Yet, despite IBM's record of stunning marketing and sales incompetence, OS/2 refused to die. Work continued on the product despite the Microsoft tsunami, and in 1992 IBM released OS/2 2.0. This version of the product was years ahead of Windows in terms of raw functionality, and only until the release of Windows 2000 did a comparable product exist. Unlike the 16-bit Windows and OS/2 1.x, 2.0 was a 32-bit OS that could take full advantage of the 386, 486, and Pentium processors. It sported a powerful new "object-oriented" interface that, though initially confusing to many, made older approaches to GUIs seem toy-like in comparison. It even had decent hardware support and could print, most of the time.
IBM had also made a few improvements in its attempts to sell OS/2. It had consolidated all marketing and development efforts in its Austin, Texas, facilities; this helped provide some focus to the OS/2 effort. The new Austin unit founded the IBM Independent Vendor League (IVL), a business group chartered to help encourage the development of OS/2 books, courseware, certification exams, and similar aftermarket materials. IVL also helped launch two magazines dedicated to OS/2: OS/2 Professional and OS/2 World. In addition, several prominent online forums were founded to extol the virtues of OS/2 and encourage its use, foremost among them being Will Zachman's Canopus forum on CompuServe.
Helping the situation along was the fact that the industry was learning that Microsoft could be every bit as tough and brutal a competitor as IBM in its heyday. As the company tightened its grip on the desktop OS environment, it used its cash and intelligent marketing to drive toward dominance of the lucrative desktop applications markets. IBM's competitors were increasingly in a panic. OS/2 offered, perhaps, an opportunity to regroup and regain lost market share and revenue on a more level playing field.
Unfortunately for these hopes, although IBM had learned a few lessons, it hadn't learned enough. The aforementioned shutdown of IBM's Desktop Software group robbed OS/2 of critical application support when it needed it most. In addition, IBM had entered into yet another OS deal, this one with Apple. This was Taligent, a joint development effort between IBM and Apple that burned up about half a billion dollars before collapsing of its own weight.
Taligent started out as an attempt to build yet another next-generation OS, which then morphed into a half-witted effort to build an OS that would run other OSs. When this proved unfeasible, Taligent decided to waste more time and money creating a series of middleware tools that no one understood or bought before someone woke up and pulled the plug on the entire fiasco. But in the meantime, the industry was abuzz with rumors that OS/2 was simply an intermediate step on the way to this newest wonder OS. Then rumors began to spread that IBM and Apple would merge and that OS/2 would soon adopt the Macintosh interface. OS/2 developers had heard all this before, and fortunately for IBM, many chose to ignore the idiot mutterings from Big Blue and focus on trying to sell their software.
This wasn't easy, because another lesson IBM still hadn't learned, despite the success of IVL, was the need to help software companies sell their products in order to ensure OS/2's success. The company still had no direct marketing and distribution channel programs in place to help get OS/2 applications seen and bought. Several attempts were made to convince the powers that were to create software promotional bundles with OS/2, or at the very least include trialware versions of applications in retail units of the product. All such attempts foundered.
The problem of developer support was compounded by yet another IBM mistake: the decision to incorporate Windows 3.0 and 3.1 into different versions of OS/2 2.0 and 2.1, respectively. IBM positioned OS/2 2.0 as a one-size-fits-all OS capable of running DOS, OS/2, and Windows applications. In fact, IBM regularly claimed in its marketing literature that OS/2 ran Windows better than, well, Windows. This immediately raised the question of why anyone should buy an OS/2-specific application if Windows solutions ran so much better in OS/2. It also raised a credibility issue, because it seemed unlikely to many that IBM would be able or inclined to provide increased functionality and support for what was now OS/2's bitter rival. And the existence of Windows within OS/2 allowed developers who were under pressure to develop OS/2 applications to fudge the issue by claiming that "Yes, indeedy, our applications run under OS/2 (Windows) just fine."
In adopting this strategy, IBM was ignoring the lessons of history. Other attempts had been made in the past to create one-size-fits-all computers and OSs. In the early 1980s there was the Dimension computer,10 a system that ran Apple DOS, TRS-DOS (for the RadioShack line), and CP/M via plug-in boards. What all the makers of these products soon found out was most people didn't want a one-size-fits-all product; they wanted a single product that did what they wanted and did it quickly and well. Mastering the complexities of multiple OSs within a single desktop environment was something that was of interest only to a small group of hobbyists and IT experimenters.
And even though IBM's other marketing processes had improved, the company's marketing groups still managed to provide some inadvertently hilarious lessons in how not to execute the basics. For example, IBM printed an infamous OS/2 brochure whose front piece showed a yuppie type flinging open a window to explore the wonderful new world of OS/2. Behind the window was a viscous green mass in which the yuppie had immersed his face. It looked a lot like what happens when the Blob ingests its victims.
Then there was IBM's sponsorship of college football's Fiesta Bowl (soon known internally as "The Fiasco Bowl"). To many observers, it was unclear what benefit IBM derived from slapping the name "OS/2" on a second-tier sporting event. No demographic information seemed to exist that indicated that people who watched the Fiesta Bowl were also highly interested in 32-bit OSs, and there wasn't much proof that watching a college football game would make people more inclined to rush home and demand computer resellers stock up on OS/2.
Regardless, after buying the sponsorship, the Fiesta Bowl was duly renamed the "IBM OS/2 Fiesta Bowl," and the organizers of the event asked IBM for their lineup of sponsors. "Uh, what sponsors?" the IBMers replied. At this point, IBM learned that along with the right to advertise its own products during the football game, it had also bought a series of time slots it was supposed to allot to the third-party vendors of its choice. IBM's Austin group had no experience with this sort of
10 I first saw this system in action at the first PC Expo, held in 1983 in New York City's now defunct Coliseum. For years PC Expo was considered the industry's second most important trade show after COMDEX.
activity, and the news sparked a series of frantic phone calls out to local Austin businesses11—barbecue restaurants, transmission shops, auto dealerships, and so forth—asking if they'd like to advertise their wares during the IBM OS/2 Fiesta Bowl. (Eventually a professional was brought in to manage the process.)
But despite IBM's best efforts, OS/2 proved to be a survivor and soldiered on. The technical excellence of the product was hard to ignore. Windows, still a 16-bit application with firm DOS roots, was looking increasingly antique and out-of-date in contrast with OS/2 and its sleek, object-oriented interface. The release of Windows NT, the 32-bit OS originally intended to be the successor to Windows 3.x, and the announcement by Microsoft that it was developing yet another 32-bit OS for the "home" and the "desktop," a product that would eventually be known as Windows 95, were generating intense confusion in the market. And developer antagonism toward Microsoft was rising steadily. But IBM was up to the challenge. With the introduction of OS/2 3.0, the company finally managed to put a stake through OS/2's tough little heart.
The 3.0 release of OS/2 in early 1995 was accompanied by a name change. Henceforth, OS/2 was to be called OS/2 "Warp." The genesis of this truly unfortunate moniker began with IBM's habit of using code names lifted from the popular and seemingly eternal TV and movie series, Star Trek. Previous beta versions of OS/2 were named "Borg," "Ferengi," and "Klingon" (all alien races on the show), and the 3.0 beta version was called Warp (as in "warp speed," as in really, really fast). But as Warp neared its release date, IBM puzzled over what to call the released product, until Chairman Lou Gerstner decreed that the product should be known as . . . Warp.
It seemed an excellent idea! Earlier versions of OS/2 had been criticized by some as being slow, though this was more a function of memory requirements and setup than a technical deficiency. Star Trek was cool, futuristic, and familiar, a seemingly perfect match of product image to functionality. IBM moved ahead and designed a marketing campaign around a Star Trek theme. They rented a hall in New York City and invited hundreds to see Patrick Stewart, the then-current captain of the
11 I was consulting for IBM's PSP group at this time. This organization had responsibility for all OS/2 marketing and promotion programs, and I learned about IBM's Fiesta Bowl woes firsthand from the people responsible for these programs.
starship Enterprise to help roll out the product in a gala event. (Stewart was a no-show.)
The only problem was that no one at IBM had bothered to check with Paramount, owner and guardian of the Star Trek franchise and all related trademarks and marketing rights, about what it thought of this idea. Now, Paramount had no right to trademark the name "Warp"— science-fiction writers had been using the word since the 1930s. But IBM's public use of "Klingon" and "Ferengi" had annoyed Paramount, and the company wasn't about to let IBM appropriate Star Trek for its own marketing purposes. Sharp letters were sent to IBM, and threats were voiced. As a result, IBM decided to drop any Star Trek marketing concepts for Warp.
This was a problem. Without a cool futuristic concept tied to the word and the product, IBM had to rely on the traditional meanings of the word. Like "Bent." "Twisted." "Warped." "Out of shape." And other, less conventional meanings. For instance, if you were alive during the 1960s (if you remember the 1960s), "warped" was something you became after ingesting certain substances that time and experience have shown to be bad for memory recall and possibly your genetic heritage.
The result was that IBM ended up creating a very odd advertising and marketing campaign redolent of hash brownies and magic mushrooms. Twisty "Age of Aquarius" type was splashed across ad posters all over the land, proclaiming that people were "warping" their computers. Edwin Black, publisher of OS/2 Professional magazine, described in an editorial of nearly having an apoplectic fit12 as he gazed upon one such IBM ad plastered up on the walls of Chicago's O'Hare Airport. It featured Phil Jackson, former coach of the mighty Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls and the flower child of NBA basketball with the New York Knicks in the 1970s, smiling through his bushy mustache at the prospect of "warping" his computer. Everyone, of course, was thrilled at the prospect of running a psychedelic, warping OS that smoked dope and had flashbacks when you asked it to retrieve a file.
12 Edwin had many such moments in his dealings with IBM's marketing and sales system. He later wrote a scathing article in OS/2 Professional about IBM's marketing and sales mishandling of an excellent search utility for OS/2, SearchManager, called "DOA." This was an editorial act of some courage, as IBM accounted for a large percentage of OS/2 Professional's advertising budget. Edwin took over the product, renamed it "Bloodhound," and had some sales success with it before OS/2 died.
But despite even this, OS/2 continued to squirm and twist toward survival. Microsoft's increasingly public woes with the U.S. Department of Justice seemed about to slow the Windows juggernaut down a bit. The slow trickle of OS/2-specific applications coming to market began to swell. Sales of OS/2 through the retail channel became brisk. At IBM's 1994 Technical Interchange trade show, many vendors offering OS/2 applications had sold out by the event's end.13 Although OS/2 was far from reaching parity with Windows, it was close to achieving the status of a strong second-place contender with significant market share.
Then IBM rolled out the big guns: IBM PR and Lou Gerstner himself.
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