April 2001

"Children should be seen and not heard." -- Greek philosopher Aristophanes, 423 BC.

The best technologies are those which are transparent. They let us do our jobs every day, without breakdowns, without confusion, without a constant "churn" of unnecessary changes masquerading as "progress" or "innovation." Think about the things we use every day in a subconscious way: paper and ink, the zipper, the elevator. These devices have worked in essentially the same way for generations. They almost never fail. They are relatively inexpensive (at least the elevator is much less expensive than the rest of the building!). That is what we truly love about a great piece of technology -- it is more or less transparent, letting us use it without fuss or frustration.

Imagine if the elevator controls were replaced by a joystick, and then a few years later by a foot pedal, and then later by a mouse pointer. What a mess we would have, having to deal with a half-dozen different man-machine interfaces depending on how old the elevator was. Having to deal with a constant shuffle of different interface modes, depending on whose building we were in. Having to call one of a half-dozen different types of repairmen, depending on which type of interface had failed. More subtle and more frustrating would be the dread of the constant mental gear-shifting when moving from building to building.

Worst of all would be entering an elevator and finding the buttons have been removed. Yes, somebody not only changed the interface, but they REMOVED THE PREVIOUS ONE. Now compare this situation with the plight of the poor folks stuck with Windows.

Instead of a stable, mature interface, Microsoft pulls the rug out from under its user base every few years. OS/2 Warp, on the other hand, has reached a high plateau of maturity and richness. It is an intriguing paradox that Microsoft dictates that PC GUIs have only Windows and only in the Microsoft-approved configuration, claiming uniformity.... and then every few years yells "Simon Says, Change!" Now uniformity with the previous installed base disappears, because we must all convert to a browser-based GUI, then something else, depending on what Simon wants to sell this week. And on the other side of the paradox, OS/2's GUI is available with a dozen different add-ons and flavors, and can be shipped on any PC with any preload configuration.... and IBM does not threaten a lawsuit for this flexibility.

It is the lockstep surge of change, mandated from on high, that causes the frustration of users. Why does Microsoft want to hide and disable DOS capability from its products, for example? They ignore the fact that millions of people prefer character-based applications, particularly for accounting, word processing, and similar text-based tasks. Leave it to Microsoft to call crippled and emasculated software an example of "innovation." Taking away a capability known and loved by millions of users is not progress; it is forced change masquerading as progress.

OS/2 is about adding advancements without sacrificing familiar capabilities. For example, Microsoft is dictating specifications for a future "legacy-free" PC. What does that mean? It means that 100 million parallel-port printers will be declared obsolete by a "Simon Says" wave of the monopoly wand. "They have no parallel ports in the new Windows? Then let them buy USB!" shouts the Marie Antoinette of Software. But now that OS/2 and other alternatives have added USB without emasculating their parallel port abilities, Microsoft has pulled the rug another notch and decided that "legacy-free" must no longer emphasize USB, but Apple FIrewire instead. (See the details of this skullduggery at,4586,5080924,00.html.) While Firewire may be a better standard, true progress is the decision to add new capabilities without withdrawing compatibility with the installed base. An OS/2 PC is a "legacy-safe" PC that protects our investments in peripherals and other hardware, as well as previous generations of software.

The next Windows plays the role of spoiled brat by degrading MP3 files, too. Like a layer of bureaucracy between the user and his/her PC hardware, Windows legislates the intentional crippling and corruption of whatever MS-free technology that "Simon Says" should disappear. A recent news article (,4586,2707267,00.html) claims that the music industry backs this plan to ensure that MP3-based sound is distorted and degraded on the PCs for sale later this year. The only solution is a boycott of all major PC brands and a migration toward well-behaved alternative OS's like OS/2, where MP3 will remain a reasonably high-fidelity option.

Microsoft products are like the whining, shrieking infants who insist on constant attention. OS/2 Warp is like the wise, inquisitive child who grows ever smarter as he/she matures. In that sense, OS/2 is like the invisible inventions that we grow accustomed to using seamlessly every day. A top-ten sales list of Windows applications in the mid-1990s showed 7 of the top 10 products were Windows utiliities. Think about that.... constant attention required. Windows needs regular defragging to try to ovecome the decaying performance of its FAT-based file system, while OS/2's HPFS does this little chore automatically in the background. Windows leaves bits and pieces of .DLL files, .VBX's, Registry entries, .INI file changes, and other assorted nonsense when a typical application is deleted, while OS/2 provides a clean environment with little or no such rubbish left after an app removal. It is almost as if Windows was designed to keep an entire software-repair industry afloat. It is something like a doctor encouraging poor eating habits and drunkenness, knowing that the patients will enrich him all the more when they suffer the consequences.

Operating systems should be seen and not heard. They should do their job and stay out of the way. Windows refuses to pipe down and play the role of silent partner. OS/2 is like a reliable old friend who doesn't monopolize your conversations, who doesn't spy on your private affairs, and who doesn't leave beer cans all over your front yard. Linux is a reliable platform, but it's still a work-in-progress. The maturity and stability of OS/2 makes marketing a little harder, but quiet excellence has always been a harder sell than boisterous mediocrity or youthful enthusiasm.

Most recent revision: March 28, 2001
Copyright © 2001, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.