IBM and Apple – Together Again

A few years after I came to Silicon Valley in the mid-80s, IBM and Apple had several joint ventures.  They were lined up in successive buildings along Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road in Cupertino.  Taligent was the project to build an “object oriented operating system” to become Apple’s next-generation OS for the mac.  PowerPC was the project to build a radical new microprocessor to become the brains of Apple’s future macs.  And OpenDoc was the project to build a new environment through which different computer programs could easily share information to make macs even more powerful and easy to use.  All of them ultimately failed to achieve their goals, and now Apple and IBM have announced a new partnership.

Taligent strung on and on and on until it finally collapsed under its own weight.  When Apple discovered that it had no viable in-house technology to become its next-generation OS, several emergency projects were started and quickly killed.  Ultimately, the company decided that it had to acquire the technology from the outside – resulting in the acquisition of NEXT that brought Steve Jobs back to Apple in 1997.

PowerPC was the most successful of the partnerships – it did result in a reduced instruction set computer (risc) microprocessor, which Apple used for 12 years.  First, it was manufactured by Motorola and then by IBM.  But no computer manufacturers other than Apple ever used PowerPC; it found a successful market niche as the brains of game consoles, instead.  Ultimately, Jobs made the decision to shift the mac product line to Intel microprocessors and standard PC architecture in 2006.

OpenDoc never did have much success.  WordPerfect and IBM adapted their software to use the system to share information, but few other software vendors chose to do so.  OpenDoc was a project that required substantial resources to develop and support and delivered very little benefit to users.  Jobs killed the project very quickly after becoming Apple’s Interim CEO in 1997.

So, with that past what are Apple and IBM trying to do now?  Both companies are very different today than they were back in the 90s.  Back then, IBM was the computer powerhouse – seller of “Big Iron” mainframes to companies serious about business while Apple was the upstart that had created the personal computer revolution only to lose control of that market to Microsoft.  Articles were appearing regularly that Apple was failing fast.  Michael Dell famously said that the company should shut down and return any cash it still had to the stockholders.  IBM wanted to help Apple with the joint projects at least in part to keep a viable competitor to Microsoft in business.

Today IBM is mostly a computer consulting and services company – still selling to big companies that are serious about business. And Apple is a consumer electronics powerhouse the likes of which the world has never known – and the most valuable corporation on the planet.  Together, IBM and Apple plan to create apps for enterprise businesses, which will be sold through IBMs vast sales and consulting teams along with iPhones and iPads to large corporations – what business types call “enterprises.”

Up until now, what success Apple has had with sales to the enterprise market have been from the bottom up – users like their iPhones and iPads and bring them to work.  At some point, the corporate IT staff has to stop fighting them and begin to support their use.  Now, however, the IBM consultants that are paid to give advice on what technology tools the enterprise needs to be efficient and grow will be telling a company’s Chief Information Officer to put an iPad in every briefcase and an iPhone in every pocket throughout the corporation.  With the security features that are being built into Apple’s iOS 8, to be delivered this fall, CIOs will be much more likely to support the use of iDevices.

There is a good chance that Apple products will be playing a whole different ballgame.

Interesting times we live in – and what fun to have a front-row seat!

The press release announcing the Apple-IBM project is here:  Link.


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One response to “IBM and Apple – Together Again”

  1. Pete says :

    Interesting times indeed. With IBM software and services running on Apple hardware, it’s almost a mirror image of the IBM / Microsoft relationship. I’m interested to see what they do with cloud services too. Amazon Web Services has become the default option for many startups and smaller businesses, in part because of it’s ubiquity and perceived ease of use. An Apple/IBM offering could make a real dent in AWS’s market share if it makes deploying and managing a cloud application as easy as deploying locally, and the price is right.

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