"Remember: The race goes not to the strong, nor swift, nor more intelligent but to the less stupid"

Chapter 6

The Idiot Piper: OS/2 and IBM

The Book

Almost from the moment IBM signed its first contract to use MS-DOS with the original IBM PC, the company began planning to replace the Microsoft OS with something else. Even by the standards of the time, DOS was regarded by many as a "toy" OS. It was a given that IBM would replace it with a more serious system as the PC market grew and developed. The question everyone was asking was "With what?"

After several fits and starts, it turned out that "what" was something eventually christened "OS/2," the real OS that Big Blue intended to follow in the footsteps of other classic IBM OSs such as VM and MVS. Once IBM had made up its mind about what it wanted to do, no one doubted that OS/2 was destined to be the next chapter in IBM's unmatched record of sales triumphs. Sure, the company made occasional missteps such as its Stretch computer of the 1950s and more recently its bungled development of the PC Junior, but to many these were mere sideshows. IBM had designated its next-generation OS for its PCs as "strategic," and when IBM made a proclamation like that the die was cast. OS/2 was destined for greatness....

Who Killed OS/2?

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 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 fit 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....

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