The Wintel Monopoly, Netscape and OS/2- by Brett J. Cohen

Corporate executives, pundits, and Microsoft-bashers have new hopes that Microsoft's days of controlling the personal computer market via its popular operating systems will soon be over. Companies are betting hundreds of millions of dollars that Java will replace WIN32 as the dominant API (application programming interface) on the PC. Netscape, whose popular web browsers prevail on nearly every platform (with one coming for OS/2) is gambling not only money but its entire future that it will be the first company to outmaneuver Microsoft in a lucrative consumer and business market. The gamble, however, is not likely to pay off.

The Intel PC architecture has existed since the inception of the PC in 1979, and by 1990 was replaced by the so-called Wintel architecture, which consists of Microsoft Windows running on Intel processors. Mac users, watching Apple's market share slip to 7 percent and below, eye Netscape eagerly as a possible threat to this Wintel monopoly. Similarly, although OS/2 market-share is actually increasing (as compared to Windows NT), OS/2 devotees hope that Netscape, along with Sun, will make the operating system irrelevant with operating system-independent Java apps, dislodging Microsoft's control of the PC platform and giving OS/2 a real stab at major market-share.

As much as it pains me to say so, it's not going to happen. Not because of Netscape, that is. Netscape cannot hold onto the browser market indefinitely. When Microsoft bundles Internet Explorer, its browser, into Windows, most users will stick with it since it will be perfectly integrated. (If Windows users switched to better products, they'd be using OS/2, right?) This theory was proven with The Microsoft Network, which quickly grew to one million members through its inclusion in Windows 95. Since Windows ships on forty million plus computers each year, in a few months Microsoft will most likely have the majority of the browser market.

This makes the Netscape-Sun scheme of running Java apps cross-platform less of a threat to Microsoft. Microsoft, the company that made a late entry into yet another market, will have yet another monopoly. If you're not thoroughly convinced, remember what happened to WordPerfect? 1-2-3? Both WordPerfect Corporation and Lotus were in situations similar to Netscape's. No one ever thought they'd decline (both were bought out). Like Netscape Navigator, both WordPerfect and 1-2-3 were at one point superior products.

That said, there is little need to mention that financially Netscape is quite insecure; its quarterly revenues are in the tens of millions, whereas Microsoft's are in the billions. Furthermore, Microsoft has over 17,000 employees, whereas Netscape has a few hundred. Even with Netscape's aggressive, Microsoft-inspired marketing, they face an opponent that is not only bigger, more experienced and well-established, but one that controls the major environment on which Netscape Navigator runs!

But is there no hope for Netscape's success? What of the markets in which Microsoft has foundered? Certainly desktop publishing and CAD niches are nearly free of "Microsoft encroachment", as some would put it. However, these markets are just that -- niches, and Microsoft probably feels it has other, more profitable things to do.

That leaves OS/2 as Microsoft's only serious competition, and only in the business market; IBM no longer even attempts to target consumers or the so called "home user". However, IBM, unlike Netscape, has staying power, and so does OS/2. Whereas there is negligible need for dumb-computers running JAVA (over 28.8k modems? yeah, right) the need for a stable, low-resource operating system will remain for years. So will OS/2.

In the end, only a truly equivalent but superior alternative to the Windows platform will be able to prevail against the Wintel monopoly. If IBM doesn't have that alternative with OS/2, probably no-one does.

Brett Cohen is an OS/2 enthusiast and web page designer who currently maintains The Best Freeware, Shareware, and Beta Software for OS/2 page.

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