Apple's triumph at an IBM show

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 03/92 item 01 - scanned

In Greek mythology, a large hollow wooden horse was once left outside the gates of Troy. The Trojans dragged this 'gift' inside the City, where, to their astonishment, out jumped a load of Greeks who promptly opened the gates, allowing the city to be taken over by waiting troops. Who would have thought a couple of years ago that Apple would be given a similar opportunity to invade Fortress IBM?

Troy, this time around, was the less exotic IBM '92 Show at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre. Following the widely publicised partnerships between the two companies, IBM thought it would be a good idea to invite Apple to exhibit. Maybe it thought Apple would wave the flag for Kaleida and Taligent, their jointly-owned companies.

Apple jumped at the chance to be there. But it reserved its flag-waving for the Mac, its Supporting products and connections to IBM PCs, minicomputers and mainframes. Promoting alliances whose fruits were still some way off wouldn't have done Apple the slightest good, so it took the opportunity to show corporate UK that it, too, had a viable and attractive range of desktop, deskside and notebook computers. More importantly, considering the nature of the audience, it set out to prove how easy it is to connect the Mac to corporate networks.

Perhaps I'm biased, but the Apple stand seemed to be one of the busiest at the show. I'm not saying the others weren't doing good business, but that many will be counting their business leads in tens, against Apple's which will probably be in hundreds.

I went along expecting a lot of tension between Apple and the other exhibitors, but I was wrong. Everyone from IBM UK boss Nick Temple downwards seemed relaxed about Apple's presence. A week or so before the event, the press were invited to join Temple on the Apple stand to celebrate its involvement in the show. Despite having hosted an IBM press conference just 15 minutes earlier, he somehow failed to materialise at the appointed hour. Perhaps he was less relaxed than he'd led us to believe at the earlier briefing.

Visitors were coming to the Apple stand and complaining that they couldn't integrate their Macs with the rest of their corporate systems. But Apple left them in no doubt about the realities. It had at least one of each of its machines hooked up with big screens, small screens and connections to RS/6000 workstations, AS/400 minicomputers, a 3090 mainframe and a number of PS/2 computers. The Macs were running A/UX, X/Windows and, probably, MSDOS, although I didn't see it. The machines were hooked up to LAN Manager and NetWare. The stand was a connectivity tour de force. After visiting the stand, no-one could doubt the ability of the Mac to participate in enterprise-wide systems.

According to those manning the stand, IBM staff would come by at regular intervals to hook up to their office email through a connection to the IBM mainframe in Warwick. This type of activity was, apparently, frowned upon on the IBM stands, but as far as Apple was concerned it simply provided another opportunity to make a convert. Some of the IBM people even wanted to know when Apple would be extending its employee discount scheme to its business partners...

Apple was feeling jolly pleased with itself. It rejoiced in the fact that IBM's best and most loyal customers would come to this annual celebration of all things Blue and be forced to acknowledge Apple as a serious presence in the market. IBM and its business partners would be delivering these influential customers right to Apple's door. Perhaps Apple did catch IBM unawares. Perhaps Nick Temple was peeved that its business partner should attempt to hijack his desktop customers. If I'm right, it shows an astonishing naivety on IBM's part.

I can't believe IBM is that naive. It must have known what would happen if it gave Apple house room. It must have thought that it's better to have Apple overtly on its side against Microsoft, DEC and all the others, than to keep the alliance in the background. Rumours abound that IBM doesn't make much money on its PS/2 range, so perhaps it wouldn't resent a small migration of its desktop customers to Apple. More rumours suggest that IBM is about to start badging Taiwanese clones. As long as customers stay loyal to the IBM/Apple partnership by buying PS/2s, Macs or the cheap clones, then the two companies will be able to preserve a customer base which they'll both be able to exploit when the PowerOPEN systems appear on the market. Better to survive together than to fail separately.

Perhaps the Trojan Horse analogy was the wrong one. IBM may have opened the gates on purpose.