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August 1999

Know the Enemy

By: Lynn H. Maxson lmaxson@ibm.net

On the 28th of August at 1:00pm EDT (17:00 GMT) VOICE will host a second session on Warpicity (war-pis-i-ty). While the first session concentrated mostly on the proposed methodology in this session we will focus on the heart of the Warpicity Proposal, creating a formal OS/2 user enterprise, a business with a business plan and the financial means for its execution. This article provides a context and background in preparation for the discussion on the user-based enterprise.

In the earlier Warpicity session a participant, Eric Henshaw, proposed the establishment of an escrow account into which participating OS/2 users could deposit $20 each, using this as a barometer to determine both the pro-active interest and size of the OS/2 community. VOICE has considered doing so, possibly co-sponsoring with one or more of the established OS/2 user groups like POSSI or SCOUG.

If eventually undertaken, we have at least two possible outcomes. Within a set, participant-defined interval we will either have the number (and the funding) to continue or we will not. In either instance we need an agreement beforehand relative to the length of the interval, the amount of the contribution, and other participant-determined rules, terms, and conditions. All necessary operational considerations to both assure and protect the participants.

Before going further we need to be clear on one important point. While the organization is a part of and included within the Warpicity Proposal, any resulting organization does not have to include any part of Warpicity. The Warpicity Proposal had three parts: an organization, a staffing, and a methodology. At its core and most important part lay the organization. The other parts represented only one of several possible scenarios once a financially viable and responsive organization was in place. We could, for example, decide to fund the writing of device drivers, to aid a vendor in porting an application, or any number of projects deemed useful by the participants.

So think then in terms of an organization and what it would need to insure your participation. That is the subject of the session on the 28th.

Also understand that many of the people in leadership positions within our community don't believe that we have what it takes to do this on our own. They are not so pessimistic as they are mindful (and interpretive) of the history of our community. They are particularly skeptical of our willingness to shift from a free to a fee support basis. In short they have their doubts that we as a community have any viable capacity to treat our software investments in a business-like manner.

More often than not they hold three negative judgments about the community in general. One, we are too diverse. Two, we are too fragmented, And, three, we are given to internal bickering. Whereas we might look at these positively as signs of a healthy community, the more common view is that they prevent us from achieving unity. In their view then we are incapable of self-direction and must therefore forego leading ourselves. This leads us then depend upon others without these deficiencies to form and direct organizations in which we join as followers.

The fact is that I have not met any of these people that I did not personally like. The problem I have is that this rings of a class distinction, something which increases diversity, fragmentation, and internal bickering. It would seem that we share a specific as well as a generic practice in this. We allow all this to get in the way of that which we agree on: the desire to protect our existing OS/2 investment now and into the future. We have no diversity, fragmentation, or bickering on that point.

Let's adopt another more objective, factual perspective on another point. IBM has never dropped support for OS/2. IBM continues to accept error reports and incorporating fixes and enhancements in a regular manner, almost on a quarterly basis, as fixpacks. IBM ceased marketing OS/2 where it did not offer a direct sales force. IBM never sold OS/2 directly, in the traditional sense of IBM selling, to the SOHO marketplace, leaving that up to the retail channels. Even though it withdrew marketing OS/2 through the retail channels, it never withdrew OS/2 from those channels.

No one reading this should have any doubts that with respect to OS/2 and the IBM PC, IBM found itself in a losing battle to the tune of some hundreds of millions of dollars annually. It does not make any difference whether you are a 70 billion dollar business or not, a hundred million (or more) dollars is a lot of money. More money than any amount suggested in any discussion of being able to raise within a user organization. Certainly Microsoft was a contributing factor, increasing the per unit cost of the IBM PC, reducing the total number of sales, and in turn reducing the amount available for development and support of OS/2.

So IBM, knowing full well that it faced years of continued losses, made a business decision to institute damage control, to significantly reduce those losses. It was a business decision that any business, including you and I, giving the same set of facts would have made. It was a business decision. It was one that IBM made on its own, alone. Therein, you see, lies the crux of the matter and essentially the theme of this article.

Why was IBM alone in making this decision? You cannot fault someone for choosing to do something, however distasteful, when he does not have a choice. The answer is simple: we, the OS/2-using community, had left it to IBM alone. We did not have a means of being a part of any business decision. In a completely passive manner we had voted not to be in such a position. We, not merely ISVs, were not then or now an IBM business partner. We have no representation with IBM. We have no voice. We have nothing that IBM can point to and say speaks for us.

No amount of interviews with IBM management and executives, no number of invited IBM speakers, no intimate hobnobbing and communications with the masses of IBMers supportive of OS/2 constitutes a business. They may be fun, but they are not a business. They do not get the recipients recognized as such.

Currently Brad Wardell and Stardock Systems are negotiating with IBM to release under the Stardock label a new e-business OS/2 client. Stardock is a recognized business. IBM will sit down with any business in a position to propose a legitimate business deal. It's business to business. Peer to peer without concern of the size of one relative to the other. Regardless of the success or failure of the negotiations they provide evidence that IBM will come to the table.

Brad Wardell in the latest Stardock newsletter has flat out stated that subscription(fee)-based support is a certainty, the wave as it were of the future of software support. Stardock has already begun a model of this subscription-based support with users of their WindowBlinds product, still in beta testing. That particular annual fee for all the software services included is $49. It's a business man looking at his cost structure making a business decision.

In an earlier VOICE speakup session guesting Bard Wardell of Stardock and Tim Sipples of IBM which discussed the current negotiations and some of the thinking regarding the OS/2 client when available, Brad mentioned the need to form with the using community a support infrastructure. The basic model he had in mind was close to that of the Linux community in that it had a dependence upon volunteer effort. Even at that Brad suggested that he might reinvest some of the income from client sales to help fund some of the activities of the infrastructure.

However, he is not leaving that infrastructure to chance. He intends to form and operate it with professionals while inviting the community to join under that leadership. I had to admit to him that experience says that he has a higher probability of success doing it his way than we have in what I have proposed.

Some years ago a cartoonist Walt Kelly amused us greatly with a strip called Pogo Possum. Like Dilbert of today Pogo had this way of hitting a nerve. One of his famous remarks which sticks in my mind was, "We have met the enemy and he is us." I would add to that, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance." Just to keep within the rule of three toss in, "The Lord helps those who help themselves."

The point is whether we as a using community choose to remain in a react mode, defenseless to protect our interest, or whether we choose to become pro-active in support and protection of our interests. Moreover whether or not we will determine the nature and direction of those interests. We can choose to do so. Nothing other than our own volition or lack of it can stop us from doing so. Nothing. It is our choice. It may not be your choice or mine, but together it is ours. In unity there is strength. We have not yet demonstrated our strength.

The Warpicity Proposal for an organization offered it on an annual fee basis (subscription). It further suggested the membership act as a board of the whole, eliminating any representatives making decisions for it. Thus a direct democracy of one member, one vote regardless of the size of any member. In that manner every vote counts, win or lose.

To operate as a board of the whole means that every member has equal access to the status, the current state, of the organization. That means that all information is public, that any information not public is not allowed in any discussion, cannot even be hinted. Full disclosure.

It's possible to use a website which reflects at any moment the current state of the business to any detail within it. It is also possible to have a "running" vote mechanism in which members can vacillate up until the time they as a whole determine to make it count as part of a decision. This says that you set up a system with an integrated data repository for all the information of the business accessible by any member in any manner.

With that I think I have provided enough food for thought and discussion for the speakup. May it prove fruitful for all of us.

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