As I was booting up my Lenovo ThinkPad X-40, I was wondering, as many other techies have done lately, what it means for IBM to be getting out of the desktop/laptop business. After a week of speculation, IBM and the China-based Lenovo Group announced a complex $1.75 billion deal. The deal will make Lenovo a New York-based company, headed by Stephen Ward (the present head of the IBM PC business), and will create the third-largest PC company in the world. And since all you e-mailers are always quick to remind me when I mess up, Id like to remind you that it was a year ago that I suggested that Legend (now Lenovo) would be leaving its base in China for other markets.
ThinkPads are great laptops. They take a bruising, rarely crap out totally and come in form factors that are the right size and weight. I travel a lot, so the jostling my laptop sustains would justify the black screen of defeat. And two of my sons just called their 24-by-7 support line (me) to complain that their non-IBM laptops seem to be acting funny. If "funny" means a virus-laden, hard drive-grating, impossible-even-to-get-to-the-boot-screen machine, then these laptops are very funny indeed. IBM is justifiably credited with creating the corporate PC business. On a wall in my office hangs the Feb. 28, 1984, edition of PC Week, with the tag line, "The newsweekly for IBM system microcomputers."
That ThinkPad tradition will continue to exist but in a company where the personal computer is front and center rather than an auxiliary business. You dont want to wrestle with the likes of Dell (which seemed to acknowledge the Lenovo deal by sharply cutting prices again) unless you can focus completely on the market.
So now there is a lot of agonizing over IBMs alleged exit from the business it helped create. My advice is to spare the agony. If a Chinese company wants to get into the battle of supplying me with a laptop as inexpensively as Dell can provide and as elegantly as a company such as Apple can deliver, then I welcome it to the U.S. market. IBM, under chief Sam Palmisano, has shown a remarkable ability to put its resources where customers will find the most benefit and stockholders will find the greatest return. While the emphasis on services and middleware creates the impression that IBM cannot jettison its hardware heritage quickly enough, that simply is not true.