OS/2 eZine - http://www.os2ezine.com
May 16, 2002
Pete Grubbs Pete 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.

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

There is also a Printer Friendly version of this page.

Previous Article
Next Article

Do you have an OS/2 product or service you'd like to advertise?

I've Got Everything I Need . . . Almost

I think many of us would agree that Life is a whole lot more interesting any time people leave the beaten path and strike out for unexplored territory. This is as true of computer operating systems as it is of navigating cross country without a map or directions from a gas station attendant. In our corner of the IT world, there are oodles of challenges that come simply because we're not using the same software 90% of the world uses. I suppose that's one reason those of us who have used this operating system for years still stick with it: Sometimes it's kind of cool to be the only kid on your block that has what you've got. And then there's that rush that comes from putting a new piece of hardware in your box and actually making it work properly when it isn't supported by the manufacturer for use under OS/2. We also have a tendency to view the dominant products from a certain city near Seattle with a great deal of skepticism and scorn, preferring to put alternative solutions on our hard drives and our money into other companies rather than making another contribution to the coffers of the World's Richest Man. All this isn't to say that we don't have very good, rational reasons for using OS/2. It does have a great interface and it is remarkably stable and it will deliver premium performance on less than premium hardware. That's all very true. But, for the majority of OS/2 users that I've encountered, myself among them, those wholly sensible features aren't the only motivations for the loyalty that we have to this product.

Club Membership

Yet another reason for our continued use of our operating system is the community that has formed around it. There's definitely a sense of identity, of camaraderie, that's made being an OS/2 computer geek a far different experience for us than the majority of the computing world has. We have a tendency to see ourselves as being a part of the rise or fall of the code we use. We get very passionate about different aspects of its development. We argue endlessly about what it needs, what it doesn't need, what will boost sales, what will kill sales, and so on. Even though we don't own the code, we often assume rhetorical positions in our e-mail posts or other writings which make it clear that we're committed to this product as if it were our personal creation, a rather amusing situation when you consider it and certainly a far cry from the attitude that anyone in the Windows world has, with the possible exception of certain Microsoft executives. I'm certainly as guilty of this attitude as anyone I know of, and I've given a great deal of thought to the posts that have appeared on the eCS Yahoo! list in recent days regarding developments that will influence the future course of eCS-OS/2.

For those of you who aren't on this list, there's been quite a lot of bandwidth expended on the subject of applications that eCS-OS/2 absolutely has to have. As you might imagine, there have been a number of different opinions and some very compelling arguments. One group believes that eCS has no future until it has a productivity suite that can flawlessly deal with MS Office documents. Some members of this same group are highly suspicious of SmartSuite since it is under the control of the same company that is most responsible for the sorry state OS/2 currently inhabits. They'd like to see an OS/2 friendly version of Open Office, or something similar, become widely available. Another group points out the ubiquity of PDF files and the shortcomings that Acrobat 3.0 has in dealing with new versions of the same. This contingent maintains that an operating system which is touted as the operating system for the Internet generation must have an up-to-date, reliable, native PDF viewer. A third group argues that native applications, productivity suites, PDF viewers or the ability to run Windows apps natively via ODIN or VPC are all well and good, but what we really need are updated drivers so that current and future hardware will be available to us. Not surprisingly, there's quite a lot of cross talk between all of the different suggestions. To these, I'll add the assertion, made by another OS/2 user a number of years ago, that a really killer game would enhance OS/2's appeal and make it a more attractive product to a larger market. Finally, as a bit of extra spice for the sauce, I'll include my own desire to get Lotus Organizer on my dear old Palm IIIc and to have a richer, more robust, more elegant way to access it and my Kodak digital camera.

All of these suggestions sound reasonable to me and they're all different areas that I'd like to see improved capability in, so, given the painfully obvious fact that there are many more needs than resources to cover them, we have a situation that fairly screams for some careful priority setting, right? Well then, gentle reader, which of these worthy choices makes it to the top of your list? A productivity suite? a game? improved drivers? At first glance, the decision seemed nearly impossible for me to make, but then I realized that none of the products above are even close to what we really need.

Dropping the Other Shoe

As I looked over all of the various posts, I noticed a recurring theme. It was a familiar theme, one I had played myself from time to time as I sat in front of my keyboard pounding out other editorials like this one. It had to do with the profitability of creating a particular product for OS/2 and it always, always assumed a certain nebulous yet critical number of end users who would open up their wallets to purchase enough licenses to warrant coding the software. The trouble is, no one seems to know how many people are actually using OS/2. I recall figures of between 8 and 10 million licenses back in 1995 or '96, but those numbers certainly can't be trusted today and I haven't seen any numbers since that were worth putting an ounce of confidence in. So, just how many people, just how many licenses, just how many machines, worldwide, are booting to the same kernel I am?

Numbers? We Don't Need No Stinking Numbers!

Perhaps I'm wrong in believing that we should have some solid demographics to look at, but as I consider and reconsider the different arguments I've read recently, I keep coming back to the same nagging questions:

  • Has there been any significant growth in the OS/2 community in recent months? since the release of eCS? What percentage of users are committed to moving to eCS? How many are preparing to migrate to another platform altogether when their current level of service is no longer satisfactory?
  • Does anyone have access to an accurate tally of actively licensed machines, eCS-OS/2 PCs that are currently being booted and used on a regular basis?
  • Is there some way to count our numbers, to take a census of our community that will produce results we can genuinely trust?
  • What percentage of OS/2 users need a full-blown productivity suite? Of that number, what percentage of those users can't live without MS Office compatibility?
  • What are the members of our community really ready to buy? What products are needed that either don't exist or don't provide satisfactory service as-is that would actually be profitable if they went on sale tomorrow or next year?
  • If I come up with a great idea for a cool first-person shooter and hook up with the coding talent necessary to create it, can I market it here or do I need to make it profitable somewhere else first? (Yes, I do have an idea for a game. I don't know if it's great or not, but it is definitely twisted and it's met with interest from every gamer and geek I've mentioned it to, so this isn't strictly a rhetorical question.)

I want answers to these questions because I want to know what the marketscape for eCS-OS/2 really looks like. Why is this important to me? Well, that terrain is going to have a powerful influence on the computing options I'm going to have in the coming months and years. If there are enough people to support the continued development of the OS and apps I already use, I won't have to change my work habits or invest money in a different set of tools. I can also avoid climbing any new learning curves and instead focus my efforts on being more productive. As things stand today, and as I've noted in previous editorials, there seems to be as much cause for celebration in our community as there is for alarm. While we know that there aren't as many OS/2 boxes in the world as there has been in the past, we're seeing signs that there's still a vigorous OS/2 presence that makes itself known in new products, updated applications and continued projects which keep the OS viable (for my use, at any rate).

I also see a need for this information from a much broader perspective. To some extent, we as a community have had a profound impact on the life of our operating system. We've contributed applications, drivers and utilities and kept it robust long after its parent company consigned it to the dust bin. Some of the contributions have been commercially released, but many more of them have been donated to provide for the greater good of us all. But the sad fact is, there isn't enough (free)time and talent to simultaneously meet all of the needs that I touched on above, so I'd like to see those hard numbers which would indicate those areas that are truly most important so that effort could be focused on them first. If I knew that the OS as a whole would be significantly stronger and have a markedly better chance of continued growth and support if it had an awesome PDF viewer as opposed to natively supporting my Palm IIIc, I could certainly lend my talents, such as they are, to that effort and wait patiently with a smile on my face. I suspect that I'm not the only person in our community who would be comfortable with that attitude. I'm also certain that we would see increased productivity as more people focused on fewer disparate projects, setting their personal priorities according to the actual needs and/or desires of their fellows instead of shooting from the hip, as it were.

(As Senior Editor of the OS/2 eZine, it would also be a treat to talk to a PR rep and be able to say, "There are X-number of OS/2 users in the world who are very interested in flurochlorined widgets and 75% of them read our publication every month. Wouldn't you like to place an ad with us so that you can reach them?" As it stands, all I can do is quote web site traffic and hope that will be a convincing enough source.)

Frankly, the more I look at it, the more I'm convinced that our most important new advance is one that doesn't require a single line of code to be compiled. What we need is a very clear picture of who we are. Until we get that, any new product or enhanced feature is little more than a shot in the dark.

So, am I right? Am I wrong? Do you know how we can count our numbers? Take it to the Forums and let me know!

Previous Article
Next Article

Copyright (C) 2002. All Rights Reserved.