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January 2002

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"If the shoe fits, wear it!"

By Tom Nadeau © January 2002

Where do you want to go today? Funny you should ask. The same hardware and software, with minor adjustments, work fine for me just as they did back in 1997 when I assembled this PC from leftovers. The only significant upgrades have been a CD burner, Netscape 4.61, and Lotus Smartsuite 1.6.

It's funny, but since I got out of the PC business a few years ago, I don't miss the upgrade treadmill. Sure, my "learning" PC runs eComStation, but my Web-access PC is still cranking along fine on Warp 4, FP12. I've never seen the need to change, and the hardware is essentially the same. It's also funny how many people I've met in the past 4 years have had to change their PCs several times due to software crashes and burned motherboards. I just keep on cranking along with my OS/2 machine, and it has that elegant quality of the Energizer Bunny -- it just keeps going, and going, and going....

Okay, so someday I'll have to replace this PC. But thanks to IBM's common-sense software license, I won't have to buy another copy of Warp. I can just format the old drive or throw it in the can, and load the Warp CD onto a new PC. Until HP and Compaq can find a way to corner the motherboard market by leveraging their planned 70% market share, I should be okay. I'll just go down to the local computer shoppe and buy a generic motherboard & AMD CPU. Plenty of bang for the buck; with OS/2 I don't have to fight the bloat of Windoze, so I don't need to buy an electricity hog from Intel.

This has always been the big problem with great products. There are a lot of ten- to fifteen-year-old Toyotas still on the road. There are a lot of well-made pieces of furniture from twenty or thirty years ago that still grace people's homes. And most of all, there are 100 million lines of Cobol code still doing their job, day after day, year after year, in major corporations all over the world.

The problem with commercial society is not what the Malthusians feared. Their economic theory claimed that mankind could not produce enough food or other necessities to feed and clothe us all. Eventually, we would all be doomed as society collapsed from lack of production. Instead, the opposite has proved true: during a long period of relative peace, there has developed a gross overproduction of goods, as well as the technology to make things long-lasting.... Provided the manufacturers choose to do so, of course!!

And so the same economic paradox that threatens a profit-driven society today, also threatens the economic viability of OS/2. If everybody has plenty of what they need, then why would they keep shopping? IBM's solution is to simply stop selling to individuals, since they have no need to buy more than a few copies of any software program. Microsoft's solution is more crude: simply declare a product obsolete, and introduce change for the sake of change, thereby forcing people to buy something "new" just to maintain the capabilities of the thing called "old." This is the Mr. Hyde of supply-side economics: control the price of products by writing their obituaries. Create artificial scarcity to artificially raise the price of products that otherwise would become zero-cost. This is the hocus-pocus that was exposed by the Open Source revolution. Software only costs money because of intentional scarcity, not because of inability to produce enough of it.

So OS/2 is scarce because IBM chooses not to sell it. Each version of Windows becomes successively scarce because Microsoft chooses not to sell it (and sells something called "new" in its place). Either way, the availability of a product is determined on the supply side, not the demand side.

The point is this: whether you choose OS/2 or Windows, the availability of what you want is limited on the supply side. And if you choose Linux, the risk is the fact that the supplier is not able to artificially raise prices by creating intentional scarcity, thereby bringing the commercial viability of the supplier into question. I don't want to have to change suppliers, or to become a supplier. What a paradox!

Given that I am unlikely to gain a significant advantage from either of the two alternative paths mentioned above, I might as well preserve my investment and keep using OS/2. This shoe fits -- I'll just keep wearing it.


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