Inmates Running the Asylums
May 1998

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.