Is Merlin going to make Windows 95 Disappear?- by David Chan

We all have heard about the upcoming version of the OS/2 operating system from IBM. The question on most minds now is whether Warp v4.0, codenamed "Merlin", is going to be a major step for IBM in winning market share from Microsoft's hyped operating system, Windows 95.

Microsoft's Stumble and IBM's Opportunity

Although Microsoft's two year marketing campaign surrounding Windows 95 has finally subsided, no one can argue that it has served its purpose. It has made an impact on the impressionable computer marketplace, and left a mark on buyers' minds that will take a long time to fade. Although actual sales of the Microsoft product fell drastically short of their initial predictions, millions of users willingly upgraded to the new version of Windows and many computers are now being pre-loaded with the software. So even though it offended many people, and cost Microsoft some credibility and 200 million+ in advertising dollars, the campaign was mostly successful. Step in IBM.

Many critics say that IBM's marketing is the companies Achilles' heel, that poor marketing of their products is the reason why IBM fails where Microsoft dominates in the end-user market. When Microsoft spent millions hyping the release of its then brand new Windows 3.0 operating system to the world, where was IBM with its support for OS/2 (then at v2.0)? Nowhere to be found. It was this false start that helped Microsoft's Windows operating environment to gain large amounts of vendor and user support, while OS/2 dwindled away into back rooms.

This was the beginning of an all too familiar pattern of Microsoft selling technologically inferior products by ways of superior marketing tactics. Now that IBM is getting ready to release it's new version of OS/2, many are wondering if IBM has learned from its past mistakes, and if it is ready to tackle Microsoft on its own territory. Will the new OS/2 stand a chance against the growing wave of Windows 95 supporters? Even if IBM manages to put together a killer marketing blitz for Merlin, some say that it is too late in coming to really contend with the Microsoft regime.

And Why Not OS/2?

Popular developer and user support aside, one of the strongest arguments for the OS/2 operating system is its technical superiority. Many of the large group of Warp users on the Internet are quick to point out that OS/2 is a much more robust, fully 32-bit platform with a true object-oriented interface. And the new version of OS/2 is supposed to tout yet more enhanced features that are unaddressed in Windows 95. Merlin's new interface is supposed to make human-computer interaction easier and more intuitive than Windows' interface by comparison.

Merlin is also scheduled to support voice navigation without the need of any special hardware, just a standard Sound Blaster compatible sound card and a standard microphone. Combine this with the fact that Merlin will, and current versions of Warp already do, support direct video access API's (known as DIVE) for multimedia programs and games, (Microsoft is still working on their equivalent, DirectX API's), will come with a complete package of Internet applications and utilities and support for almost all DOS and Windows 3.1 applications, and one must wonder why everyone doesn't want to switch to OS/2. The answer is simple--very little developer support.

Vicious Cycles and Popular Developers

It is a lack of popular developer support and not actual programs that hampers OS/2's general acceptance in the market. Contrary to popular belief, there are currently more OS/2 applications than Windows 95 applications. The problem lies in the fact that although OS/2 boasts more numbers in native applications, most of these applications are from small-name developers and companies generally unknown to the non-OS/2 world. Big name developers like Corel, Symantec, Sun, Borland, Origin, and Lucasfilm (to name a few) seem to have flocked to the Windows 95 boat making the OS/2 market seem wanting. Unfortunately, customers like to buy products developed by brand name developers which won't start developing for OS/2 until they see more customer demand. It is a vicious cycle that leaves OS/2 without much "celebrity" support.

However, there is another way to gain developer support, and this method requires that IBM supply subsidies to give developers an incentive to program for the OS/2 platform. This method was very popular with Microsoft in the early days of Windows' introduction. However, with the current "belt-tightening" and restructuring of IBM, it doesn't seem likely that IBM will continue this avenue of developer incentive.

Predictions for the Future of Two OS's

Will Merlin be a Windows 95 killer? It is very unlikely at this point in time that the new offering from IBM will have a large impact on the established Windows market. Conversely it is also unlikely that Merlin will have no impact at all. The probable outcome is likely to be somewhere in between. To the established OS/2 supporter, Merlin will be the undisputed upgrade of choice. On the other hand, Windows 95 users will be sceptical of Merlin's merits and be wary of yet another upgrade. Most will recognize Merlin's technical and aesthetic superiority but will hesitate to give up their Windows 95 programs which they have just begun to get accustomed to. But to those who have installed Windows 95 and have already become fed up with its shaky stability, its interface inconsistencies, its backward compatibility problems, and its general broken promises of a revolutionary way to use a computer, Merlin will prove to be an upgrade that will fit just right.

As for Merlin making Windows 95 disappear, even magic can't rid us of all our demons...


David Chan is currently an Electrical Engineering student at the University of Waterloo, on Co-op workterm at IBM Canada. He was a big MS Win95 supporter, turned OS/2 advocate after learning the truth about OS/2.

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