Inmates Running the Asylums
One of the main reasons that the U.S. trade press can't seem to break out of its
narrow, self-imposed brainlock about the status of OS/2 is because IBM doesn't market
OS/2 to consumers. For the current crop of computer industry commentators, this
is an unforgiveable sin.
IBM believes it can draw a "line in the sand" between the consumer PC
market, and the business PC market. IBM believes that a true business environment
means that decisions about computing technology are made at the upper management
level, not by individual PC users and low-level managers. For IBM's big-business
customers, who follow the model of centralized authority, this is indeed true. They
spend the majority of the technology dollar away from individual desktops and enduser
applications. This is the "big money" that IBM is going after.
Meanwhile, many of the smaller enterprises are essentially asylums run by the inmates:
decisions are based on popular opinion or what PC products are used in the home.
Also, a smaller enterprise can't force its customers and suppliers to change the
file formats or data structures and protocols they use to exchange information,
so they must settle for the lowest-common-denominator of Windows products. These
smaller enterprises and consumer buyers are the target market for most of the PC
magazines and trade publications. This is why the relative content of Unix, mainframe,
and OS/2 information in these magazines is often so weak and distorted.
So is IBM right? Can they draw a "line in the sand" technologically, ignoring
the consumer PC market and focusing OS/2 solely on the larger enterprises? The answer
is a definite maybe. Maybe the pendulum is swinging back toward system-level control
in these larger companies, and away from a PC-centric view of the world. But even
if this is true, IBM's approach sacrifices the consumer PC market as "not worth
fighting for." As individual and small-business PC users, we tend to disagree.
The only way to know for sure whether the business inmates of the PC-centric world
can safely run their commercial asylums is to see how well they weather an economic
downturn. As long as plenty of loose change flows around the economy, poor decisionmaking
and erroneous technology choices are not heavily penalized. Sooner or later, however,
the party's over and the piper has to be paid. In the meantime, the computer trade
press will continue their PC-centric viewpoint, where any operating system that
is not consumer-oriented is essentially a dead issue. This is also why Microsoft
constantly changes its story about whether WindowsNT is for consumers or not; as
long as it is perceived as being desktop-centric, it will get positive press.
Most recent revision: May 31, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.