The 1969 Mets. The 1993 Phillies.
The 1994 George Foreman.
To this list of unlikely come-from-waybehind winners, International Business Machines wants to add:
OS/2 Warp is IBM’s newest answer to Microsoft’s much-anticipated Windows95.
Both are versions and embellishments of the all-encompassing operating system, the basic program computers need running through their electronic veins to be more than doorstops.
Beyond allowing the user to give the computer instructions, operating systems direct the computer’s use of memory, harmonize the functions of its hardware and translate electronic impulses into words and numbers.
Since it was first introduced a couple of years ago, IBM’s operating system, called OS/2, has run a very distant second to Microsoft’s Windows. Some 5 million copies of OS/2 have been sold, compared with an estimated 50 million copies of Windows’ most popular version, labeled 3.1.
But Microsoft is tripping over its own big feet in bringing the next Windows - which it calls Windows 95 - to market. It was supposed to be released in 1993 … then 1994 … and then early 1995. Last month, Microsoft announced that it would not be out until August 1995.
And it is in these delays that IBM senses an opening.
Ads for OS/2 Warp, which was released in November, are flooding television, radio and magazines.
And retail computer stores, “which have not seen an IBM salesman in months,” are being courted now by Big Blue representatives selling the program with the Trekkie name, says IBM spokesman Rob Crawley.
The campaign has had an effect. Stores that once relegated OS/2 to anonymity on crowded shelves now are giving it its own display space.
And though Warp still must prove its staying power, it “is hot right now,” says Keith Feike, manager of Micro Center in St. Davids, Pa.
Worldwide, Warp has sold 800,000 copies. Some computer makers, including Dell and Compaq, now have agreed to put Warp on the computers they sell, IBM says.
Many a computer user is supremely indifferent to operating systems, but there are good reasons why the advent of Windows 95 stirs the souls of millions of cyberfans while the presence of OS/2 Warp tempts only hundreds of thousands of others.
Windows 3.1 still depends on DOS, the first and worst operating system. In fact, it “needs” DOS, even though Windows’ mission is to give DOS a so-called graphical interface - menus, icons and other doodads that make it easier for the user to sidle up to the computer.
But Windows 95 and OS/2 do away with DOS and its infuriating limitations completely - from the stranglehold it puts on computer memory to its annoying insistence that file names be no longer than 12 characters.
Both Windows 95 and OS/2 promise to increase the power and speed of application programs - such as word processors, spreadsheets and games - because they run more information through their processors at a faster rate than their more anemic earlier versions.
Finally, both bring DOScompatible machines as close as is possible to the ideal in computing: a system that allows even complex functions, such as faxing a document, to be carried out with the click of a mouse button.
Like IBM, hard-core fans of OS/2 point out that they already have access to this computing paradise.
Take James Rives-Jones, resident conductor of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra.
He balances his checkbook with his computer. Writes with it. Uses it to send electronic mail to friends around the world.
“When OS/2 first came out, I bought it and loved it,” says RivesJones. “OS/2 lets me use the computer in a way I thought computers should be used, so that, for example, I can be downloading messages at the same time I am balancing my checkbook.”
Doing two or three things at the same time - multitasking, to the uninitiated - is important.
So is the protection OS/2 affords against one of the most-dreaded of all occurrences, a system crash.
Under Windows, a crash not only shuts down a program that has decided to have an electronic nervous breakdown, but often crashes the computer, as well.
The computer, of course, can be cranked back up - but data that was in its memory can be lost forever. Under OS/2, if one program decides to take a dive, the musician says, “it doesn’t crash the whole computer.”
Moreover, computer industry magazines and newspapers point out that OS/2 Warp has a wide range of impressive features, including, according to the magazine PC World, “an information highway on-ramp that knocks the socks off a vaguely comparable feature in Windows 95.”
There’s a technical downside, of course: reported problems with installation; the program’s claim on a substantial part of real estate on the hard disk, the computer’s permanent storage area; and incompatibilities with some programs.
But those problems, which dog all programs and which usually can be overcome with the help of technical support provided by software vendors, will not be the reason OS/2 Warp will fall short in its chase of Windows, experts say.
To be hugely successful, IBM will have to lure millions of Windows users, who have vast libraries of programs designed to run specifically under Windows 3.1.
And most computer users won’t want to take the chance that future upgrades of their favorite Windowsbased databases, word processors or spreadsheets won’t work with Warp, computer industry people say.
“People have been waiting with bated breath for Windows 95 for years,” says Rob Enderle, a senior industry analyst with DataQuest in San Jose, Calif., and a delay of “two months won’t be significant.”