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November 1999

View From the End (User)

By: Don Eitner (freiheit@tstonramp.com) http://www.tstonramp.com/~freiheit/

Okay, You've Got My Dollar, Where's The Magic Trick?

If there are any die-hard End (User) fans out there (maybe one or two of you?) then this column's absence last month may have been noticed. I had to take a month off from writing about OS/2 to get some things clear in my mind with regards to where I was going with it and where IBM is trying to make me go from it. But that is definitely not where I want to go today, tomorrow, or even next decade.

So I am now back and I definitely have some things to say. Perhaps I should take a cue from some others who have come before me in the OS/2 media and name this month's column Don's Rant. Alas, I am still but an end user and these are my views.


IBM as a corporation is suffering from severe multiple personality disorder. I'm no psychologist but I don't think it takes a brain surgeon or a rocket scientist to realize that IBM gives with one hand and takes with two. They have forgotten what it means to be the best, to be proud of their work, and to move the industry forward. They have become content with taking large sums of money to fix the problems of another company's products. They have sold out and undermined their own loyal customers time and time again.

Early Half-Hearted Attempts

Yes, I've heard the pro-IBM arguments -- that they are looking out for their customers, but that their customers are only Fortune 500 companies. Hello?! I bought two licenses of OS/2 and had every intention of buying some IBM applications to go with them until it became apparent that IBM absolutely did not want me to do so. That makes me a customer, too. Whether I am a highly important customer to IBM's financial bottom line is not the issue, I am a customer and I demand to be treated with respect by Company A for choosing to buy from them rather than from Company B or C. If IBM never wanted any home/SOHO users to use OS/2, they should not have sold it in retail stores in 1994-5. They should not have developed OpenGL and EnDIVE and VoiceType for OS/2, all of which could have business uses but not nearly so much as they could have home uses. I mean, how many ATM machines have you seen using OpenGL 3D graphics and VoiceType dictation? Truth be told, IBM put a lot of work into making OS/2 viable for the desktop and then tried to pretend it never could have worked that way. They also tried to pretend that there was no interest from their customers in another "fat client" update for OS/2.

This doesn't hold with recent news reports that OS/2 Warp 4 "fat client" has been outselling IBM's expectations by 125% over the past year or so. More people are buying OS/2 than IBM anticipated, and this to IBM is a lack of user interest? IBM's OS/2 website (http://www-4.ibm.com/software/os/warp/) even links to an ongoing Deja.com poll (http://www.deja.com/[ST_cam=search.yahoo.none.slot]/rate/list_items.xp?CID=12029&PCID=11878&N=10) which shows OS/2 to be the highest-rated desktop operating system, yet IBM as a company refuses to see it, denying that OS/2 has any appeal as a desktop operating system..

Current Mis-steps

A little more recently, IBM has declared that all Software Choice upgrade components for OS/2 will be available only through subscription as of January, 2000. No more free Java, no more free Netscape Communicator, no more free anything that you currently get through that channel. And just what does IBM expect will come of this? The only possible result of such a move would be to further insure that fewer and fewer of us home/SOHO users care whether OS/2 lives or dies. The cost of a Software Choice subscription is in the range of US$250. You can buy a complete PC preloaded with Windows 98 or even the amazingly slick new BeOS for as little as $450, and at least with those you get the knowledge that the software developer actually wants their operating system to succeed in the world. There is no such feeling from IBM with regards to OS/2, so why would we pay more for this could-happen-might-not upgrade plan than we paid for OS/2 Warp 4 in the first place?

IBM claims the price is based on a two year upgrade license. This is apparently supposed to make the high price seem more affordable. But kindly tell me what new components of any real use to non-corporate customers have been released through Software Choice during the past two years? The only thing I can think of is the TCP/IP 4.1 update, and that's marginal considering TCP/IP 4.02 updates are still available for free. What will we actually get for our $250? A web browser which is free for all other platforms? That doesn't sound very encouraging. Java which, although nice and platform-independent, is far from being truly useful for major computing tasks such as office productivity suites, graphics design and even graphics viewing, multimedia, and gaming? Again, not too encouraging.

But What Can I(BM) Do?

Here's an idea IBM -- give us something useful on Software Choice if you expect us to pay through the nose for it. As Mark Dodel stated last month in his editorial (http://www.os2voice.org/VNL/past_issues/VNL1099H/vnewsf1.htm), full DVD support would be a nice component that would be worth paying for. Complete USB support, including support for not only modems and removable disk drives but also for scanners and printers, would be greatly appreciated in this increasingly USB world of ours. Better multimedia support -- I could go on and on about this one, but suffice to say that IBM has done nothing to improve OS/2's multimedia "codecs" since the mid 1990's. We have no support for Intel Indeo 4 or Indeo 5 AVI video files, no support for Apple's Quicktime 2 or Quicktime 3 audio and video files (except from one third party vendor), and we have only horrendously slow and CPU-draining support for MPEG video files -- even on my 400MHz K6-2 system,playing an MPEG video file with IBM's OpenMPEG codec (from the PlugIn Pak for Netscape Communicator) leaves my system virtually unusable -- OS/2's incredible multitasking drops to nil. Meanwhile, a little Windows 3.1 MPEG video player I picked up in 1995 gets higher frame rates, fewer skips in the audio, and has significantly lower impact on system performance. Any or all of this would be worth paying for upgrades, but IBM has yet to show any interest in providing any significant technology through Software Choice.

In short, if IBM would actually upgrade OS/2 through the Software Choice subscriptions, it might be worth buying. Otherwise we'd be paying basically just to be told we're not important enough to deserve upgrades. We already get that from IBM and it doesn't cost a penny.

Some other items IBM might consider for release on Software Choice which I think would be worth buying the subscription include at least basic CD-R/RW support through a generic MMC interface. This is, in my understanding, essentially how CDRecord/2 manages to support as many CD-R/RW drives as it does. MMC is a sort of standard-in-waiting and it's fairly simple to write one driver that will support multiple recorders. If IBM would develop this as a part of the OS/2 system to allow us the ability to read and write CD-RW disks the way we do with floppies, it would be worth buying a Software Choice subscription.

Anti-aliased font support, which makes reading your screen for long periods of time much easier on the eyes, would be a worthy upgrade as well. This has been a part of virtually all major operating systems since 1995 -- except OS/2.

Symmetric Multi-Processing support (as seen in OS/2 Warp Server Advanced) would also be an impressive upgrade, as SMP capable hardware is becoming much more readily accessible to desktop PC users these days. Dual CPU Pentium II/III and Celeron motherboards are becoming almost commonplace, and AMD's new Athlon processor is also SMP capable, so expect to start seeing dual Athlon systems popping up soon.

Where Credit is Due

Allow me to stand back from my one-sided rant for a moment here. IBM, or rather a small part of IBM, has been doing some extraordinary work in maintaining and even in advancing OS/2's viability on the desktop. The recently released Netscape Communicator 4.61 for OS/2 not only has proven quite stable but also finally ties up some loose threads left from the old 2.02 days such as the full drag'n'drop support both within the browser window as well as to/from the desktop and subfolders. I can think of absolutely no reason to continue using the venerable 2.02 browser now, unless your PC simply does not have the horsepower to run anything newer.

IBM has also released what appear to be rock solid fixpacks (xr_m012 for OS/2 Warp 4 and xr_w042 for Warp 3) for OS/2 which not only fix numerous bugs but also bring additional removable disk drive capability and other, more general, drive performance enhancements. I've been running FP12 here for the past several weeks without problems. My system is fast, responsive, and stable. And as always, these fixpacks are available for free download from the internet.

The last point I'll make on this is the continuing advancement of IBM/Lotus SmartSuite for OS/2. Version 1.1 last year brought it up to year 2000 compliance and, apparently, equivalence to the "Millennium" edition for Windows 95/98/NT. Now it seems, from what little I overheard at Warp Expo West, that IBM will be releasing a version 1.5 of SmartSuite for OS/2.which will (may) push past the current deployment for Win32 systems.

Why would they go to all the trouble to maintain "fat client" applications for a desktop operating system with "no demand"? Oh sure, SmartSuite for OS/2 could be run on a Warp Server for eBusiness system and serve itself up to varied operating system clients, but why bother when you could just use the Win32 versions of the same software if most of your client systems are Win32 based? It seems almost as if part of IBM still really does care about OS/2 and would like to see it survive.

These, though, are the one hand with which IBM gives. The two hands with which it takes keep getting in the way and stealing the spotlight from the friendly hand, so on behalf of myself, VOICE, and all other wishful OS/2 users of the world, let me give thanks to those IBM employees who have, over the years, pushed hard to make OS/2 succeed, who have educated and entertained us during the various VOICE SpeakUp sessions on IRC, and who have worked with the OS/2 community to ensure the success of our grassroots support activities such as Warpstock and Warp Expo West.

I am sorry that I cannot list every IBM employee who has given their time, their sweat, and sometimes their blood for OS/2, but the partial list off the top of my head includes Mike Kaply and Jeff Kobal who have done such wonderful work on the Netscape Communicator port, Tim Sipples who has been an informative guest at VOICE SpeakUp sessions on numerous occasions, Richard Seibt who nearly got the chance to turn OS/2 around within IBM and make it the success it deserves to be, Scott Garfinkle of OS/2 kernel and device driver development fame, and Sam Detweiler also of device driver development fame. For those whose names I missed, I wish I could have you all engraved on a plaque -- but I'm afraid I may be spending the last of my disposable income establishing a gradual transition over to BeOS where my money and support are appreciated by the developer.

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