Apple/IBM: It’s Official
Some people would prefer that title to be "Apple/IBM: It’s Oh-fish-al," since they think they detect a tell-tale smell. However, the Apple/IBM deal appears to be real and was consummated last week in the press releases, where all good industry relationships eventually end up. Nothing much has really changed since the first news came out, but the two companies are focussing more on multimedia than was expected, even though we thought that IBM would be interested in Apple’s QuickTime technology.
The deal has five main points, although no one can be sure how long it will take for some of these things to appear on the market. First and least interesting to those of us who don’t connect to large IBM systems will be some products that will help meld the Mac with the mongo IBMs. My opinion is that this is good for Apple’s appearance to the big buyers, but has little interest otherwise. Of course this stuff is the easiest and was probably in the works as soon as Sculley and IBM’s Akers started talking. Look for it by the beginning of 1992.
Second come the PowerPC RISC processors, although Apple and IBM, along with Motorola, are hoping that their RISC processors don’t finish second to the MIPS R4000. Motorola hitched a ride on this part of the deal since Apple will be ignoring a Motorola-designed RISC chip that was reputed to have some problems despite a lot of Apple input. The PowerPC chips will evolve from IBM’s current implementation of the technology in its RS/6000 workstations. I’ve heard differing opinions on how good the PowerPC technology is overall and where its strengths and weaknesses lie, but since I know little about processor design and implementation, I’ll stay out of the fray. Since Motorola has to do quite a bit of work on the new single-chip implementation of the PowerPC, it will be several years before Apple and IBM, much less anyone else in the market, can buy them from Motorola.
Third comes Unix, or at least the melting-pot combination of IBM’s version of it, AIX, Apple’s version, A/UX, and the POWER architecture of IBM’s RISC chips. From what I’ve heard, the resulting dish will be able to run Macintosh software along with both AIX and A/UX software, and will sport some of A/UX’s interface features, but will be built on the AIX core. Of course, to mix in a little spicy confusion, Apple and IBM will both continue enhancing AIX and A/UX independently. And people wonder why Unix has never caught on?
Fourth comes the new emphasis on multimedia. Rather than just a little cross licensing, Apple and IBM will create a new independent company that will come up with new multimedia technologies and license them where ever possible. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some consumer electronics products come out of this joint venture, although I certainly hope that it is staffed with totally new people. I’ve seen few interesting multimedia efforts from IBM, due in part to the fact that multimedia is essentially entertainment-like and IBM just isn’t terribly entertaining. Apple has a much better concept of this, which is one reason that Apple will continue to lead in the multimedia market, despite the multimedia extensions to Windows. And please accept my apologies for using the term "multimedia." I realize it’s a poor word, and linguistically incorrect, but it’s the jargon of choice.
Fifth and finally comes the primary focus of the deal. Apple and IBM will create an independent company to develop a next-generation object-oriented operating environment. If I threw "multimedia" in that sentence as well, I’d probably get a triple sentence score in Jargon Scrabble. This company will work with Apple’s Pink OS and attempt to create an operating system that is platform independent to the extent that it will work on RISC workstations, machines based on the 80×86 chips, and computers using Motorola’s 680×0 chips. To be real, I’d say that you can forget about the lower end PCs and Macs, and the Commodore 64 is right out. The only mildly new bits of this part of the agreement are that both companies will license parts of the technology and incorporate them into existing operating systems before the new company comes out with a complete operating environment, which probably won’t be for another three or four years at best. Also included as a little teaser is the fact that Apple and IBM are cross-licensing patent and visual displays, "including a limited license to the Macintosh visual displays." That last phrase leads me to think that OS/2 might sport a decent interface in the relatively near future, which certainly wouldn’t hurt in its battle with Windows.
Like it or not, Apple and IBM have signed the papers and all that remains now is to see what comes out when. I suspect the new companies will lay low for a year or so, much as General Magic has done. I’m sure the people at General Magic aren’t sitting around, but they also haven’t said anything new for some time now. Eventually something will show up.