Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Was Apple vs. IBM a one-sided rivalry?

I get a lot of my business thought from sports radio broadcaster Colin Cowherd. Which I guess is better than getting it from Rick Dees.

This morning, Cowherd was talking about rivalries. One of his specific examples was the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers. From the perspective of the Clippers, there's a rivalry with the Lakers. But from the perspective of the Lakers - at least publicly - there is no such rivalry. Perhaps the Boston Celtics are rivals of the Lakers, but the Clippers?

From Colin Cowherd's perspective, it's not a rivalry unless both teams acknowledge that a rivalry exists.

Which brings us to Apple and IBM in the 1980s.

Clearly Apple considered IBM a rival. From "Welcome, IBM. Seriously." to the 1984 commercial, Apple in general and Steve Jobs in particular continuously targeted IBM - and subsequently Microsoft, who provided a windowed environment for IBM and compatible personal computers.

But how did IBM regard the rivalry with Apple? Like the Lakers of old, IBM treated Steve Jobs as a tech version of Donald Sterling - not even worthy of consideration.

When IBM wrote its history of the personal computer on its website, it started as follows:

In the beginning, there was the IBM Personal Computer.

Well, not really.

Of course not, most of you are saying. There were a number of personal computers that were available before the IBM PC gracelessly graced store shelves. The Apple II and TRS-80 were just two personal computers that had become popular.

But that's not how IBM views personal computer history.

Although IBM's launch of the Personal Computer (IBM 5150) in 1981 set the industry standard for personal computing, IBM had introduced a variety of small computers for individual users several years before that. So while now is certainly an appropriate moment to salute the legendary IBM PC on its 20th birthday, it's also a good time to take a brief look back at some of the pioneering IBM products that immediately preceded it.

One of the earliest IBM attempts to move computing into the hands of single users was the "SCAMP" project in 1973. This six-month development effort by the company's General Systems Division (GSD) produced a prototype device dubbed "Special Computer, APL Machine Portable" (SCAMP) that PC Magazine in 1983 called a "revolutionary concept" and "the world's first personal computer." To build the prototype in the short half-year allowed, its creators acquired off-the-shelf materials for major components. SCAMP could be used as a desktop calculator, an interactive APL programming device and as a "dispenser" of canned applications. The successful demonstration of the prototype in 1973 led to the launch of the IBM 5100 Portable Computer two years later.

So as far as IBM is concerned, its Personal Computer was part of an evolution of IBM products, and not a response to some bozos in garages.

Well, that's IBM's public story. But how did they really feel? Under oath, former IBM employee Mark Papermaster said the following when IBM sued to keep him from joining Apple in 2009:

"Until this litigation effort by IBM, aside from the divested IBM personal computer business and a single sale several years ago of Apple's Xserve product to a university, I do not recall a single instance of Apple being described as a competitor of IBM during my entire tenure at IBM."

So while IBM wouldn't publicly admit that Apple was a rival, privately they acknowledged the fact.

And I bet that if you press a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, they aren't taking that Clippers Pacific Division banner as lightly as they claim.
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