I was researching an article recently and came across this gem. The bit I was searching for was an old IBM/Apple partnership. The outcome was unexpected.
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.
I never heard what happened to the joint venture. It was obvious that it had failed due to a lack of products but there were very little details.
When I first heard about this deal when I worked at IBM, it seemed a bit confusing. It just seemed like two enemies forming an alliance for the sake of fighting another enemy. Around 1991, Microsoft and IBM had a terrible relationship based on what happened with OS/2. IBM was looking for someone else to help them produce the next version of operating system. Lots of advanced technology for the time was out there. Unfortunately it did not come together.
Personally my manager had mentioned the “Pink” operating system as an option around 1992. It was fairly secret but it seemed, at the time, as a decent alternative to the path that IBM was choosing for OS/2. I didn’t actually check into it but I appreciated that my manager, Barbara Odle, had looked into it.
The article about Microsoft’s concerns is rather revealing. If Apple were to form a strong alliance with a corporate player and produce corporate software, most likely Microsoft would see this as a serious threat. What would this entail? Well, let’s just pick a fictional scenario.
Please excuse the complete implausibility of this happening.
Apple, realizing it needs to open up even more, decides to encourage enterprise software companies to address the gaps of Apple platforms. First stop, the need to address Microsoft Office and Windows. Most corporate users stop here first. Office has to be one of the most popular software packages out there. As long as Microsoft controls this, Microsoft will continue to justify its rights over corporate environments.
Apple considers writing a set of compatible applications but realizes this is a losing battle. It would be possible to use existing open source projects as a base but it will always be a matter of catching up. Besides that, it would be almost impossible to keep compatibility.
Light goes on and someone realizes that it is possible to write better office applications but users and companies will never accept this unless there is some path away from Office that is acceptable. Apple would then understand that it needs to invest in some software layer to guarantee compatibility on Apple platforms.
For a sizable chunk, Apple acquires Parallels. Instantly they now have the ability to run Windows and Mac software side-by-side with plans to include this in the next OS X release built-in. Apple starts writing the better office applications using existing open source as a base. Recent Microsoft revelations are used for creating standard documents and using document protocols. An Apple corporate presence has begun.
Originally the hardware that Apple used was a problem. No longer is this true. Windows, Linux, and Mac can use the same Intel/AMD hardware.
Needing to form a strong partnership with another hardware manufacturer, Apple approaches powerhouse HP. By now, Apple has a strong story with active demos to sell the corporate pitch. HP, cautious due the power of Microsoft and also due to the strong relationship, initially resists. However, over time, HP sees the merit of having another player in the field and agrees to produce HP systems equipped with the new Apple platform. Through an interesting trick, they actually use a Microsoft license at volume along with a Mac license with the built-in Parallels software. Being that operating systems are no longer exclusive due to virtualization, it is now possible to not have exclusive ownership of the machine like it used to be. This means that the user will be able to run both Windows and Mac software out of the box. To the user, they won’t even care most likely as long it does what they want.
To seal the deal and to bring in more credibility, Apple approaches Oracle and looks for a deal. Oracle has always been mostly apathetic about exclusive deals. However, Apple sees databases as being a very important customer requirement. It isn’t really sexy or exciting, but databases are the lifeblood of many companies. Apple works closely with Oracle and comes to a new understanding of what it would take to succeed. Within months, the two companies come to a new understanding and a new energy forms as the partnership grows. Oracle and Apple stand together at industry events and produce new value to corporations. An Apple Oracle server is made available (which is probably already there so please excuse my ignorance) which ties into the Apple Office programs using ODBC. (My sister is the database expert, not me, sorry).
As the investment goes up and more and more companies join the effort, corporations finally see the value of Apple software and begin to cross over. This isn’t just ads squabbling over features and ease of use. This is real effort to create a better environment for users by initially allowing them to run what works best. The new concept in the last few years is that you can run different operating systems together and pick what works best for the task at hand.
The time of exclusive ownership is over. It’s time to play well together and stop arguing about who is best. Let the users and administrators figure this out. The computer environment needs to be more balanced and virtualization is an obvious step towards reaching that goal.
As this story comes to an end, I hope that a few of you were pleasantly amused by the ramblings of a long term “what-if” engineer.
Perhaps the thing that binds closest to Microsoft is its licensing schemes. From past experience, the licenses are relatively cheap, but only in volume. It creates a situation where a customer will be adverse to change. There are so many fronts to consider that it would be difficult to storm the wall with much effect. At some point you just need to start looking for cracks.