A Retail Experience: Minzloff Data- by Chris Williams

In my travels to Europe, I've seen that people face the same concerns and situations as I am familiar with at home in the United States. The competition between PC operating systems, and the attitudes of people around them, appears to be no exception. In Switzerland, while one could convincingly argue that Windows isn't everywhere, Windows advertising certainly is. Every store that has even the most remote relationship to desktop computing is overrun by the Microsoft marketing machine.

Every store except one.

In downtown Basel, just a short walk up a steep, narrow side street from the historic Barfusserplatz, is an OS/2 oasis in a land that often seems to have gone "Microsoft Mad". If you're not careful, you'll walk right past the store window and the walnut color door that bears the name Minzloff Data. This is a computing store that deals only with OS/2 and OS/2 applications. If you're looking for DOS or Windows stuff, go thrashing around the hundreds of other stores. Minzloff Data is the only exclusive OS/2 store in Basel -- quite probably the only one in all of Switzerland! And business is good, according to Oliver Minzloff, the business founder, owner, CEO, president, and all-around head guy.

It's a truly amazing sight. A retail store with shelves chock-full of nothing but OS/2 applications. All of the ones I know and love were there, as were many more that I had only heard about. Then there were the ones that even this longtime OS/2 user and consultant had never seen before. Granted, this was a small room that three people could barely fit into, but the shelves were stacked from floor to ceiling, and there was much more downstairs where the real stock items were kept.

Oliver Minzloff himself is someone to meet. A friendly and reserved person who seems quite at home in his office that runs exclusively on OS/2, he's a retired artist who got into the business of distributing OS/2 applications more by accident than planning. He got started as a result of his frustration in not being able to get a well-known OS/2 word processor at what he considered a fair price. "I finally called DeScribe in the United States and asked them for a price based on the idea that I would be a distributor for them. They gave me a price that was about 1/3 of what I had been quoted in Germany." Once he got started as a distributor, his clients (who were grateful at being able to get OS/2 applications) started asking him what other packages he carried. He answered the question by asking what they were interested in. The rest, as they say, is history.

Minzloff data offers consulting services in addition to the products they carry. "We're more than just box movers," remarks Minzloff. "Most of our clients also want to know how and why a product is going to work for them. It's personalized service that goes a long with our products." That philosophy has helped Minzloff Data garner a following from all across Switzerland and a fair portion of Germany.

The company logo is a duck. For those who don't know the language, the German word for duck is "Ente" (pronounced En-Te). Of course, the word naturally gets mispronounced as "En-Tee". A little more trivia reveals that Ente is also German slang meaning a piece or a source of bad or misleading information. "This part makes the joke complete!" Minzloff quietly chuckles as he adjusts his glasses on his face.

Minzloff is realistic about his business. He's thriving in an environment where he constantly fights the notion that "everybody" is moving to Windows and NT despite numbers to the contrary. Like most people who use OS/2 at home, there is that classic love/hate relationship with IBM. "Warp 4 is the best version of OS/2 by far," he says. Then comes the frustration that we all feel that IBM just doesn't seem to be willing to tell the world with any kind of abandon, deciding instead to concentrate on their corporate customers. Still, there is more than enough business to keep him and his associates busy. It's the kind of place that really makes you wonder what IBM could do if they decided to play to the entire PC market as loudly and fully as the competition. How many more Oliver Minzloffs would pop up all over the world?

If you'd like to drop by Switzerland's exclusive OS/2 shop, make your way to Basel's main train station. Jump on the number 1 or number 8 tram headed towards Aeschenplatz. Get off on the 3rd stop (Barfusserplatz) and walk up the side street past the 50-50 Restaurant and the Cafe Barfi. Look for the window full of OS/2 applications and the wooden door with "Minzloff Data" and the small duck logo on your right.

Traveling through cyberspace might get you there a little faster. Direct your browser to http://www.minzdat.ch/ and you'll be there.

Chris Williams has been actively involved with OS/2 systems for the past six years. A former IBM employee, OS/2 Ambassador, and long time member of Team OS/2, he is currently a PC and network specialist for Perot Systems Corporation.

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