Team OS/2 was an advocacy group formed to promote IBM's OS/2 operating system. Originally internal to and sponsored by IBM, Team OS/2 became a wholly grassroots organization following IBM's decision to de-emphasize OS/2. It is one of the earliest examples of an online viral phenomenon.
Team OS/2 was a significant factor in the spread and acceptance of OS/2. Formed in February 1992, Team OS/2 began when IBM employee Dave Whittle, recently appointed by IBM to evangelize OS/2 online, formed an internal IBM discussion group titled TEAMOS2 FORUM on IBM's worldwide network - which at the time had a more extensive reach than the Internet. IBMers worldwide contributed a wide variety of ideas as to how IBM could effectively compete with Microsoft to establish OS/2 as the industry standard desktop operating system. Within a short time, thousands of IBM employees had added the words TEAMOS2 to their internet phone directory listing, which enabled anyone within IBM to find like-minded OS/2 enthusiasts within the company and work together to overcome the challenges posed by IBM's size, insularity, and top-down marketing style. TEAMOS2 FORUM quickly caught the attention of some IBM executives, including Lee Reiswig, who after initial scepticism, offered moral and financial support for Whittle's grass roots and online marketing efforts. IBM's official program for generating word-of-mouth enthusiasm was called the "OS/2 Ambassador Program," and OS/2 enthusiasts company-wide supported that program as well as the unofficial Team OS/2, winning Gold, Silver, and Bronze Ambassador pins and corporate recognition with various levels of structured achievement. Ultimately, though, Team OS/2 proved far more popular.
Outside of IBM
Whittle began to extend the Team OS/2 effort outside of IBM with various posts on CompuServe, Prodigy, bulletin boards, newsgroups, and other venues. He also proposed to IBM executives the formation of a "Grass Roots Marketing Department".
Team OS/2 went external that spring, when the first Team OS/2 Party was held in Chicago. The IBM Marketing Office in Chicago created a huge banner visible from the streets. Microsoft reacted when Steve Ballmer roamed the floor with an application on diskette that had been specially programmed to crash OS/2; and OS/2 enthusiasts gathered for an evening of excitement at the first Team OS/2 party. With tickets limited to those who had requested them on one of the online discussion groups, the party was a smashing success. Attendees were asked to nominate their favorite "Teamer" for the "Team OS/2 Hall of Fame," and those whose names were drawn came forward to tell the story of their nominee - what sacrifice they had made to promote OS/2 and why they were deserving of recognition. Prizes included limousine rides that evening. At the end, all attendees received the first TEAM OS/2 T-shirt (now a collectors' item), which included the first Team OS/2 logo on the front and the distinctive IBM blue-stripe logo on the back - except with lower-case letters: "ibm/2" to represent the new IBM. Even the lead singer in the ultra-cool Chicago band that had provided music for the event asked if they could have a T-shirt for each member of the band. One IBM executive in attendance said it was the first IBM event that had given him goose-bumps.
After that, word about the Team OS/2 phenomenon spread even more quickly within IBM and without. OS/2 enthusiasts brought Team OS/2 to life, spreading the word to computer user-groups across the United States, then eventually worldwide, independent of IBM marketing efforts.
The watershed event for the externalization of Team OS/2 was the "Teamer Invasion" of COMDEX Fall 1993, the largest computer/electronics show of the time, held in Las Vegas. Wearing the salmon-colored shirts which were to become the trademark of Team OS/2, Teamers wandered the convention floors, promoting OS/2 and providing demo discs to vendors and offering to install the distributed version of OS/2 on display computers. In most cases, DOS and even Windows-based applications ran on OS/2, often faster and more efficiently than under their native platforms. Observers were astonished to discover that the Team OS/2 members had travelled to the convention on their own, some from overseas, and were there as volunteers. What little funding IBM provided went to provide the shirts, "trinkets and trash", and an onsite headquarters for Teamers to coordinate their efforts and collect items to give to vendors. IBM had established the Grass Roots Marketing department proposed earlier, and had even tapped Vicci Conway and Janet Gobeille to provide support and guidance for Team OS/2 with Whittle voluntarily stepping aside from his previous day-to-day focus on supporting and monitoring Team OS/2 activities. Janet was nicknamed "Team Godmother", but everyone in IBM, especially Whittle, was wary of trying to direct volunteers or make Team OS/2 too structured or formal, in order to avoid "breaking something that works".
Many were uncertain of IBM's commitment to OS/2, largely because Microsoft was both an IBM Business Partner and a competitor - which caused numerous debates within IBM about how to handle the situation.
Other names associated with Team OS/2 and the user-level enthusiasm movement were "OS/2 Evangelist" David Barnes (IBM's official group-presentation master), Doug Azzarito (OS/2 Programmer now at Dell), Gene Barlow (IBM's Father of PC User Groups), and "Travelin' Man" Keith Wood (an Arizona volunteer featured in PCWeek Magazine's special report on Team OS/2). Noted computer-industry author Esther Schindler was also a Teamer, and still occasionally writes about OS/2 and its derivative, eComStation.
One advantage that Teamers had was that they were unconstrained by "normal business practices". A major corporation such as IBM had to be careful about exploiting news stories or user reports of competing products, so by the time such exploitation could be authorized, it was old news. Teamers, however, practised "guerilla marketing", and rapidly distributed copies of trade media reports helpful to their cause, such as the PCWeek announcement that Microsoft's NT development team was running their in-house email system on OS/2.
On the flip side, Team OS/2's lack of structure meant that it was vulnerable. Various journalists have documented a "dirty tricks" campaign by Microsoft. Online, numerous individuals (nicknamed "Microsoft Munchkins" by John C. Dvorak) used pseudonyms to attack OS/2 and manipulate online discussions. Whittle was the target of a character assassination campaign, and anyone friendly to OS/2 faced numerous vociferous attacks as well. Some journalists who were less than enthusiastic about OS/2 received death threats and other nasty e-mail from numerous sources, always identified in taglines as "Team OS/2". Ultimately, at least some of Microsoft's efforts were exposed on Will Zachmann's Canopus forum on CompuServe, where the owner of one particular account, ostensibly belonging to "Steve Barkto", (who had been attacking OS/2, David Barnes, Whittle, and other OS/2 fans) was discovered to be funded by the credit card of Rick Segal, a high-level Microsoft employee / evangelist, who had also been active in the forums. James Fallows, a nationally renowned journalist, even weighed in to state that the stylistic fingerprint found in the Barkto posts were almost certainly a match with the stylistic fingerprints in the Microsoft evangelist's postings.
Will Zachmann sent an open letter to Steve Ballmer, futilely demanding a public investigation into the business practices of the publicly traded Microsoft. What is clear is that Microsoft was taking seriously the threat posed by Team OS/2 and their online and real-world activities.
Microsoft attempted to fabricate "Team NT" for COMDEX Fall 1995, but this was widely ridiculed as a blatant attempt at impersonation. "Team NT" members were Microsoft employees, and called "Team Nice Try" by industry pundits such as Spencer F. Katt (a pen name with various contributors, such as Paul Connolly), in PCWeek Magazine.
When Microsoft was readying the first version of Windows NT (designated "Version 3.1") in 1993, a Texas computer user group (HAL-PC) invited IBM and Microsoft to a public "shootout" between the two operating systems. Videotape of the two demonstrations was later distributed by IBM and Team OS/2 members. Compared to the dynamic presentation given by David Barnes as he put OS/2 through its paces, the Microsoft presenter and NT showed so poorly that Microsoft demanded that all portions of the NT presentation be cut out of the videotapes which IBM was distributing of the event. This resulted in issuance of an edited version of the tape, but hundreds of original (complete) copies had already been released. The uncut version of the "OS/2 - NT Shootout" tape have been dubbed the "OS/2 - NT Shootdown" or "The Shootdown of Flight 31," and are still popular with user groups. The tape has even been used to train professional software and hardware presenters who might face user groups.
At the height of the marketing effort, Team OS/2 boasted well over ten thousand known members, and IBM acknowledged publicly that without Team OS/2, there might not have been a 4th generation ("Warp 4") of the operating system. However, IBM made a monumental error of judgment and timing when the IBM Marketing Director over the Grass Roots Marketing Department made the decision to meet his headcount cut targets by eliminating the entire department - one week before the 1995 Fall Comdex. Microsoft executives were positively gleeful and Team OS/2 members worldwide were incredulous.
Within months, Whittle and Barlow had left IBM, Conway and Gobeille were reassigned within IBM, and Teamers were crushed by IBM's announcement that marketing of individual desktop versions would come to a close. Most Team members eventually migrated away from OS/2, but for many that had to wait until the early 21st century, when Microsoft Windows 2000 and XP approached the power and stability which they had come to expect from OS/2. Others have become Linux aficionados and much of what was learned with Team OS/2 has infused the Linux movement.
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- Archival records of Canopus forum postings in the possession of numerous individuals, including forum owner Will Zachmann.
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