Profile: Jason Perlow- by Chris Williams

 [picture of Jason Perlow] Jason Perlow has left Team OS/2. Some people react to this statement with a resounding "Good riddance!", while others are more reserved. Others still may lament his departure. One thing is certain. Just mentioning the name Jason Perlow, the founder of OS2Web and long time OS/2 advocate, to many in the ranks of Team OS/2 raises heart rates and emotions.

Of the many words you can use to describe Jason Perlow, no matter what you think of him and the events surrounding him and OS2Web over the past few months, "controversial" is a term that most people can agree upon. If you ask him, he is the only person ever to be "kicked off" Team OS/2. Officially, at least according to the Team OS/2 organizers, Jason left of his own accord. The emotions of the chain of events that lead to the removal of OS2Web, Jason's departure, and OS2Web's eventual return, run in all directions. Many people were caught up in on-line discussions about it. A number of regrettable on-line incidents also occurred as a result.

OS/2 e-Zine! interviewed Jason last month, asking him about himself, the controversy that surrounded him, and his opinions on the events that led to OS2Web's removal from TeamOS/2 Online and his exit from the Team OS/2 ranks.

We tried to find out from Jason himself why he has said and done what he has, and where he stands in his beliefs about OS/2 today. Read on and decide for yourself who Jason Perlow is and what it is that can place a colorful, outspoken individual at the center of such a controversy.

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OS/2 e-Zine! : Tell us about yourself. What is important about you that you think others should know?

Perlow: I'm what most people would call a "straight shooter." My greatest strength and weakness both is a tendency towards "telling it like it is" at all costs. Many people interpret this as arrogance -- but when it's backed up by knowledge and experience I think it's justified. When that's not true, or when opinions begin to cloud the reasoning, it is arrogance. Like everyone else in this on-line community where we tend to talk (or type) first and think later, I've occasionally been guilty of this. I'm a human being and I make mistakes. Don't you? Certainly allowing this whole OS2Web thing to even become a "Controversy" was a mistake...

OS/2 e-Zine! : Tell us about "the controversy" from your point of view. What happened between you and others that caused such strong discord?

Perlow: There's really no controversy here. It was a chain of events that was partially my fault for not seeing a pattern of behavior and a lot of misunderstanding between a lot of people, which led to a lot of high tension and a lot of hasty and bad decisions on both sides. I probably should have insisted on an actual "title" given to me from the very beginning when I became a staff member at TeamOS/2 Online. What's really the heart of Team OS/2's problem is there's no chain of command, nobody's in charge. There's a small group of people who have rather forcefully tried to fill this vacuum, but since nobody "officially" has the power, nobody really feels the responsibility which would go along with it. I don't think people have realized this.

In any case I was responsible for running OS2Web, acquiring new pages for Team OS/2's web site and acquiring all of their new hardware, the last of which I decided to do because the web site was in serious need of new equipment and my web pages were pulling about 50 percent of their total traffic. Actually, as you probably know, most of this was originally at my own initiative -- since Jon Lurie and I started OS2Web on our own some time before TeamOS/2 Online even existed -- but we had come to an accommodation with Team-OS/2 On-line and (I thought) were all happy with the arrangement.

I decided that if anyone wanted to know what my title at Team OS/2 was, it was as the web site's Coordinator, because basically that's what I was doing. When Terry Hamilton resigned from his position as Webmaster he told me explicitly, under no circumstances, to give any of the new hardware I was acquiring for Team OS/2's usage to Matt Stein and James Fitzgibbons due to potential ownership issues and future personality conflicts, and that a new Team OS2Web site should be started under my leadership with a new domain name, perhaps OS2WEB.COM or TEAM-OS2.NET or something along those lines. This should have been a warning sign to me, but I had disregarded this as pure personal problems and had NexGen (AMD) deliver the new equipment to Matt and James in Canada.

Shortly before Terry Hamilton left, a falling out between the Canadian TeamOS/2 Online staff and their provider, Internex Online, occurred. For over a month Team OS/2 had no Internet connectivity and I was hounding the two of them during that period to get their act together, and I think this caused a lot of resentment because I was controlling the fate the entire web site, the hardware itself, and had NexGen delay its shipment until they had a firm commitment on connectivity. I had no choice because I didn't want NexGen to think we were unprofessional and disorganized, and to put Team OS/2's reputation at stake when clearly we had no capacity on our side to deliver the WWW advertisement NexGen rightfully wanted in return for their sponsorship of the web site.

Once Matt and James received the hardware, and connectivity was restored, things really began to deteriorate between us because, for business reasons, I was getting involved more heavily with Windows NT. Matt and James used this fact as an excuse to rid me from their presence. Of all the possible reasons they could have used, this struck me as the least likely -- since as vehement as I've always been about promoting OS/2, I have always publicly stated that I am a multiplatformist. You know -- the right OS for the right job. Recently my opinions about the definitions of which OS is right for which jobs may have changed, but my admiration and strong support for OS/2 has never wavered one bit. Matt and James even went as far as to imply that I was misrepresenting TeamOS/2 Online in my Internet postings because the words "NT" were not inevitably linked with negative statements.

I received an e-mail in April from Matt stating that I was no longer a staff member of the web site, but that OS2Web was still welcome there provided that I conformed to proper Team OS/2 behavior. My initial reaction to this was to immediately inform them I was removing OS2Web from TeamOS/2 Online, which I did. As far as I was concerned if they felt they could control my opinions, they had no right to host my web pages and benefit from them.

The only questionable aspect of any of this is that none of the IBM sanctioned Team OS/2 support people made any official decision to have me removed as a staff member of TeamOS/2 Online, it was clearly Matt and James' decision and I wasn't consulted or confronted when any issues arose regarding any of my alleged personal behavior and misrepresentation regarding my relationship to TeamOS/2 Online.

The only way I could have prevented this eventual problem was if I had taken up Terry Hamiliton's offer to do a site with other Teamers, because there was no IBM sanctioned Team OS/2 staff (Janet Gobeille and the rest of the IBM Austin Team OS/2 staff had all been surplussed, and Dave Whittle resigned from IBM) to come to my defense when the issue arose. Unfortunately none of the new Official Team OS/2 staff in Canada (including Terry Hamilton, who is privy to all of this information) have chosen to do so since, because frankly I think everyone found the whole thing too embarrassing and potentially very damaging to the organization.

OS/2 e-Zine! : Over the past couple of years, many people have watched your perceived attitudes towards OS/2 change. There is a lot of emotion and interpretation over where your attitudes about OS/2 and the OS/2 community really are and have been. What were your attitudes, what are they now, and how have they changed?

Perlow: It's funny that people have chosen me as some kind of barometer for the state of OS/2 advocacy. Maybe it's because I was one of the most vocal and recognized OS/2 advocates for the past several years, and also OS2Web has gotten a lot of exposure as well. I was around since the very beginning in '92 as a charter officer of the Westchester OS/2 Users Group, one of the first IBM sponsored OS/2 Users Groups in the US (and maybe even the first OS/2 user group, period), and I was personally given the OS/2 Ambassador award at a Westchester meeting by Lee Reiswig. Before there was such a thing as Team OS/2, I was already out doing software store demos and such and going on the 'net and talking about it. I guess people got to think of me as gung ho an OS/2 advocate as you could get. For one mailing for an OS/2 meeting at Westchester I went to the local post office and liquidated their supply of Elvis stamps on the day the Elvis stamp was released. Sure enough it was the largest meeting in that user group's history and Stac Electronics showed Stacker for OS/2 to the world for the first time. During a snow blizzard, nevertheless.

Since '92 I've definitely changed as a person and as a computer professional. I've worked in several different fortune 500 MIS environments and seen what their needs are and what the modern realities of corporate computing are, and unfortunately those needs are generally not compatible with the desires of an OS/2 advocate. Back in '92 I was a student, OS/2 2.0 was brand new and the desktop OS standard was yet to be defined. So there was a lot of young "damn the torpedoes" energy within me back then, and I thought we could make a difference. IBM also could have made a huge difference in 1992, certainly in 1993 with OS/2 2.11 and definitely with the release of Warp, but they sat idle and let MS catch up on the technology side and unleash the might of their superior marketing savvy. During this time Windows NT has made a lot of headway in corporate environments as the future desktop and client-server computing standard, with lots of application development commitments garnered from many companies.

OS/2 may be technically superior to NT from an interface and object technology standpoint, but more than four years later we still don't have mainstream OS/2 applications in software stores and it's still difficult to get device support from major hardware companies. The 32-bit Windows standard has made its mark in stone on Corporate America, whether we OS/2ers choose to believe it or not. Even IBM has come to this realization and is now trying to win back the enterprise crowd from their NT aspirations with Warp Server and Merlin.

I think it is going to be an extremely uphill battle that in the end probably cannot be won. There are significantly fewer OS/2 ISVs now than there were two years ago, because none of them, save perhaps Stardock and Lotus, actually made any money. IBM clearly should have been financing OS/2 ISV projects, when they weren't. For all the money and time IBM has spent putting bells and whistles into Merlin since the release of Warp, they could have financed the development of 10 OS/2 applications at strategically chosen ISV's. You have to realize that the apps are the thing. What good is a superior operating system if you don't have anything to run on it? I once owned a Betamax video recorder -- but I eventually threw it out when I realized that watching the same dozen movies was getting pretty boring and I couldn't go out and rent any new movies, they were all VHS. We'll have to wait until the Merlin beta to see if the bells and whistles were really worth it.

OS/2 e-Zine! : Do you feel the OS/2 community has been fair to you? Why?

Perlow: I can't really say the OS/2 community has been unfair to me as a whole. I still have a lot of friends left. There are individuals who have decided to target me as some sort of traitor to the OS/2 community, when clearly I'm just trying to continue to educate myself in various aspects of IS technology and continue my growth as a computer professional. It seems that if you don't adapt an "OS/2 or die" attitude these days as an OS/2 advocate you're a paid Microsoft plant and a public enemy. I've spent the last four years advocating OS/2 within the user group community and within corporate environments. I've paid my dues and I know the people who really know who Jason Perlow is realize that.

What most of the more hostile people fail to realize is that I have always seen OS/2 as a technology -- and technologies change, fail or adapt depending on the circumstances. Also, I am not ashamed to admit that I care more about my career and taking care of my family than any technology. If NT is a successful technology, well, it's just plain stupid to stay in ignorance of it. Let the zealots starve if they'd like. Harsh, but reality is harsh.

OS/2 e-Zine! : Do you feel you have been fair to the OS/2 community? Why?

Perlow: I think so. There comes a point when you have tried your hardest and you have fought all your battles for the good of a cause, and if the cause hasn't produced results, it's time to consider your options. It's time for Jason Perlow to consider his options now besides OS/2. I can't continue to ignore other things for the sake of "do or die" OS/2 advocacy. On the other hand I have always been a proclaimed multiplatform computer technology enthusiast and OS/2 was always just a technology (albeit a very promising technology) I was interested in and never a religion. Operating Systems are just tools. Tools are interchangeable and sometimes need to be replaced or at least reevaluated. From one perspective I can romanticize the David and Goliath thing between IBM and MS as much as everyone else, but from another I realize it's just plain silly. I mean a mere ten years ago, who would have ever thought that IBM would be "David"?

OS/2 e-Zine! : How has the controversy surrounding OS2Web changed your attitudes towards OS/2, Team OS/2, and the OS/2 user community and why?

Perlow: I don't think the incident really changed my views towards OS/2. OS/2 is still in my opinion the best PC operating system and the best PC client/server product on the market today. The problem with OS/2 lies in its support from ISVs and commitment within various key business groups within IBM and I don't think many people would argue with me about that. What has changed is that I realize now Team OS/2 will never be a productive organization because of the way it has grown without any accountability, it is full of many internal political problems and that the OS/2 user community in general has become rabid in desperation.

OS/2 e-Zine! : What's wrong with Team OS/2?

Perlow: It was designed to fit the role of a small professional organization and instead became a free-for-all rah-rah club for OS/2 fans. Dave Whittle originally intended Team OS/2 to be a professional organization for IBMers to promote the usage of OS/2. When non-IBMers were allowed into the mix without any accountability, and without a basic and enforceable professional code of conduct, Team OS/2 became uncontrollable and the rabid and unprofessional element became extremely visible, even though that element may be a minority. The lack of an organizational structure as well as a lack of financial independence also creates tremendous problems in terms of administrating and supporting an organization of this type and size. I wasn't an IBMer -- so on one level I appreciate being "let in." But we should have been held to the same standards.

OS/2 e-Zine! : What's right about Team OS/2?

Perlow: The camaraderie between Teamers is unparalleled with any other computer enthusiast type organization of its kind. I've also seen some real teamwork and first rate professionalism from Teamers working at trade shows like COMDEX and PC-EXPO and at software store demos.

OS/2 e-Zine! : Now that you have left OS2Web behind, what are your plans for the future? Do you still plan to be involved with OS/2 in any way?

Perlow: Right now I'm working on NTweb, the "sister" site of OS2Web. I'm also involved in the creation of a professional organization called the National Association of NT User Groups (NANTUG) in conjunction with the NT user group community and I'm going to be a presenter at two trade shows this summer (Windows Solutions and Networld+Interop). I will also be writing feature articles for Windows NT Magazine. While I've given Jeff Bakalchuck full ownership of OS2Web, I will be contributing to it from time to time and I certainly will have a lot to say about Merlin and am looking forward to the beta. Who knows, if it succeeds and I start saying good things about it, maybe the NT folks will start calling me a traitor as well (grin). Sometimes I have trouble understanding why no one else cares more about "what works" instead of just politics.

OS/2 e-Zine! : Do you still use OS/2 for anything you do day to day and do you plan to keep up with its changes for the foreseeable future?

Perlow: I would if a motive still existed to do so, but for now Windows NT 4.0 beta-2 meets all of my needs as far as an Internet and productivity platform goes. For games I use Windows 95. It's very refreshing to be able to go out to a software store and actually be able to buy software that you KNOW will run on your computer, and to be able to get your OS to run on your hardware out of the box. If you do have to call up a hardware company, its nice to get a positive reaction from them. "Oh yeah, we have drivers, they're on our web site."

At work I am also a serious Windows NT user, but I still have to work with a lot of systems that run on OS/2. OS/2 based Notes servers, CC:mail routers, A/DSM servers, Advanced Function Printing workstations and CA-UNICENTER/STAR are pretty important roles for OS/2 at the company I am currently working for.

I certainly plan on giving Merlin a fair shot. Being a multi-OS kind of guy, I've been thinking of using my Jaz removable hard-drive creatively and putting Linux on one disk, Merlin on another, NT on a third, Win 95 on a fourth and so on. Unfortunately I'm not sure this is an easy option for the everyday user.

Now that Jeff is in charge of OS2Web, I know what web page to check for news about OS/2, don't I? (grin).

OS/2 e-Zine! : Do you think OS/2 is dead, or does it still have a chance in the market?

Perlow: I think OS/2 will never be "dead". IBM is known to support products long after their profitable life cycle. I'm sure we'll see an OS/2 version 5. Maybe even a microkernel version. I don't think it will be as important a player as Windows NT will be, but there will always be shops that will want to continue with OS/2. There are a lot of companies who have vertical market apps where OS/2 still plays an important role.

But who knows? AS/400 is in the midst of a revival a decade later... maybe OS/2 can pull off something similar?

OS/2 e-Zine! : What are your plans for the future now that you have more or less ended your Team OS/2 activities?

Perlow: Think. Write. Hit the trade shows. Work. Sleep. Pay more attention to my wife. Get more sleep. Maybe take up golf. Take down all my Bill Gates dartboards (laugh).

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Attempts were made to contact Mathew Stein at the same time this interview was conducted. He was, unfortunately, unavailable for comment.

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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