OS/2 On The Shelf- by Christopher B. Wright

(what does it matter, as long as it's on your machine?)

Anyone familiar with comp.os.os2.advocacy and comp.os.os2.apps is also familiar with the threads discussing what you can and can't get for OS/2 at retail stores. Everyone has their own OS/2 battle story: many are the times I've walked into Egghead and asked for OS/2 software, only to be met with a blank (or slightly hostile) stare, and informed that, "nobody wants OS/2, so we don't carry it." My favorite is when I asked a sales rep at CompUSA if they carried the OS/2 version of PartitionMagic, only to be told (to my surprise and amusement) that PartitionMagic wasn't available for OS/2... only Windows, DOS, and Windows 95.

We've all been slighted, either intentionally or otherwise, by clueless salesmen who believe Windows 95 is the greatest (and only viable) operating system for the Common Man. We've all had to quietly count to ten while the uneducated proceed to insult our intelligence by telling us we don't know what we're doing or obviously we'd be using a "cutting edge" operating system.

Of course, most OS/2 users and supporters would love to see OS/2 filling the shelves of CompUSA, Egghead, MicroCenter, and all those other retail stores. And, of course, it would be wonderful if we could go even farther than that: to see OS/2 Warp connect and the up-and-coming (eventually) SmartSuite '96 for OS/2 gracing the shelves of Staples and Wal-Mart would be a truly satisfying experience -- breaking out of the "Computers only" stores would definitely be a sign of true acceptance from the public at large.

As it is, we haven't gotten quite that far. Stardock has been making a herculean effort to get their products on the shelves of CompUSA, and they've actually made progress: every time I go by the meager OS/2 section of that store, I see Object Desktop (now 1.5), Galactic Civilizations 2, and OS/2 Essentials sitting on the shelves right next to some odd Windows 95 utilities. But to tell you the truth, I don't see many more: the occasional IBM AntiVirus/2, the occasional Back Again/2, the occasional American Heritage Dictionary. That's it. And since I've already bought all of these (mostly direct), I don't buy anything. And I can't help wondering if others do the same.

Brad Wardell, president of Stardock Systems, has been very clear in many of his posts on comp.os.os2.advocacy and comp.os.os2.apps that more people need to buy from retail stores, or those stores will not see any need to continue stocking OS/2 products. And he's right: if everyone keeps buying from vendors like Indelible Blue to the exclusion of stores like CompUSA, CompUSA will stop carrying OS/2. And the media will say (once again, like they need any prompting), "OS/2 is dead. CompUSA does not carry it any longer, so it is dead, dead, dead."

So what?

The fundamental question we need to ask in this case is: what will getting OS/2 applications on the shelves of a store like CompUSA do for us now? The fundamental answer to this question, I believe, is: not much.

From a straight, business-oriented point of view, depending on large chains like CompUSA to distribute OS/2 will kill OS/2. To put all our energies into getting OS/2 into those stores will be energy wasted, best spent elsewhere.

Hear me out before you reach for those flamethrowers.

CompUSA and such chains make their money through volume, volume, volume. This means they are necessarily ruled by public opinion and common perception, and they only make money when they can sell X number of units in X amount of hours at price X. Chains that sell in this fashion are more interested in paying their operating costs and making a profit than they are in changing the face of computing forever. In fact, changing the face of computing forever means getting rid of a lot of software nobody wants anymore at a huge loss.

All things considered, it's no surprise that CompUSA is reluctant to carry OS/2 any more than it does. Not that people who work at CompUSA don't like OS/2, in fact, I've met many who do like it and actually use it. No, the reason is far more basic than that: A large company that focuses on retail can not take financial risks.

Large retail companies are, in my opinion, dinosaurs. They try to be everything to all people, and wind up short. They're too inflexible: because they depend on too strict a method of making money, if the climate changes (to a more cross-platform computing environment, which may very well happen) they're sunk.

The question is, what takes more energy: getting a dinosaur to change position, or helping some of those furry mammals scurrying around to evolve? Although most pundits claim a paucity of products for OS/2, this has been changing. Many new companies (like Stardock) are perceiving and responding to a need in the OS/2 community, and many (like Stardock) are doing well. A lot of really good shareware (like PMMail, for example) is getting the attention it deserves that it wouldn't get in computer retail stores. And there are places you can go to get software: Indelible Blue (by mail or by 'net), and of course Kiyo Design, an OS/2-only store in Annapolis, MD. or any of the other companies mentioned in the following reviews.

OS/2 has been around for seven or eight years, but it has only been in the last year or so that much of this new "OS/2-infrastructure" has been emerging. The best thing about this infrastructure is that the components of it are relatively new themselves -- and small, and fast, and flexible, and able to change when necessary. We have the opportunity to create a new paradigm in the computer marketplace: a consumer oriented, as opposed to a sales oriented, market.

I think we worry too much about whether or not people will accept us. I think OS/2 users are as concerned with appearances as the "experts" are... do we really need "brand name" companies designing software simply because it'll make us look good? Not if we have "unknown" companies making software that works just as well, or better! I'm certainly not hurting merely because Adobe refuses to make an OS/2 version of PhotoShop -- I like ColorWorks' flexibility much better. SPG saw a need and filled it with a vengeance. Corel and WordPerfect aren't interested in releasing an OS/2 version of WordPerfect or CorelDraw? Well, the CorelDraw decision hurts for the moment, because the only vector-drawing program we have is Freelance 2, which is pretty basic, but DeScribe, Clearlook, and even Ami Pro are pretty decent word processors (and lets not forget IBM Works -- a decent though lightweight program).

And do we really need CompUSA and Egghead to pat us on the head in affirmation of our worth? If CompUSA feels the need to slight OS/2, well, Indelible Blue works harder for your business anyway, and so does Kiyo Design. I've always felt that the companies that work for your business are the ones who should get it, and I don't see CompUSA and Egghead working too hard.

If OS/2 succeeds in the marketplace, computer retail stores will stock it, but I don't expect it will work the other way around. It's up to us to encourage new companies to get into the act, not to plead with old companies to "grace us" with their "endorsements."


Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.

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