Brad's IBM Technical Interchange Report- by Brad Wardell

Editor's Note: The report of Technical Interchange activity below originally appeared on Stardock's WWW site. It has been reprinted here with permission from Stardock Systems, Inc. and has been edited for length and editorial reasons.
Disclaimer: I work for an OS/2 ISV called "Stardock Systems". I believe this to be an objective report of the major events of the Technical Interchange but I feel that it is only right to mention that I do work for one of the participants.

PART I: INTRODUCTION TO THE 1996 IBM TECHNICAL INTERCHANGE

Introduction

Trade shows are great for getting to put faces to voices on the phone or text in an email. Because most developers work insanely long hours, much of our "social life" revolves around these trade shows. We get to make up months of lost social contact in just a week. Trade shows are split into two parts, the day part where each company tries to woo potential customers to buy their software AND the night part where everyone goes out and parties until the wee hours. Stardock was not at the 1995 Technical Interchange because we had no OS/2 software to really show then. This year, Stardock not only was there, but co-sponsored the entire show. At the dinners, you could see "Stardock" napkins everywhere. This particular event inspired Brent Bowlby, my good friend and President of CDS (makers of Back Again/2) to say "Hey Brad, here's what I think of your employer!" and blow his nose on the Stardock napkin. My only regret is that I hadn't thought of that joke first!

The show lasts from Monday to Friday. The "big days" are Tuesday to Thursday since Monday and Friday are used for setting up and tearing down.


PART II: Tuesday at the 1996 IBM TECHNICAL INTERCHANGE

Tuesday

The first major session of the show was the unveiling of what was called "The Milamber Project". The new official name is "Object Desktop Professional v1.5". In front of around 600 people, ObjDesk Professional, Object Desktop 1.5, and Process Commander alpha were demonstrated for a good hour and 15 minutes.

Object Desktop v1.5

A powerful desktop environment that makes OS/2 more powerful, easier to use, more feature rich, and nicer to look at. Version 1.5 of Object Desktop adds the ability to "package" your desktop or desktop objects and distribute them across the world or for your personal use. A lot of corporations quickly jumped on to this feature because they are upgrading from either OS/2 2.11 to Warp or Warp to "Merlin". Object Package will allow users who want to upgrade to a new version of OS/2 to package their desktop into a single file and when they format, install the new version, they can unpackage their desktop and Object Package will not only restore all their objects, but register their classes for them. Anyone who has ever had to search through their hard drives for "createwps.cmd" type scripts to recreate their Cset objects, Internet objects, etc. can appreciate this.

Other corporations were delighted that they could now reliably and easily standardize on a common desktop and distribute it across the enterprise. End users commented that they could finally set up their desktop in different ways and depending on their mood, choose the particular desktop they wanted. During my demonstration, I unpackaged "Quake" (a new game from ID). Because Object Package stores all the settings, icons and such for an object, users will be able to trade DOS objects with each other (or trade entire desktops).

Version 1.5 also greatly improves the performance of the system, integrates Internet resources such as websites and email sites right into the workplace shell and provides a huge database of websites and email addresses to visit, and enhances most of the components of Object Desktop with features suggested by 1.0 (especially the Control Center and Object Navigator).

One of the most significant changes from 1.0 to 1.5 from our internal development point of view is that Stardock hired on former IBM workplace shell developers to ensure that we no longer had to "reverse engineer" our features. Now we know how IBM does their magic and we can now better complement their efforts by integrating seamlessly into the operating system.

After the Object Desktop 1.5 presentation, I moved on to showing "Process Commander". Process Commander does two things in particular. Its primary feature is the ability to thoroughly manage running processes. That is, you can keep track of everything that is loaded on your system right down to the semaphore and shared memory level in a nice easy to use GUI environment. The second and probably one of its most popular features is its ability to use the Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination to bring up a full screen session where you can usually get yourself out of a "hang" situation. Anyone who has ever experienced a hang (even with FixPak 17) can appreciate the feature of actually getting to do something about the hang instead of having to reboot (hitting Ctrl-Esc doesn't always take care of the problem).

Finally, I introduced Milamber. Milamber was the project name to what we now call "Object Desktop Professional". I admitted that our most difficult marketing task ahead of us is to differentiate the two.

(Editor's Note: We have removed a list from this space describing the features of the upcoming Object Desktop Professional. For the original list see the on-line version of this article at Stardock's WWW site. For more complete coverage of Object Desktop Professional watch future issues of e-Zine! for sneak peeks and official reviews!)

That was pretty much it for that. I talked about how the OS/2 market has done great for us and that we believe that this show will demonstrate to anyone who doubts OS/2's future that OS/2 is alive, well and growing. Thankfully, IBM was able to prove us right the next day...


PART III: WEDNESDAY at the IBM TECHNICAL INTERCHANGE

On Wednesday, IBM demonstrated Merlin for all to see. The press seemed very impressed and articles appeared during the week to suggest that OS/2 was "back and ready to kick some butt". With Windows95 clearly not cut out for corporate use, WindowsNT not being a good enterprise wide OS either (it's actually a GREAT stand alone power user OS but you put 3000 on a network and well, let's just say that the OS consultants will be able to buy that new house...), corporate America, and moreover the world corporate community really needs an OS that works reliably, can run most applications out there, and is well supported in the corporate market. Until this show, the feeling was, "Is IBM really committed to OS/2?". IBM execs have always said "Yes, we are committed" and actions speak louder than words. Fortunately, the actions came through on Wednesday.

Not only did IBM discuss Merlin, which should ship in 3rd or 4th quarter, and not only did Lotus announce that SmartSuite would ship this year but they had also made up time from earlier delays, but IBM even discussed some features that will be in the release AFTER Merlin. When you already begin talking about features that will appear in the 1998 version of OS/2, it kind of kills the rumor that "Merlin will be the last version".

Features of Merlin:

Voice control over OS/2. Imagine being able to say "Computer, start a new document." Merlin will allow you to do this. Stardock plans to bring out products that complement this revolutionary OS technology. This sort of feature has been available as a separate product but now IBM plans to integrate voice into OS/2 in such a way that users will have the choice of mouse, keyboard, OR voice and they are very serious about making this work. Users will be able to say "Jump to Stardock's Web" and the new Web browser (not yet named) will take you to http://www.stardock.com/ (for example).

Warp Center will replace the LaunchPad. While Object Desktop users will probably replace Warp Center with the Control Center because of its added features, Warp Center is truly a step forward for IBM's UI team. It also looks very slick!

The notebooks will be totally re-done. The base OS notebooks will be horizontal instead of vertical and the system font is history. The new font (still unnamed) will look like Helv 8. and be much nicer to look at.

IBM will address the look and feel of the title bar by making the min/max buttons look a little bit nicer--more motif-ish. After a lot of discussion, IBM finally agreed to put the close button where Stardock's Object Desktop puts it instead of putting it where Microsoft puts it. This new look works well with IBM's philosophy of trying to have some similarities between AIX and OS/2.

IBM will also integrate URL's into Merlin which will make navigating the web much nicer. It will be compatible with Stardock's Internet shell which means you'll be able to use all the included website "short-cuts" to get to the Internet under Merlin.

Merlin will also provide "briefcase"-like features to synchronize objects between laptops and desktops.

One of my favorite new features of Merlin will be the easy to use hardware "registry". I'll be able to set up all my hardware from an easy to use GUI environment instead of tweaking config.sys's. Plug and Play support for PCI devices is also scheduled to be included. IBM mentioned that they probably won't include PnP for ISA devices having learned from Microsoft's mistake in supporting that--possibly the #1 technical support problem with Windows95.

Merlin will require a 486DX with 8 megs of ram to run so that the typical OS/2 user can take advantage of the new features and 486 specific performance features. However, in order to use the voice features, you'll need a Pentium with 16 megs minimum.

There will be only ONE version of Merlin instead of the half dozen we have today. The networking and other features will be in base OS/2 Warp V4. There may not be a red box version in fact (still undecided) (i.e. WinOS2 WILL be included).

Merlin will be heavily targeted at both corporate and consumer users, preferably those who are connected via the Internet, on-line services, or via a LAN. Stardock has already promised consumer products for Merlin that will offer multi-player play over a network (Trials of Battle was demonstrated at the TI where you can play over the net). There will be a significant retail push for Merlin but don't count on seeing a bunch of obnoxious TV commercials as they aren't cost effective. TV commercials won't be used so much because IBM isn't interested in mainstream users but more because Microsoft spent hundreds of millions of dollars on TV commercials for Win95 and it has failed miserably (from a selling standpoint) outside the pre-load market (most agree that only a couple million Win95 have been sold in shrink-wrap form, the rest are preload sales that are still in the warehouses of Gateway, DELL, etc.). Better for Merlin to be pushed by promoting the retail and corporate channels.

At this point, it doesn't look like the SIQ fix is going to be in. One item that was under NDA but InfoWorld reported this week is that Merlin will be supporting True Type fonts (which we pushed hard for). The new SmartSuite will also support TTF.

Merlin will also have a lot of DART stuff in, improving the multimedia aspects of OS/2 (mainly in terms of sound). This should make writing good games for OS/2 much easier.

All in all, the consensus is that they haven't seen IBM this much behind OS/2 since the late 1980's.


PART IV: THURSDAY at the IBM TECHNICAL INTERCHANGE

Lots of announcements and impressive showings were on the show floor.

CDS showed off Back Again/2 V4 and their new and yet more hilarious advertisement that will appear in the June issue of OS/2 Magazine.

Hilgrave showed off both HyperAccess, OS/2's most popular terminal, and KopyKat, a program that allows you to remotely control other computers.

Stardock had a rather large booth (being the co-sponsor) right next to Lotus and Indelible Blue. Object Desktop Professional v1.5, Object Desktop v1.5, Process Commander, OS/2 Essentials, and Trials of Battle were all demonstrated at the booth. Object Desktop 1.5 began shipping right at the TI while upgrades were began being shipped to existing users. Object Desktop Professional 1.5 will begin shipping later this quarter and Process Commander goes into wide-beta in late May. Galactic Civilizations 2 was shown in the IBM arcade outside the main area next to the huge display of Lotus Notes workstations. FAQ at the arcade was "When would Avarice: The final Saga" ship??? and the answer was "CSS promises it to us in May."

Lotus, the other non-IBM sponsor of the show (though owned by IBM), showed off Word Pro, which will ship in May/June and looks great. It turns out that it is not by any means a "port" for the Windows95 version. It will be faster than the Windows95 version it appears and is already usable for a lot of functions. Buck Bohac, of Indelible Blue, was already using the beta as his main word processor. Freelance Graphics (the new one) looks very cool as well. I didn't get a chance to check out the other programs but I heard they also looked impressive.

Pinnacle had probably one of the coolest booths there. The makers of the popular Desktop Observatory, brought in a very impressive wooden structure type thing that just plain looked nice.

The 32bit Alliance (run by Brad Wardell (Stardock) and Brent Bowlby (CDS)) had a booth showing all the national advertisements made in the major magazines. These ads promote OS/2 and OS/2 software to a wide audience. Each of the members was ecstatic over the results of the ads. Not just because of increased end user sales but the presence in large mainstream magazines allowed them to close MAJOR deals with large corporations. The next phase of the 32bit alliance was announced, to promote OS/2 and OS/2 software via the retail channel.

Devtech had a booth showing off Deskman/2, a favorite set of tools for developers interested in looking at the guts of WPS objects and tinkering with things on their systems. They had a nice booth and best of all, they had Dove Chocolate. Needless to say, I made sure I got in good with them to procure more Dove chocolate.

APS, the new OS/2 reseller, was there and got their catalog included with every attendee's pack. They announced that thanks to OS/2 and the 32bit Alliance, that they actually get MORE sales from selling to the OS/2 market than they do from the Macintosh market and they just got into the OS/2 market a month ago. Quite a relevation!

Indelible Blue had a great booth right next to Stardock's. Stardock announced that Indelible Blue's new "Einstein" series of computers will all come pre-loaded with Object Desktop cementing Object Desktop as the premiere environment for OS/2. Having a powerful, easy to use, and attractive environment to run the world's best operating system is certainly a competitive advantage. Indelible Blue was swamped with sales and reported that this was their best show ever for sales. Top sellers included (not official yet).

UN-Official Top Sellers of TI 96

  1. Object Desktop 1.5
  2. System Commander
  3. Neon Graphics Light
  4. Partition Magic
  5. Galactic Civilizations 2
Speaking of System Commander, V-Communications, a member of the 32bit Alliance has been selling a ton of product to OS/2 users who are finding that while Boot Manager is okay, System Commander is much, much nicer to have. They had a nice booth as well.

SofTouch was there showing off their usual set of popular tools including the popular UniMaint and GammaTech Utilities. They had a new ad on the back of OS/2 Magazine which was quite nice (though it makes an incorrect claim that FileStar/2 is the most used OS/2 file manager, FM/2, DirMaster, and Object Navigator all have more users) and very professional looking. Anyone needing to defragment their hard drive or undelete a file should make sure they have the GammaTech Utilities. The main SofTouch marketing god, Felix Cruz was there showing off the impressive INI maintenance features of UniMaint, the premiere INI editing tool.

Neon Graphics was demonstrated at the Indelible Blue booth. Now this is a great app. It goes head to head with the TrueSpace and Autodesk programs and in my opinion (in terms of first looks), Neon may have them both beat and it's native to OS/2 on top of it. While other companies have blindly followed the Microsoft prosperity myth, these guys have come out with what looks like a terrific product. It comes in two versions:

Neon ~$790

and

Neon Lite ~$70

The packaging of the more powerful of the two is amongst the best I have ever seen. It is a movie reel case and made me want to pick it up--and I will. By the way, the pricing on the full version of Neon is very competitive with other packages of this type.

Speaking of impressive marketing, MSR had a nice booth and also put a small booth in the Indelible Blue area--very clever. They showed off the MicroLearn gamepack, a well done collection of OS/2 games that made me want to buy another copy! The gamepack sold very well at Indelible Blue. Any small developers out there should seriously consider calling Indelible Blue and ask them to let you rent part of their booth to show off your app (919-878-9700).

Other Notes:

There were lots of cool parties. On Wednesday night, we hung out with the guys from Pinnacle and Bill and Esther Schindler at this neat restaurant type place. The Stardock "gang" got one of those old-west pictures done, expect to see it on our website next week. It's hilarious. Similarly, the Pinnacle group had their gang pictured and Bill and Esther, considered by many to be the fastest up-and coming journalists in the PC world had their pictures taken in the "old west" style. Esther did a long review of OS/2 utilities for PC Magazine and Bill just got a review of Visual Age C++ published in a Visual Development magazine--both great articles. If you want to know two people who are both highly objective, ethical and have done more to help OS/2 in the press than any other two people, the Schindler team are it.

PC Magazine also singled out Object Desktop 1.0 as the best OS/2 utility product which was a wonderful way to start the show and launch 1.5 which improves upon 1.0 in many significant ways. Alexander Antoniades, assistant editor of OS/2 Magazine (Dateline OS/2 and the top 15 best selling list) announced that he was leaving OS/2 Magazine to join Stardock as Vice President of Marketing. We're confident that OS/2 Magazine will continue to thrive and meet with yet more success even without one of the best writers and most knowledgeable OS/2 journalists in the industry. Mr. Antoniades will help lead Stardock's marketing into the 21st century by working with Stardock's developers to develop better software for mainstream users, work with the media to make sure the Stardock and OS/2 message gets out into the mainstream press, and whip things into shape overall.

The food was great and IBM did a terrific job of making everyone feel appreciated. I now have enough goodies to satisfy all my tradeshow needs for a long time to come!

That's about it for this year! It was a great show and I look forward to next year's!


Brad Wardell is President of Stardock Systems Inc.

(wardell@ibm.net for non-Stardock issues or bwardell@stardock.com to talk about stardock issues).

Stardock can be reached at:
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