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Monday, June 23, 2014

ACCEPTING MEDIOCRITY IN COMPUTING

BRYCE ON TECHNOLOGY

- Just because you use Microsoft products, doesn't mean you are "state of the art."

(Click for AUDIO VERSION)
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Back in 1996, I helped organize a global effort to promote an IBM operating system for use on the PC; codenamed "Merlin," it represented Release 4.0 of OS/2 Warp. For those of you ensconced with Microsoft products, there are alternatives to Windows, OS/2 being one. Originally introduced in 1989, OS/2 was a far superior operating system, and way ahead of its time. It offered a true object-oriented desktop, making use of a System Object Model (SOM) which allowed multiple programs to share data at the same time. It also had an easy to use and customizable Graphical User Interface (GUI), a sophisticated High Performance File System (HPFS), symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) support, crash protection, and much more. It could run DOS and Windows apps as well as native OS/2 programs. It was also the first operating system to support JAVA, offer speech recognition, multitasking/multithreading, and was Internet aware. It was an incredibly stable operating platform. After using OS/2 for a number of years, I had trouble adjusting to the Windows world as I found it to be a quantum leap backwards. Everything I took for granted with OS/2 was simply not there in Windows. There was only one problem with OS/2, IBM didn't know how to market it and inexplicably backed down from Microsoft.

For one day in October 1996 (October 26th), tiny Palm Harbor, Florida was the center of the OS/2 universe. Knowing a storm was brewing between IBM and Microsoft, OS/2 users lept to the rescue in the form of a worldwide demonstration of OS/2 entitled, "Connect the World with Merlin." (Click for MORE).

Merlin was the codename for the next major release of OS/2 (v4.0), the last issued by IBM. As a show of support, OS/2 users rallied around the product and put on a demonstration of the product at computer stores, Internet cafes, universities, and PC user group meetings. 28 countries participated in the event, all orchestrated by the product's customers, not the vendor. This is the first time such an event was conducted in this manner, and perhaps the only one to do so. During the 24 hours of the event, volunteers met in our offices in Palm Harbor and communicated with OS/2 users around the globe using the Internet, cameras and native OS/2 software (NOTE: this was way before such things as Skype). I personally gave OS/2 presentations to consumers and students in Australia, Brazil, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom and of course throughout the United States. As each OS/2 site called in, we marked their location on a global map which was refreshed on the Internet. Dots appeared going from east to west as people followed the movement of the sun.

When the day was over, 165 sites had been contacted around the world, with over 1,000 volunteers participating in the event, not bad for a customer driven marketing event. IBM thanked us for our support and we garnered considerable publicity in the process, but IBM nevertheless abdicated the product over the next few years. Its loyal customers persevered though and went on to create an annual user conference entitled, "Warpstock," thereby attaining cult status.

OS/2 may have been dropped by IBM, but it lives on as a hybrid product called "eComStation" (click for MORE), which is developed by IBM, Mensys, Serenity, and various third parties. There are still many proponents who understand the strength of the product and have no intention of sipping the MS Windows Kool-Aid. Even though OS/2 is far and away a better product, Microsoft was able to pound them into submission. The same is true for other products:

* Even though Lotus SmartSuite predated MS Office, it is Microsoft's offering people are most familiar with. If you worked with Lotus SmartSuite though, you realize the deficiencies in MS Office; it is like night and day. Lotus was purchased by IBM who, again, botched the marketing of the product.

* Adobe "InDesign" and its predecessor, "Pagemaker," were impressive tools for desktop publishing. Yet, it is MS Publisher (a component of MS Office) the public is more familiar with. Again, if you have used Adobe's products, you realize the weaknesses of Microsoft's offerings.

* The RealPlayer multimedia player predated MS Media Player. Further, Real's peripheral products for recording and editing multimedia are vastly superior.

* The Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox web browsers are vastly superior to MS Internet Explorer. Likewise, the Mozilla Thunderbird e-mail reader is more effective than MS Outlook, yet it is the latter which dominates market share.

There are many other examples, such as Intuit's Quicken versus MS Money, and I could go on and on. The point is, if the consumer doesn't know better, they will accept the status quo as "state of the art," when, in reality, it is substantially behind it. Products like OS/2, Lotus, RealPlayer, etc. are cleaner, simpler and more easy to use, not to mention more stable. Nonetheless, it is marketing which dictates the state of the art, not technology.

Consider this, I still have two OS/2 Warp computers and they haven't crashed in decades, that's right, decades. Can you say the same for your MS Windows machines?

I chuckle when I hear someone say Bill Gates was a technical genius. Someone is taking it in the arm when they say things like this. A technical genius? Hardly. A marketing genius? Definitely.

Keep the Faith!

Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.

Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M&JB Investment Company (M&JB) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

For Tim's columns, see:   timbryce.com

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Copyright © 2014 by Tim Bryce. All rights reserved.

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