OS/2 eZine

2001 February 16
Pete GrubbsPete Grubbs is a self-described OS/2 wonk, a former doctoral candidate in English literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a former part-time faculty member at Penn State and is still mucking about with a copy editing/creation service, The Document Doctor, which tailors documents for small businesses. He has also been a professional musician for 20 years and is working on his next album, scheduled for release in early 2001.

If you have a comment about the content of this article, please feel free to vent in the OS/2 eZine discussion forums.

Previous Article
Next Article

Finding a New Path

Like many, (dare I say, most?) OS/2 users, I've had what might best be described as a love/hate relationship with IBM, a relationship that was built, as I have, only recently, come to realize, upon a very basic error in my understanding of IBM's real nature.

Ah, the Good Ol' Days

When I first purchased OS/2 2.1, I remember talking (toll free!) to a tech support rep who sought to reassure me with the phrase, "Of course we'll fix it. This is IBM." I also marveled at how much better my life became when I finally got a dialer set up and didn't have to worry about Windows crashing again in the middle of a 4 hour download. Of course, it wasn't all sweetness and light. I knew precious little about hard disk partitions and the like and 2.1's install was no picnic. It took me nearly 30 continuous hours to get the beast working. (Yes, I actually stayed up that many hours to get the OS installed. I HATE down computers, especially if they're mine.) My wife and I hadn't been together for more than a year and she was quite surprised at the depth and breadth of my vocabulary, or, at least, certain sections of my vocabulary.

And then there was the time I wanted to add my first sound card, a Logitech 16 which my sons and I had purchased together. I didn't know a device driver from a bus driver and was quite nonplused to discover that I couldn't use the card on my OS/2 desktop, even though it did work in DOS sessions under OS/2 and I even got it to work in Win-OS/2 sessions from time to time. I think that was the first time I ever heard the now too-familiar phrase, "We don't support OS/2." For the life of me, I couldn't understand why my operating system wasn't supported. I can also remember reading magazine articles about OS/2. If memory serves correctly, it even tied with NT 4.0 for a PC Computing Editor's Choice Award back when men were Men and the whole western world hadn't been wired into Windows. Ah, yes, those were the days.

As the months and years flew by and IBM dropped its toll free support, bungled their marketing campaign for Warp 3.0 while retreating like a rotweiler running from a chihuahua, I found myself more and more often cursing the blithering idiots who were marketing Warp 3 (and then Warp 4) into the ground. I was also repeatedly irked and occasionally incensed by the equally blithering pundits who were perennially writing OS/2's obituaries while praising the latest 'new and improved' version of anything the Microsoft Corporation actually got around to releasing. I read OS/2 Magazine every month, discussed the OS wars with a Mac-using colleague in grad school and continued to make the same error in judgement. "Why didn't IBM do this?" I'd scream; "What were they thinking of when they did that?" I'd sob. "What the [expletive deleted] are they doing?" I'd rant, pounding the nearest table or chihuahua. Yes, I often wanted to grab Big Blue by his corporate collar and shake him till his face turned blue. (I wonder how long that would take . . .)

Did you catch it? Can you see the wrong-headed notion that took me so many years to notice? It's not, as my beloved, Windows-addicted brother-in-law would have it, my faithfulness to OS/2. It's my nearly laughable lack of realization of the incredible complexity inherent in a multinational behemoth like IBM.

The Real Deal

For years, I labored under the totally inaccurate impression that IBM was a single, cohesive entity which made unilateral, coherent decisions and choices in a manner similar to the way I make them. What I failed to take into account is the fact that every corporate entity like Big Blue is made up of thousands of people like me who probably won't agree on anything for very long. For every decision that's made, there are going to be groups of people who fall into one of three broad, distinct categories: 1) Those who completely agree with and support the decision; 2) Those who completely disagree with the decision and will hinder its implementation and 3) those who don't give a damn one way or the other and just want to draw another pay. When I apply this dynamic to IBM's handling of OS/2, the world makes a lot more sense to me. There have been, and probably always will be, a core of IBM engineers, marketing people and executives who share that same sense of frustration common to the rest of us who don't do Windows. These are the people who have fought, tooth and nail to continue development, who have done their damnedest to keep our beloved OS alive, and we owe them a huge debt of thanks. Then there are others who have relegated OS/2 to the dust bin and have long ago wholly embraced the MS model. (I won't waste any time on them.) Those that are left probably wish that the members of the first two groups would just drop dead so that they can get on with their lives. I'm not much good at math, but even I can count real good up to three and what I see is this: 1 group supports the product we use; the other 2 groups are either openly opposed to it or apathetic. Since apathetic inertia is more likely to hurt OS/2 than help it, I see this as a 2:1 ratio that's decidedly against us. Now that I've finally figured out what's really going on, I've come to two conclusions about the Future in Computing and some Really Big Things we might all want to consider.

Conclusion #1 -- We can't change the Past, the Present limps on Windows and the (near) future comes with a Microsoft trademark.

For better or worse, we live in a Windows-oriented world. While Linux is definitely having an impact and the Mac is still a noticeable presence, Microsoft has successfully captured both the corporate and personal desktop and will probably make major inroads into the same server market that IBM is attempting to hang onto. Big Blue is running third behind Sun and HP, respectively, when it comes to selling server hardware for UNIX, and I wouldn't be surprised if they all begin to lose market share to Windows 2000. Since IBM is again turning from the SOHO and mid-range market to focus on UNIX servers and Linux for the enterprise, it seems plain to me that the only reason we still have any choice at all in server hardware & OSes is Sun's dogged determination to remain competitive and the superiority of Unix to everything that's ever come from Redmond. (Of course, as we all know, product quality doesn't mean much if a company's determination and commitment fail. I hope we're still using OS/2 when all of the time and effort IBM has put into developing products for Windows, including those utilities to help corporations migrate from OS/2 to NT comes back to haunt them when their market share in that domain withers away like the enterprise, SOHO and home markets have.) There are so many millions of Windows machines and users in the world that we won't see a significant change in IT shops in the next 3 to 5 years. There are, of course, a few events that could transpire which might change things. If the DOJ is successful and Microsoft becomes two separate companies, there might be a littlebreathing room for Linux and the Mac. If a truly catastrophic virus hits Windows machines worldwide and does damage several orders of magnitude greater than anything we've seen thus far, we might also see an opportunity develop for other alternative operating systems. If beggars were horses, then fishes would wish, or something like that. Frankly, given the overwhelming investment in time, training, money and hardware, I don't look for any serious change to occur any time soon. The sad fact of our computing lives is this: IBM and OS/2 lost the OS Wars and we're not going to change that fact. We need to look forward to our own future. Now, I don't like this any more than any of you like it, but, Life is Life; deal with it.

Conclusion #2 -- IBM is definitely moving away from OS/2.

While I'm encouraged by Serenity Systems eCS product and IBM's cooperation in getting it out the door, something else has really captured my attention: IBM is going to bet, not the whole farm, but at least the south 40, on Linux. Wasn't it only a couple of years ago that the Big Blue world revolved around Java? Well, get ready, 'cause Linux is IBM's Next Really Big Thing. I haven't tracked down all of the announcements, press releases and articles on it, but I do know I've seen a lot more text linking IBM to Linux than to Java and I'm quite certain that IBM is making a very concerted push to become a major player in the Linux world. Heck, take a look at last December's IBM e-business and Software News Alert. The lead story (not counting the first blurb which was more of an ad than anything else)? "New, IBM e-infrastructure Software for Linux: DB2 on Intel Clusters, DB2 and WebSphere on Mainframes under Linux". Other stories from that issue included, "IBM to Offer Linux on iSeries Platform," "IBM, Shell to Build World's Largest Linux Supercomputer," and, "Lotus Domino on Linux: People Use It, Love It." Of course, IBM hasn't abandoned their Java efforts. From the January 2001 issue of the Software and News Alert we get two download offers, "DOWNLOAD: MQSeries Java Client for Linux on S/390" and "DOWNLOAD: AIX Toolbox for Linux." Yup, it's looking like a big blue penguin is heading our way with a fresh mug of Starbuck's (tm) for all. With the exception of eCS, I'd say IBM is ready to close the door on OS/2 users like you and me once and for all and nail it shut. So . . .

The $64 Question: Where Do We Go From Here?

Glad you asked. Frankly, I don't know, but I do believe I can list our options (in no particular order):

1. Windows;
2. the Mac;
3. Linux;
4. eCS;
5. Don't change anything, apply Fixpak 15 and ride the pony till it dies;
6. Abacus;
7. A Whole New Thing that's really Partly an Old Thing.

So, which one do you like? After watching the fits that Windows 95 and ME have given my son, I'm not going there, even if it weren't so morally repulsive. I will game on a Windows partition, but I won't trust it for any of the serious work I have to get done. I don't have the hardware for the Mac OS, so that one's pretty much out. I've seen Linux up close and personal and it's interesting, but I don't really want to learn a whole new OS while I still have to keep up all of my book work, writing, records, etc. I never could get that abacus thing to work, either. Looks like that leaves me with choices 4, 5, and 7. Next month, I'll tell you my take on those choices. In the mean time, let me know what you think. Post a note in a forum to me or send me some e-mail.

Previous Article
Next Article

Copyright (C) 2001. All Rights Reserved.