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Celebrity Corner- by Christopher B. Wright
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Warpstock '97 -- The Wrap Up

Since those of us who weren't able to attend Warpstock are dying to know how it went, last month I interviewed spokespeople from many of the vendors and organizers who participated in the event -- a sort of "Super Celebrity Corner". Overall, it seems Warpstock was a smashing success -- and there are already discussions and speculations on what the next event will be like (and where it will be held). Here's a sample of what they had to say.

* * *

Mark Abramowitz (Warpstock Steering Committee, member and Exhibit Chairman)

Mark Abramowitz was one of the members of the committee that organized Warpstock. In his own words, he was "Overwhelmed at the success of the event."

"No one anticipated the response Warpstock received," he told me Tuesday afternoon in a telephone interview. "When we were planning this event, we didn't do a whole lot of marketing from an organizational standpoint. Most of the information on the event was limited to some CompuServe Forums and a few OS/2 mailing lists. The only press we contacted were the two OS/2 web magazines. Our estimates of the number of people who attended were vastly exceeded."

According to Mr. Abramowitz, there were developers and vendors who had a new feeling as to where OS/2 is going. "Some vendors and developers told me they were going to redouble their efforts in this market, rather than cut back," he reported. "And people who had been discouraged with OS/2's current situation, who had been planning to move to another platform, have changed their minds."

This rush of enthusiasm was evidenced by the, "phenomenal participation of the Warpstock volunteers." Volunteers at the event, identified by their blue Warpstock T-shirts (the organizers wore red ones), were, "enthusiastic and ready to work. All we had to do was mention that we needed help, and almost immediately someone would be on hand," Mr. Abramowitz recalled.

After the event, the facility was cleaned up in 2 hours, mostly with the help of SCOUG (the Southern California OS/2 Users Group).

There has not been an official attendance count as of yet, but according to Mr. Abramowitz, "the question is now, 'Did we exceed 400 people?' We know we're close -- we don't know if we've gone over that mark yet." This question is significant when you take into account that, "originally, we were planning to market the event and get somewhere between 300-600 people to come. It wound up not being marketed so we expected much less -- and 400 people came anyway."

The sheer number of attendees did create a few technical problems. "When we were organizing the event, we'd planned to give out an OS/2 Warp bag filled with stuff for everyone who attended. We ran out of those pretty quickly. We then found some old OS/2 2.1 bags, which we used instead -- and we ran out of those too."

Eventually, he said they had to, "just give people envelopes with the information stuffed in it."

Another interesting challenge was that the organizers ran out of registration forms. They wound up having to create new forms on the fly as more and more people kept arriving.

"All things considered, this was a 'good' problem to be having!" Mr. Abramowitz noted.

Vendors attending the conference were having similar 'good' problems. "Most didn't really expect to sell too many things," he explained, "and just about everyone ran out of stock. Even Sundial Systems, which is a meticulous company that tries to over-prepare for everything, ran out of stock on the first day." That didn't deter the attendees, however. "They wound up having to give out yellow slips to people who wanted to purchase software anyway."

A vendor that was demoing a new label creation software product ("SMACK") currently in beta, was apparently, "deluged with requests to accept pre-orders."

Indelible Blue "brought a ton of catalogs -- more than they thought they'd need. They planned to give the rest to SCOUG and some of the other user groups that were there." By Sunday morning, they had run out completely.

Many vendors told Abramowitz that, "they would have brought more hardware had they known how many people would attend. We were able to scrounge up some more monitors and other items for some vendors in need, but others had to go without."

There were many, many digital cameras at the event and many people were taking pictures. Some are available on the Warpstock web site (http://www.warpstock.org/), and, "Others will make their way to the Internet in time, I'm sure of it," said Abramowitz.

As well as cameras, some of the larger sessions were videotaped. There aren't any plans to make these videotapes available to the public yet, but according to Mr. Abramowitz, "this hasn't been ruled out."

The evening of the first night had an evening social. The food was sponsored by F/X Communications -- who unfortunately could not attend the event -- and the music was sponsored by Hethmon Brothers. "The band was a blues band -- all OS/2 users -- that use OS/2 in their setup."

Mr. Abramowitz admits that he was surprised by the success of the event. "Everyone thought it would be a great idea, but no one really thought it would be magic. But that's what it was. It was magical. Vendors were giddy."

It seemed to fly against the notion that the OS/2 end-user market is listless and uninterested. "Give OS/2 users half a chance, and the wallets are out."

People are already talking about the next Warpstock. "On the Warpstock mailing list, people are already talking about the next event. There's talk of a Warpstock Europe, perhaps in Germany. Or maybe a Warpstock in Austin, Texas."

Though the event was very exciting and fulfilling, Mr. Abramowitz says he is "very tired" from the weekend and is looking forward to resting up and getting back to everyday life.

* * *

Indelible Blue

Buck Bohac of Indelible Blue, OS/2's oldest on-line and mail order software retailer, was very pleased with how Warpstock went.

"The conference was very upbeat and positive -- very little whining about IBM, which was good." Furthermore, he said that the, "turnout was greater than we'd expected. We ran out of catalogs on the second day."

Indelible Blue provided access to their secure server, which allowed people attending the event, "to get a lot information on what kinds of OS/2 products are available right now."

Mr. Bohac feels that Warpstock underscored an important point. "Whether or not IBM continues to see the OS/2 end-user market as viable, as long as they advance OS/2 in a way that is useful to the end user, there will always be an end-user niche market for OS/2."

"That's a niche I like," he went on to say. "They're very technically savvy people."

* * *

MSR Development

Dudley Westlake, president of MSR Development, participated in the conference both as a vendor and an attendee. He was enthusiastic about the success of Warpstock's first conference.

"This conference substantially exceeded our expectations," he said.

According to Mr. Westlake, more people attended the event than anyone had anticipated. "Attendance was high, and the general tone of the event was very enthusiastic. The conference represented a very broad, and I would say a true mix of OS/2 users."

Mr. Westlake hopes that this event may alter a lot people's perceptions of OS/2's viability in the SOHO market. "During the IBM workshops and sessions, people were able to let them know that there is interest in using OS/2 in more than just the mid-to-large corporate environment."

In his opinion, Warpstock was a, "tremendous success. Warpstock was a purely voluntary effort, which makes its success even more impressive."

* * *

PowerQuest

Gene Barlow represented PowerQuest as both a vendor and a presenter at two OS/2-related forums during the Warpstock event.

"This was a very good event for the first time out," Mr. Barlow commented during a short telephone interview. "When I was working for IBM, I proposed a similar idea, but it never got through the budget."

He was "very impressed that OS/2 enthusiasts -- all volunteers -- were able to do such an outstanding job. The facilities were great, the organization was very good, and it was a great way for vendors to reach OS/2 customers."

While he was happy to see such enthusiasm from OS/2 users, he's not sure that the event will actually influence IBM's decisions concerning the future of the OS/2 market. "IBM Corporation has decided to target OS/2 at the mid-to-large corporate level," he explained, "and I don't know that this event will necessarily change their minds about that." Nonetheless, he felt that this event definitely proved there are strong alternatives to the Windows 95 platform.

* * *

SofTouch Systems

Felix Cruz was able to shed more light not only on the events during Warpstock, but the expectations of organizers and participants before Warpstock.

"When the event was being organized, we didn't know what the response would be," he told me via telephone Tuesday. "The location was chosen because there was a strong center of OS/2 users in that area -- SCOUG -- and everyone thought that most of the attendees would be from within that area. No-one knew how many people would be willing to spend a great deal of money to travel to the event from out-of-state."

Mr. Cruz was very, "surprised and pleased -- overjoyed -- by the response." Although he didn't have official numbers, he thought that, "at least half of the attendees were from out-of-state."

Mr. Cruz feels, "this event has the potential to change the way people view OS/2. The enthusiasm of the attendees was very encouraging, and it's created a good bit of momentum, and it's possible that this could be the start of a new trend in the OS/2 community." However, he cautions that, "for this momentum to be used effectively, the OS/2 community needs something else to happen. I don't know what -- but it needs something else. And this can't just be a one-time affair. We also need a Warpstock East Coast, or a Warpstock Europe sometime in the future.

"Warpstock '97 could be the last hurrah for OS/2 users -- or it could be the catalyst for a resurgence in OS/2's popularity. It all depends on what the average OS/2 user is willing to do to ensure a bright future for OS/2."

* * *

Stardock Systems

Brad Wardell, president of Stardock Systems, told me he was, "stunned and in shock," with the success of Warpstock.

"It was a total hit," he told me Tuesday afternoon. "We were completely taken off guard at the amount of people who showed up." Originally, the estimate for attendance was 200 people, but according to Mr. Wardell it was closer to 400.

"Warpstock was the most positive event I have ever seen since I first started using OS/2," Mr. Wardell reported. "There were more OS/2 users at Warpstock than there were at any of the IBM-sponsored Technical Interchanges that I can remember." This is interesting, especially in light of the fact that Warpstock focused on the end user and SOHO user -- a market IBM is focusing less on these days.

Any vendor that wasn't able to attend the event missed out, Mr. Wardell went on to say. "The author of Internet Adventurer sold about 50 copies of his software," he told me, "and Sundial Systems sold out of their demo software." Stardock had copies of free software to give away, but Mr. Wardell hadn't thought to bring any copies to sell. "I'm kicking myself for not doing that," he admitted good-naturedly.

One of the best parts of the event was meeting the attendees, he went on to say. "Too often all you see are the technical people, and the interactions in the newsgroups. It was great to see the people who attended -- these are the true users, the real advocates of the OS/2 operating system."

* * *

Sundial Systems

According to Randel Flint, the vendors were overwhelmed with the positive response (and interest in sales!). Attendance was well over the projected expectations, with a slew of last minute registrations on both days.

"It was extremely encouraging," he told me in a Monday morning interview. "We were very pleasantly surprised at the turnout. No one expected the response that Warpstock generated."

Carla Hanzlik, another Sundial Systems employee, expanded on this. "The Warpstock Committee gave away a bag filled with flyers, information, and a schedule of the event to every person who had preregistered. They had actually made more bags than what they projected attendance would be. They had run out of these early Saturday morning!"

The best part of the event, according to Ms. Hanzlik, was that, "you knew the people attending were there to support the vendors. They made it very clear that they appreciated what you were doing."

One person attending Warpstock even went so far as to buy a copy of every piece of software being sold at the event.

Ms. Hanzlik also told me that there was a wealth of technical information to be found at the event as well. "One representative of IBM had a conference that explained the intricacies of creating device drivers for OS/2. From what I heard afterward, it was explained very clearly and simply, so the end user as well as the programmer could understand it."

While Ms. Hanzlik didn't agree with Brad Wardell's assertion that there were more OS/2 users attending Warpstock than at the various IBM Technical Interchanges, she did believe that the biggest difference between the two conferences was, "the enthusiasm of Warpstock. At a lot of the Technical Interchanges, the attendees have a 'ho hum' attitude. At Warpstock, everyone was excited to be there."

* * *

SCOUG (The Southern California OS/2 User's Group)

Carla Hanzlik was also a member of the Southern California OS/2 User's Group, which was involved in creating some entertaining -- and educational -- displays for the Warpstock attendees.

SCOUG took over a 35 ft x 12 ft room -- the biggest room in the building they were allowed to rearrange furniture in -- and converted it into "The OS/2 Museum". Among other things, this museum had a series of machines running every version of OS/2 that IBM had ever released, from 1.0 to Warp 4.0 -- including a machine running OS/2 for the PowerPC. (Some pictures of this museum are available from the Warpstock web site).

Despite the size of the room it couldn't hold everything. "We had two display cases and a few crates of books that we couldn't fit into the room," Ms. Hanzlik reported.

Another innovative -- even interactive -- display was an OS/2 Trivia contest. OS/2 Trivia contest questions would be posted on the wall, and as they were answered, the answers would be posted beside them (along with the name of the people who answered them correctly.) By the end of the conference, large parts of the wall were covered with questions and answers.

According to Ms. Hanzlik, a few of the trivia questions were even answered correctly. ;-)

* * *

Christopher B. Wright is a technical writer in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area, and has been using OS/2 Warp since January 95. He is also a member of Team OS/2.


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