Wednesday, March 05, 2008

IBM and Apple ... does it blend?

As you may have noticed by now, I subscribe to several Computerworld newsletters. I find they cover a variety of subjects, have a lot of good content, and they even sometimes surprise me with the off-the-wall things they come up with.

A recent article by Don Tennant really got me thinking. Don puts forth the idea that Microsoft's worst nightmare is an IBM/Apple merger.
I asked Gates what trend or development had occurred in the technology sector in the past 20 years that really caught him by surprise. His deadpan response: "Kaleida and Taligent had less impact than we expected."

Gates was referring to two software joint ventures formed in the early '90s by Apple and IBM that were already fading into oblivion. There was something different in his tone -- a biting sarcasm -- that reflected a degree of scorn that he seemed to reserve for the Apple/IBM combo. And it was telling.

Microsoft's worst nightmare is a conjoined Apple and IBM. No other single change in the dynamics of the IT industry could possibly do as much to emasculate Windows.

Rumors of an IBM and Apple merger have come and gone for years. There's something different in the air now. Just as Apple is starting to gain greater popularity, they have started dropping their enterprise-oriented products. At the same time, IBM's heritage has become a bit of an albatross around its neck so it has to do something soon or risk losing the recent momentum that it is building.

IBM has obviously drunk the Kool-Aid that says sexy sells. Just look around. They finally updated their website to a new look, they actually made Notes not look like a 1980's throwback, and they're trying to engage a younger crowd. IBM needs to take it the next level, though. They have excellent products for business, but with the spinning off of its consumer printers as Lexmark and the sale of its PC division to Lenovo a few years ago, IBM has no entree into consumer technology. If you ask the average person under 30 why IBM is a household name it's because "they used to be relevant". No consumer will ever purchase an IBM product today. That's a bad thing for IBM.

As we are clearly experiencing, the next big things in business IT are coming from the consumer side. They're often not new, corporate IT has been doing things like mashups, composite apps, and social networking for years, but they are being torn apart and reinvented for consumer use, who then bring the simplified and exploded versions back into the corporate world. That's the power and the promise of the Internet Age, and IBM is going to have to get into the consumer market to be a player in future corporate IT. It was moderately important in the 80's and 90's, but today if you make business software without a consumer presence of some type you're dead.

So I think IBM needs to buy Apple. It would give Apple the credibility it needs in corporate IT, and give IBM the street cred it needs. If such a thing happens hopefully IBM has learned from its mishandling of Lotus and will be extremely laissez-faire. It took about a decade for IBM to finally grasp that the community is what made Notes successful and that backing off was the best thing. I'm not sure Apple's faithful could survive IBM's Nurse Ratched-like tenderness for that long. :-)


  1. Funny, we were just having an informal-over-a-beer conversation amongst us down-here-in-the-weeds IBMers tonight along just this line.

    It is true that Lotus and Apple are doing more these days...I've talked with Apple counterparts a few times in the last six months. There's iPhone stuff. And of course, all the Mac/Eclipse stuff including Notes 8.5.

    It's a very interesting thought. Thanks for putting some words around it.

  2. But could IBM take the increased clamouring for Domino Designer on the Mac? ;o)

  3. A formerly closed company steeped in technical arrogance that after a decade is finally coming out of its shell, buying a closed company steeped in technical arrogance that lives thoroughly inside its shell -- so much so that the CEO has what people call a "reality distortion field?"

    No thanks.

    Can you imagine if Notes 9 came out, and you had to wait two years to get the SDK for it!??!?!

  4. Ben: At least if IBM owned Apple they would be able to push those things faster.

    Nate: I thought about that, but IBM's position -- at least with regards to Lotus Software -- seems to have softened. Apple, on the other hand, is becoming increasingly more closed, and Steve Jobs is simply outdated in his thinking. His all-or-nothing approach can't last in the current collaborative world.

    Apple certainly could make a go of it purely as a consumer electronics company, but since their hardware is making its way into corporate environments they are eventually going to have to cater to the enterprise market or their bubble will collapse. No reality distortion field can change that.