Warp 4: The final frontier?

IBM will formally launch the next version of OS/2 Warp late next month and reposition the 32-bit product as the ultimate network-centric client.

IBM will formally launch the next version of OS/2 Warp late next month and reposition the 32-bit product as the ultimate network-centric client. At the September 25 introduction in San Francisco, IBM will announce that Version 4.0 will include a CD sampler with as many as 80 scaled-down OS/2 applications, including the company's Star Office application suite, Lotus' 32-bit version of WordPro and Sun Dial Systems' Relish personal information manager.

Shortly after the new OS/2 ships, IBM will provide a version of Netscape's Navigator that works natively with OS/2. A version of Navigator that fully exploits OS/2 is expected in the next several months, sources at IBM say. But although IBM officials are on the record supporting OS/2, long-time supporters say IBM is preparing to significantly downgrade OS/2 in IBM's pantheon of OSes.

Beginning with Version 4.0, code-named Merlin, the company will trumpet the OS as a key component in a number of integrated solutions for markets such as the Internet and will promote OS/2's smooth access to IBM's major platforms. "The new strategy for Merlin is driven around removing it from the OS wars with Windows and moving it toward a network-centric strategy," says one IBM insider. "IBM CEO Louis Gerstner is pretty enthusiastic over this approach."

However, some critics see the shift as a way for IBM to reduce the beleaguered OS' visibility, making it more of an anonymous foundation for supporting a variety of application and networking solutions. "It sounds like a graceful degradation. They can repackage it 10 ways from hell, but the question is, `Are they going to be shipping a product called OS/2?'" says John McCarthy, director of information technology strategies at Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

McCarthy and other analysts at a briefing with high-ranking IBM officials in Toronto two weeks ago left with the impression that there was little enthusiastic support for OS/2 from other parts of the company. "IBM will launch Merlin and continue support, but my conclusion is there is zero, zip, zilch support for OS/2 outside PSP personal systems products division. The remaining monies they spend on OS/2 are essentially funeral expenses," says long-time OS/2 defender Will Zachman, president of Canopus Research, in Duxbury, Massachusetts.

In response, company officials continue to say IBM is as committed to OS/2 as ever and has no plans to withdraw development resources or reduce its brand-name recognition. "What you will hear us talk about is how we enhance [OS/2] to move it forward within our network computing model. We have no intention of cutting down funding," an IBM representative says.

In the past week, IBM has delivered to about 50 developers and users a gamma version of Merlin that reportedly fixes many of the installation problems of the first beta. But some users report that the gamma version is still not bug-free. "Merlin is still a mess to install on some systems, which is disappointing at this point. They have some work to do if they plan to fix it all by the end of next month," says a corporate IS manager and beta tester.

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