October 1999

Just relax. Sit back, take a deep breath, and relax. You are going back in time....

The year is 1996. It is September. IBM has just released its latest version of OS/2 Warp. It is with some anticipation that you have looked forward to this release, since you know that it includes such leading-edge features as voice-directed navigation and voice-to-text conversion, the Java Virtual Machine embedded right into the core of the OS, and an improved WorkPlace Shell including the WarpCenter task bar and superb icon and screen schemes. TrueType fonts are now supported, as well as a much wider range of hardware devices compared to the support level when version 3 was released. And while it needs a little more RAM to run smoothly, memory prices have just dropped precipitously compared to the early 1990's.

Yet, you have that same nagging feeling that has always accompanied the public announcements about OS/2. Despite the technological superiority and leading-edge features of this futuristic operating system, the pall of death hangs in the air. FUD is everywhere. There does not seem to be any significant media response to this monumental release, a product that puts to shame the competitor's wimpy Windows line of products. Faster and more stable than WindowsNT, and far more stable and powerful than Windows95, it really should only be a matter of time before the world wakes up and realizes it has been fooled by the Windows devotees among them. And yet that nagging feeling is still there, the nervous watchfulness toward every scrap of computer-related news, the insistent smirks from smart-ass consultants, the death-grip on the wheel as you thunder ahead into the fog, the unknown and invisible future....

What if you had been given a glimpse of the future? What if you had known what we know today? What if somebody had presented you with absolute proof of the things we take for granted today, the wonderful new products now available for OS/2? Would you have done anything differently?

Just look at a handful of the great new OS/2 products we have today, which were not available in September of 1996. We now have the latest and greatest Netscape Communicator, version 4.61, in a stable and full-featured native OS/2 version. In September of 1996, Netscape did not even have a single OS/2 version of its products yet. We now have a well-implemented Lotus Smartsuite native OS/2 version, fully file-compatible with all other Lotus versions, and a promised upgrade to version 1.5 expected soon. In September of 1996, we only had Windows 3.1 versions of most of the Smartsuite, with only Word Pro and Freelance available as native OS/2 versions in any sort of up-to-date implementation. We now have a FREE native OS/2 version of StarOffice, including an Open-Source arrangement shortly to be announced. In September of 1996, Star Office was still only in German and did not have the current implementation of all of its components.

In addition to these three major building blocks to a successful OS/2 platform, we have had numerous updates to the base O.S. itself. Improved stability, new device drivers, USB support, removeable media support (such as ZIP drives), and numerous other features have been added since 1996. The Java VM of OS/2 is still the fastest Intel-based implementation on the planet. And of perhaps greatest importance to the business user and the home accountant, OS/2 has been Y2K-ready for over one year (with the appropriate Fixpack level), while the competitor's Windows line has actually regressed since 1996. To perform the full Microsoft-recommended Y2K update for Windows98 version 1.0 and Office97, a total of EIGHT separate patches is required, including the Internet Explorer update. Even with patches, some very interesting bugs may still occur, such as the Outlook97 "year 2099" error.

And not to be overlooked are the numerous OS/2 conventions, organized and sponsored and attended by OS/2 users at the grass-roots level. In 1996, we had ZERO OS/2-based conferences organized by OS/2 users. In 1999, we have Warp Expo West, Warpstock USA, Warpstock Europe, and for next year the Warp Tech expo in Arizona. Today, we even have a cutting-edge, real-time Internet forum run by VOICE, allowing direct contact among developers, users, and other interested parties. In 1996, we had nothing.

Certainly we are still lagging behind in some areas. Several OS/2 developers have had rough times recently, with a few actually leaving the marketplace. Yet most of the development community still succeeds, even if some diversification is necessary. The availability of books, training courses, and "mainstream" applications also needs improvement. But this was also true in 1996.

In other words, OS/2 on the desktop is now technologically better than at any time in its history. OS/2 is compatible with a wider variety of hardware than at any time in its history. OS/2 has a more well-organized, savvy, and respectable bunch of supporters than at any time in its history. OS/2 Warp in 1999 is a better product than at any time in its entire history, and certainly a better product than any competitor, pound-for-pound, all things considered. In areas that have not materialized strong technical progression (such as voice dictation), this requirement has remained somewhat of a niche feature.

Now keep your relaxed, calm state, and answer this question honestly: If you had known all of this information in 1996, would you have done anything differently? Would you have abandoned OS/2, or would you have stayed the course? Or, perhaps, would you have been a little more active and vocal in support of the platform? Would you have had that pallor of death, or the healthy, beaming confidence of the person who knows they are making the right choice, for the right reasons?

Also, think about the poor souls who have left the OS/2 community. Sure, a few have invested in Linux, which appears to be a solid product with a bright future. But many have simply caved in to the boo-birds and the FUD and gone over to the "dark side". You know what that means -- DLL conflicts, Y2K fiascos, Registry snafus, lost data, poor performance, and all the standard botches of the Windows world. What about these people? If they had known in 1996 what we know now, would they have wisely stayed the course, or would they still have fallen backwards to the antiquated Windows platform?

I believe that more people would have stayed with OS/2 if they had known how good things were going to be for us here in the year 1999.

I also believe that things will be even better for us in 2002 than they are today.

Java will continue to grow. It takes time for a platform to develop the "critical mass" of developers, tools, and apps to be a success. IBM has the resources and the direction to give it that time, and Sun is also continuing to push Java. Also, the Open Source movement is not limited to Linux; an Open-Source StarOffice for OS/2 means that we will *always* have a full-featured native office suite for OS/2. Lotus will continue to support the platform because they have to; IBM's biggest customers (particularly in the banking industry) are smart enough not to trust a rogue company like Microsoft. Netscape will continue to be a viable option, particularly since it now has the Open Source Mozilla as well. It is quite possible that AOL will not renew its MSIE contract in 2001, preferring instead to leverage its recently-acquired Netscape browser platform. And, of course, device driver development and the myriad of shareware and freeware developers will continue to blossom on the OS/2 platform, along with the majority of the battle-hardened OS/2 developers.

And the community of OS/2 users will continue to grow, too, in their ability to organize and promote world-class OS/2-related events. Knowing that the Linux community has accomplished their push toward mainstream status from a totally grass-roots beginning, we should have every confidence that we can do the same.

In other words, what we need is not a "new OS/2" as much as a new *PERCEPTION* about OS/2. The world in general is filled with FUDmeisters who love a good story. A funeral is a good story. And a funeral that happens every year is a very, very convenient story -- both for the media and for the lackeys who believe everything they read.

So it's high time for us in the OS/2 community to begin work on a project to improve the PERCEPTION of OS/2. I look forward to telling you more about this concept at the Warpstock '99 convention in Atlanta on October 16 and 17, 1999. See you all there!!!

Most recent revision: September 25, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.