Operating systems

IBM's OS/2 campaign showed how marketing matters more than technology

Marketing really does matter. If you can't market your product, it doesn't matter how good it is. This OS/2 Warp ad from IBM proves the point. Check out the ad and then read on to see how and why it didn't work.

I've said it before: Good marketing beats better technology. The corollary of that is: Bad marketing dooms good technology. If you want proof of that, you need look no further than OS/2. IBM was widely criticized for its bad marketing of OS/2 and this ad shows why.

Reminiscent of the first Infiniti car ads where you saw rocks and trees, but never actually saw the car that was being sold, this ad touts all of the virtues of OS/2 without actually showing you the screen. All you see is that the actors are wowed by everything OS/2 can do. (And for only $80 - Wow!)

The ability to run a video, connect to the Internet, and send a fax may not be anything revolutionary now, but in comparison to Windows 3.1 at the time, it really was something. But IBM never got around to showing you exactly what was going on. All you could see was stunned amazement.

Because IBM never showed what was going on, it lead viewers to get a romanticized vision of how they expected it to be. Although OS/2's Workplace Shell was a technical marvel with its use of object orientation and all, it wasn't all THAT exciting. You were less than overwhelmed when you finally DID see it. Alternatively, because you never saw what the screen looked like, nothing caught your attention and you dismissed it completely.

OS/2 really was a "Better Windows than Windows". Compared to any version of Windows up to about Windows 2000 Professional, OS/2 Warp was more stable, multitasked more smoothly, and was easier to use. As I said in "5 of the best desktop operating systems you never used", IBM introduced many innovations in OS/2 that Microsoft couldn't replicate until Windows XP.

None of that mattered however. IBM's inability to properly tell OS/2's story when it first shipped and people were excited about the initial buzz helped doomed it. Microsoft's arrangement with computer manufacturers and the Win32 API were only more nails in the coffin.

IBM claims in the ad that it's a Warped World. What turned out to be really warped was the marketing campaign IBM used to get OS/2 some early mindshare and traction.

8 comments
A_dangerous_mind
A_dangerous_mind

I was a corporate user and developer on OS/2 1.1 and Warp, and I was very glad to get off OS/2 for Windows 95 and NT 3.51 and 4.0. All that I ever heard for the justification of OS/2 was how much better it was than 'Windows' -- and when I inquired further, all the advantages I heard were in comparison to Windows 3.1.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

Here's even more proof that marketing matters more than technology. It's also more proof that history repeats itself. Remember Microsoft's WOW campaign for Vista? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnOtoxajTkI We can all see how that campaign helped. Although here it may be a problem of Marketing AND Technology. The jury is still out.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

Well,the comparison started out between OS/2 and Windows 3.1 for sure. That's why you heard about it. But, it also was much better than Windows 95 as well. Multitasked better, didn't crash as much. Used about the same resources. Where Windows 95 beat OS/2 was in the marketing department. Microsoft ran a very good marketing campaign for it. The exclusive preinstall deals with hardware OEMs didn't hurt either. With that advantage, Microsoft was able to make the Win32 API a standard and IBM couldnt hit the moving target to make OS/2 as compatible for Win32 apps as they did for Win16 apps. As for NT, OS/2 had an advantage in that it ran DOS apps much better than NT 3.51 or NT 4.0 for that matter. DOS apps that needed direct access to hardware had a hard time in an NT environment. Of course, again, once the Win32 API, much of which was shared between 9x and NT, became standard, this became a non-advantage.

jonsaint
jonsaint

IB never put the marketing muscle behind OS/2 that MS put behind Windows. Even when they had a clear 9 - 12 month advantage before NT came out, IBM never went for the throat. Remember how MS made such a big deal with their launch ("Start it Up")that people were wondering how an operating system could be so newsworthy? There was terrific tension within the IBM PC Division then too, because MS laid a cost burden on every machine shipped with Windows if the manufacturere also supported a non-Windows OS. The fight between the IBM PC brand and the OS/2 developers drove the latter to seek another platform, the PowerPC, for its sales. But that's another story. At that time too, OS/2 marketing never had more than twenty marketing people when MS had hundreds. When they started laying off even that pitiful force, we kenw the game was over.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

This was an amazing computer, true multiprocessing, simultaneous IO, could run Mac software faster than a mac of similar processor speed... let to die on the vine.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

They never showed the OS itself, featured people speaking languages other than English. (Note to marketers, If I have to read subtitles, I'm not interested). Bad marketing, bad bad bad.

John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro
John Sheesley - TechRepublic Pro

The Amiga was admittedly ahead of its time, but for some reason, Commodore couldn't figure out how to market the thing. Commodores were viewed as being 'home machines' or toys. In order to be thought of as a 'business machine' you had to be IBM compatible. Somehow, the Amiga never fully got the IBM-Alternative Love that the Mac got. Maybe there's only room for one Alternative to a mainstream product.

Locrian_Lyric
Locrian_Lyric

...The Amiga had amazing graphics for it's day.

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