Originally published September, 1994
jihad 1. a religious war fought by fanatics sworn to victory or death against the enemy 2. The current state of affairs between IBM and Microsoft.
Religious wars are a part of American culture. Ford vs. Chevy probably wins the prize for most popular and longest lasting. In the personal computing age, dweebs have found it necessary to defend the honor of their word-processor, communications terminal program, or hardware platform since day one.
The debates have simply moved inside. Instead of taking place in highschool parking lots or the Big Orange drive-in, they've moved into cyberspace. Hardware today means a Pentium chip, not a 4:11 rear-end. But it still comes down to the basics: who has the fastest iron, the prettiest paint, and the sexiest interface.
The jihad underway between Microsoft and IBM exceeds anything we've seen in the industry before. The Apple-IBM feud came close to going thermo-nuclear at times, but today there is more cooperation and communication between the two than ill-will. There is good likelihood that their reconciliation will continue as more and more of the PowerPC chips come on-line. Like many intense wars, the one between IBM and MS began with a divorce proceeding. For whatever reason or reasons, Bill Gates decided he didn't want to play with IBM any longer, so he took his toys and left. Since IBM had created Gates empire by bringing him into their fold as the sole provider of DOS, they took it pretty hard when he slammed the door on the way out.
It was never meant to be a happy home. It was a temporary alliance, a marriage of convenience. Their value systems have always been diametrically opposed and the end result was as inevitable as a union between Madonna and Ross Perot.
IBM, once viewed as the most successful corporation ever, is slow to change and their marketing is plodding compared to that of Bill Gates, the genius with zits. IBM is wholesale, Microsoft is retail. Microsoft is heavy on glitter and light on substance. IBM is rock-solid but confuses hardware engineering specs with advertising copy.
For the moment, the battle centers around OS/2. It is definitely about control of the desktop. Microsoft's DOS has been the undisputed king of PC operating system for years. CP/M and other pretenders to the throne all but disappeared after IBM legitimized the personal computer industry with the introduction of its first PC in the early '80s. Today, venerable old DOS is seen as a myopic, crippled, and lame-brained dinosaur.
Originally IBM and Microsoft worked together on OS/2, which they viewed as the crown prince, the undisputed successor to DOS. It would bring a graphical interface and mature multitasking to the desktop and finally release the true potential of the Intel architecture. Whatever conflict may or may not have sparked the split, this much is certain: Microsoft shocked the entire industry - IBM, customers, and thousands of software developers - by walking away from its commitments and leaving Big Blue holding the bag.
Gates's thinking seems to have been that they could do alone with Windows what together they had planned to do with OS/2. Why bother splitting profits when they could have it all? At first glance, it seems he was right. Windows 3.1 has been a break-away product and the defining environment on the desktop.
Although still slow compared to pure DOS, it allowed sharing of data between applications and primitive multitasking. Its GUI offered IBM clones the intuitive ease-of-use that Apple users had known for years.
Windows 3.1 is still king, and overwhelmingly so: but everybody knows its days are numbered. MS is working on their next line of Windows products: Chicago, Daytona, and Cairo. IBM is marching ahead with an ever improving OS/2 that is also expanding to fill all the holes in the market. The battle lines are formed and the war of succession is well underway while the old king still holds the throne.
But this war is different. It is being fought on battlegrounds throughout cyberspace: from the Internet to FidoNet, from CompuServe to Prodigy fire-fights light up the night. Turf in cyberspace is important enough to warrant official participation by both IBM and Microsoft. Austin-based Dave Whittle was IBM's first (and only) official on-line advocate.
Microsoft has a number of on-line representatives, but declines to answer when asked exactly how many they have working the modem circuit. No matter, the point is that this war is not just 'cowboy coders' versus software engineers, and it's more than press releases mirrored by subservient trade journals.
It's real-time, it's on-line, and it's all about shaping your views on which product to choose for your next desktop operating system. Spies, double-agents, turncoats and mercenaries - this war has them all.
Rick Segal is an overt on-line Microsoft representative who is quite active on CompuServe. If you signed onto Will Zachmann's Canopus forum about this time last year, you would have seen him there resolutely trying to improve Microsoft's image. Today Rick is in self-imposed exile from Canopus following an extremely embarrassing episode which has become known as 'The Barkto Incident.'
Bartko was an aberration. It's hard to know if the incident was a one-time thing or if it is symptomatic of widespread disinformation campaigns.
Here's what happened. In January of this year, a newcomer popped up in the Canopus forum named Steve Barkto. He said he was from Oklahoma City and had been an IBM customer for seven years. He wasted little time before attacking IBM, Dave Whittle, and your fearless reporter over issues we had previously discussed with Rick Segal.
This Bartko character had a writing style which was so similar to that of Rick Segal's that it immediately caught my eye. In fact, I responded to his first message to me by asking if he were Segal in drag. Nobody (including myself) took my question seriously. At least not at first.
Then one of the forum Sysop's noted that instead of calling from Oklahoma City, where he claimed to be from, Bartko's calls were originating from the node closest to Microsoft's headquarters in Redmond, Washington. This led Will Zachmann, who 'owns' the forum and is Wizop there, to look more closely.
What he found was incredible: Barkto's account was in fact owned by Microsoft. It had been opened with a corporate credit card belonging to Rick Segal. Will sent a letter to the Microsoft Board of Directors demanding an investigation and explanation, but no explanation has ever been forthcoming.
An internal Microsoft 'investigation' was conducted, headed up by Mike Maples, an MS vice-president who ironically enough hails from Oklahoma City. Unfortunately, it appears the investigation was little more than a cover-up.
The Barkto Incident did not escape the attention of the Department of Justice who was winding up their five-year investigation of MS when it occured. They flew a special team to Redmond to take depositions on the matter just weeks before Microsoft agreed to the Consent Decree designed to stop their predatory and anti-competitive business practices.
Not long after the Barkto affair, a similar incident occurred on another forum on CompuServe. In the LANMAG forum (short for LAN Magazine), a man named Bill Diamond showed up one day and began offering to one and all his views on various networking solutions.
Bill's views just happened to be highly critical of those from IBM (especially OS/2), and from Novell, whose turf MS is trying to crash with their NT and NTAS products. But he was very lavish in praise for those from Microsoft. More than a couple of the forum regulars noticed this slant to his posts and asked him directly if he were a Microsoft employee.
No, he said, he was an independent consultant. If you're guessing that he wasn't being entirely honest, you're right: he was a Microsoft employee.
Becky Campbell, the LANMAG forum Sysop, thought Bill's posts sounded more like marketing hype that technical savvy and so she made a discrete call or two and learned that he was indeed a Microsoft employee.
Becky gave him an ultimatum: come clean and admit his deception or she would do it for him. He did make a public admission, then tried to erase all evidence of his participation there by deleting all of his messages. He is no longer employed by Microsoft.
Meanwhile, the 'other' war continues. IBM has just released its second version of the Warp beta of OS/2. It appears to do all that Microsoft has promised Chicago will do, and more. Total sales for OS/2 since the 2.0 release are predicted to be as high as ten million by the end of this year. Microsoft continues working on Chicago, but now grudgingly admits it will be at least until the middle of 1995 before it's ready to be released. The way IBM keeps raising the bar with improvements to OS/2, it may be later than that.
Many felt this war was over before it ever got started, that IBM was foolish to even try to unseat Windows. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates certainly has done all he can to encourage that view with public comments like "OS/2 is dead, nobody disputes that." Personally, I think Gates was very nearly right, he just misidentified the body. The King is dead! Long live the King!