The View from Outside: Notes from an Infidel

So there I was, minding my own business, and suddenly Netscape tells me I've got e-mail. Someone named Trevor Smith suggests to me that I ought to write for his on-line OS/2 magazine.

"But I don't use OS/2!" I wrote back." That's OK - we're looking for people who write well - OS/2 usage isn't mandatory."

"But they'll crucify me! I use Win 95!"

"Naah - they're a sweet bunch of guys. Not a mean bone in their bodies. They'll make you welcome! Try it - you'll see!"

So here's the deal: I know a lot about computers and business, but very little about OS/2. So I can look at things from the outside and maybe point out stuff y'all might miss for being too close.

And if we have a laugh together, or if I make you think, then it will all have been worthwhile. What the hey. Let's give it a shot.

About a month ago I began reading and contributing to comp.os.os2.advocacy and marveling at the range (vertical range) of quality of the contributors there. Much of what goes on is little more than verbal knife fighting, but occasionally someone transcends the mundane. Three people independently suggested related ideas, and I felt they were worthy of discussion.

The idea each was wrestling with was this: How do we make OS/2 sell better? Our three heroes came up with answers in different areas: One in management, one in advertising, and one in sales. And very innovative they were, too.

The manager realized that one problem OS/2 has is that it doesn't have as broad product support as brand X operating systems; if product support from ISVs was more comprehensive, OS/2 itself would sell better.

And how did our manager propose to get ISVs to support OS/2? Easy: blackmail 'em.

It seems that IBM owns the patents on OLE, and Brand X's license runs out at the end of 1996. Our manager thinks that IBM should go to the ISVs and gently say: "If you want to continue selling apps for Brand X which use OLE, you gotta do ports to OS/2."

What a brilliant idea! Why, it's thinking like this that made America great. And it wouldn't cost IBM a dime! But this was nothing compared to the other two guys.

The advertising genius realized that the "Nun" ads last year just didn't cut it. No, the problem was that they were too short, and they didn't show what OS/2 could do.

OS/2 is just too powerful a product to summarize in 30 seconds. What we need is a half-hour infomercial.

Yup, right there at 3 AM between the hand-hammered Wok and the miracle stain remover, you put half an hour demonstrating OS/2. And once it makes sales rise, you put it on Quality Value Channel.

But the best idea of all came from the salesman. A good salesman can succeed even without advertising, if his sales plan is good enough. And what do you know, this guy had just the thing: Multilevel marketing.

It works like this: If you sell two people, and each of them sell two other people, and each of them sell two other people, and it goes like this for a while, soon millions and millions of people will have bought OS/2, and it will eclipse Brand X.

Yes, you heard it here first. It seems that IBM needs to go study sales from a company that really understands the field: Amway.

I am in awe of these ideas. Truly in awe. Not even the galactic intelligence of Mr. Inhuman could conceive of ideas this brilliant.

I would never hope to match them, but I have to try. So, here are my suggestions.

We need to revamp the ad campaign, no question of it. It'll need to target several audiences, though.

If there's one rule of advertising, it is this: sex sells. So let's go hire Elle MacPherson (drool) to do some TV ads: "My men wear OS/2 - or they wear nothing at all." In that luscious Australian accent? This'll bring in the young men.

We need to appeal to older men, too. Try this on for size: A helicoptor-camera view of a cattle herd on the open plain, just at sunset; Marlboro-style music in the background, and we zoom in on a virile rough-and-tough cowboy sitting on the back of his horse. And as we get closer, we see that he's holding a notebook computer in one hand - and he's wearing a microphone headset and talking to his computer because he needs his other hand to drive the horse.

I mean, this works. Not only is it an attractive heartwarming patriotic memorable image, but it truly shows VTD being used in an area where a keyboard just won't do. What more can you ask from an ad?

We need a way to keep people thinking about OS/2. IBM needs a blimp. (Hey, it works for Fuji and Goodyear.) Splash that 'ol logo right on the side of it, fly it over football games, and sales will be as high as that blimp.

We need some product tie-ins, too. How about getting GM to mount a computer with OS/2 and VTD in every Cadillac they sell? You can dictate to your computer while you drive, and it'll become the new status symbol for the elite, eclipsing cellular phones. (Heck, these days even the prole's have cellular phones. They're just not chic any more.)

And even better, we can --- Hey, get away from me with that straight-jacket! Put down that needle - I don't NEED any medication! I feel just FINE today! LEAVE ME ALONE!

[Steve will be back next month, if he can figure out how Houdini did it.]

Steve Den Beste dropped out of college in 1975 when he was offered a full time job and never looked back. Since then, he has worked on products as varied as logic analyzers, factory automation, wide area networks, medical equipment and robotics. He has been programming microprocessors since the days of the Intel 8008 (talk about stone knives and bear skins) and antagonizing folks in c.o.o.a since 1996.

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