The enemy of my enemy is IBM

When it comes to power politics, Machiavelli was an amateur compared to IBM. Just about everywhere you look, IBM is making gains on its competitors. In fact, a reader poll we did recently clearly shows IBM is on a roll with wins in eight separate categories.

When it comes to power politics, Machiavelli was an amateur compared to IBM.

Just about everywhere you look, IBM is making gains on its competitors. In fact, a reader poll we did recently clearly shows IBM is on a roll with wins in eight separate categories.

What's interesting here is that IBM is winning by playing all ends against the middle. At the heart of that strategy are major alliances with Microsoft and Sun that pit those two vendors against each other while IBM makes gains at their expense.

In the world of Java, IBM is seen as Sun's erstwhile ally helping to create and advance the Java specifications. And behind the scenes, IBM is constantly pressuring Sun to make Java a truly open standard and accelerate the development of new enterprise-class Java services. But IBM has also grown impatient with Sun, which is seen in some IBM quarters as a company that has thwarted the mission of the Java community process.

So in a move that even Machiavelli would envy, IBM created the Web Services Interoperability Organisation (WS-I) in conjunction with Microsoft and BEA. As shown in the deposition of Microsoft vice president Jim Allchin, one of the founding principles of the group was to exclude Sun from having an equal say in the certification of web services. Officially, IBM says this is punishment for Sun's tardy embrace of web services and its resistance to any new technologies that undermine the preeminence of Java. Unofficially, it's clear that excluding Sun was the ante that Microsoft demanded to create WS-I, and IBM was only too happy to comply.

But IBM wasn't content to stop there. IBM is also the major proponent of Linux running on IBM hardware in the enterprise. IBM's efforts here undermine Sun's position by enticing people to embrace Linux at the expense of Sun's proprietary Solaris operating system running on proprietary Sparc hardware.

IBM can afford to play this game because it makes most of its profits from IBM Global Services, while Sun, Hewlett-Packard and BEA are all dependent on a handful of product lines to generate profit. So if you are sitting in IBM's New York offices, the strategy you need to execute is simple. Keep Microsoft close while you systematically take out Sun, HP and BEA. Once that is accomplished, IBM can turn its full attention to Microsoft, which has considerable resources of its own, but in the meantime is distracted by government lawsuits and a raft of quality-control issues.

In the computer industry, the prevailing wisdom is that my enemy's enemy must be my friend and IBM is now friend to everyone. But with friends like IBM, none of these vendors need enemies.

Vizard is editor in chief of US IDG publication InfoWorld. Send letters for publication in Computerworld NZ to Computerworld Letters.

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