Expo: OS giants just playing in shootout

It was a shootout, sure, but were all the combatants facing in the same direction?

The air hung with drama as representatives of OS/2, the MacOS and Win32 gathered for their first showdown on the corporate preview day of this year's Computerworld Expo.

"No passing wind, no burping and no use of the f-word unless it's fragmentation," cautioned IDG's Doug Casement, before tossing a coin to decide the order of play.

Or not. Casement, a technical genius, could not toss the coin. The task fell to IBM's Greg Wagstaff, who, curiously, couldn't complete this simple job either. Eventually it was Microsoft's Leighton Smith, displaying the way with money which is the birthright of all Microsoft employees, who got things rolling.

Wagstaff drew the opening slot and immediately made a craven play for the affections of the crowd by handing out "Warp" icecreams. Wagstaff's question was: "Who thinks IBM is absolutely committed to OS/2?" We couldn't hazard as to what the correct answer might be, but you can guess that the lollies went only to those who answered in the affirmative.

Making light of the fact that he still had quite a few icecreams left, Wagstaff proceeded to highlight the part OS/2 will play in running the Atlanta Olympics, with 7000 OS/2 Warp machines and 1800 LAN servers to be installed. In shining Olympian spirit, he also put the boot into Microsoft, highlighting the recent survey which saw OS/2 Warp server beat Windows NT and Netware by 26%.

Just as it seemed time was up, Wagstaff actually gave the crowd a look at his OS performing some thrilling drag-and-drop file saving from IBM WebExplorer before leaving us with a number $800 million. It was, he said, IBM's OS/2 development budget.

Next up were Apple distributor CED's coxed pair, Ian Scherger and Chris Thompson. Scherger sat at the controls while Thompson flexed his peripheral pectorals and the pair galloped through the MacOS's greatest hits: Quickdraw 3D, QuickTime, QuickTime VR and working with a DOS-formatted disk. From there, it was over to a string of canned demos for Copland, the next MacOS. The hard-nosed business crowd, which had hitherto held its peace, went all gooey over the kiddy-look Copland customisation option. But was it enough? Or was it too much?

The presentation from Smith would tell. As he strode to centre stage, the crowd wondered how the man from Microsoft would respond to the challenges thrown up by his rival OSes ...

Sorry? Are there any operating systems that aren't Win32? Which flavour of OS would you like sir - 95 or NT? It was not until Smith displayed a marketshare pie chart that a nervous crowd was able to confirm that OSes not made by Microsoft did in fact exist.

Even as that sank in, Smith was eagerly demonstrating the installation of a PC card cellular modem on a laptop. "Look at that," he said. "This used to take two hours and a lot of messing about." We were all very happy that things were easier for him now.

So, where would we like to go today, he asked? "Try www.idg.co.nz," called Casement, ever the company man.

Smith triumphantly pointed Microsoft Internet Explorer towards @IDG. See? Ain't the Internet wondeful? He was so pleased we didn't have the heart to ask him what had happened to the Frames and our nice gif animation.

The combatants concluded with a few minutes of free-for-all to ram home the advantages of their platforms. Look out for the connectivity and security enhancements and Java support in the Merlin update for OS/2, said Wagstaff. Yes, NT will get plug-and-play, said Smith but it'll get the Win95 interface first. And look out for our great new OS this ... er ... next year, promised the guys from Apple.

So? Who had left carrying the mantle of victory? Only the crowd could know that. The big three packed up knowing they'd meet again tomorrow, day three of the Computerworld Expo at high noon, actually. Who is fitter? Which is faster? Only you, the customer, can tell. You might even get a free icecream.

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