If you ask why did IBM fail, I assume you mean why did IBM ultimately fail in the personal computer market. IBM is still in business, after all. But its exit from the PC market after 24 years, including a period of dominance in the 1980s, does seem curious. And it raises another question: What does IBM do now?
I experienced IBM’s fall in this market firsthand. I sold computers at retail in 1994 and 1995. IBM’s computers at that time were no worse than anyone else’s, but I had an extremely difficult time selling them. Many consumers didn’t trust IBM and didn’t want to get somehow locked in. There was nothing wrong with those machines, but it sure was a lot easier to just sell them a Compaq.
Digital Equipment Corporation was perhaps the second most important computer company in history, behind IBM. Its minicomputers challenged IBM, and, indeed, Unix first ran on a DEC PDP-7. DEC’s Alpha CPU was one of the few chips to make Intel nervous for its x86 line. It created the first really good Internet search engine. In a just and perfect world, DEC would still be dominating. Instead, it faded away in the 1990s. What happened to Digital Equipment Corporation, or DEC?
Don’t you feel like trying something new Don’t you feel like breaking out Or breaking us in two You don’t do the things that I do You want to do things I can’t do Always something breaking us in two –Joe Jackson
After years of buying up companies, HP is splitting up. While that’s probably more prudent that exiting the desktop PC business, which is another idea they flirted with in the past, it’s anyone’s guess how this is going to work out.
But it’s what all the cool kids are doing, so it’s what the investors want, and that means HP is going to do it. Read more
Whether Microsoft likes it or not, it’s turned into IBM. The biggest difference I see is that when Microsoft makes a mistake, it catches up with them much faster than the same mistake did to IBM.
But IBM’s biggest mistake was its adamant refusal to compete with itself. And that’s what Microsoft is going to have to avoid. Like Computerworld says, Apple says if you don’t compete with yourself, someone else will. Read more
I saw a question on a vintage computing forum this week: How did the IBM PC become the de facto standard for PCs, and the only desktop computer architecture from the 1980s to survive until today?
It’s a very good question, and I think there were several reasons for it. I also think without all of the reasons, the IBM PC wouldn’t have necessarily won. In some regards, of course, it was a hollow victory. IBM has been out of the PC business for a decade now. Its partners Intel and Microsoft, however, reaped the benefits time and again.
Word on the street is that Blackstone Group has a plan for turning around Dell: Buy the company, take it private, and install Mark Hurd as CEO. The thinking is that he’s available, has experience, and would have baggage keeping him from being the CEO of a public company.
From time to time, I see the phrase “Commodore stock scam” or something similar come up in discussion or in books. Commodore, in case you don’t know, was a high-flying computer company in the 1980s that was literally making computers as quickly as they could sell them while Apple struggled for its survival, and was in the enviable position of being the main supplier of chips for its competitors. Imagine if Intel sold computers at retail next to HP and Dell, while still selling chips to Dell. That was Commodore in 1984. I don’t have 1984 figures, but in 1985, Commodore had 38% of the computer market all to itself. IBM and its clones, combined, had 49%. Apple had 13%.
But a decade later, Commodore had squandered all of that away and was out of business. That’s why Robert X. Cringely sums up Commodore as Irving Gould‘s stock scam, then goes back to writing about Apple.
The real story is more complicated than that. More interesting, too.
Note: I wrote this in mid-2010 and, for whatever reason, never posted it. I found it this week. Although the information in it is no longer fresh and new, it’s still useful, so for that reason, I’m posting it now.
Dell is standing on some shaky ground right now. Bill Snyder has a good summary of the problem.
In recent years, Dell computers have, shall I say, made me nervous. Some of it’s been concrete. Some of it’s just been touchy-feely. Now one of those touchy-feely problems is more concrete. Read more