In 1981, IBM launched its personal computer (www-1.ibm.com/ibm/history), which, despite the many models from other companies, really did launch the PC industry. The emergence of the personal computer from a company with a monolithic, mainframe and monopolistic attitude is the stuff of business legend, but suffice it to say that IBM was about the last place where anyone expected the PC industry to sprout.
This brief trip back to computer history was prompted by the news last week that IBM is going to farm out the building of PCs. It appears the company took a middle path between bowing out of a business with brutal manufacturing economics and the desire to keep customers under the Big Blue product umbrella. If the product has the IBM logo and IBM will stand behind the product, does it really matter where the box was built?
In this era of open systems and open operating systems, it is worth remembering that the personal computer was an early and very successful example of the open model. Of course, in this case, it was open hardware. Despite a few disastrous detours into proprietary hardware, IBM and all those compatible vendors soon learned there was far more business to be gained by being open rather than closed.
So much for history; the question currently being asked in the after-hours discussions from Research Triangle Park to Silicon Valley is "Can IBM once again capture the open trend but this time in software?" IBM, among the major vendors, has been in the forefront of supporting open-source software development for the corporate environment. The Linux and Java communities have found both financial and developer support from IBM, which has continued despite the recent economic turbulence.
Of course, this support was not done through technological altruism. IBM execs know that in the future, it will be services built on widely available software platforms that will win the race for IT dollars. The broader your range of offerings, the more you can make your development tools the tools of choice, and the faster you can make real all those Web services promises, the faster you will grow.
For some examples of those Web service development tools, take a look at "Raising the services stakes" by Darryl Taft. Those tools include a new tool kit and gateway and are available for free download at www.alphaworks.ibm.com. Unless you win the developer community to your product, you will not even be able to play in the Net services game, and IBM made sure it stuffed the tool kits full of open-acronym offerings.
When the open-software movement first started, there was a lot of speculation as to whether anyone would ever be able to make any money on a product with a cost of zero. The answer is yes, you can make money on the services built on that software and on the hardware that runs it faster and more securely than anything else.