Apple, IBM hope Taligent will carry them into new century

SOFTWARE ENTERS BRAVE NEW WORLD

March 09, 1992|By PETER H. LEWIS

Taligent Inc. officially opened for business last week with 170 experienced employees, two new leaders, the most impressive venture backing in Silicon Valley and one of the toughest challenges faced by any computer software company.

Taligent is an independent joint venture of Apple Computer Inc. and the International Business Machines Corp., with a mandate to develop operating system software that will be the foundation for business computers in the mid-1990s and into the 21st century.

"We think the operating system we're developing is one that can recast the shape of the industry," said Joseph M. Guglielmi, a veteran IBM marketing executive who was named chairman and chief executive of Taligent Feb. 24, five months after Taligent was created. The long interim in which Taligent was without a helmsman underscores how hard this joint project is going to be, analysts said.

IBM and Apple -- and any other companies that wish to join them -- are hoping to break the Microsoft Corp.'s de facto control of the industry, which stems from its dominant DOS and Windows operating systems, by creating a foundation of software whose standards are open to all. That would return power to the hardware companies.

Although they are partners in Taligent, Apple and IBM hope to remain spirited competitors in the hardware arena when, or if, Taligent becomes a software standard.

Mr. Guglielmi had been responsible for devising the strategy for marketing version 2.0 of the OS/2 operating system, a project whose significance for IBM cannot be overstated. IBM has staked its reputation on delivering a strong and clean new OS/2 by March 31 -- a week before the Microsoft Corp. introduces Windows 3.1.

If OS/2 version 2.0 is a dud, the odds against Taligent could lengthen: IBM's ability to put together an even more ambitious project would be seriously questioned.

Mr. Guglielmi's field general and chief operating officer is Edward W. Birss, until recently an Apple senior vice president who had been overseeing development of the next generation of Apple's operating system.

That software, code-named Pink, is being blended with unspecified IBM software technology to create the Taligent operating system. Apple and IBM are also contributing what are known as enablers, essentially software hooks that will help current Macintosh System 7 and OS/2 users to move to Taligent.

"Apple and IBM will continue to enhance System 7 and OS/2," said Mr. Guglielmi, nattily attired in a pink shirt, in an interview at the PC Forum conference in Tucson, Ariz., after his appointment.

"We think that at the right point in time customers will want to move to Taligent," he said. "They'll be able to do that in as painless a way as possible, and current thinking is that they'll simply be able to take their current applications and move them over, very much like Windows applications run on OS/2 or DOS applications run on OS/2."

"It's going to take lots of work to get that done," he acknowledged.

A case in point is OS/2 itself. On April 1, 1987, IBM and Microsoft, then partners, told the world that their OS/2 would replace DOS within a couple of years. Five years later, minus Microsoft, IBM will finally deliver the OS/2 it promised so long ago. In the meantime, Microsoft has sold millions of copies of Windows.

Besides lots of work, it is going to take no small amount of marketing pluck to persuade customers to wait for Taligent, because Microsoft wants everyone to switch to another future operating system called NT, for New Technology. Microsoft owns DOS and Windows, and says Windows will evolve seamlessly into NT.

The key to Taligent is a technology called object-oriented programming. In essence, it involves creating an extremely complex operating system not by adding layer upon layer of lines of computer code, as is the case with DOS, Windows and other operating systems, but by assembling the operating system as a collection of interchangeable software objects.

IBM sees Taligent as the key that will let it escape from the current "commodity" PC business, in which all hardware parts seem to be interchangeable. Apple, whose incompatibility has doomed it to travel along on the narrow access road while other PC companies hit the main highway, sees Taligent as its entry ramp to the corporate computing mainstream.

An object-oriented operating system would allow technically innovative computer companies, such as Taligent, to use their hardware muscle for competitive advantage. If a company invents a superior graphics system, it can employ it without shattering the underlying operating system.

If another company devises a special way to speed the flow of data to and from its hard disks, it need not be constrained by the operating system. And so on.

If Taligent can pull this off -- a very big if -- business software applications will be cheaper to write, faster to develop and better able to be customized for a particular task.

If all goes according to plan, "software vendors can more easily keep pace with the rapid hardware evolution," Mr. Birss said, adding, "Today, a couple of hardware guys can keep an army of software guys busy for a long time."

For example, the Intel Corp.'s i386 microprocessor, capable of handling data in chunks of 32 bits, twice the rate of previous chips, was introduced several years ago. The first software to exploit the chip is just appearing.

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