Virtual Control – Linux, VirtualBox and OS/2 or eComStation

This is part one of a two part article about a “real life” control system that is a candidate for moving to a VM on Linux. This control system is being used right now in a real manufacturing facility.

Last year in February I wrote the article “Windows 98? Linux and VirtualBox! (Maybe)“. It is about using VirtualBox to perhaps keep an old Windows 98 system running in a virtual machine (VM). In that article I touched on the concept of a business that runs a system controller on old hardware that may be saved by moving the system to a VM. This article is a follow-up on that concept to cover a recent test we did at ERACC for moving a control system from “real” hardware to a VM. I have not asked permission to name names so I will just call the company that contacted me “client” and use first names only for the people involved.

Several weeks ago I was contacted by Stan at the client about an IBM OS/2 Warp 3 system that runs a critical control system in their manufacturing facility. The hardware for this system is around 15 years old and they recently had problems with the SCSI hard drive. The concern is that this old hardware is eventually going to fail completely as all things man-made eventually do. They could purchase a new control system, but that would cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. Perhaps $40,000/US or more for the controller and cost of the installation from the control system manufacturer. In this current poor economy businesses are looking for ways to save money so a solution with a $40K or more price tag is going to be very carefully researched before such an expenditure will be made. This case is no exception. In the course of the client’s research my company was discovered as we still support OS/2 in its current incarnation as eComStation.

So Stan contacted me. He wanted to know if we could build them a new PC to run the current control system software. I assured Stan we could do that, but I suggested that we try running the software inside an eComStation VM using VirtualBox on a Linux system first. My reasoning is if it works this “future proofs” the current control software and keeps them from having to purchase a new system any time soon. I planned to help get the VM up and running at their facility and all of this could be done for well under $2500/US. I mentioned that I would need a disk image of his current control system and would work from that to create a VM with which to test. Stan agreed this sounded like a good idea and said he would get the disk image done and get back to me.

A few weeks passed. Then I received a call from Stan saying the disk image was ready on a USB thumb drive. I gave Stan our shipping address and he placed the thumb drive in the mail to us. When the thumb drive arrived I brought it to my work PC and copied the “disk.img” image file. This PC runs Mandriva 2010 Linux on an AMD Phenom quad-core based motherboard which includes AMD’s hardware virtualization. One needs hardware virtualization to run OS/2 or eComStation in a VirtualBox VM. The disk image was converted to a VirtualBox virtual disk image (VDI) using the command:

VBoxManage convertdd ./disk.img /data1/virtual_machines/virtualbox/vdi/disk.vdi

This VDI was then used to create a VM to try to boot it. Unfortunately it would not boot. So a new VM and VDI was created using eComStation 2.0 release candidate 7 (eCS2rc7). This new VM was booted and the VDI created above was mounted as a second “disk” in the VM. The data and programs were copied from the mounted second VDI to the new VDI and testing began. After editing the eCS2rc7 startup files, CONFIG.SYS and STARTUP.CMD, to include the relevant software for the control system the VM was rebooted. The first reboot failed as some of the old OS/2 Warp 3 based drivers failed to load. It was determined by trial and error what new drivers were needed to replace the old ones and which of the old drivers are irrelevant when using a VM. Finally we had a booting VM that started the control software.

We discovered that the control software uses TCP/IP to “talk to” the manufacturing hardware. This is important because a custom hardware interface would likely not work in this case. Any control software that communicates using TCP/IP or serial connections is likely to work just fine though. We had what we needed to know to proceed with this project. I contacted Stan and sent him the data, with screen shots, in an e-mail. Stan forwarded the information to MIS at the client. As of now we are waiting for MIS at the client to give the go ahead to continue. I am confident that this will get a “green light”, so I am “jumping the gun” a bit with this article.

I will write part two once the project has proceeded to its conclusion, good or bad. Although, “good” is the only outcome I think is likely.

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Edit Sat Mar 20 12:25:38 CDT 2010: Fix typo as pointed out by John Angelico, Thanks for the “heads up”.

eCS 2.0 Silver then comes eCS 2.0 GA

This announcement hit the various eComStation (eCS) mailing lists yesterday afternoon:

Almost all issues which have delayed the 2.0 GA have been resolved. Most of the remaining work is resolving the issues with the installer and the integration of disparate components. The ACPI feature is now reaching a point that not should delay release, any longer. We do expect to continue to improve ACPI usability in the time after GA.

= eComStation 2.0 Silver Release =

This is anticipated to be the final Release Candidate. While the last bugs are being ironed out, an initial test release will be provided to the Test Team asap and made available to Software Subscription Services customers in approximately one week.

= eComStation 2.0 GA Release =

The Silver Release will be feature complete. Only documentation and “fit and finish” items will be worked. The goal is to have the English version of eComStation 2.0 GA ready in August, 2009.

= Twitter =

To give you more of an idea what’s going on (and in fact that there is actually something going on) we created a Twitter feed from several eComStation development feeds.

  • eComStation bugtracker (resolved issues)
  • eComStation CVS changelog
  • eComStation eWiki changes
  • eComStation ACPI project at Netlabs

You can follow the eComStation Dev Team at:

= Thanks for the patience =

Serenity Systems International and Mensys BV are certainly aware of the extreme delays this project has had and we appreciate your patience.

Bob St.John
Serenity Systems International

In my opinion, everyone that has been holding off for eCS 2.0 GA should at least give eCS 2.0 Silver a try to help iron out any bugs that might still exist. If one still has a valid Software Subscription Service then eCS 2.0 Silver can easily be downloaded and tested. If not, then don’t complain if there are uncaught bugs in the eCS 2.0 GA release.

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Community, eComStation (OS/2) and the Future

Dear eComStation Community,

A few months ago I was in a funk over eComStation and started to write up a rant based on my feelings. I spent about two hours writing, reading, deleting, rewriting, tweaking and generally wallowing in muck. I eventually became aware what I was writing was not productive. Parts of what I was writing were pure whining. But other parts of the rant were valid grievances. Finally, at one point while rewriting a paragraph for the umpteenth time, I realized writing for public consumption based on one’s feelings is rarely a good idea. I saved that rant to revisit it at a later date when I was less emotional. I think today is a good day for that.

What was I funking out over? No, it was not about eComStation 2.0 GA not being out. As long as there are usable release candidates, Software Subscription Service, Betazone and I can be content. My funk was over the “community” of eComStation end-users. There are a few dedicated users who pitch in and help other users in forums, traditional USENET news groups (Yes, I know the Noisy Ones on USENET can make one need filters.), (a.k.a. and mail lists. I can probably compile a list of these folk on a 5×7 note card and have room left over. If you are an end-user get active and stay active on these resources.

Did you know there are IRC channels on just for eComStation? People, our IRC channel #ecomstation is relatively empty. This specific channel, set aside for user to user support, has no one in it (except me and a ‘bot) day after day after day. Compare this to the GNU/Linux community, the FreeBSD community or other “alternative OS” communities. Those other communities have end-users that monitor their IRC channels every day. Sure, GNU/Linux and FreeBSD are “free” software and eComStation is not “free”. Why should that stop our user community from using the IRC network? The #netlabs channel is also on Freenode. There one can have access to several of the developers keeping eComStation up to date. If you had a bad experience on IRC in the past and now avoid it I suggest you rethink that and come idle in the IRC channels on Freenode a while each week.

I forgot to add the eComStation IRC network which may be accessed at

Now, if you are inclined to make an argument that eComStation is commercial software and as such only the commercial vendors should provide support, do not make that argument. It will not be productive. Frankly, there are too few of us commercial vendors and we cannot know The Answers to every possible hardware or software problem that arises on eComStation. I personally know how to do what I do, that is build new systems and preload the eComStation latest beta making sure everything works before the system ships, but beyond that I do not have many answers. That is where a community of users steps in.

I see people posting in eComStation mail lists stating they are leaving eComStation behind because of:

  1. eComStation 2.0 has not gone GA yet.
  2. Cannot install eComStation 1.2R on newest hardware.
  3. Application foo is not up to date.
  4. Have to pay for “free” software on eComStation.
  5. Probably other reasons I have forgotten or missed.

Regarding #1, get over that, keep your SSS up to date and use the latest beta. Mostly the eComStation 2.0 betas have been good enough for production use in my experience. At least eComStation development calls its betas by the correct name instead of shipping Vista, er I meant 2.0 GA, knowing it is a beta yet calling it a GA.

About #2, see my answer to #1. Use the beta, Luke.

As for #3, that stinks I know. Some ISVs have left eComStation behind because they cannot make a living selling to the eComStation community. If you cannot find an alternative under eComStation and the only reason you use eComStation is for that application then you should move to the platform that has what you need. We will miss you, but understand your need to move along.

Now #4. If you want to take up the mantle of porting “free” software to eComStation for “free” I congratulate you and will do what I can to help you. Granted my help is probably not going to be much as I am not a programmer, but I can test your builds and provide feedback. If you just want to complain that porting “free” software to eComStation has a cost and the people providing that software want recompense for their work you will get no sympathy from me. Hey, are you not the same ones pointing out that eComStation is a commercial venture? If you want “free” stuff, switch to GNU/Linux or one of the “free” BSD variants.

Anyone want to point out items for #5?

The future of eComStation is as much in the hands of the end-users as it is in the development, marketing and sales people. If you, the end-user, want to use eComStation and want to see it succeed then change your thinking about it. Do not just think of eComStation as a traditional commercial venture. Think outside of that box. Yes, eComStation has a cost but it also has a long tradition of users helping users going back to the OS/2 era in the 1990’s. Most of you already are “outside the box” simply because you chose OS/2 and have stuck with it for years. Don’t lose sight of that and be willing to change your perspective about eComStation as reality changes.

Okay, that is my updated “rant”. Comments are welcome as long as they are civil and in the interest of promoting eComStation. Anything else will likely be deleted.

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How to Kill a Linux/Unix System and Live to Tell the Tale

I am about to admit, in public, to doing something extremely boneheaded once. Why? I just finished reading Carla Schroder‘s article at LinuxPlanet titled Linux Works Even When Your PC is Committing Suicide. This article reminded me of my past foible and I decided to share it with you to make a point.

I have been a “Unix guy” for many years now. I started with SCO Xenix back in the late 1980’s installing and supporting SMB companies that needed Point of Sale and business accounting systems. Typically this would entail running Xenix on a server and dumb terminals at each desk or Point of Sale seat. From SCO Xenix these migrated to SCO OpenServer and SCO Unixware. Sometime in the late 1990’s I built my own in-house server to run SCO Unixware at my office as a file server. This worked quite well and did not cost me too much as an SCO reseller. I was able to get Not For Resale (NFR) copies of SCO products at a steep discount.

In the early 2000’s I was running IBM OS/2 on my desktops, one multi-boot PC with IBM OS/2 + Caldera Linux + Microsoft Windows 98 to run Quickbooks and the SCO server where all my company data was stored. After installing some updates on the SCO server I decided to go into the /etc directory where all system configuration files are stored and remove some old directories that were no longer needed. I had to login as root (system administrator) to do this. While in the /etc directory I issued this command:

rm -rf olddirectory/ *

Notice there is a space between the slash “/” and the asterisk “*”. I had pressed enter and eventually realized it was taking longer than I expected to remove what I thought I was removing, should have been about 2 seconds. By the time I understood my error and canceled the command almost all of /etc was gone. For you command line novices I will explain what I did wrong in the command used. I basically told the remove command, “rm”, to delete everything recursively in both “olddirectory/” and the current working directory by adding that unintended space after the slash followed by that asterisk. Yes, that is A Very Bad Thing as the /etc directory tree is a critical system directory under Unix and GNU/Linux.

Did this kill the system? Well, yes and no. As long as I did not reboot the system I was okay. Had I made the mistake of rebooting the system I would have had more problems recovering than I cared to have. The Unix system happily churned along with an empty /etc directory and I was able to copy all the company data off the server to a PC on the LAN, including the Quickbooks file that had all the accounting data in it. Then I could decide on staying with SCO, which was starting to make noises against GNU/Linux, or move to something else. I decided to move to FreeBSD on the file server and did so.

Eventually I migrated all the company desktops to GNU/Linux (Because IBM decided to “kill” OS/2, which is still not dead yet, and I wanted to future proof my systems.), began using GNUCash in place of Quickbooks (I don’t need payroll software for my small, family business.) and kept FreeBSD on the file server. I have been and am content with this change and will stay with this setup for the foreseeable future.

I consider what would have happened should I have deleted a critical system directory tree under some other operating system. I have serious doubts the other operating system server versions would have kept running for me to copy data easily over the LAN. I have no doubt whatsoever that a GNU/Linux system would fare just as well as that venerable SCO Unixware system I killed. To me this illustrates the high robustness of all Unix-like operating systems and just another reason why I will continue to use them.

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Edit Thu Apr 23 09:24:43 CDT 2009: Oops! Somehow the setting requiring users to be registered and logged in to comment was on in our WordPress settings. Of course no one here knows how that happened and I know I did not check that box recently. Anyway, it is back to anyone can comment now. I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused our readers. Gene

Multiboot PC for FreeDOS, Linux and eComStation

Here is another great system for an eComStation user that is similar to the previous system I wrote about. There have been requests from several people for me to document these builds to help promote eComStation (demo CD URL) and I have agreed that is a good idea. Here are the specifications of this system as agreed upon by the end-user:

  • Thermaltake Armor Series VA8000BWS Full Tower Case w/Side Panel Window (Black)
  • ENERMAX EG465P-VE-FMA 460W Power Supply
  • Asus M2N-E nForce 570 Ultra Sempron/Athlon 64(FX)(X2) SktAM2 DDR2 ATX Motherboard w/Audio, Gigabit LAN, RAID/Serial ATA (includes added internal parallel cable)
  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core Processor 4000+ Socket AM2 (65W)
  • Kingston KVR800D2E5K2/2G 2GB Kit DDR2-800 PC2-6400 ECC Memory
  • Adaptec SCSI Card 29160N
  • HIS H165PRF512N-R Radeon X1650 PRO 512MB GDDR2 PCI Express x16 Video Card
  • NEC 1.44MB 3.5in Internal Floppy Disk Drive (Black)
  • LITEON DH-20A4P-08 20X IDE DVD Burner Black Drive
  • FUJITSU MBA3147NP 147GB SCSI-320 (68 pin) 15,000 RPM 8MB Buffer Hard Drive
  • Logitech Media Keyboard (PS/2)
  • Logitech Marble Mouse (PS/2 + USB)
  • ViewSonic Q241wb 24in 16:10 6ms LCD Monitor 1000:1 300 cd/m2 (Black)
  • eComStation 1.2MR upgrade from eCS 1.1 (ESD)
  • Labor to install eCS on new PC
  • eComStation Subscription Services with eCS (ESD)
  • Novell openSuSE 10.3 (ordered from Novell for the end-user)
  • Installed FreeDOS on first primary partition

We at ERACC installed FreeDOS and eComStation for the end-user. We offered to install the Linux as well but the end-user wanted to install the openSuSE 10.3 Linux himself. There is space set aside on the 147GB SCSI hard drive for him to install a /boot near the start of the drive and the rest of openSuSE 10.3 after the eComStation partitions.

The Radeon X1650 PRO based PCIe graphics adapter was ordered with the other parts and arrived with them but before this system was built we at ERACC discovered there is a flaw in the graphics handling for many ATI video cards under eComStation. I contacted the end-user and offered to replace the Radeon X1650 PRO with a nVidia based PCIe card at our expense. He agreed so we ordered a GeForce 7300 LE based PCIe card to replace the ATI based card. This worked out quite well with the included SNAP Graphics driver that is included in eComStation 2.0rc4. I imagine it will also work with the Panorama VESA driver but we did not try that since SNAP worked “out of the box”.

The 24 inch Q241wb ViewSonic monitor is a very good choice here. It works perfectly with the eComStation graphics system and is run at its’ native resolution of 1920×1200 dpi. I personally want one of these monitors now.

I have also never used a trackball “mouse” myself. I found myself liking the Logitech Marble Mouse while working on the setup of this system. That is another item that may find its’ way onto my desktop in the future.

The original dual IDE DVD?RW drives were a matched set. When building the system it was discovered that one of the drives would not spin up. So it was replaced with a “PIONEER DVR-212DBK 18X SATA DVD” burner which works quite well with the updated eComStation mass storage chipset drivers from Daniela Engert.

The audio was problematic as we downloaded the latest UNIAUD drivers and installed those. This caused a very nasty hard hang on the desktop whenever the second system sound tried to play. The only out was to push the reset button. After several hours of trial and error research I discovered that installing UNIAUD from and then replacing the uniaud32.sys file with the one from “solved” the hang problem. These are both older versions of UNIAUD files but they work here. NOTICE: This is a specific fix for the audio on these ASUS M2N-E motherboards and may or may not work on other motherboards with eComStation.

Several folks have asked me for pictures of this build so here they are:

The Entire System

From the Top

From the Side

Yup, it is a Q241wb.

1.44MB Floppy, IDE DVD?RW and SATA DVD?RW

Storage drawer included with the Thermaltake case

OOOoooo! Shiny!

I also took a video with my digital camera of the system booting into eComStation 2.0rc4 and then rebooting to FreeDOS. The video is rather large (319,581,796 bytes) and is 640×480 resolution in AVI format. I attempted to convert it to MPEG-2 but the results were even worse than the original AVI so I deleted that. It is only of the PC booting with roughly the first half of the ~6 minutes showing the system counting the 2GB of RAM and waiting through the IBM Boot Manager 30 second count down to boot eComStation. In my opinion it is not all that exciting but I went ahead and included the video here to be complete.

(This was still uploading as of the time of this post. ETA to finish uploading is 4.5 hours from the time on this post. I want ISP people to just give us the same uplink speed as downlink speed without the unnecessary huge extra fee for that.)

Multiboot PC Video – AVI format – 640×480 – 319,581,796 bytes – Removed until resized

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Building A Modern eComStation (OS/2) Personal Computer

My company, ERA Computers & Consulting, builds personal computers and servers to customer specifications for customers that want pre-loaded eComStation, specific Linux distribution, FreeBSD, other operating system pre-installed or no operating system installed. These personal computers and servers are all x86 type systems with one or more AMD single-core or dual-core processors. We do not sell nor do we usually install Microsoft operating systems. There are plenty of Microsoft shops to choose from already.

This article is to showcase a PC we just completed for a customer wanting an eComStation pre-installed system. Here are the specifications for the build taken directly from the quote approved by the customer:

Thermaltake Armor Series VA8000BWS Full Tower Case w/Side Panel Window (Black)
ENERMAX EG465P-VE-FMA 460W Power Supply
Asus M2N-E nForce 570 Ultra Sempron/Athlon 64(FX)(X2) SktAM2 DDR2 ATX Motherboard w/Audio, Gigabit LAN, RAID/Serial ATA
AMD Athlon 64 X2 Dual-Core Processor 4000+ Socket AM2 (65W)
Kingston KVR800D2E5K2/2G 2GB Kit DDR2-800 PC2-6400 ECC Memory
Adaptec SCSI Card 29160N
HIS H165PRF512N-R Radeon X1650 PRO 512MB GDDR2 PCI Express x16 Video Card
NEC 1.44MB 3.5in Internal Floppy Disk Drive (Black)
LITEON DH-20A4P-08 20X IDE DVD Burner Black Drive
Fujitsu MAW Series MAW3073NP 73.5GB 68pin U320-SCSI 10,000RPM Hard Drive w/8MB Buffer
eComStation 1.2MR upgrade from eCS 1.0 (ESD)
eComStation Subscription Services with eCS (ESD)
Labor to install eCS on new PC

The customer has his own mouse, keyboard and monitor that will be used with this new system. The customer prefers SCSI for storage (so do I as a matter of fact) so we provided him with an Adaptec SCSI controller and Fujitsu SCSI drive. The ThermalTake case was not on the original quote but was substituted on a new quote when the case quoted originally went out of stock. The internal hardware parts were chosen, specifically the ASUS M2N-E motherboard, because they all have drivers for eComStation and fulfill the customer’s specifications. Since the customer wanted ECC RAM the Kingston KVR800D2E5K2/2G RAM was chosen to fill that request. The ASUS M2N-E motherboard has an on-board 10/100/1000 NIC that is driven by the nveth driver found on OS/2 and eCS file repository (thank you “nickk” for nveth!). The on-board sound is driven by the latest port of the ALSA driver called Uniaud (thank you Paul Smedley for Uniaud!). The Radeon X1650 PRO graphics chip is driven by the latest release of the Panorama VESA driver (thank you eCo Software and Mensys BV for Panorama!). There is currently no 3D capability for eComStation so there is no need to run any driver that provides 3D. This may change in the future, especially with the Voyager project porting its’ GUI to multiple operating systems.

During the build and setup of this system it was discovered that when ECC was enabled in the BIOS the system became “flaky” and would not go past the P.O.S.T. process. Several frustrating hours of testing later the latest beta BIOS file for the M2N-E was downloaded and applied. This solved the problem with ECC and the system was finally finished with eComStation 1.2MR installed and running.

Here are some pictures of the system prior to shipping.

Upper Case Exhaust FanClick To View Full Size This is a picture of the inside, upper case exhaust fan. This fan is shipped detached and is installed by the builder.
Case Side View With Panel OffClick To View Full Size This is a picture of the finished system with the side panel removed. All cables tied off, or routed to allow better air flow inside the case.
Side View With See-Through Panel InstalledClick To View Full Size This is a picture of the finished system with the side panel installed.
Shot Of The Back Of The PCClick To View Full Size This is a picture of the back of the PC.
Front Of PC With \Click To View Full Size A picture of the front of the PC with the “wings” closed.
A Picture Of The PC Front With \Click To View Full Size A picture of the front of the PC with the “wings” opened.
A Picture Of The PC Case Top Exhaust GrilleClick To View Full Size A picture of the PC case top exhaust grille.
A Picture Of The PC Case Top Access PortClick To View Full Size A picture of the PC case top access port for 1394 jack, USB jacks, headphone jack and microphone jack.

In this build the 1394 jack is not connected as there is no 1394 pin header on the motherboard. The access cover is not spring loaded which I found to be a surprising and irritating oversight. Otherwise I found it quite pleasant to build with this ThermalTake case. I have been a strict Antec guy in the past. Now I will be an Antec and ThermalTake guy.

Edit Wed Mar 11 19:36:51 UTC 2009: Fix old URL for custom computers from ERACC.

Oh Where, Oh Where Has My OS/2 Gone?

The news of the demise of IBM’s OS/2 is at best premature and at worst deliberate spread of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Disinformation). Sure, IBM is no longer selling the OS/2 brand itself and stopped supporting it in 2006. However, those who got hooked on the Workplace Shell (a.k.a. WPS) can still get their fix by purchasing the eComStation operating system. eComStation is a rebranded, third party release of OS/2 that has all the good features one knows and loves from OS/2, including the WPS. eComStation, however, comes with updates to applications and hardware drivers to keep running on more modern hardware.

In the past few years there was a push in the OS/2 community to open source OS/2. There were e-mail campaigns and petitions sent to IBM about this. Finally IBM stated unequivocally that OS/2 would not be open sourced. What this means is the OS/2 kernel currently used in eComStation will not ever be able to run as a 64-bit kernel. The current kernel will be 32-bit “forever”. However, as long as modern hardware will run a 32-bit kernel then eComStation can be a viable choice for those who love OS/2 and the Workplace Shell. There will continue to be eComStation driver development and driver porting from OSS projects into the foreseeable future. There will continue to be new software for eComStation ported from OSS projects like and Firefox into the foreseeable future as well.

What does the distant future hold for eComStation (or am I going to be stuck holding the bag if I get eComStation)? Fear not, there is a project set to address this exact concern. The Voyager project by may lead to creation of a kernel replacement that will possibly run existing OS/2 software as well as new software. The Voyager project is mainly to work on an open source version of the Workplace Shell written from scratch that will run on top of a modern kernel.

Is this kind of thing even possible or probable? Absolutely! This has already been realized by another company, Apple, Inc. the maker of the Macintosh computer, the Apple PowerBook and other personal computers. Apple’s OS X is Apple’s GUI on top of a BSD kernel. Apple got out of the low level operating system writing business and ported their GUI to a customized BSD. To all appearances this has been a very good move for Apple. While Apple did not have to rewrite their GUI from a blank page the idea is still viable for eComStation. It could also be a very good move for eComStation.

To find more information on eComStation go to the home page and look around. There is also a news server: which can be accessed through a web news portal an IRC network and an #ecomstation channel on on the freenode IRC network.

Update Sun Mar 30 16:22:18 UTC 2008: I forgot to add that one can get a Demo CD of eComStation at the eComStation Demo CD web page.

Update Sun Apr 6 19:31:22 UTC 2008: Clarify information about Voyager, specifically about a new kernel.