THE WARPED PERSPECTIVE
Microsoft is having a party next week. Maybe I'll
crash the party and find out how the other half lives.
Of course, it's not a "real" party. Microsoft is coming to town, and putting
on a little demonstration of Windows 2000. You know, the software built on Windows
NT, but with the name changed to make people think it's part of the Windows 9X family.
What's more, it's the software that takes away the DOS prompt in order to remove
your ability to run critical DOS applications in your business.
What does Microsoft call this? INNOVATION. So what else is new?
By now, some of you may be wondering what all of this has to do with OS/2. It means
a great deal to OS/2, provided we take advantage of the potential upheaval involved.
Look at things from the perspective of a software developer in the DOS/Windows world.
Microsoft's previous efforts have been geared to keep developers in the Microsoft
fold, making Microsoft the platform with the greatest variety of up-to-date native
applications by consistently focusing on backwards compatibility (to the grave detriment
of reliability). To do this, Microsoft made sure that the shaky foundation of Windows
was DOS itself. They also made sure that Windows 3.1 APIs were firmly embedded into
each version of Windows, so as to maximize the likelihood that a Windows software
developer could keep selling his or her product, as could a DOS software developer.
No need for them to explore alternative platforms, with the money continuing to
come in regularly as Microsoft tightened its grip on the OS marketplace.
However, all that is about to change. Now that Microsoft has marginalized all non-Microsoft
desktop operating systems, their next goal is obvious: marginalize all non-Microsoft
desktop applications, too. Thus, a software developer will have to make one of the
following choices in order to survive:
1. Jump in with Microsoft even deeper, signing yet another onerous, exclusionary
"you show me yours and I'll show you mine" code agreement;
2. Seriously investigate alternative software platforms, but suddenly without any
3. Gamble that he/she has the hackers in-house to figure out how to re-engineer
their applications for compatibility with Windows 2000's new API restrictions. (Unpublished,
Well, all of this decision-making will begin hitting the fan sometime in the spring
of next year, when Microsoft begins to push Windows2000 as the replacement not just
for WindowsNT but for Windows9X as well. Sure, there is still work ongoing with
yet another decrepit DOS-based Windows system, but that is only a fail-safe in case
Windows2000 proves to be unacceptable on the consumer desktop. Microsoft is planning
to convert everybody over to systems that cannot run DOS or Windows 3.1 applications
as soon as possible, especially since more and more alternative platforms allow
at least some such applications a safe haven. (Caldera DOS, anyone? Wabi? Project
When this happens, it may be too late to use the leverage we have right now. Yes,
right now would be the IDEAL TIME for OS/2 software development houses such as Sundial,
Stardock, and the smaller shops to begin approaching vendors of DOS applications,
and perhaps even Windows 3.1 applications, and cut deals for access to the source
code of these soon-to-be "legacy" products. That includes smaller applications
dedicated to such vertical markets as lawyers, doctors, accountants, and other computerized
What sort of terms could be involved here? Obviously there should be continued rights
to the entire product, even without the source code. This would allow adventurous
independent developers to continue to pursue the Windows2000 market. Simply being
able to offer a product with file-format compatibility would be a great boon to
both OS/2 users hungry for more applications, the vendors desiring to squeeze out
a few more years of income from their "doomed" products, and also to the
current users of these products who do not relish the idea of spending thousands
of dollars to outfit their offices with new computers in order to run Windows2000
-- as well as the new software applications that may be required. Yes, even without
the source code itself, these products may find a useful afterlife on the OS/2 platform.
These rights must necessarily include full updates to any file formats or other
Even better would be access to the source code itself, to ensure continued growth
and innovation of these products. This would add an extra degree of comfort for
potential converts to the OS/2 platform as an "escape valve" from the
Windows 2000 money-grab treadmill which is about to kick into high gear. The fees
paid could be per-unit, or per-product, or some combination of both; perhaps a reciprocal
agreement could be offered to provide copies of bug-fixes or innovations generated
by the OS/2 developers back to the original software companies.
But barring this sort of agreement, an all-out blitz in favor of open-sourcing these
"doomed" DOS and Windows applications should be started. It should take
place NOW, before Microsoft comes a-calling with their motley crew of legal sharks,
spinmeisters, and glad-handing showmen. Whether the code is licensed, bought outright,
or simply released to the general developer community, the hard work and innovations
provided by thousands of small software companies must not be abandoned simply because
the Black Hole of Redmond needs another shovel-full of blood money.
Most recent revision: November 25, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.