Within two years the world will have moved away from Windows applications in favour of Java-based environments, says John Thompson, general manager of IBM's personal software products division.
New York-based Thompson, in New Zealand on a whistle-stop visit last week, says IBM is not concentrating on getting 32-bit Windows applications running under OS/2, and instead is putting R&D dollars into supporting Java. "The challenge for IBM's development team is, do we spend money building binary compatibility for Win32, or do we put our money behind what we think the application paradigm will be in a year or two?" says Thompson. "A year or two from now, for sure, the world is likely to be based on a different platform than Win32, and it's likely to be Java-based. I prefer to place my bet on the Java environment, which is a more level playing field for everyone in the industry at this stage."
When asked why IBM hasn't done more to promote Java's inclusion in the September update of OS/2, IBM's desktop operating system, Thompson says it was decided the OS's new speech recognition features were more of a talking point. "Early testing indicated that people would become more excited about speech than they would with Java, because not enough people knew what Java is. Java was always a part of the plan for Merlin (the new OS/2's code name), but market testing told us to lead with speech and then point to all of the other underlying technology."
Thompson sees a positive trend for OS/2, which lags way behind Microsoft Windows in market share, in growing corporate interest in the OS.
Thompson says the biggest threat to IBM's continued growth in the desktop market is the upcoming release of Microsoft Windows NT. "I view OS/2's principal competitor to be Windows NT, and IBM is doing all it can to make sure it is well positioned in the technologies that address customers' requirements in that area.
"One of the most significant problems for enterprise customers implementing client-server environments is the management of system resources. Well, IBM has just delivered a product called the Directory and Security Services Server on OS/2 that is based upon industry-standard technology. In my opinion it is better than anything available on NT today, and better than anything Microsoft will deliver for another 12 to 18 months."
Though IBM is largely ignoring the home user when it comes to marketing OS/2, Thompson says sales strategies are being focused on the small business sector. This is an area where IBM has not traditionally had a strong presence.
"I don't see a dramatic growth in the consumer market for OS/2 because IBM is not spending time to promote itself into that market. It is spending time on the business market, small through large. We have a good franchise in medium and large, but we've got work to do with the small business," says Thompson.