disability or background trait that sounded so good for five to seven sentences, then it never came up again in the book. Well, not until you got to the end of the book and now you need that not to exist only you are so far past it you don’t remember why or if it was a really important thing when you added it. Yeah, you aren’t finding that mistake on your own, you need an outside reader.

What happens if you are using Microsoft Word? Well, you select a bunch of text, copy, cut, then open a new scraps document file and paste it in praying you don’t lose it along the way. Oh, but you most likely lost the page styles including their sizes. Probably lost other stuff too.

It was a really sad day when IBM sunset Lotus SmartSuite. Sadder still that our Federal government didn’t force them to Open Source the code so someone could maintain it. We really need the Federal government to force IBM to release the source code, build configuration, and all development documentation. This is some abandonware we should never have lost. We could probably get it ported to Linux without a huge effort, especially if it was cleaned up to be Wine compatible.

Best Linux Word Processor in 2019

Now that The Minimum You Need to Know About the Phallus of AGILE is out for another round of editing, I have a bit of time to experiment with word processor software on my KDE Neon 64-bit desktop. Some of you will remember that I kicked some tires back in January. Regrettably I started a free trial for the commercial version of Textmaker then didn’t do anything with it and it has something stored somewhere so I cannot confirm my suspicions.

I don’t demand that my software be free but that certainly helps. The biggest thing is “how restrictive is the license?” Honestly I paid for a Sublime Text 3 license because I can install it as many times as I want. As a geek with a lot of machines and one who installs different Linux distros at a moment’s notice for some project or other, I cannot abide by an onerous registration process.

LS-120

When I’m writing a new book I will drop back to my trusty ole 3rd generation i5 because that one already has one of my LS-120 drives installed.

i5 with super floppy

If a book is going to be a long project, even if the target market is only 50 readers, I like to have off-site backups. I can copy the directory to an LS-120 and take it with me when I leave at night. No, I don’t trust cloud backup services. Technical recruiters who can barely speak English tell me my OpenVMS application development book is one of the best pirated books in India. They should know. Most of them are calling from there using voice over IP.

FreeOffice

This is a stripped down version of SoftMaker Office. I didn’t play with SoftMaker Office when I started the free trial back in January so I cannot tell if my misgivings about FreeOffice are fixed in the commercial version.

The first thing you will note is that the toolbar appears a bit rough. It’s not unreasonable, just appears to not be as polished as many other word processors on the market. It almost has a Java type look to it. Perhaps that is the language used to write the package, I do not know. I do know that it took a really long time to install the .deb package on this 7th generation i7.

Ugly Font Rendering

Another thing you will notice is the font rendering appears a bit ugly. It’s definitely not the same engine as LibreOffice uses. Notice the frames around the images as well. There is some weird kind of alignment issue when opening an OpenDocument file created by LibreOffice.

The combination of the font and image issues pushed the LA12 image down into the footer. When I tried to move the image I couldn’t just click and drag the image with caption as I wished. I had to try and convert the image to an object and I could move the image but the caption did not follow. After looking at the features list of the commercial version I believe this is something unique to the product.

Could Not Add Caption

In the 5 minutes I spent looking I couldn’t figure out how to add a caption to the image once moved. Again, I believe this is a difference in philosophy. One would have to spend a bit of time learning how TextMaker wants you to create documents. My real apprehension is how well this philosophy would save to an OpenDocument file then opened by one of these other word processors.


The things which bothered me the most is how footnotes look and the fact the free version could not correctly support page styles. I had odd and even page styles so the header would have the page number in the outside upper corner of both facing and non-facing pages.

You can see what I mean in this screenshot from LibreOffice.

Notice the cleaner font rendering as well. Keep in mind this is the same OpenDocument file in both editors. Granted, I used LibreOffice to create it but given it is the same file using the same font on the same machine I would expect the rendering to be very close to the same.

Note the image placement as well. It doesn’t mush down into the footer.

Footnotes look cleaner in LibreOffice as well. They don’t have boxes around them and they are displayed as the links they are.

It’s Fast

I will give TextMaker this kudo. It’s fast. LibreOffice suffers from memory strangulation. Even installing Oracle Java can’t get rid of this problem. I’ve written about some of the various hacks to get around this problem but you really cannot eliminate it.

When editing a large document like a 600+ page book which has lots of images, just resizing a couple of images to make things fit better sends LibreOffice into a crawl. I’ve got 24Gig of RAM on this box so memory should never be a problem, but it is. If you start to apply page styles after you have written your document LibreOffice can hang for minutes while it updates the rendering of the entire document.

AbiWord

AbiWord crashed trying to load the document. It hung on 98% loading and just vaporized. I had heard AbiWord suffered from a lack of developers and was just kind of rotting in repos. I guess the rumors are true.

ZoHo

I tried to open this file with ZoHo. No, I didn’t create an account and load the document to the Web. I tried to open it as a local file because Zoho installed itself as a right click option which it shouldn’t do if it cannot handle local files. It died just like AbiWord. Perhaps the same team of developers are not working on this project while they are not working on AbiWord?

Caligra Words

My hatred for Caligra Words is legendary. The developers took the not horrible KWord word processor and created this abomination. After taking an unbelievably long time to load the document, each strike of the Page Up/Down key took 4 seconds to respond. I’m running this on a 7th generation i7 with a native install of KDE Neon and it took 4 seconds. Thank God I didn’t try this on that 4th gen i5. Might have to wait until tomorrow to see the screen move.

While the font rendering is substantially better than FreeOffice/TextMaker, you can see just how well it handles images with captions.

LibreOffice

This is the one which is most likely installed on your Linux distro. There’s even a Windows version, or at least there was. It appears to have the largest pool of active developers. It also suffers from some initial horrible choices made by the OpenOffice team, notably, using Java anywhere in the product.

There is a growing push to get LibreOffice to become more like Lotus SmartSuite was back in the day. It came back to life again today which is probably what brought about this post. Lotus SmartSuite was phenom. Way better than WordPerfect and I used WordPerfect for many years during the days of DOS and Windows.

FocusWriter word processor

FocusWriter is a minimalist word processor. It doesn’t have page styles, headers or footers. It doesn’t handle images. It does handle OpenDocument files but the target market for FocusWriter is people who want a full screen distraction free word processor just to get the words down.

Let me stress that again. FocusWriter is just a word processor. It doesn’t claim to be an “office” product.

As you can see, it has fantastic font rendering. It supports a bit of bolding and such but, as you can see near the top of the image, footnotes just get stuffed in where ever they happen to be referenced. I do use FocusWriter to bang out the occasional blog post or text only chapter. It’s quick and clean. Very easy on the eyes. Just not something you can use for book creation unless you are working with that ancient “manuscript” format. I always lay my books out completely and send the PDF to the printer.

OnlyOffice

OnlyOffice has a very clean look modeled after Microsoft Word’s current look. I only use the desktop version. The company appears to be targeting on-line collaboration and trying to get completely docx compatible. They do “support” OpenDocument format, but . . .

As you can see, they don’t support page styles, have a real problem with OpenDocument headings and more than a bit of trouble with images.

The font rendering is rather excellent though.

They just have a bit of trouble with the basics.

Summary

First Place:   LibreOffice

LibreOffice tends to be my goto word processor even with all its warts. Every Ubuntu based Linux distro (a YABU in technical terms) seems to have it pre-installed and one can do much of what they need. The memory strangulation really sucks! You don’t know you are going to run into it until it is too late. They need to purge 100% of the Java code and write this in pure C++. JVMs (Java Virtual Machines) tend to be absolutely wretched at memory management. If you don’t believe me just visit this link and scroll down to the conversation of about heap sizes.

Second Place:   FocusWriter

FocusWriter isn’t a full featured word processor, nor is it intended to be. It’s target user wants a distraction free full screen mode with incredible font rendering so they can just bang out the words down the center of the screen. I have put a lot of miles on that word processor writing blog posts over the years. Whenever I’m writing something I’m certain will not need footnotes or links, it’s my first choice. I can always open the document in LibreOffice later if I need to get fancy.

Third Place:   OnlyOffice

Despite all of its shortcomings, OnlyOffice is a pleasant experience, as long as you do not need to have page styles, or position images on the left margin. (It can be done it just doesn’t like to do it.

The not being able to keep track of footnotes is rather annoying as well.
I give it passes on this. Being a software developer myself I’m rather impressed that something starting in 2009 for internal use made it this far out into the wild. I also realize their focus isn’t the standalone desktop product. They are trying to sell collaboration services. According to the timeline found here it wasn’t open sourced until 2014. That’s rather astounding.

Follow-up

For what it is worth, I uninstalled all of the other word processors after writing this. I simply could not get around the TextMaker font rendering and the free version not having page styles. Maybe the commercial version had all of the features I wanted, but the font rendering really bothered me. It was like they were forcing in extra bold or something. This caused all kinds of spacing and formatting problems. I also didn’t want to spend $99, install it on one machine and then uninstall it because I couldn’t stand the font rendering.

Note: Before any of you think I’m making too much about font rendering and page styles because only book authors need those, think again. When you are writing research papers for school it is exactly the same as writing a book. You need running page headers so the page numbers appear in the outside corners. No, you cannot get away with that cheap-ass thing of putting the page number dead center at the bottom. Not when you have footnotes and you really shouldn’t ever do that to any document, let along a document 5 ore more pages in length.

Note 2: I did not try the OpenOffice word processor on this machine. The reason I didn’t is that I have tried to install them both in the past. There were too many shared libraries between LibreOffice and OpenOffice. They seemed to be very far apart in compatibility as well. When installing both on the same machine you tend to end up with both being really busted.

Prediction

If OnlyOffice manages to add page styles and clean up their OpenDocument support it will become what gets installed on most Linux distros by default.

  1. It’s fast.
  2. The font rendering is great.
  3. It has a very clean look.

The memory strangulation is a real problem with LibreOffice. If you are just writing a 10 page term paper, you won’t notice it. When you start writing a research paper which becomes hundreds of pages long having lots of footnotes and images, you are going to feel the pain. When you check the system monitor and see that only 8Gig of your 24Gig machine is being used, you will be infuriated. Been there. Done that. Have both the hat and the T-shirt.