OS/2's Death Rattle?

Rohit Khare (khare@pest.w3.org)
Thu, 15 Aug 96 00:24:17 -0400

The evidence is rushing in now on OS/2. The remaining OS/2 ISVs I've been
tracking have vanished from the radar (Athena Design, DeScribe, Lotus
products). They've paid blood money to Netscape for an OS/2 port, but that's
the last positive news I've heard in a long time.

Merlin is slated for release soon, as a competitor to NT4.0. There may be a
battle about the better-underlying-OS-technology, but it's moot at the layer
that counts: APIs, application support, and ubiquitous GUI.

This analysis is a fine piece of entrail-reading that accuses high IBM
management of selling OS/2 out, too.

Think of it this way: *Microsoft* is being driven to give away nearly $400
SRP of stuff (games, subscriptions, etc) to *give away a free browser* -- and
OS/2 is suddenly going to be bought up by millions?

Major technology losses: momentum for OpenDoc (the annointed CORBA component
technology) and OREXX, the next generation IBM scripting language. All the
other technology in OS/2 has become irrelevant (fonts, media handling, oo user

Rohit Khare

August 14, 1996 5:45 PM ET
Former supporter said IBM mishandling OS/2

By _Charles Cooper_

One of OS/2's highest-profile supporters said IBM has all but raised the
white flag of surrender to Microsoft Corp. in the operating systems wars.

William Zachmann, the president of Canopus Research, in Duxbury, Mass.,
contended that little support now exists for OS/2 in IBM's executive suite,
adding that the company's lukewarm backing for the product has effectively
turned it into a lame duck.

"I still think OS/2 has potential--if IBM tried," said Zachmann, who has
championed OS/2 as a viable alternative to operating system offerings from
Microsoft. "But I just believe they are going to pack it in."

Zachmann said that during a conference last week in Toronto, senior IBM
officials conspicuously failed to bring up OS/2 during the course of
presentations that lasted one and a half days. It was only late during the
second day of the conference that the issue was raised, after a question about
OS/2 was asked by John McCarthy, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., in
Cambridge, Mass.

Zachmann was previously one of the staunchest defenders of OS/2. At one time
he thought the operating system would attain a 15 percent to 20 percent share
of the desktop market. Earlier this year, however, Zachmann decided to hold
off on making any forecasts for OS/2, until he got a better sense of IBM's

"I'm now convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that [IBM chairman Louis]
Gerstner and [Software czar John M.] Thompson don't care about OS/2," he said.
"What they've got now is an exit strategy. Even today, if Gerstner decided to
do it, IBM could make OS/2 successful," Zachmann said. "It wouldn't rule the
universe, but I never said it would rule the universe. I said it would do
better than people think and would develop into a viable option."

He said that after a recent review of a range of strategic options, IBM had
decided not to end OS/2 development because of the potential backlash from
customers. Still, he said, IBM "would cross it off their budget if they

Zachmann plans to remove OS/2 from his systems and replace it with Windows 96
and Windows NT. He said that he no longer views OS/2 "as an operating system
that has a future."

"There's no sane conclusion but to say it's finished," he said.

Forrester's McCarthy, echoing the sentiment, said that OS/2 "is fading into
the background. But they won't make a public announcement. Lou's publicly
committed to it."

Indeed, IBM maintained that is does not plan to phase out OS/2 or put it on
the back burner.

"Just look at what we've done this year for OS/2," said IBM spokesman Joe
Stunkard. "It's been the single most aggressive year for rolling out new
products on both the client and server side."

Though IBM will not reprise television broadcast advertisements to promote
the release of Merlin, Stunkard said that "in terms of marketing dollars, we
are planning an aggressive media campaign.

"Are we pulling back? Not at all," he said.

However, he did allow that Zachmann's defection from the OS/2 camp was a
serious blow.

"In terms of the OS/2 community, Will is an icon," he said. "For that reason,
this is a very dramatic statement."

Stunkard said Zachmann's comments, which were first made late last week in
the Canopus online forum on CompuServe, had sparked discussion within the
corridors of IBM.

"It raised eyebrows as well," said Stunkard, without going into further detail.

However, an IBM executive speaking on condition of anonymity said that the
gist of Zachmann's comments were on the mark.

"Just look at the market and how this company works," said the source. "IBM
is driven by the market and by its customers. We would never go to the extent
of pulling the plug and screwing the installed base. But it's over."