Waiting patiently for the new OS2

Someone once said that bad publicity was better than no publicity at all. However, what happens when you can't even get bad publicity? The OS/2 community has been waiting patiently for the release of a "new OS/2" from a small company which recently licensed OS/2 from IBM for development purposes. That's right, a third-party developer of e-commerce solutions, Serenity Systems (www.serenity-systems.com) is actually working on delivering a new version of OS/2 to the world. This is a case of what Oracle CEO Larry Ellison calls "coopetition" -- the idea that several companies can work together on a common project while still competing for capital, customers, and mindshare.

This notion of coopetition really is not so strange. In politics, nations join in military or geopolitical alliances while continuing to spy on one another. They exchange data on common perceived threats while refusing to exchange commercial data or weapons secrets. In music, bands who are competing for the same listening audience will often tour together. And some musicians will even collaborate on songs or albums while maintaining competitive market positions through separate agents and different distribution companies.

Even in the operating system world, this notion is not new. A few years ago, Apple licensed the Mac OS to several competing hardware makers in order to generate a "clone market" similar to the highly successful, constantly expanding market for cut-rate Intel-compatible PC hardware. By providing a lower entry-cost to new computer users (as well as longtime PC users desperate to escape the Windows monopoly without massive transition costs), Apple was beginning to grow the market share for the Mac OS. The problem with this approach was that Apple was simultaneously losing market share for its own hardware. Without a "critical mass" of new Mac OS licensees, the move was not profitable and was therefore discontinued.

However, the situation with Serenity and IBM is much different because unlike Apple, IBM's main target market consists of giant megacorps that spend tens of billions of dollars each year on computers and related products and services. Serenity can safely target the low-to-midrange business market without too much "bumping heads" with IBM. This means that there is a good chance that this market-growth strategy can succeed in spreading OS/2 to more markets beyond the Global 2000 major corporations where it has long been a stalwart. This is good for IBM (more licenses means more dollars). This is good for computer users (more choices means an increased incentive for quality and openness). And of course it is good for current OS/2 users (more fellow users means more stability for application developers and solution providers).

But where is the PC industry media? Are they fast asleep, or partying somewhere west of Spokane and north of Portland?

Imagine if Novell had begun licensing Netware or NDS to small companies to produce their own "distros" of these products. Or suppose Apple decided to resurrect their clone strategy. Better yet, imagine if BeOS or some other PC-compatible OS was being licensed to small companies to jump-start the moribund OS marketplace. Wouldn't we see more than a few headlines about this novel approach? Wouldn't commentators salivate at the thought of Bill Gates quaking in fear, or laughing maniacally as he crushed yet another innovative risk-taker?

Either of these viewpoints would be worthy of some ink. But the PC media does not seem to be interested in providing coverage of anything warp-worthy. It seems strange that not even a whimper of disdain, of contempt, or of head-wagging disgust has been found in the "mainstream" computer press on this topic. Strange.... unless you know the details of the PC media's love/hate relationship with OS/2 reporting.

Or has Microsoft paid for yet another round of silence, the way they paid for the appearance of grass-roots support a few years ago? That question itself would make a good story. Where are the sentinels of the free press when we need them?

Tom Nadeau


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