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May 2002

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A chance for eComStation
The OS/2 community needs a jolt

By Eric Baerwaldt © May 2002, Translation: Christian Hennecke

Recently I had one of those interesting meetings again - a meeting with a new customer of mine, who had heard of me by word of mouth. The business manager of this small enterprise was looking for someone in the vicinity who was capable of maintaining their computer hardware. So after some introductory talk I had a look at their machines: all of them older no-name machines with partially exotic components, and all were running two older versions of the 90+% operating system. The executive secretary complained - as it happens at most of such first contacts - about crashes, lost data, and all those more or less annoying results that come with using those systems in professional environments. After a rough estimate of demand and costs it became clear fast that the whole computing was to be turned inside out: the company needed new computers and above all proper software. »What would you think about migrating to eComStation?« I asked the business manager. »To what?« was the expected answer. So I had to argue again. He knew OS/2, and he had also heard about anti-trust trials against others, but eCS???!!! Well, the migration has meanwhile been agreed upon.

Change of scene. A fews days later I was at the premises of a medium-sized enterprise customer. The topic was »e-business«. Among others a bank consultant attended, whose employer had about 50 OS/2 Warp 4.5 clients in use. After I had given a short lecture on the computing infrastructure, I was greeted with »Oh, you are still working with this dinosaur?«. »Yes, but this dinosaur has graduated from year-long survival training and thus has little of the problems that others have to deal with amassed.« »Yes, but one can see the system's age.« He handed back the ball to me. »Because of this we are going to migrate to eComStation soon, so that there is some eye-candy for the employees.« »You are migrating to what, please? What kind of system is that?» And again I hard to argue. Then it turned out the bank consultant had never heard of Moneyplex. »Now that is a neat program. I never knew that something like that existed for OS/2!«

Another change of scene. Answering an advertisement in the newspaper someone came to my shop. »Does the controller run with any of the prevalent operating systems?« he inquired. »Sure, OS/2, eComStation, Novell NetWare, Linux, and also Windows, but I haven't tested that myself as I don't use that system here.« »That sounds like a Linux-freak!« »By no means, no. I have grown from kindergarten-age eventually.« »So what else are you running on your machine?« »Well, currently Novell IntranetWare and OS/2 Warp on the server, two different versions of OS/2 Warp and eComStation on the client.« »Excuse me, what was the latter?« So again I had to explain...

In the style of a slogan from the German peace movement from the 1980's I could only say: »Imagine we have the best system and nobody knows about it.«

I believe that we have a problem here getting bigger every day without being taken note of really: Bob St. John strives to position eComStation as operating systems for small to medium-sized enterprises. In contrast IBM loudly proclaims that OS/2's days are numbered. In enterprises the average IT officers hear the IBM concern's communiques and start thinking about the »time after«. One can already hear from OS/2 users, who were content up to now, but want to migrate away from OS/2 to various other platforms - now marked with the token »XP« - because according to their perception OS/2 has no future. So the efforts of Bob St. John and his dedicated team are being more than undermined by the ambivalence of IBM's message.

Let us remember that Serenity Systems International is no world-wide operating concern that has overseas branches even at the most remote spots, and that has a powerful marketing department at its disposal. Moreover, let usalso keep in mind that even in OS/2's main markets such as Germany there are few independent IT consultants and system vendors left who are even capable of supporting OS/2 installations. So there is also lack of support for small to medium-sized enterprises by established independent IT companies. It is more than incomprehensible to me how under these circumstances the venture to establish eComStation in the market for small and medium enterprises outside the hard-bodied OS/2 community is supposed to succeed. We are not even able to provide brochures upon request, unless we dig out the old Warp 4 flyers from 1996...

Furthermore one has to consider that although the Internet as a measure for distribution can call the attention of some personal customers, in the professional environment however - the market aimed at by Bob - IT projects, which often amount to six or seven-digit sums, are not processed via the Internet. There personal contacts, a solid base of mutual trust, and first of all the consultant's knowledge and possibilites play a much more important role. And those who don't know eCS won't let it enter the discussion. The cycle is closed.

Some pleas to Bob St. John: We vendors need promotion material. We also need a »Certified eCS Engineer« program, which we can advertise with and that can play a major role as a proof of competence for potential customers. We need to be capable of providing instant support on site in case of a problem, without requests at Serenity Systems directly or the respective user groups. We need a marketing expert as contact person directly at Serenity Systems, who is capable of providing presentation support for larger projects in case of need and who is available without delay.

But I also wish for some changes at the respective news services and groups that are supporting eCS. Several times Mark Dodel and Christian Hennecke, editors of the VOICE Newsletter have aired their grievances that the number of active VOICE members and the overall interest are dwindling. From the perspective of simple OS/2 and eCS users like me it is a great thing to have such a user organization where much work and time are volunteered to pass on knowledge. I can imagine however that with a more commercial orientation of the VOICE organization more would get caught below the line and, in addition, more resources would be available to be invested into badly needed OS/2 projects. What militates against arranging/hosting workshops regarding certain topics, which enough users are interested in, for instance? By »workshops« I don't mean article series in the Newsletter, but courses where people are present, e.g. as courses that take place on one or more days. I think that there really should be enough knowledgeable course instructors among us, and I suppose that most would be idealistic enough to hold a workshop without demanding royalties (at least I would do so, if I could contribute). Wouldn't it be possible to establish kind of a »Helpdesk« at VOICE where knowledgeable members could provide professional support for certain topics? For me as a retailer it would be enough if there were competent contact persons regarding e.g. »Lotus Smartsuite«, who would answer questions submitted by e-mail. If in the scope of an IT project of an enterprise customer I could point to such a facility, it would be a lot easier to persuade new customers of the advantages of eCS and the corresponding application software. And regarding this proposal we should not forget that enterprises are ready and used to paying an appropriate fee for such an extra service. We also shouldn't forget that the VOICE organization could be made known substantially better outside the traditional OS/2 community that way. The result would be new members for sure.

The OS/2 community needs a jolt. By no means do I want to give the impression that I disrespect the previous work of VOICE and other non-profit organizations in our field. The contrary is true: I am glad that the euphoria for this exceptional system has prolonged among us for so long and that still so many people - especially younger ones - are into it for idealistic considerations. Moreover, it is my perception that with eCS we have a perspective again, albeit unfortunately with a certain »jamming« from IBM that can't be overlooked. Under the given circumstances, Serenity Systems alone probably won't succeed at permanently establishing eComStation as a successor of OS/2 in the marketplace. So we as OS/2 community will have to shoulder further tasks, and due to the changed general conditions this is only going to come up roses if we leave the trodden paths and react in a flexible way. Only if the problem is tackled by all, then can eCS become available for a wide audience.

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