Scan the Skies for Gathering Clouds

By Stan Gibson  |  Posted 2000-12-18

Sometimes the first cloud that appears in the sky is just a random cloud. Other times, it heralds a downpour soon to follow. So, events sometimes make only modest news impact at a given moment but later loom large in importance. While the nation obsessed with Floridas vote counting for more than a month, the election more than likely was decided by Al Gores losing his home state of Tennessee thanks to little-noted perceptions of him in that state. Perceptions upon which, in retrospect, history turned.

Similarly, this week in IT, there are some events that could have huge ramifications down the road. For example: Microsoft released BizTalk Server to manufacturing. You yawn. Sure, BizTalk Server is months late, but its not really late. Not by generally accepted software shipping standards, anyway. The first building block is now in place for Microsofts grand .Net strategy. Take note.

And could Microsoft, ever the careful stonemason, have had anything to do with onetime rival Corels selling off its Linux business unit? Yes, Corel reportedly will sell off the unit for a paltry $5 million. That money will make a huge difference when added to the $135 million that Microsoft invested in the company last summer, wont it? Hey, who needs to develop for Linux anyway? Meanwhile, .Net takes shape, brick by brick.

Is it big news that IBM shipped its latest mainframe? I dont think so. But did anyone notice that Lou Gerstner appeared in public last week? And gave a speech to boot? Hes been more reclusive than Greta Garbo recently, but his speech was all about openness. So much hot air? Perhaps. The appearance of supporting Linux and being open is worth a lot to IBM, but IBM is pouring some real dollars into Linux—$1 billion next year. Thats more than would make sense if it was Big Blues strategy just to toss nails on the road ahead of Microsoft.

The last time that IBM took on Microsoft in operating system wars, it was the debacle of OS/2, of course. Now IBM is pushing Linux as a thinly veiled Microsoft alternative. Its a much better strategy. Linux is open; OS/2 never was. And IBM bore the development brunt for OS/2. With Linux, all IBM has to do is make sure it runs on its systems and let the magic of the GNU Public License do the rest. The big dollars that IBM is spending on Linux now could have a bigger impact in a year or two.

Finally, the FTC said OK to the Time Warner-AOL merger last week, subject to a few itty-bitty conditions regarding AOLs behavior. The new behemoth must open its cable system to competing ISPs; must not interfere with the content of nonaffiliated ISPs and must adhere to other fine print that will remain in effect for five years. Look for those conditions to be the subject of many a lawsuit. Without legal prodding, we seldom can count on a market-dominating company to behave itself.

Rocket Fuel