By carefully timing releases of the RT so that the machines make as little impact in the market as possible, by implementing its AIX/370 only under VM when it is competing with a native version for 370 architecture from Amdahl Corp, and by sowing as much confusion as possible in the minds of users by […]
By carefully timing releases of the RT so that the machines make as little impact in the market as possible, by implementing its AIX/370 only under VM when it is competing with a native version for 370 architecture from Amdahl Corp, and by sowing as much confusion as possible in the minds of users by adopting a plethora of alternative products – coming up in its user interface portfolio there’s Presentation Manager, the Metaphor interface from Metaphor Computer Systems, NextStep from Next Inc, and presumably the Open Software Foundation’s Motif – IBM is clearly paying lip service to Unix while in fact doing everything it can to minimise the impact of Unix on its mainstream business, as explained in CI No 1,129. It is very tempting to cry foul at the company’s behaviour, but there is of course another side to the story – the IBM side. These days IBM talks loud and passionately about how it has neglected to listen to its users in the past, and how hard it is working to remedy the defect. But if you listen carefully to what IBM says, its number one priority is maximising value for its shareholders – which is the primary obligation of the management of a public company. Moreover, on a superficial level, it can be said to be serving the interests of its users by doing all it can covertly to derail the Unix bandwaggon – if you regard its users not as the companies that invest in its machines but the data processing managers that specify those machines. Because if the average DP manager thinks about Unix at all, it is with apprehension. He – or in a few cases, she – is steeped in MVS lore, in IBMese, in the ways of a company committed to providing sperm-to-worm consistency in what it does and the way it does it. Computer Yuppies To the extent that such DP managers feel themselves to be in an antagonistic relationship with IBM, it is a cosy antagonism, ritualised conflict in which both sides know the rules and the unspoken limits to which aggression may safely be taken. Moreover many of those DP managers are not in the first flush of youth: they have grown up in the IBM user world and they want to grow old in it. Out there is a frightening world labelled Unix, peopled by the computer equivalent of Yuppies, effortlessly successful people who seem to have glib answers for all the problems that have plagued IBM users most of their working lives – solutions available to those poor DP managers only if they throw away everything they have learned and start completely anew. If we regard those as IBM’s users, what matter that their employers are paying much more for IBM software and hardware than they would need to pay to get the same work done in the Brave New Unix World. The employers have always paid happily enough before: why shouldn’t they go on paying? Stout chairman And to keep its shareholders happy, IBM desperately needs those innocent employers to go on paying – and by pushing the name AIX for its Unix, IBM is doing its damnedest to make sure the chairman, who is aware of the existence of only one computer company, can quickly be disabused of the idea that the other thing he has now heard of, Unix, might be as safe as IBM and save the company a fortune. Unix chairman? Well which Unix are you talking about? We have AIX, then there’s Ultrix from DEC, and the government uses Posix: which one did you have in mind? Collapse of stout chairman. The rest of the computer world is rushing aboard the Unix bandwaggon because it sees the operating system as the only way available to prevent IBM ultimately commanding the entire computer market over time – and they are right in that, not matter how unsuitable Unix may be for many of the applications for which it is now being used. Moreover Unix is beginning to get an unstoppable head of steam at the worst possible time for IBM – just when it is facing potentially devastating threats on two other fronts, both from the land of the other Rising Sun. On the one hand there is Fujitsu Ltd, with whom IBM so unwisely agreed to take their operating system differences to arbitration – as a result,
Fujitsu is paying IBM a fortune that is only worth paying if it enables the company to build substantial market share for its IBM-compatible software not only in Japan but right across the IBM world. On the other, unkindest cut of all, IBM is challenged by the one US industrial company bigger than itself, General Motors Corp, a company that surely should be able to be counted on as an ally in the face of threats from an alien force. Instead, the General, through its Electronic Data Systems Corp, has formed an alliance with the enemy, in this case Hitachi Ltd – and all the signs are that EDS is preparing to confer respectability not just on Hitachi hardware, but on Hitachi software too. Those two challenges alone make it very unlikely that IBM will succeed in its stated goal of deriving 30% of its turnover from software by the early 1990s; a unified drive for Unix would make it well-nigh certain that the goal was unattainable. Even in the mid-range, where the AS/400 is starting to lift the worried frown from IBM’s brow, Unix is a threat: a case can be made for using AS/400s as database servers in a Unix network, and the third party software is already in place to make that possible. But if that catches on, how much of the total system will then come from IBM? Such users will not even need such large AS/400s as they would if they were running the machine monolithically. It is therefore IBM’s duty to its shareholders to do everything it can to neutralise the threat to Unix, while paying lip-service to a belief in it to appease the growing band of its users who are converts. Tramline mentality The question that is so difficult to answer is why so much of the rest of the industry is helping IBM in its campaign to neutralise the threat from Unix? Why does Hewlett-Packard, which is betting the company store on Unix, pay its dues to the Open Software Foundation and not to Unix International? Does Apollo Computer hate Sun Microsystems so much that it would rather see Sun discomfited even at the cost of a single Unix standard? Does Siemens AG’s tramline mentality that has always had the company slavishly copying everything IBM does blind it to the fact that this time around, what is in IBM’s shareholders’ interest emphatically is not in Siemens’ or its customers’ interests? Is Nixdorf, under grave threat from the AS/400 in its enormous native 8870 base, subjugating its interests to German solidarity? Is Bull so old-fashioned in its thinking that it still believes there is a bright future for the various GCOS mainframe operating systems and secretly see Unix as as much of a threat as IBM does? Of the Open Software Foundation founders, only DEC could be said to have as much interest as IBM in containing Unix, but by its most recent actions, DEC appears to have quit the fence and come down firmly for Unix. Now that AT&T has conceded all the demands that led to its creation, the Open Foundation has no further justification, and it would be in the best interest of all its members bar IBM to vote to wind the thing up at the next meeting.