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PC Week Commentary

PC at Work
Thin-client economics revive 'dead' OS/2
By Peter Coffee
October 25, 1999 9:00 AM ET

I pushed one button and deployed a network in 29 seconds per node. It was worth my trip to Atlanta to see this fulfillment of the vision of network computing delivered by Serenity Systems' technology based on IBM's OS/2.

Atlanta's city seal shows a phoenix rising from a fire with a motto above reading "Resurgens." This presumably commemorates Atlanta's recovery from Civil War destruction, but it was also an appropriate image for the International OS/2 Users Convention, which is whimsically known as Warpstock.

Atlanta was devastated, not by the attacking Union army, but by the departing Confederate forces blowing up their military supplies before fleeing Sherman's troops. In the same way, the greatest damage to OS/2 has been done not by its competitors, but by a lack of focus from its owners at IBM.

IBM is awakening to the value of its OS/2 assets. In the last year, the company seems to have rethought its positioning of OS/2 Warp Server as an entry-level product, reinforcing it with an advanced file system and other technologies that make it a superb e-commerce option. IBM's OS/2-based WorkSpace On-Demand (www-4.ibm.com/software/network/workspace) is a ready-to-roll option for slashing the costs of managing desktop computing.

OS/2 enjoys strong loyalty from key market sectors such as banks, especially overseas, where at least one bank attributed previous losses to the mushrooming ownership cost of fat-client PCs. Serenity (www.serenity-systems.com) chose OS/2, after objectively considering alternative operating systems such as Linux, for its managed desktop computing line—including the WiseManager product with which I made that one-touch deployment demo in Atlanta.

As keynote speaker for the Warpstock conference, I invited the attendees to consider the often misleading metaphor of the information superhighway. There are many things wrong with this metaphor, but it makes one accurate point: In a standards-based environment, whether it's defined by a stripe down the road or by TCP/IP, you can drive what you like instead of what a majority mandates.

A highway is not a railroad. Railroads require conformance to exact specifications, such as spacing of wheels and maximum dimensions of each car. Highways, like the Internet, make it easy to create new branches to new destinations and can readily handle a range of vehicles designed for different purposes. All you have to do is fit through the toll gates and obey traffic signals. And so, I asked the audience, now that we have a highway, who wants to drive a Pinto? (Our overseas guests asked me to clarify that reference; I told them it referred to a product that was shipped with known bugs in the interest of rapid time to market and that the expression "crashed and burned" might have been based on its record of poor error handling.)

I showed the group a chart of auto production by maker in which BMW's output was a tiny bar compared with the taller bars of GM, Ford, Toyota and Volks wagen. BMW drivers aren't considered freaks, geeks or cultists, I asserted; I told the OS/2 users that it was time for them to shed such labels as well. It's been easy for OS/2 enterprise sites to get the impression that they were lonely holdouts against the Sherman-like march of Windows NT. Not so; the phoenix may yet rise.

Is OS/2 meeting your needs? Tell me at peter_coffee@zd.com.

See more PC at Work columns.

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