Bradís Warpstock í98 Report!

by Brad Wardell

Disclaimer:
I work for an OS/2 software development company called Stardock Systems, Inc. I attended the show as an employee of said company and thus all of my perceptions are based through this background. Nothing I say here is meant to represent Stardockís official point of view or policy.

 

Warpstock Grows Up...

The show had a few bumps in getting going this year but even with those problems, the general Warpstock committee found a great hotel, which had outstanding room prices to have the show in. The show was vastly more professional than it had been previously and was nearly up to Miller Freeman (who does a number of trade shows) level quality. The only thing missing were burly and obnoxious union "laborers" forcing us to let them move all our equipment around. Like any professional trade show, the networking connections did not function.

The badges and shirts were much more professional. It is really starting to feel like a real trade show and not a volunteer effort. Only in marketing did the Warpstock gang really fall short. There was literally no publicity for the show. No articles in the trade magazines that I could see (which I read religiously) and no local Chicago news either. Iíd recommend that Warpstock í99 work closer with ISVs who are attending the show (not talking just Stardock here) to coordinate a marketing plan. But keep in mind, when youíre dealing with an individual volunteer effort, coordinating marketing is very difficult which is why if I were in their shoes, Iíd let some of the ISVs, do the work for me.

But the show itself was run exceptionally well from what Iíve seen.  Though this should not be construed as being said that the show was run as well as it possibly could either.  It's run very well for a volunteer effort and let's leave it at that.

You can get pictures from the show from the following locations:

http://www.haligonian.com/warpstock98/

http://www.jvlnet.com/~jwlarson/ws98faces.html
 

Stardock on the show floorÖ

In 1997, I went to the show alone with a box of stuff the Stardock wanted to get out of the storage rooms. I had expected maybe 70 people would show. I didnít really want to go since my view on "OS/2 users" by mid 1997, having had my viewpoint clouded by only seeing Usenet OS/2 users, was pretty negative.

To my surprise, over 400 people showed up. It was a great show, I had a really good time, it was really fun hanging out with vendors like DevTech, Sundial, Thetaband, and SofTouch. But we had no software to sell. So the freebies I brought were gone in minutes and I sat feeling like a real fool as vendors who had faith, such as Adventure Software (makers of Internet Adventurer) made a small fortune selling their software at the show.

So when Warpstock í98 was announced, Stardock was amongst the first to sign on and this time around, we brought stuff. And I mean we brought a lot of stuff to sell. Way more stuff than we ever expected to sell. A truck jammed to the rim with OS/2 software. We even stripped Entrepreneur down to just the CDís and manuals so that we could jam more into the truck.

So was Warpstock a success? Well, we sure sold a lot of software. We sold out of Process Commanders and Trials of Battle on the first day despite thinking we had brought far too many copies. We shipped hundreds of copies of Object Desktop 2.0 (which was released on the opening day of the show) and sold a lot of those. We sold out of the expansion pack for Entrepreneur. Iíd estimate that 3 out of 4 Warpstock attendees went home with a Stardock product. Iíd go as far as to say that 3 out of 5 walked home with a couple Stardock products and 1 out of 3 walked home with several Stardock OS/2 products.

This year there were definitely more people than last year. I donít know what the final technical count was but it was a lot higher in the numbers of OS/2 users. You see, Warpstock í97 was very accessible to people who just wanted to drop in and check things out. So there were quite a few people at the previous year who just walked in for a few minutes and left. Warpstock í98 wasnít that way, it was a bit out of the ways and everyone who came definitely wanted to be there. This year, I didnít come alone, I brought Kris Kwilas, who joined Stardock full time this summer (who used to maintain the unofficial Warp 4 FAQ). Kris was kept so busy that he never got to sit down and learned the value of bringing very very comfortable shoes to trade shows. This year, we brought two machines so that people could look at Stardockís games and Stardockís applications at the same time.

We showed:

Object Desktop 2.0 which, to put it in a nutshell, is like a third party upgrade to OS/2. You have OS/2, you put Object Desktop 2.0 on it, and itís like upgrading OS/2 to the next level. Go to http://www.stardock.com to learn about it. While I am obviously biased, I would say that Object Desktop 2.0 was the software highlight of the show and I think that most people would agree with that assessment.

We also showed Entrepreneur, which is the game I was project manager of. While Object Desktop definitely overshadowed it, we still managed to sell a copy to about 1 out of 4 Warpstock attendees (at least). Entrepreneur is a strategy game that runs on OS/2, Windows 95/98, and Windows NT. The object of the game is to start your own company and take over the world while ruthlessly crushing your competitors in the market you choose to be in. In other words, itís loosely based on the actions of a certain unnamed large software company that is currently in trouble for playing Entrepreneur in real life.

Avarice: The Final Saga, OS/2ís all time most popular adventure game got its second wind at Warpstock selling quite a few copies. In Avarice, you arrive at your uncleís island only to find him missing. You must discover what happened to him and survive to tell about it. What makes Avarice so interesting is that it has 24bit graphics and a truly object oriented world. Imagine Myst/Riven except that you can interact with every object you see.

OS/2 Essentials 2.0 also did really well. We marked it down quite a bit for the show. Our view was to make sure everyone at Warpstock walked out feeling like they not only got to meet a lot of OS/2 users but also got a good deal on software. OS/2 Essentials was that good deal. Itís a utility suite for OS/2.

The best selling game of the show (even higher than Entrepreneur) was Galactic Civilizations Gold which weíd guess about 40% of the attendees walked home with a copy. We had a lot in stock internally and brought way more than we thought weíd need and almost sold out. In Galactic Civilizations, you are the leader of mankind as they expand into the galaxy. Itís a strategy game that involves a lot of economic and military tactics and a great deal of diplomacy. There was a lot of talk about a Windows 95/NT version of it which has not yet been written so itís still exclusively on OS/2.

Our biggest goof at the show was in not bringing enough copies of Process Commander. Since Process Commander is still basically 1.0 (thereís been a fixkit for it but itís still basically 1.0) we figured everyone who wanted it would already have it but apparently there are a lot of people who do not have it and who want it. Process Commander was designed primarily to as the most reliable way to recover from system hangs. I was, er um, able to demonstrate this feature while demoing a beta of Entrepreneur 1.5.
 
 

The Warpstock Experience

This year, almost every vendor who was there last year had a booth there this year and there were a lot of newcomers this year. It made for a much livelier show.

I canít include them all because Iím not familiar with all of them so if I miss you, please forgive me.

Computer Data Strategies (CDS) was there with Back Again/2 which is also available for Windows 95/NT. Brad Benson, the co-owner of CDS and I hung out after the show and discussed the finer points of The Simpons and other deep philosophical topics. Back Again/2 is easily the best native backup solution on OS/2 if you have SCSI or ATAPI/IDE tape drives.

DevTech was there once again showing off their flagship product, Deskman/2 2.0. An excellent workplace shell utility. One feature I find particularly useful in it is that it will let you control what things show up on your pop-up menus. As the OS/2 pop-up menus get larger, the more I like Deskman/2. It has a ton of other useful features that have found use in corporations all over the world.

Falcon Networking has really emerged as a powerhouse in the OS/2 market over the past couple of years. Not only do they now host OS/2 e-Zineís, OS/2ís most popular web based electronic magazine but the OS/2 Supersite as well which as Stardock Magazine listed, is the single most popular website for OS/2 users (http://www.os2ss.com). I got to talk to Dirk Terrell there and discovered he, like me, loves to play Total Annihilation. I play multiplayer all the time on that game on the Zone (Iím on there as "Tandis"). I also got to talk to Trevor Smith (who is not affiliated with Falcon but is friends with them so Iím going to include that here). Trevor Smith, who founded OS/2 e-Zine is doing pretty well these days and has taken a sabatical (sic) from computers after his successful sale of OS/2 e-Zine too Falcon Networking. The question I get asked by OS/2 users are "what are these guys like in Ďreal lifeí?" Dirk, Trevor, and the gang are all very normal very nice guys. I wonít kid you, there were a lot of stereotypical "computer people" at Warpstock (no different from any other trade show) but the Falcon gang were all very regular normal guys. In the Falcon booth was BMT Micro which has risen to being a huge distributor of OS/2 software. Stardock and BMT Micro now work very closely together. Odds are, if you ordered Object Desktop 2.0 from us, for instance, someone from BMT Micro was involved somewhere in the line.

The Hethmon Brothers were there again of course since I would say that without them, there might not even be a Warpstock. I am not that familiar with them so Iíll recommend visiting their web page http://www.hethmon.com if you would like to know more.

Indelible Blue, who in my mind have, behind the scenes, done more for OS/2 than pretty much anyone else was there. Buck and Katie were both there. Indelible Blue is probably the worldís leading reseller of commercial OS/2 software. It was great to see them there. They are two of the nicest people youíll ever meet.

Perfect Niche was there again this year with their hot "Smack" OS/2 label making program. They have a new version coming out and it is emerging as a very powerful program. I wouldnít be surprised if it turned into a desktop publishing program eventually. Bill Schindler who I believe writes it, is a very laid back easy going guy whoís great to talk to. Not only is he knowledgeable about OS/2 to the extreme but he has a good sense of humor. His wife Esther is of course very well known to many OS/2 users because of her journalistic career and OS/2 advocacy.

Phoenix OS/2 Society (POSSI) while this is debateable, I would say that POSSI has emerged as the biggest and most active OS/2 user group in the United States. At Warpstock, they were signing up new members left and right and definitely had the coolest shirts there (I forgot to buy one! Arrgh). I have gone to Phoenix for their user group more than Iíve gone to any other user group anywhere. They have a very popular monthly printed magazine called Extended Attributes.

SCOUG (Souther California OS/2 User Group) was also on hand. Next to POSSI, SCOUG is the user group I have visited the most. Location wise, SCOUG is a great place because there is so much there that one can do (being in Southern California definitely doesnít hurt). The people there are very down the earth and when visiting SCOUG, itís always felt like a vacation for me.

Star Division made an appearance this year and had one of the best demos of the show. Star Office 5.0 got everyone very excited (I didnít get to see it unfortunately but people were talking about it enough to know that it must have been pretty impressive).

Sundial had the sleeper hit of the show: Mesa/2 2.2. Anyone who uses spreadsheets: Stop reading this and go check it out. You want to know how a spreadsheet should be done then look no further than Sundial. I would also like to mention that Sundial has been an avid supporter of OS/2 long before Stardock was even an idea. Sundialís classic PIM, Relish, was out for OS/2 1.0 way back. If you want to talk about a company that writes solid code and treats their users with respect, thatís Sundial. Iíve always felt that Sundial has not received enough kudos for the things theyíve done for OS/2 over the years. Their web page is http://www.sundial.com and if youíre an avid OS/2 user, I urge you to check out their page.

Thetaband was on hand again and that crazy man known as Timur Tabi was there and this time he brought the wife. We all went out for seafood on the second night and had a blast. Iím not super familiar with all of what Thetaband does so just check out their website: http://www.thetaband.com. Iíll talk more about Timur later in this article.

WarpSpeed came in all the way from Australia. Now, I know that some OS/2 users like to think that we OS/2 ISVs are just flying around on our corporate jets and living it high, but in actuality, most OS/2 ISVs are very small software companies. Not because OS/2 is "dead" but rather because thatís the way they want to be. While I canít speak for WarpSpeed, I would imagine taking a trip from Australia for a 2 day show was no minor thing for them. Their hit utility product, Graham Utilities did very well at the show. Though I think it was Chris Graham that ate up several minutes of my OSWars presentation by going long on his. So if heís reading this and wondering who let the air out of his tires, wellÖ (just kidding).

VOICE A virtual OS/2 user group was also on hand this year lead by Judy McDermit. Judy is also part of the Detroit area OS/2 user group which actually meets at Stardockís offices here in Livonia Michigan. (Second Thursday of each month. Weíre at 17292 Farmington Road in Livonia Michigan Ė corner of 6 mile and Farmington Road).

There were other companies there and if I had taken real notes I would be able to name them. One of the cooler experiences was in talking to the developer of Zipstream who has a new version coming out that looks most excellent. Zipstream is a product that can take a folder on HPFS and compress it on the fly. Itís very slick.

There was another company there that had a historical weather program that let you see weather patterns on OS/2 that took place in the past.
 

The Presentations

For obvious reasons, I only had first hand experience at the presentations I gave but I did learn quite a bit about the other presentations so Iíll tell what I know.

IBM Aurora!

One of the most popular and most talked about presentations was IBMís Aurora presentation (OS/2 Warp Server 5 for E-commerce). Anyone who thinks IBMís going to dump OS/2 simply is not familiar with the problems the industry is currently facing.

Hereís the basic deal: Novell Netware is falling behind technologically. NT Server has a lot of hype behind it but in practice, an NT server canít handle a lot of users. Enter IBM Warp Server. With SMP and the classic OS/2 technologies behind it, this OS/2 based server can serve a lot of users and is very easy to administer Ė easier than NT Server. At the server level, the applications are irrelevant (who cares if OS/2 runs MS Office?). Corporations donít want to have to buy and administer more machines just because it has Microsoftís name on it. So OS/2 Warp Server is turning into something really useful for corporations. Those of you who get Stardock Magazine electronically (email kwilas@stardock.net to be put on the list) know most of the features in Aurora but those of you who arenít familiar here are the biggies:

SMP built in. So you get a duel Pentium 350 letís say as your server and get real power out of it.

JFS is coming over from AIX which is a new file system that is vastly superior to HPFS. Iíve never been a fan of HPFS like some people have and JFS is a welcome edition.

It has a greal deal of hard disk administration technologies such as the ability to assign a shared resource to being a directory on a particular drive. This is very handy on a network. My c:\utilities could actually be on the server but to me it would be seamless.

IBM is going to probably have HPFS386 taken out and sold seperately due to some seriously large royalty issues with Microsoft. Thus, OS/2 Warp Server 5 will actually cost a lot less than the current version.

Win32OS/2 Project

Timur Tabi gave another packed presentation of the promising Win32OS2 project. This project converts Win32 binaries to OS/2 binaries. Itís not pie in the sky stuff either, theyíve already got Quake 2 running on OS/2 natively. Stardockís own Map generator for Entrepreneur, written for Win32, was converted over. No performance hit.

Timur outlined some of the significant challenges that still lay ahead including some of the tougher DLLs out there that are commonly used but are not yet converted over to OS/2.

This project has maintained a high momentum for over a year now and continues to show greater and greater promise.

The Raffle

Tim Sipples sent a ton of IBM software to Warpstock to be raffled off. While Tim was not officially part of Warpstock (itís a long story) he nevertheless selflessly helped out behind the scenes. The raffle did take a bit longer than it probably should have. But anyone who wonders whether this yearís Warpstock had more people or not merely had to go to that room and see it jammed with people. Far more than there were at the previous yearís raffle.

Extending the OS

This is one of the 3 presentations I gave at Warpstock. We talked about the evolution of operating systems on the PC and where they were going. A couple of interesting issues came up. Firstly, there is definitely a big divergence on how much power end users in corporations should have over their environment. You have the IBM Workspace on Demand view which doesnít let the user do anything to their environment. And on the other end of the spectrum, you have the default OS/2 Warp installation which lets the user change everything about their environment. Which way is the better way from an overall productivity standpoint?

We also concluded that Voice recognition isnít anywhere near becoming a reality for business use. Not so much because of the voice recognition itself but of context recognition. The computer understanding what you meant and not just what you say.

OS Wars í98

Last Spring I wrote an article that talked about where the different OSís were. For Warpstock, I did a tongue in cheek presentation in which I made fun of all of the operating systems. This was about as close to "Stand up comedy" as I can do. The presentation was one of the last of the show and designed to make people laugh at the OS advocacy in general. Iíd be interested in hearing feedback from people who were there on whether they liked that sort of stuff at the show.

 

One of the things I should address is that Christian Gustafson felt that I was not hard enough on OS/2 and too hard on NT. This isnít the case, what I made fun of the most was the vendorís claims of what the given OS was meant to do versus the reality.

I could make fun of DOS all day but no one claims that DOS is meant to replace Unix. Microsoft makes ridiculous claims like "Windows NT is a form of Unix." Which is utterly ridiculous. If IBM went around claiming OS/2 was a form of Unix I would make fun of OS/2 in the areas where it failed to live up to such lofty claims.

Windows NT has plenty of strengths and Microsoft should stick to touting those strengths. Inventing imaginary traits for Windows NT only makes Microsoft looks silly. "Windows NT is a form of chocolate except it is not fattening." Just as accurate as Microsoftís Unix claim.

I probably spent more time making fun of BeOS than any other OS other than NT and Windows 98 of course. Itís not that I donít like BeOS, I think itís a neat OS. I just donít see its relevance. It doesnít really bring anything new to the table, just a few feature enhancements (like their OO design and thread enhancements). Integrate massively distributed computing into the base OS then we can talk about it seriously. But BeOS is still trying to get SCSI working reliably on most machines. No thanks, I went through the driver problems with OS/2 2.0, Iím not willing to go through that again. Anyone want to buy a Radius XGA-2 card for ISA? Iíll sell it cheap!

I also made fun of Linux quite a bit. Again, not because Linux is bad, itís a great OS. But it trying to push it as an "alternative" to Windows NT for end users is silly. Itís just not there yet. How many end users are going to put up with the lack of a reliable system clipboard? Or a reliable shell for drag and drop? I mean, these arenít next generation type features here. I expect to be able to copy a graph from my spread sheet and DDE link it into my word processor even if the two programs are made by two different companies.

I also made fun of OS/2 quite a bit. Mainly the users on Usenet with their ridiculous "Iíve run OS/2 for 34 years straight without a single crash and this is while running 4 copies of Wing Commander in a window and formatting my 4 floppy drives at the same time." Sorry, OS/2ís SIQ is a serious issue for most people. Every other problem in OS/2 in my mind can be addressed by third parties but the SIQ issue is pretty significant. But OS/2 is still light years ahead of Windows 98 in stability.

 
 

The OS/2 Consensus

There are a lot of myths about what IBM can and canít do. Letís make sure weíre all o nthe same page here: It is extremely unlikely that IBM could license out the source code of OS/2 so that some third party could take it over. Itís just a fact that people have to deal with. IBM has to license a lot of parts of OS/2 and thus cannot generally re-license it.

Most people there were pretty upbeat on OS/2 and with growing good reason. Itís become clear enough that an alternative to Windows is needed that Corel and Netscape are looking at creating their own versions of Linux. Well, as I mentioned at the OSWars98 presentation, Linux is very cool but itís no where near being an alternative to Windows for end users. When they get drag and drop working reliable in KDE and a system wide clipboard is reliable, then come talk to us about it being an alternative. For now, itís a power userís dream but an end userís pain in the butt. BeOS has some promise but itís still nowhere near ready. It just got SCSI support recently! OS/2 is the real potential alternative. What OS/2 has really going against it is the perception that itís dead. Despite the fact that IBM continues to crank out drivers for it. And despite the fact that OS/2 was designed from scratch to be enhanced by third parties (Object Desktop is just one example), it is perceived as being "dead". Itís a perception problem, a momentum problem. A problem that could be changed if people could see a light at the end of the tunnel. I think weíre approaching a real opportunity for such change. Itís not here yet heck Iím writing this report in Office 97 on NT 4.0. I use the best tool for the job and itís often not OS/2 for me. But it could be that way if the momentum thatís getting behind Linux and other OSís could be redirected to a degree to OS/2. And there may be ways to do thisÖstay tuned..

Another thing that was clear is that the people there had no plans (in general) to switch from OS/2. OS/2 did the job they wanted and they saw no need to change to another OS. As far as they were concerned, OS/2 has been declared dead regularly since 1990 so what else is new?

Since the show was definitely busier and livelier over Warpstock í97, I am pretty confident that Warpstock í99 will do pretty well too.

And thatís all I have to say about thatÖ
 

(c) 1998 Brad Wardell.
You may repost this article any way you wish.  I only ask that you contact me at bwardell@stardock.com to let me know that you're using it.  You do not have to repost it in its entirety but context should be maintained.