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Chris' Rant- by Chris Wenham

A Lie of Omission

Actually, no, the OS/2 graphics market hasn't collapsed yet, despite what it might have looked like on June 30th. During the week after SPG made the announcement that there would be no OS/2 version of ColorWorks: Web 3.0 (the successor to ColorWorks V2) no less than three different companies responded positively to the OS/2 community that had been temporarily left in the lurch.

I've had to postpone the piece I was originally going to write this month (a commentary about what I like about OS/2 and why I'm going to keep using it; please note the mildly alarming typographic mistake in last month's issue has been corrected ;-) and instead concentrate on this much more alarming mistake.

It's always harder and more expensive to get new customers than it is to keep old ones, except perhaps in SPG's case. This is a company you've got to have pity for, just after you scowl at them for being so rude. SPG didn't just leave the OS/2 market, they LEFT the OS/2 market and did it in such a way that they couldn't come back. Bridges burned, they're on their own, possibly more desperate than you or I know.

SPG's crime of ethics comes from a simple lie of omission. While Joel Krautheim, President of SPG, never said there WAS going to be an OS/2 version of ColorWorks 3, he never said there WASN'T either. You could also say he lead OS/2 users along with carefully worded Usenet posts in OS/2 forums that tantalized and allowed us to believe what we had good reason to think was true -- although this is still up for debate.

Choosing a platform to run your computer on is not a trivial decision, but SPG would have you think it is. The fact is, if you don't pre-order the upgrade from ColorWorks V2 by August 31st you won't get any upgrade deal at all. And just as you finish entering your pre-order via their suspiciously Microsoft-esque web site you'll need to wait another month or two before the software is actually shipping.

This could be because SPG is very confident that they've finally got a killer app (third time's a charm, eh?) -- confident to the point where they're sure they can sell it based entirely on what you see on the web site. To hear Joel talk is to think ColorWorks: Web will make it purely because of its technical merits alone. But isn't that what we thought would happen for OS/2?

SPG now has an uphill battle ahead of them, spurred on by a rabble of disgruntled users behind. You see, these ex-customers aren't so mad because SPG dropped OS/2 development, they're mad because they weren't told so until the last minute. A lie of omission is still a lie, and from the viewpoint of these customers they were lied to and deceived on a royal scale. No one's fooling anyone here, sales of ColorWorks would have dropped off to near zilch if SPG's intentions had been made earlier, but a customer is still a customer and they deserve to be treated and informed much better than this.

SPG had no legal obligation to tell anyone a thing, but I doubt that is any comfort to their customers.

SPG also doesn't care about the people now complaining in the newsgroups, e-mail and listservs, the numbers are too small. And that leads us to SPG's Catch 22: they weren't selling many copies of ColorWorks anyway. From their point of view, alienating the OS/2 userbase wouldn't have been much of a loss.

So where does that leave us? If SPG has left because of slow sales, then how long should we expect the other graphics companies to stick around?

Fortunately it doesn't look as gloomy as you might think. A week after SPG's announcement there came a flurry of press releases from the likes of TrueSpectra, Dadaware and Modular Dreams, Inc. Both TrueSpectra and Dadaware have offered upgrade deals from ColorWorks to their products (Embellish can be had for $10 off the retail price of the boxed or electronic versions, see OS/2 Supersite for details; and Photo>Graphics Pro can be picked up for $99 instead of the regular $249) while Modular Dreams have released a whole new product called SX Paint -- which will be bundled free with their other web graphics product WebAK.

After speaking with all four companies involved here I've also made another interesting observation; SPG has chosen to use several Windows-specific libraries in the development of ColorWorks: Web 3, even further putting an OS/2 port out of the question. Modular Dreams, Dadaware and TrueSpectra, on the other hand, have adopted cross-platform libraries and 'engines' for their respective products. These three companies are planning to publish (and in one case already have published) versions of their software for other platforms that are on-par with their OS/2 counterparts. What's more, it isn't costing them much to do it.

That last detail could be crucial to us, since the OS/2 market is shrinking.

Unlike SPG, who's first product ran under DOS, TrueSpectra, Dadaware and MD+F are still committed to OS/2 as a supportable platform. But now they have to make the same hard decision that SPG made, and that is to spread out and cover other markets too. Remember what I said last month about the myth of vendors using Windows as their cash-cow to keep funding development for OS/2? Well that's still a myth, because as soon as it starts costing more to support OS/2 than is gained from sales... *poof!*... you'll see these companies leave to go elsewhere. It's to our benefit and the merit of these developers that they wisely chose the cross-platform technologies that they use now, keeping porting costs low and meaning they can stay even longer in a market with less dollars to spend.

It also means we've got to move our weight. These guys don't run on affection alone, they need people who are willing to buy their software and support their efforts. It's my opinion, as well as the opinion of many others, that the OS/2 market still has a lot of momentum in it. I think for vendors and users alike it would do us all a lot of good not to slam our feet down now in panic.

Otherwise we'll see more companies like SPG, bitterly stung after putting so much effort and money and patience into OS/2, just leave in disgust without ever wanting to come back.

Chris Wenham is a freelance web designer, writer and Englishman who now lives in Endicott, NY. In the past he has written comedy, sci-fi, Pascal, Rexx, HTML and Gibberish. He has been using OS/2 exclusively for the past 2 years.

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