Virtual OS/2 International Consumer Education

February 1998


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The President of VOICE speaks out

Many of you probably already know me, but I would like to take this opportunity to introduce myself to those of you who do not now that I have been elected as president of VOICE.

I have been in the computer business since I joined IBM as a Customer Engineer to repair computers in 1974. During my time at IBM I had many interesting and unique opportunities.

In 1981 I wrote the first training course for other IBM Customer Engineers on how to fix the original IBM PC. Between 1987 and 1995 I was the lead OS/2 support person for the IBM PC Co. I was instrumental in instigating the first public beta of OS/2 2.0 - or any other IBM product, for that matter.

After IBM I spent a couple years as an independent consultant specializing, of course, in OS/2. I now work for MCI as a senior Network Engineer. I am primarily responsible for managing the OS/2 portions of their network in Cary, North Carolina.

Having spent so much time with OS/2, I have come to be very staunch in its use and defense. Things are changing, however, and the OS/2 of the future will not be the same as the OS/2 of today. Is that a bad thing, as some people would suggest?

No, I do not think that is a bad thing for OS/2. Although it may be bad for individual users, the changes in OS/2 will make it much more viable for use in the business world, which is where IBM intended OS/2 to be sold in the first place.

It is important to understand some of the reasons OS/2 exists, and the evolution of OS/2 to what it is today in order to fully understand the direction in which IBM is taking it now. OS/2 was originally announced, though not by name, in 1984 when the first IBM PC AT was announced. This machine, the first IBM PC with an Intel 80286 processor was the first one capable of running an operating system which supported true multitasking. IBM at that time promised its customers that it would provide an 80286 operating system for the PC AT. That was to be a business oriented operating system, as the entire PC line was intended to be business oriented.

I was in the meeting at IBM in the spring of 1981 when Don Estridge spoke of the target markets for the original IBM PC. He stated that the primary users and purchasers of the PC were intended to be departments or individuals in medium to large companies, and some individuals in small businesses. It was not foreseen that the individual home user would be much interested in a "business PC." That market was to be left to other vendors such as Tandy and Apple.

I think that the initial success of the PC blinded IBM to the market in which they truly intended the PC to be a success, and in which they had a very powerful presence. IBM was sidetracked by the success of the PC and forgot that they are first, last, and foremost, a supplier of BUSINESS MACHINES.

That detour into the home market cost IBM dearly in its overwhelming dominance of the business market. At various times certain IBM executives had attempted to push the PC back to the business market into which it belonged, but they got driven back for various reasons. The Micro Channel was one of the features which IBM was still able to convince their customers that provided a definite cost benefit; parity memory was another.

Unfortunately, as IBM tried to compete in the home market, the business side of the technology suffered. Home users did not care about Micro Channel or parity memory. The only reason they chose one computer over another was the price, which they could directly relate to. The Micro Channel and parity memory meant that the computer cost more and they did not want to pay the cost.

IBM tried breaking the PC into two lines, one for business and one for the consumer, but that became expensive. The small and medium business users saw the lower prices on the consumer lines and could not understand the difference between mission critical applications and the need for high quality design and construction, and a computer on which you would typically run games.

This same process went on in the operating system world. Without rehashing the OS wars, OS/2 is designed for business. It is a very close cousin to the IBM mainframe VM operating system. Many of the same people were involved in designing them both and many of the same criteria were used.

When IBM tried to sell the OS/2 operating system into the home market, and even the small to medium business market, it began to lose sight of the real market for this great product - the market in which IBM has always been a powerhouse - the large business market. It was at this time that large businesses began to move away from OS/2 because they thought that IBM was abandoning them. IBM has since tried to get them back, primarily by dropping the home marketing scheme.

We in VOICE are at a nexus. We must decide whether and how to proceed considering that OS/2 is a business operating system. The question then, is, "Who are we?" Are we home users or are we business users? If we are home users, no matter how many of us there are, IBM will not listen to us, because we are not the target market. It does not matter how loud we are, either.

If we are business users, then we must begin to act like it. Our membership must include Information Technology people in large companies. We must appeal to network administrators and IT executives. We must become a VOICE for those who SHOULD make the technology decisions in the enterprise. Our target market, as VOICE, should be the same people for whom IBM is targeting OS/2. If we do not recognize that, we are doomed to fail. I am not saying we should abandon the SOHO market, just that we, as IBM, must target the business market.

David Both


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