Compaq Computer Corp. of Houston has made a lot of noise about the fact that many of its computers will use Microsoft's new OS/2 operating system just like IBM's new Personal System/2 line. IBM was confusing the world, Compaq said, by leading people to believe only IBM computers will use OS/2.
Compaq is right; its personal computers based on the Intel 80286 and 80386 chips will use their own version of OS/2 just like IBM's 286 and 386 computers. In fact, most any computer company that wants to offer OS/2 for its high-powered computers will be able to with the cooperation of OS/2's developer, Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash. IBM will offer a proprietary version of OS/2 called OS/2 Extended. The extended version will cost $795 and allow PS/2 computers to connect directly to IBM mainframes.
But all this debate about OS/2 is wasted energy. OS/2 has little or no bearing on computer users today, and it may never have any impact. Here is why OS/2 is unimportant.
OS/2 is a long way off. Even IBM won't deliver its earliest version until the first quarter of 1988. The extended version has no official date of availability.
Microsoft is consistently late with products in both its software and book divisions and there is no reason to believe OS/2 will be any different.
OS/2 will be expensive. Unlike PC-DOS and MS-DOS often were, OS/2 won't be included in the price of the computer. The cheapest version of OS/2 on IBM's price list is $200; the most expensive is $795.
ComputerCraft of San Jose, Calif., is selling an IBM PC XT with a 10-megabyte hard disk for $799.
OS/2 will be complicated. The big feature of OS/2 is that it is a multitasking operating system, that is, a user will be able to load more than one program at a time and switch among programs. You can do that with a program called Framework from Ashton-Tate. While Framework hasn't exactly bombed, it's not another Lotus 1-2-3 either. Windows, when it works right, is a multitasking program and is even less popular than Framework.
The Apple Lisa had a multitasking operating system, and that computer sold too few to matter.
OS/2 will be buggy -- not because Microsoft doesn't know what it's doing, but because all operating systems are a mess when they first come out. The Finder -- the Macintosh's operating system -- underwent four major revisions before users agreed it was solid. The Amiga's multitasking operating system is still a mess and may never get fixed. OS/2 will need a quick upgrade after it's available, and that will delay its acceptance even longer.
OS/2 won't run special software. Software developers will wait and see how OS/2 is accepted by users before they dedicate resources to developing new products for it.
By the time OS/2 is in wide use -- if it ever is -- it will be 1989 or 1990. Who knows what the personal computing world will be like in the next decade?