Mac Musings

Apple and IBM, a Marriage Made in Heaven or Hell?

Daniel Knight - 2004.12.06

This morning's hot rumor (or at least speculation): IBM may make a play for Apple once it unloads its PC division (see Apple of IBM's eye?).

Before dismissing this out of hand, let's see if it makes any sense.


IBM's personal computing division has been losing market share since the first PC clones came on the market over 20 years ago. Further, the Windows PC market is saturated with players, "white box" builders are taking a lot of sales that once went to brand name companies, and there's little (if any) money to be made selling PCs.

Why else would Gateway have closed their retail stores? Why else would Dell and Gateway and CompUSA have added consumer electronics to their catalogs? It's the only way they can see to turn a profit in the dog-eat-dog world of Windows PC retailing.

IBM would do well to unload their personal computer division, a rumor that first surfaced last week. Not only would this remove a drag on the company, but it would allow IBM to move further from Microsoft and Intel, since all of IBM's other computers run some form of POWER or PowerPC CPU and a version of Linux or IBM's home grown operating systems.

By abandoning the Wintel market and pushing Macs, which are all based on PowerPC CPUs - and IBM is the sole source for the G5 - IBM can grow their bottom line.


Apple has often been an industry leader, but it has never dominated the personal computer market. Apple's market share has been dropping since before the Macintosh. You can pretty much trace Apple's market share decline to the introduction of the IBM PC, MS-DOS, and the first PC clones.

The Apple II, III, Lisa, and Macintosh have never really been seen as business computers, and nobody ever lost their job for recommending an IBM solution. But what if the solution IBM recommended was a Mac?

I'm getting ahead of myself. From a marketing standpoint, having IBM pushing Macs would be incredible. I'd guess Apple could double market share in a single year in an IBM partnership.

But it's not just about selling hardware. Imagine IBM offering Mac OS X and OS X Server as options for their workstations and servers. If you thought Xserve sales were doing well, picture the possibilities if the same OS could run on any of IBM's current hardware.

For companies using AIX or Linux on IBM hardware, the transition to OS X could be fairly painless. And once corporate IT departments are using OS X on their servers, it might be tempting to put it on the desktop as well.


Back in my retail days, I once worked with IBM putting together a solution for a local business. They wanted an IBM server, and IBM insisted that we had to push IBM on the desktop as well, which meant OS/2 in those days. We didn't get the sale, and I don't know which route the business followed, but when IBM recommends a desktop solution for use with their servers, people listen.

And they don't usually complain about the price of the solution, since they know that IBM stands behind it.

For too long IBM pushed Windows boxes, which meant reliable hardware with a horrendous operating system. Worms. Viruses. Trojans. Spyware. Adware. Programs to hijack the computer. (Anyone trying to keep a Windows PC clean of this stuff knows the nightmare.)

Whether IBM swallows up Apple or simply forms a long-term strategic alliance, we end up with a rock solid operating system that's as user-friendly as Windows and works very well with IBM's servers. That might not mean a lot in the home market for a few years, but in the corporate market, it means more worker productivity and less money being invested in the IT department.

Over time, business users will want to use the same OS at home as they use at the office, especially when they see how secure and friendly it is.

Would an Apple-IBM partnership be a marriage made in heaven or hell? I'm thinking heaven.