Virtual OS/2 International Consumer Education

October 1998

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Marketing OS/2.... the Back-Door Way

By: Tom Nadeau

IBM seems to have an interesting way of marketing OS/2. It's not busting down the front door with an all-out blitz; it's quite the opposite. IBM seems to be marketing OS/2 by simply making it easier to find a home.

For example, let's examine the three main features of an operating system. First we have the API (Application Programmer's Interface). This is the piece of an O.S. that allows people to write programs that solve everyday problems. This is one place where OS/2's superior ease of design and elegant structure have not been able to overcome the monopoly conditions of the PC software marketplace. The OS/2 API cannot simply travel over the net and plop itself down on some Windows or Mac computer, enabling OS/2 native applications to blossom and prosper. The OS/2 API is wedded to the foundations of the O.S.

Those foundations are the second part of the O.S., the "matrix" or "base" upon which the O.S. resides. OS/2's memory management, multithreaded kernel, and crash protection reside in this part of the system. The O.S. foundation is the part that is tied to the hardware; among other things, this anchoring layer includes the OS/2 device drivers.

The third and final component of the operating system is the GUI or Graphical User Interface. OS/2's superior Workplace Shell GUI has been faced with the same growth-choking limitations of the monopolized marketplace as the rest of the O.S., meaning that endusers have had to endure third-rate user interfaces and limited GUI choices. The OS/2 WPS has the same limitation to growth as the OS/2 API -- it is tied closely to the object-oriented core of the O.S. and therefore can't easily navigate around the Web and dance before the eyes of the world of Windows or Mac users.

Each of these three operating system components -- API, core, and GUI -- has an impact on making OS/2 the excellent operating system that it is. But in a monopolized, commoditized marketplace, the only alternative to the current distribution channel (preloads -- preloads are nothing more than an O.S. distribution channel) is the Web. This means that parts of OS/2 which don't travel well on the Web are subject to substitution or modification to enhance survival chances.

For example, Java is a Web-oriented API. By making Java the main API for OS/2, IBM is allowing the Web to become an alternative distribution channel for a piece of OS/2. Another example of the Web-driven marketing of OS/2 is the fact that kernel updates and device drivers (elements of the foundation of OS/2) are made available over the Web. Finally, the growth of the browser interface (almost supplanting the GUI itself) allows a new GUI paradigm to travel the Web and bypass the preload distribution channel.

What does this all mean for OS/2? It means that the *pieces* of OS/2 are going to be available via the Web, even if the entire O.S. as a whole is currently jammed by the monopoly conditions and can't move up in terms of market share. The current IBM approach is what we former NASA people nicknamed the "lifeboat concept" -- take something which has a questionable future, carve it up into pieces, and sail the pieces toward a safe harbor, to be later reassembled upon arrival. Just maybe the WPS can become a web-oriented survivor, just as the Java API already is. This leaves only the issue of bringing the core of the O.S. safely to port.

Tom Nadeau
VOICE Marketing Director --
IBM OS/2 means Better Computing
OS/2 Headquarters -- Your Chauffeur on the Info Highway

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