Understanding IBM

Part 4. Dorian Gray

In the classic tale "The Portrait of Dorian Gray," a man supposedly makes a deal with the Devil in order to keep himself young and healthy while everyone else around him ages normally. As terms of this deal, Mr. Gray has to keep a painting of himself hidden away in the attic. This painting will reflect all the harmful things that happen to him: the ravages of aging, the scars from injuries, the effects of various diseases that he might suffer. Mr. Gray decides this is a real bargain because, after all, you only go around once and you might as well enjoy it!

The painting is hidden away carefully out of sight, so that nobody will guess its hidden meaning. Mr. Gray jealously guards his secret and goes on to great prosperity and success, despite many arduous years of hard work and many illnesses. His friends are amazed at his recuperative powers! Mr. Gray scarcely ages a day, while his friends keep wasting away. Age, accident, and illness take their toll, and soon only a handful of Mr. Gray's former acquaintances are still around.

This scenario, while a fantasy, goes a long way to illustrate one of IBM's classic strategies. While products such as MQ Series, the Deep Blue chess machine, and AS/400 get wonderful accolades and bring in all sorts of new business, it is really IBM's OS/2 that carries the burdens of first-run tests, Java development, and test marketing. Because of the solid technological prowess of OS/2, as well as a hardy user base with absolute loyalty, IBM can try out all sorts of neat technologies first on OS/2, without fear of bad publicity. After all, a product that nobody in the mainstream press even wants to acknowledge can hardly get a bad rap!

OS/2 thus becomes the platform of choice for Java development and testing, Internet access, NC servers, and more. OS/2 was the first platform to embrace the Internet with a bundled browser, and it is a vital component of IBM's Network Computing plans. OS/2 was also the first operating system to have IBM's voice dictation technology built right in. If a product or a new technology fails to produce success on the OS/2 platform, OS/2 can take the lumps because it's already been strategically positioned as the platform of first risk. If a product does not work right, IBM knows that it is not an operating system problem, since OS/2 is inherently superior to the mainstream PC platforms; thus, they can focus their attention on fixing bugs in the new stuff instead of worrying about some weakness in the test platform. By carefully keeping OS/2 out of the limelight, IBM is able to perform product rollouts to a limited base of smart users who will find any flaws and make them known immediately -- sometimes even finding fixes for the problems on their own!

You see, no matter how many pundits rave about the supposed "death" of OS/2, they have got the picture all wrong. OS/2 is doing its job and doing it well. OS/2 users get the benefit of leading-edge technologies, rock-solid performance, and a loyal and helpful user community. IBM gets the benefit of a silent rollout with every new technology, with a seasoned base of technically-astute users anxious to lend a hand in debugging things. Really, IBM cannot afford to let anything happen to this arrangement, and so OS/2 will never die. You remember what happened to Dorian Gray when he tried to get rid of an old painting in the attic....

Most recent revision: January 15, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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