Quote of the Month

I was cleaning out an old desk the other day, and I happened to find a few intriguing articles from the mid-1990's.
(One of them is mentioned in the Quote of the Month above.) Aside from a few laughs at the ridiculous claims of the talking parrots who obediently repeated the Microsoft party line, there were several cases of anti-OS/2 FUD that were quite amazing.

For those who are unaware of the term, "FUD" means Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt. It's a technique for negative marketing that was originally used by IBM in the mainframe business. By raising spooky questions about the future of competing products and companies, IBM could play the role of "the only safe choice" and leverage their huge size and vast experience to keep corporate customers from investigating hot new alternatives. Ironically, FUD was perfected by Microsoft during their anti-OS/2 campaign of the mid-1990's and used quite effectively against IBM. Here are a few examples.

"A Dataquest, Inc. report created quite a ruckus last week. Among other outcomes, the unpublished document predicts that IBM will kill OS/2 when the operating system fails to gain market share after Microsoft Corp's Windows95 debuts." - Computerworld, April 10, 1995, page 8.

Note the sly terminology.... "WHEN" instead of "IF" OS/2 fails to gain market share. By implying that the outcome was certain to be negative, a prognostication began to look like a plan. But even more subtle is the fact that the Dataquest report was an UNPUBLISHED document. How could an unpublished document cause a ruckus? If such a document was intentionally leaked to a wide audience, then it could cause damage without giving IBM grounds to sue. This way, corporate managers would begin to Fear for the future of OS/2, become Uncertain about IBM's long-term commitment to the platform, and Doubt that it would be around for a long time. Meanwhile, IBM could only deny the rumors; there was nothing in print to be refuted and no legal recourse to shut down the publication of an unpublished document.

What is the original source of such anti-IBM rumormongering? Look at the following excerpt:

"Compuserve's OS/2 User Forum is rife with rumors that Big Blue wil scuttle OS/2 development in favor of supporting Microsoft's Windows95. The rumors apparentlly got started when "sources close to Microsoft" leaked word to a columnist for the UK edition of PC Magazine, who dutifully reported both the rumor and source."
- Computerworld, March 20, 1995, page 118.

To put these dirty tricks into perspective, note that these rumors originated with pro-Microsoft cronies and were spread quickly throughout the PC media establishment -- less than one month after OS/2 Warp had become America's best-selling retail software product. At a time when IBM CEO Lou Gerstner was openly calling for increased OS/2 development and a full sales commitment (even with direct, public appeals to all IBM executives to push OS/2 forward), persistent rumors of IBM's supposed "plan" to get rid of OS/2 continued to be propagated throughout the mainstream PC media.

Soon other computer publications jumped on the bandwagon. PC Computing's Ed Bott responded to a pro-OS/2 letter with the printed comment, "Break out the grape Kool-Aid!" -- an obvious reference to suicidal cult leader Jim Jones. Later in 1995, one computer magazine printed a sales chart that appeared to show OS/2 sales disappearing -- until the reader looked closely and realized that the horizontal axis of the graph was not zero sales per month, but 200,000 sales per month. A major trade magazine printed an article entitled "OS/2 Users Head for the Exits" -- while the accompanying graph showed that 10% more companies were INCREASING their OS/2 investments than were decreasing them.

Note that many of these phony anti-OS/2 articles were in trade publications that also had one, two, or more full-page IBM advertisements for OS/2 Warp. IBM was selling OS/2 like hotcakes, spending huge rolls of cash on OS/2 advertisements, and urging every IBM executive to promote OS/2 to IBM's clients. Meanwhile, the press preferred to spread rumors and innuendos, becoming accomplices to Microsoft's dirty-tricks campaign.

When today's users of Microsoft products endure lost data, lost productivity, and the gut-wrenching frustration of being force-fed a suite of brain-dead, obsolete products, they ought to pause and thank the media for their predicament. In one of the most shameful episodes of tabloid-style journalism ever, greatness was squelched and mediocrity became a celebrated hero. As any Microsoft watcher knows, ignorant corporate decision-makers base their selections not on reality, but on popular myths. The PC-using public needed the facts, and the "experts" in the PC media let them down.

Tom Nadeau

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