Chris' Rant- by Chris Wenham

Plus ça change,

Plus c'est la même chose.

Not long ago in the News Folder someone criticized PC Magazine for being too Microsoft biased, to which I replied that you'll only see as much OS/2 coverage as there is market share, and that PC Magazine wants to follow, not lead. Almost immediately someone sent me mail pointing out the adulation Windows NT gets in the same magazine, even though NT's market share is miniscule and sales are pathetic. PC Magazine wants to push NT in the faces of a disinterested public I was told.

I'm sorry to say that's true. Read the latest PC Magazine and you'll see NT weaved into almost every page. But go back to when OS/2 was first introduced, what about then?

Sitting upstairs on a dusty shelf is a stack of PC Magazines I keep that date aaaaall the way back to January 1990. Opening these up and reading them is like a trip into "Let's Remember". Most of the layout was black and white. In the Letters section there was someone complaining about the new colors being to loud, others criticized that these new GUI things were of no use to anybody. One wise-guy poked fun at the new multitaskers and said "I guess I'll just have to go back to running one MS-DOS application at a time, on my multitasking Amiga."

But reading the standard fare of opinion columns and product reviews was to read the letters 'O', 'S' and the number '2' in every other paragraph. Writers were saying how much better things would be with Presentation Manager, William F. Zachmann (remember him?) was gleefully predicting how OS/2 was going to be all over the place in the 1990's. Jim Seymour still thought everyone had bags of money and must buy the absolutely highest-end possible, the minute it came out. Several full page ads were for OS/2 products like Oracle's OS/2 database and one ad for a DOS task switcher that advertised, "Get OS/2 features now!"

Back then OS/2 was being pushed as heavily as NT is now, back then it was to a disinterested public too. But in PC Magazine everyone was Gung-Ho Presentation Manager, Windows was a "Stepping stone to OS/2" and everyone really believed that they'd be running OS/2 in a matter of years.

But what happened? Assume you're a computer user back then who wants to try this new OS/2 thing, where do you get it? Flip-flip-flip-flip through the pages and you might find one that lists OS/2 1.2 for $255, and Windows 386 for $135. Then there were the hardware requirements. Lots of people still had 286 machines, only some could afford the new 386, and 486 chips were strictly for servers. Yet OS/2 1.2 needed a 386, lots of memory, and lots of disk space to be usable. The kind of hardware that the mainstream user just didn't have. Sound familiar?

OS/2 got off to a false start and the low-end targeted Windows sponged up the masses of people who thought they were riding into the wave of the future. But hey, that's history. Now here's Windows NT, it has lousy sales, few consumers are interested, and the hardware requirements are outrageous for the average user.

But what's happening now? PC Magazine has again charged off waving the flag of an operating system that most of us don't want or can't use right now. But why?

I'm going to stick to what I said the first time. PC Magazine wants to follow -- but maybe not just the user base -- they want to follow whoever they perceive to be the industry leader. Microsoft is the company that assumed the position of leader when no-one else had the might or the interest in doing so. If the leader says "We're going this way" then the messenger boys are surely going to start trumpeting and pointing in that direction too.

Remember that we, as users, can ultimately decide "where we want to go today". ;-)

Are times different now than they were then? Yes. Is it likely that Windows NT will fall by the wayside as a niche operating system for power users like OS/2 did? The chances are better than average. Could everything go completely topsy-turvy tomorrow? Maybe!

But PC Magazine, as well as most other large Ziff-Davis publications, are essentially the same beasts now as they were six years ago. Nothing wrong with using the same tried-and-true formula of course, but it neither means they're "bought out" by Microsoft nor flogging a dead horse unfairly. What really happened in the PC industry is that the market was wide enough and diverse enough to accommodate more than one platform. Indeed, with the operating systems out today we can say that the market can accommodate more than one platform per platform! The pundits are gradually waking up to that fact.

They still haven't made one box, one product, one publication that covers everything and satisfies everybody. They never will.

Perhaps the French are right.

The more things change...

In other news I thought I'd take the chance to plug a small project of mine. I'm building list of native 32-bit OS/2 applications that could be used to show someone that there really is a lively base of OS/2 software that's constantly gaining new titles and modern revisions of old ones. It's not a comprehensive list (get that by ordering the Indelible Blue catalog or printing the Hobbes index files!) but one that lists new and interesting software, major titles and anything that would appeal to the average user.

This started when a windows user sent me some rather patronizing mail a few days ago and I realized how convenient it would be to put the egg on his face with a seriously compelling and large list of native apps. I'm keeping this in a DragText file so I can just drag-and-drop the whole shabang into an e-mail instantly, but will also set it up as an automated e-mail reply. If you're interested in getting the list just send mail to fox@spectra.net with the subject "Send OS/2 apps list". Please read the list first before suggesting any additions!


Chris Wenham is a Team OS/2er in Binghamton, NY with a catchy-titled company -- Wenham's Web Works. He has written comedy, sci-fi, HTML, Pascal, C++ and now writes software reviews.

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