The War is Not Over, OS/2 is Alive & Flourishing!

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By Jeramie Samphere

Republish Provided by the OS2eCS Organization.

How many times do we hear that saying..."OS/2 is dead!" Its like a mantra for some, or more like propaganda for the Microsoft establishment. Contrary to the rumors...OS/2 is NOT DEAD. In fact it is flourishing...disguised as "eComStation", an OEM version of OS/2 being developed and supported by Serenity Systems, developers, and users around the globe. Following is a snippet of quotes taken from Louis Gerstner's book "Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? (c)2002." Lou describes his strategy to kill OS/2, despite resistance from many within IBM...including top management. Lou claims that the "war was already over", yet OS/2 still had 5% market share...that doesn't sound like over to me. When Lou implemented his plan to kill OS/2...slowly...he also killed the "drive" and "passion" of IBM's best people, the heart of IBM. As Lou states: "The OS/2 decision created immense emotional distress in the company. Thousands of IBMers of all stripes--technical, marketing, and strategy--had been engaged in this struggle."

Sometimes it is in the moment where all hope is lost, that creates the greatest breakthroughs...some give up...some become great leaders and achieve great success! Unfortunately, some give up just at the moment when they may have succeeded.

Here are some quotes from Lou's book describing his views and decision to slowly try and kill OS/2:

"In 1993 very few people--even knowledgeable business executives--would have correctly answered the following question: 'What is the biggest software company in the world?' I suspect nearly all would have answered 'Microsoft.' In fact, IBM sold more software in 1993 than did anyone else.

Why the misperception? It was due mainly to the fact that IBM never thought of itself as a software company, did not talk about itself as a software company, did not have a software strategy, and did not even have a unified software organization.

Software, to IBM, was simply one part of hardware-based offering. Since every computer needs an operating system, and most need databases and transaction processing capability, IBM built many of these software assets but never viewed them as a unique business. Rather, they were buried inside IBM hardware or sold as an add-on feature. And critically, none of this software worked with computers made by manufacturers other than IBM.

So, problem number one: We didn't have a software mentality, much less a real software business. Problem number two: Most of what we had was built for the mainframe world at a time when the bulk of the customer investment was being made in smaller, distributed systems. Problem number three: a troubled child named OS/2.

My consumer packaged goods background helps me understand the emotional attachment companies have for their products. But the situation is different, and far more intense, in the IT industry. I didn't fully understand this when I came to IBM, but I learned in a hurry when I was thrust into our own religious war--the fight for the desktop superiority, pitting IBM's OS/2 operating system against Microsoft's Windows. It was draining tens of millions of dollars(ED Note: Notice he doesn't talk about the billions of dollars OS/2 made IBM in service contracts, hardware, and software.), absorbing huge chunks of senior management's time, and making a mockery of our image. And in the finest IBM fashion, we were going to fight to the bitter end.

IBM had always designed its own operating software to run on its hardware. However, when the PC came along, IBM's lack of real commitment to that market resulted in the company's asking Microsoft to provide the operating system for the first IBM Personal Computer. Microsoft seized that miscalculation and artfully built the most powerful franchise in computing.

The highest levels of IBM executives were almost obsessed with the effort to unwind the decisions of the 1980s and take back control of the operating system from Microsoft (and, to a lesser extent, gain control of the microprocessor from Intel). From my perspective, it was an extraordinary gamble for a company to be taking at a time when it was in such a weak financial state.(ED Note: Great Leaders are willing to take risks...calculated risks!)

The pro-OS/2 argument was based on technical superiority. I can say without bias that many people outside IBM believed OS/2 was the better product. The anti-Windows argument was that the legendary Microsoft hype machine was using clever marketing and wily PR to foist an inferior product on consumers, take greater control of the industry, and, in the process, destroy IBM.(ED Note: and Lou was allowing this to happen!)

What my colleagues seemed unwilling or unable to accept was that the war was already over and was a resounding defeat--90 percent of the market share for Windows to OS/2's 5 percent or 6 percent.(ED Note: Which is it Lou...5 or 6%? gave up the war even though your men were willing and able to fight. Rather than consider it a fight against Microsoft, why did you not consider the impact on your customers...having to succumb to a lower quality product just because the company that makes it was allowed a Monopoly! Where Mr. Lou was the value of commitment to your customers...traditionally a core value of IBM installed by Mr. Watson? ...oh that's right..I forgot, you were creating a new that gives in freely to the whims and whirls of the market and Microsoft!) Not only were we banging our heads against a very hard, unrelenting wall, but I had to wonder if anyone was paying attention to the strategic direction we were talking about. If we truly believed that the reign of the PC was coming to an end, why were we pouring energy, resources, and our image into yesterday's war? Desktop leadership might have been nice to have, but it was no longer strategically vital.(ED Note: Lou's biggest blunder!) Continuing to chase it was more than an expensive distraction, not to mention a source of considerable tension with customers. (ED Note: Lou...why didn't you listen to your customers and YOUR OWN people???) It was counter to our view of where the world was headed.(ED Note: Ya..the World according to Lou!)

The last gasp was the introduction of a product called OS/2 Warp in 1994, but in my mind the exit strategy was a foregone conclusion. All that remained was to figure out how to withdraw.(ED Note: I wonder how much he was getting paid off from Microsoft?) I asked for alternatives and was presented with three. The first two would have involved fairly abrupt termination of the product line. The third involved a five- to six-year winding down that would cost us hundreds of millions of dollars but would provide support to allow customers using OS/2 to migrate to Windows- or UNIX based systems in a more manageable fashion.(ED Note: I wonder how many times Mr. Watson has turned in his grave??) I think you know the decision a former customer made, and IBM today is providing support for customers who still depend on OS/2.

The OS/2 decision created immense emotional distress in the company. Thousands of IBMers of all stripes--technical, marketing, and strategy--have been engaged in this struggle. They believed in their product and the cause for which they were fighting.(ED Note: They were fighting for the success of IBM and its customers.) The doomsday scenario of IBM's losing role in the industry because it didn't make PC operating systems proved to be little more than an emotional reaction, but I still get letters from a small number of OS/2 diehards."(ED Note: Well there are more than just a few little OS/2 users. Despite Lou's plan to kill OS/ still lives on and its user base is growing more and more every day under the name: eComStation! Thanks to a strong community and hard working developers and supporters around the globe, eComStation is progressing and gaining momentum!)--"Who Says Elephants Can't Dance...Inside IBM's Historic Turnaround..Louis V. Gerstner, Jr." pgs.137--139

-- Jer