Skepticism over whether IBM-Apple accord is justified

Computer file

October 21, 1991|By Lawrence J. Magid

When IBM and Apple announced their historic pact in July, many PC users and analysts were skeptical. After the Oct. 2 announcement of the details, they still should be.

Two former archrivals agreeing to share technology is one thing. Creating useful products is another. There is no question about the relationship itself. IBM and Apple have a lot riding on this agreement and it would be a major embarrassment if it were to dissolve.

The marriage certainly makes sense from an image perspective. IBM and Apple have always had a lot in common. They're both industry leaders who once owned their respective markets but are now besieged with competition. IBM faces stiff competition from PC-compatible and clone companies who can undercut IBM's prices on equipment. Both companies face a threat from Microsoft, whose Windows software brings Mac-like graphical qualities to IBM-compatible systems and competes with IBM's desire to dominate the 32-bit world of PCs with its

newest version of OS/2.

The Apple/IBM alliance will, eventually, result in new platforms, new operating system software and new programming techniques that, together, could have an enormous impact on the future of personal computing.

It's as if GM, Ford and Chrysler got together to outline specifications for a new type of automobile. They would use the same type of fuel (software), share the same highways (operating system) and have a common user interface (like today's cars). Some of the cars would even use the same engine (Motorola's CPU). Despite the agreement, however, they would continue to compete on such areas as performance, styling, fuel efficiency, comfort and pricing.

IBM and Apple will spawn two new companies. One, called Taligent, will develop new system software. Another, Kaleida, will create multimedia software that integrates sound, video and pictures. The companies also announced their commitment to "object-oriented programming," a technique that uses program modules, called "objects," that can be re-used in order to streamline software development. Finally, Apple and IBM, along with chip-maker Motorola, will collaborate on the development of new hardware platforms. The operating system and basic hardware design will be made available to other companies in an effort to create a broad industry based on the new technologies.

No one -- not even IBM and Apple -- expects potential buyers to wait two or more years for this new alliance to start to bear fruit. But both companies hope to gain short-term advantages. Apple's relationship with IBM gives the company instant credibility in the corporate world. That's underscored by stage one of the agreement, which calls for increased connectivity between Apple Macintosh and IBM machines. IBM has blessed the Macintosh as a

safe buy for its corporate customers.

IBM hopes to sell more PS/2 machines and gain adherents to the soon-to be-released new version of its OS/2 operating system. An investment in IBM hardware and OS/2, so goes the argument, will position IBM's customers to make the transition to the more powerful RISC-Based PowerPC platforms that will emerge as the result of this agreement. I don't agree. Buy OS/2 and IBM hardware if you like, but buy it because you think it's the right tool for today's jobs. It's fine to speculate about industry trends, but foolhardy to make buying decisions based on hardware and software that doesn't yet exist.

While this alliance makes interesting reading, it should have no impact on your short-term buying decisions. If I were going to buy a desktop personal computer today, I'd make the same decision I would have made six months ago. I'd buy either an IBM compatible PC with a 386 or 486 CPU or I'd buy an Apple Macintosh. The recent hoopla wouldn't enter into the decision.

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