American Society, which is inherently conservative in the deepest meaning of the adjective, has sent us all a message the supplier community has feared for almost two decades, since the 1936 IBM consent decree. It's one that I believe is unfortunate for IBM, very costly for computer users worldwide and dangerous in the very long run for our entire Western culture. In one sentence, it is "Don't damage IBM"!
I'm almost always asked, at the end of my speeches and seminar talks, to predict the outcome of the various actions against IBM, and especially about the federal case. I go into the enormous and hideously expensiveo, but extremely expert, IBM legal effort. I talk about elephant/mouse transaction (the department of Justice, of course being the mouse). I surmise that IBM has dozens of alternative consent decrer patterns worked out and ready to offer if required.
But for several years I have then gone on to say that legislation and case law and detailed decisions and appeals reflect, albeit slowly and reluctantly, innate and generally conservative national opinion. By processes deep down in the thoughts and prejudices of judges and juries, prosecutors and defenders, general media commentators and noncomputer business circles, the buge size of the IBM stock market position, the contribution to the U.S. balance of trade, the favorable image of IBM compared with the ugher corporations, the flag that IBM flies for as in Communist Europe, all tend to soften the monopoly image.
Anyone who can tell a transistor from a toggle switch knows that IBM is a monopoly - the most influential in our Western world. Anyone who knows enough law to argue with a traffic cop realize that virtually every IBM technical and marketing tactic can be labeled illegal. But when the chips are down, IBM to the cross, that deep-down approbation, that fundamental satisfaction with, the IBM enterprise and image that permeates nearly all America and is frequently observable in Japan and Europe and even in the Third World, commes to the rescue. "Not proven", says the stock market. "I'd sure like to work for 'em", says the senior.
Inside the trade, where wee can see the eventual future that predictably follows total IBM dominance, userw and competitors feel very differently. We need variety, we need a choice. And the philosophers and the futurists tremble at a world only a few decades off, where all the information flows of society are controlled by a private multinational too power ful for any country or orginization to influence: a corporation richer and stronger than most nations, and far better managed.
But deterrence depends on law, and law pretty much reflects social consensus. For the '70s a least, that consensus approves IBM.
We computer people have a problem!
Herbert R. J. Groach ist Editorial Direktor der Computerworld