Merlin promises improved GUI, Net integration

IBM Corp.'s next generation of OS/2 Warp, code-named Merlin, promises to bring some innovative technology to the federal workplace.

In my last column, I looked at how the voice-enabled technology that is integrated into Merlin's core will help the disabled and people like me who are "keyboard challenged" (read: lousy typists).

The product also will increase the speed and the accuracy with which we interact with computers.

However, while the voice-enabling technology does represent a quantum leap forward in the human-centric design, other more subtle changes should also help us to more effectively navigate through the morass of software that exists on the typical desktop PC.

One of the benefits of IBM's $3 billion acquisition of Lotus Development Corp. was unrestricted access to the programming team that produced the only 32-bit suite of office software designed for OS/2 Warp. The Lotus team brought a new perspective to IBM based on their experience developing and maintaining applications, not operating systems.

One of the key aspects that the Lotus team brought to the table in the design of Merlin was in making the graphical user interface (GUI) easier to navigate through the extensive use of color, notebook-style tabs, 3-D icons and a new, easier-to-read system font.

Another innovation that Lotus brought to the table was the OS/2 Warp Center. This product, originally known as Lotus Smart Center, shipped as a separate utility included with Lotus' SmartSuite for OS/2. Smart Center provided an easy-to-use application tool bar that was highly customizable via simple drag-and-drop operations. Smart Center/Warp Center provides a visual platform from which to easily launch programs, monitor disk space, CPU activity and time in use (important for those who must track billable hours).

Warp Center also serves to reduce desktop clutter by organizing your favorite programs, folders and links to your favorite World Wide Web pages along any axis of your screen.

IBM has also worked to tightly integrate Internet access into Merlin. You may recall that OS/2 Warp was the first operating system to bundle not only a Web browser but a full suite of 32-bit Internet access tools with the operating system.

Merlin now extends the integration by allowing users to create Web objects for their favorite Web sites, which can be registered with the VoiceType Dictation engine.

For example, if I want the latest information on OS/2 Warp, I have to manually launch IBM's Web Explorer and then type in the address of IBM's OS/2 Warp Product Family Home Page at http://www.austin.ibm.com/pspinfo/os2.html.

But using Merlin's new Web object template and voice recognition technology, I could simply say "Jump to Warp News" - or any other name I would assign this link - and Web Explorer would automatically start and load the requested Web page. Could it get any easier than this?

Merlin will also be the first operating system to provide full support for Sun Microsystem Inc.'s Java programming language. Integrating Java directly into the operating system means that OS/2 will run native Java applications without the need for a Java-enabled Web browser or any developer-supplied Java runtime libraries. Merlin will also provide Java applications with the effective memory management and reliability that has become OS/2's hallmark.

Because Merlin is a fully object-oriented operating system, Merlin users will be able to easily drag Java applications off Internet Web sites and drop them onto their desktop to execute them.

Merlin is poised to attack the desktop operating system market by providing an ease of use previously unknown in the PC industry.

IBM, in a move no doubt designed to reinforce its commitment to full Internet application support, has touted Merlin's capability as a stable platform for Internet use and for Java applications.

I believe, however, the increased focus on the user interface, coupled with the integration of the voice recognition engine and the improved visual enhancements, will ultimately impact a far greater audience.

**

Rodgers is a computer specialist with the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The opinions expressed here are his own and do not represent any policy or position of the government. Comments or questions can be addressed via the Internet at chrisr@linux.magnus1.com. This column can be read on FCW's home page at http://www.fcw.com.

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