MICROSOFT FACES BIG FIGHT IN PC ARENA

First it was the OS/2 2.0 Now it’s SVR4.2. These two powerful desktop operating systems are threatening to push Windows from its lofty position. Are the two systems real threats and can Windows withstanding the onslaught?

The ground is rapidly shifting from under Microsoft’s feet. Suddenly, within a spate of three months, it found that IBM and Unix System Lab (USL) had made dangerous incursions into the desktop operating system marketplace.

Just a year back, Microsoft was the envy of the industry. Its Windows operating system was a roaring success and its position as market leader in the personal computing and desktop arena seemed almost entrenched.

IBM’s earlier OS/2 releases which ran on the PS/2 platforms would never gain widespread support as it was not compatible with many of the PCs in the marketplace.

And the Unix operating systems, with the exception of SCO’s, were too massive to run on the desktop. That left Microsoft as the supreme leader, laughing all the way to the bank.

But the giants were quick to realise that the vendor who had supremacy of the desk-lopoperating arcnacould well set the direction of the client-server technology—the computing architecture of the future. And they want a piece of the pie.

“We see the Unix desktop operating system product as an effective client-server operating system. It will have an impact on the strategic corporate desktop environment of the future,” said Colin Fulton, regional general manager of Unix International Pacific Basin.

Big Blue fired the first salvo this year when it launched its OS/2 Release 2.0 two months ago.

Unlike the earlier versions, IBM this time round spent a lot of effort ensuring that the product has mass appeal.

OS/2 umbrella

First, it made sure that the product, which runs on386SX chip with 4Mb RAM, did not just have drop and drag icons but it also supports DOS and Windows applications, a popular feature for most existing users.

Second, in a marked departure from previous versions of the OS/2, it can run on 200 other PC platforms besides the PS/2.

And what is important is that IBM had ensured that the operating system is affordable to most users.

“OS/2 Version 2.0 is indeed a runaway success. Sales in Singapore had been better than anticipated,” said Edward Lim, IBM Singapore’s PS/2 marketing manager.

He added that the company was focusing its marketing efforts on two fronts— direct marketing and existing resellers.

The company is also planning to sell to OEMs and through the retail channels to ensure that the OS/2 2.0 reaches as broad a base as possible.

The target, said Lim, was not just to reach existing OS/2 users but to be the predominant desktop operating system.

“While we may eat into the Microsoft user base, we are not putting Microsoft out of business,” Lim said. “What we are trying to do is to serve the industry better and to bring out an operating system that meets users’ needs.”

He added that the two companies were still licensing each other’s source codes.

Lim added that while he was aware that USL had released SVR4.2 an operating system for the desktop, he felt that office users were still reluctant to enter that environment.

Fulton, however, disagreed.

He felt that the S VR4.2 was expected to be widely used as a PC LAN server and as a low-end database and application server, areas where the Unix systems already excelled.

Good Strategy

With the addition of emulation utilities available from several Unix software vendors, the new Unix system will also run DOS and Windows applications.

This will make the competition even stiffer for Microsoft until ships its Windows NT. The operating system is ventured by the ACE as the operating system for RISC platforms.

Peter Wong, general manager, Southeast Asia of Microsoft said, although various parties wished to eat into Microsoft’s turf, they were actually barking up the wrong tree.

‘The IBM OS/2 operating system is meant for the server side. There are not many PCs with enough memory to run these applications,” he added.

Wong said Windows 3.1 was meant for the desktop in the office and it had received a favorable response, with more than three million copies shipped in the first six weeks. This figure excludes those bundled with PCs by the manufacturers.

He added OS/2 2.0 does not support Windows 3.1, and as such could not support all the Windows features.

He said that Microsoft Windows NT, when it is released later this year or early next year, would be competing in the server arena.

Meanwhile, it is almost certain that it will not be long before standard PC specifications meet up to the OS/2 and SVR4.2 requirements.

Intel has stated categorically that it is positioning the 486 chip as the entry level chip. PCs in the future will have more power and memory to run applications.

The market for the multitasking, 32-bil operating system is certainly there. But it is too early to tell which company — USL, IBM or Microsoft — will dominate the operating system of the future. ? The battle has begun.

Jenny Chin

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