e humans are funny creatures. We look out upon the universe in all its vast, infinite complexity and instinctively recoil. We simply cannot encompass the completeness of existence all at once. No. We have to separate it out into little patches that our finite minds can comprehend. Then we laboriously stitch those pieces together until we recreate something that's sort of like the real thing. In some cases, we make such a compelling argument -- compelling to us at least -- that we really believe we do understand what's going on out there. We follow those arguments, those stitched up shreds of comprehension as though we really knew what they meant and how they related to us.
And we very often discover that we are pretty much clueless about it all.
A few years ago, IBM decided that it would cede the Small Office/Home Office market in PCs to Microsoft and Windows. Its ad campaign for the brand new upgrade to OS/2 2.1, Warp 3, fell to earth like a ruptured duck, flopping and squawking, and, rather than hire some real marketing talent to take the fight back into Microsoft's face, IBM contented itself with the sure knowledge that it could market OS/2 in those areas of the computer world that really counted, the ENTERPRISE MARKETS. The word SOHO became a no-no in the Big Blue halls. As Ralph Nader recently discovered, it's nearly impossible to get OS/2 preloaded on anything you buy from IBM unless you're an ENTERPRISE customer. (Gee, is that the reason they pulled the name Warp out of the hat in the first place? Warp. Enterprise. Scotty, get me out of here!)
And it makes a certain amount of sense, when you think about it. Going head to head with Bill Gates is something that most ISVs avoid like the plague. Even when you win (has anybody actually won?), the effort leaves you bruised and battered and wondering if it was really worth the effort. And since IBM could make money in other areas by letting MS alone on the desktop, it just didn't make a lot of sense to put up a big struggle to maintain a presence there. After all, we can always count on the ENTERPRISE market.
Guess who's looking pretty clueless right about now.
Windows NT is taking over a lot of those markets. Not because it's better. Not because it's faster. Not because it's more scalable, or reliable. It isn't any of these. Everyone knows that NT 4.0 isn't a mature product. That same knowledgeable crowd are crossing their collective fingers, hoping like hell that 5.0 will get here and that it will live up to all of the hype surrounding it (Right. As if!) But the truth of the matter is that NT is taking serious market share from UNIX and Novell because it's friendlier; it's more familiar.
Why is it more familiar? Gee could it have anything to do with its relationship to other Microsoft products? Could it be because MS owns most of the desktops out there in SOHO land? Could it be because the number cruncher who runs Win 95 all day doesn't want to face up to any learning curves when he gets home to play Microsoft Golf? Could it be because somewhere the rank and file of Corporate America come home and discover that there's a kid waiting for them to walk through the door and install Doom for him and that same rank and filer wants to get the job done as quickly as possible which is noticeably easier if one is very familiar with the operating system? If one runs the same OS at home that is running in the office? Maybe it's because some IT manager somewhere discovered that it was a lot easier to train people in her department to use an office computer system that looked a whole lot like the same machines those people used at home. Maybe it's because some other company realized that the ENTERPRISE markets and SOHO markets and home markets are really all ONE market, and went after that one market with a will, even if it didn't have much to offer.
What IBM (and the rest of the computer industry, for that matter) has got to realize is that the computer business is like everything else in the universe. It's complex. It isn't driven from the top down, or from the bottom up. It's coming at you from all angles. It doesn't consist of a pile of completely separate pieces. It's an integrated, seamless whole. If you focus exclusively on any one facet of the industry to the exclusion of all others, like, say, ignoring the home and SOHO markets to cultivate just the ENTERPRISE market, you'll get your knickers seriously twisted by the first company who comes along and sees that those three markets are forever and inextricably linked. If you pretend that the people who own computers in their homes aren't the same people who go to the office and work on them all day, well, some upstart little company may come along and grab both markets right out from under your nose while you stand there pulling on it, wondering where your market went.
Maybe I'm being an optimist, but I don't think it's too late for Big Blue to sort this out. I don't think it's too late for OS/2 to emerge as a serious competitor to all that is Windows. But I know, without a doubt, that IBM, OS/2 and the rest of us are doomed if we don't learn to see more than just the little chunk of reality right in front of our noses.
Pete Grubbs is a self-described OS/2 wonk, a doctoral candidate in English literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a part-time faculty member at Penn State and is currently developing a copy editing/creation service, The Document Doctor, which tailors documents for small businesses.
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