IBM plots Warp strategy to thwart Microsoft 95 launch

With the launch of Microsoft 95 tentatively scheduled for August, the marketers of ibm's rival 32-bit pc operating system software, OS/2 Warp, find themselves entertaining two competing schools of thought.On the one hand, they could maintain a steady media buy for...

With the launch of Microsoft 95 tentatively scheduled for August, the marketers of ibm’s rival 32-bit pc operating system software, OS/2 Warp, find themselves entertaining two competing schools of thought.

On the one hand, they could maintain a steady media buy for Warp, ignoring the hoopla that will inevitably accompany the rollout of the long-delayed, much-anticipated Microsoft product.

On the other hand, they could cut back their spending as August approaches, allow Microsoft its day in the sun, and, then, taking advantage of the media funds they have conserved, unleash a blitzkrieg of advertising in the following weeks.

Complicating the decision-making for ibm is the possibility that u.s.-based Microsoft could postpone, yet again, the launch of Microsoft 95, which has been delayed twice already.

The first launch date Microsoft set for the program, which at the time was code-named Chicago, was December, 1994. When it realized that was too soon, Microsoft announced a delay until sometime in the first half of 1995.

Should the scheduled August launch date be postponed as well, ibm could be caught holding a lot of expensive media time it has no use for.

Les Miyata, IBM Canada’s brand manager on OS/2, acknowledges the chance of a postponement is making it hard for ibm to plan an effective counterattack.

Miyata accuses Microsoft of having deliberately set premature launch dates in order to undermine sales of Warp, which was released Oct. 11, 1994.

Software makers frequently announce products well ahead of their realistic launch date in the hopes of casting a chill over the sale of competing products.

‘It’s tough when you keep getting compared with `vapor ware’ that keeps getting delayed,’ Miyata says.

If the possibility of another Windows 95 postponement is playing havoc with ibm’s counterattack plans, that is not to say ibm would not welcome more delays.

Every day Windows 95 is absent from the market, more Windows users give up on the wait and buy a copy of Warp.

Miyata refuses to divulge Warp’s Canadian sales, but says ‘we have exceeded forecasts by over four times.’

He pegs the worldwide sales figure at about 900,000.

Between its launch in March 1992 and last June, the OS/2 operating system, of which Warp is the fifth generation, had sold an estimated six million copies.

Microsoft estimates there are 70 million Windows users worldwide.

The version of Warp that was released in October runs dos and OS/2 programs on its own, but requires dos and Windows to run Windows-based programs.

Later this month, ibm will begin shipping a second version, OS/2 Warp with WINOS/2, which will run Windows programs on its own.

To date, ibm’s consumer ad support for Warp has consisted of tv and print ads.

ibm ran a Warp tv spot briefly in November. As well, its recently launched corporate campaign includes a spot that refers to Warp.

The print ads have appeared in selected publications, including The Globe and Mail and Saturday Night, that target businesspeople and upscale readers.

He says the chances are good that a tv campaign will be developed to counter the Windows 95 launch.

Bill Fournier, a senior market analyst with the computer research firm Evans Research of Toronto, says ibm will never successfully combat the Windows juggernaut if it does not manage to get leading pc manufacturers to sell Warp installed on their machines.

(Currently, almost all dos-based machines are sold with Windows installed.)

To date, ibm has had limited success in this area, signing deals with ast Hewlett-Packard and Patriot, but it has yet to convince others such as Compaq and Dell.