Rival OSes experience market ups and downs

The past 15 months have been interesting for OS/2 rivals IBM Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

Last year began with an aggressive marketing campaign by IBM designed to take advantage of the lack of competition from Microsoft Corp. due to its continuous delays in getting Windows 95 to market. The OS/2 Warp advertising slogan was updated from the old "Operate at a Higher Level" to a more hip-sounding "Get Warped—OS/2 Warp: the Totally Cool Way to Run Your Computer." The latter pleased OS/2 supporters who had long complained about IBM's abysmal efforts at marketing and selling the product.

IBM continued to invest in OS/2 Warp by adding additional refinements to the product as well as the long-awaited peer-to-peer and network connectivity. The new product, OS/2 Warp Connect, featured built-in networking clients for most major network operating systems along with long-awaited updates to the Transaction Control Protocol/Internet Protocol for OS/2 software and related Internet applications.

Although OS/2 Warp continued to sell at a moderate pace throughout 1995, IBM's enhanced marketing efforts and favorable reviews from the trade press resulted in record-setting sales of 1 million units during December.

All was not well in OS/2 Land, however. Users continued to complain about the relative dearth of native OS/2 applications and the lack of retailer shelf space being afforded the product. In July, with anticipation of the impending release of Windows 95 growing, industry trade magazines began to report about problems in Windows 95's memory model, which allowed errant 16- and 32-bit applications to crash the entire operating system.

Critics warned that while Windows 95 introduced several welcome enhancements (Plug-n-Play support, integrated networking support and a much better GUI), it may be better suited for home use rather than office use. In August Microsoft heralded the delivery of the first copies of Windows 95 with an impressive worldwide marketing effort unlike any other in advertising history.

The pent-up demand for Windows 95 and the response to the August marketing barrage combined to create sales of more than 7 million units within 90 days of Windows 95's release.

But the reported sales figures included preloads of new computer systems, and by December sales had slowed considerably from the frantic August pace. Later, Microsoft officials would concede that the product was selling at a rate below their initial projections.

Limited corporate sales of Windows 95 seemed to substantiate earlier warnings by critics that the product may not be suitable as a multitasking network client for the mission-critical applications used by big business.

Meanwhile, OS/2 suffered several setbacks, including the internal reassignment of IBM officials responsible for the grassroots Team OS/2 movement. This came in response to IBM's move to downsize the operating systems business unit in favor of concentrating on network-centric computing. This shift in strategy was brought on by IBM's $3 billion acquisition of Lotus Development Corp. and that company's flagship product, Lotus Notes.

Not Out of the Woods Yet

Just when it seemed things couldn't get worse, IBM announced that it had pulled the plug on OS/2 for the Power-PC. This marked a turning point in IBM's cross-platform strategy for OS/2 and crushed the hopes of those who had hoped that OS/2 for the PowerPC would free them from the combined hardware/software stronghold of Intel Corp. and Microsoft.

Developments in 1996 promise to be interesting. IBM plans to introduce a new, enhanced OS/2 Warp (code-named Merlin) and recently introduced a new version of their LAN Server network operating system based on the faster OS/2 Warp kernel OS/2 Warp Server.

Microsoft began the new year with an effort to address criticism concerning bugs in Windows 95 by releasing the much-anticipated Service Pack for Windows 95. However, this software was met with a collective yawn by the user community because it addressed few key problems while adding precious little to the core operating system. Later this year Microsoft will woo corporate customers with a new version of Windows NT, Version 4.0, sporting the Windows 95 user interface along with several refinements.

As 1996 moves forward, many corporate customers who took a wait-and-see attitude toward Windows 95 are now seriously considering forgoing it altogether in favor of a more robust 32-bit network client. While the press reports that Windows NT is the next logical choice, let us hope—for the sake of competition—that OS/2 Warp is also given a fair chance.


Rodgers is a computer specialist with the Army at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The opinions expressed are his own and do not represent any policy or position of the government. Comments or questions can be addressed to [email protected] This column can be found on FCW's Web page at http://www.fcw.com.


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