A Commentary on the IBM Interview

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Written by Marco J. Shmerykowsky

By now you should have read the interview that I conducted with IBM about various issues relating to OS/2. If you haven't, then read An Interview with IBM about OS/2 and come back when you're done.

The first thing I need to tackle with this commentary is the "Dark Side." IBM has been saying for quite a while that as far as OS/2 was considered they would target only their big enterprise customers. Consequently, OS/2 only gets what the big boys need. Everything else is irrelevant. In my opinion, the interview makes this position crystal clear. Medium and large companies have been defined with specific numbers. I always thought an office with 200 people was a "large" company. Turns out that in IBM's mind this barely reaches the "small" office. By extension, a really small office with a dozen or fewer people is just a spec of dust.

The "Dark Side" is that no matter how much advocates want it to happen, OS/2 will never become the de facto computer standard. Through a series of smart business moves and a "get to market first at all costs" philosophy, Microsoft has managed to become a de facto standard. It has gotten to the point that a typical consumer considers a Microsoft operating system to be a standard feature which is on the order of a video card or a CPU. Granted the analogy is a tad poor since you can use a variety of CPU's and video cards, but there is only one Microsoft. At any rate, the operating system is considered to be the standard foundation upon which the "real important stuff" works. This "important stuff" consists of applications.

This situation leads to a wonderful "catch-22." People purchase software to address certain business needs. The software is intended to run on a common "personal computer." The operating system is relevant only as far as it allows the hardware to run an application which fulfils the business needs. Since a Microsoft OS has become a standard PC component, an increase in the number of PC's has resulted in a directly proportional increase in the size of the "Windows" market. Thus, application developers target this market. The circle is completed.

Let me provide an example. The final "product" of a structural engineering firm is a set of construction documents which detail everything which is needed to construct a specific building. With the onset of the computer age, the production of these drawings has shifted from manual drafting to computer drafting. AutoCAD has become the de facto standard. In order to share drawings among the other professionals involved (ie. architects, mechanical engineers etc.), everyone must use the same version of the same package. This current version is only available for Windows. Thus, any modern engineering office must switch to Windows at some point.

Unfortunately, the same thing has happened with something as simple as text documents. Since a majority of users get Microsoft Office with a computer purchase, they use it. The large number of computers sold every year has translated into a large number of Microsoft Office users. Now, everyone seems to assume you're running Office. Everyday I receive e-mailed resumes, project status reports, or technical documents in word format. It is irrelevant whether I use it or not. Everyone who is trying to communicate with me seems to use it. In order to communicate properly and run a business, you have to go with the flow at some point.

Now before you do something drastic like wipe OS/2 in a fitful rage as you curse IBM's name, consider the "bright" side. Has OS/2 stopped working for you because of IBM's marketing shift? Probably not. Will OS/2 stop working for you in the coming months? Probably not. So why get upset?

EDM/2 is geared towards programmers and power users of the OS/2 platform. These users tend to have a good technical understanding of what a computer is doing. In fact most users can point out why OS/2 is better than Windows. The more adventurous user might even point out areas where Windows has an edge on OS/2 (if such an area does exist).

The average EDM/2 user can still apply the principles of C, C++, or Java programming on OS/2. Programs are written to solve problems. The algorithms used to develop these programs can be shared. Everyone still benefits. Furthermore, many of these skills can be transferred to other platforms, so OS/2 certainly isn't restricting anyone. The potential for Java is significant and will probably someday cause a serious shift in the way we think about computing. (I'll examine this potential when I take a first look at Innoval's J Street Mailer).

My only point here is that as computer users and professionals, we must face reality. Microsoft controls the playing field at this moment in time. OS/2 has turned into a niche product which still provides an incredibly stable environment in which to work. Numerous shareware and freeware OS/2 products exist which provide functionality equal to or better than "commercial" products. The entire computer industry is trying to move to common standards. In short, although everyone seems to use Windows, OS/2 still does the job for me. So why should I switch?