Whither OS/2?

By: Walter Metcalf
Date: 04/20/98

IBM recently reorganized the division responsible for OS/2, and then last January made Richard Seibt General Manager of the newly formed OS/2 Business Unit. Therefore it is appropriate at this point to ask the question, "Where is OS/2 headed?" Seibt answered this question, at least in part, in an interview with the German magazine c't in February. He reaffirmed that OS/2 development will continue unabated, but that this development will be targeted at the "Enterprise" market (medium to large businesses). This of course leaves individuals and small businesses (SOHO's) or "the little guy" out in the rain and snow, so to speak. This is most unfortunate.

Of course Seibt is saying nothing new: this has been IBM's policy for a few years now. Many of us, however, were hoping the reorganization and especially the change in management would be accompanied by a change in marketing policy.

Does this mean OS/2 will become a large-company- only product? Fortunately the answer is "No!" By definition we can't know how many "little guys" there are. But we do know that there are a very large number. But there is more to it than mere numbers. Consider also the amount of activity we have created:

  • The number of shareware products. Only a small number of commercial companies are writing OS/2 software, but there are thousands of excellent, commercial-grade software products available thanks to thousands of independent OS/2 developers, most of whom have full-time jobs and who working on their own time, often with very little monetary gain. (Incidentally, if you are using an unregistered shareware product, register it! It is not only the ethical thing to do, but also the responsible thing to do if we want this supply of quality programs to continue.)
  • The number of grass-roots organizations that exist.
    • V.O.I.C.E., an OS/2 users cyber-group. Using the internet, they have officers, a formal membership, and hold regular meetings. Transcripts are published for those who do not attend the meetings.
    • Team OS/2, a much looser group devoted to education, support, and encouragement of OS/2 use.
    • OS/2 Users Groups, which exist in most major (and many not so major) cities around the world.
    • Warpstock According to its website, Warpstock "is planned to provide a showcase for products and the technical exchange of information regarding OS/2." Warpstock is an annual event which consists of exhibits of the latest OS/2 products and professional level seminars in various aspects of using the operating system. Such events are not unusual in the computer industry, but they are normally sponsored and operated by manufacturers. What's so unusual about Warpstock is that was started and run exclusively by users and ISV's! I'm unaware of any other such instance in the industry. In effect, IBM was completely indifferent, so the users took over!
  • OS/2 Magazines, most of which are being run at great sacrifice by the publishers and editors.
    • OS/2 e-Zine is targeted at ordinary users, as opposed to developers and power-users, although all users will benefit from perusing its pages. OS/2 e-Zine emphasizes reader input, both for its topics, monthly survey, and annual "Readers Choice" awards.
    • OS/2 Connect emphasizes a worldwide outlook and keeping up-to-date with OS/2 related events.
    • EDM/2 is aimed squarely at developers and therefore contains more detailed, technical information. Invaluable resource for OS/2 programmers.
    • 32-Bits Online (formerly OS/2 Computing) has expanded its mandate beyond OS/2 only, but even a cursory glance reveals that it is still strongly committed to OS/2.

  • Finally, there are the thousands of unnamed people who volunteer at computer meetings, the IBM employees who provide OS/2 software and support to users on their own time, the individuals who erect and maintain OS/2 websites throughout the world, and the business people like Brad Wardell, president of Innoval Inc., who use their businesses to promote OS/2.

    The above list could not have been exhaustive, even if I intended it to be. So please forgive me if I have omitted you or your organization.

With such an army of people actively supporting OS/2, often at considerable personal cost, I believe OS/2 will continue to be a viable operating system, and will be chosen by those who prefer quality and are not taken in by massive advertising campaigns. In the May 1998 issue of OS/2 Connect publisher Tim Bryce comes to a similar conclusion, drawing an interesting analogy between OS/2 users and the Star Trek phenomenon :

The parallel between OS/2 and Star Trek is truly "fascinating." All puns [i.e. the term "Warp"] aside, it means interest in the product is being perpetuated by its users rather than the vendor and, as such, has attained cult status and will remain alive as long as its users keep it alive. As long as users remain active, the vendor cannot ignore it for long; Star Trek is a prime example of this. Maybe the users can boldly go with OS/2, where IBM has not gone before. [Used by permission]

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