Who should really worry about Apple/IBM? Microsoft

Where will Apple and IBM be focusing their attention? Why, on mobile devices backed with Cloud services.

So Apple and IBM are hooking up. It's a match made in enterprise heaven, bringing together BYOD favorites the iPhone and the iPad with enterprise apps and cloud services from IBM. It's a win for Apple, which finally gets some serious business software chops, and for IBM, which gets device sex appeal.

It may be a good deal for IT as well. And then there are the losers.

Android devices are now more likely to come up short in enterprise evaluations. And this deal is just another kick in the keypad for BlackBerry, once the king of the mobile enterprise. Those days are long gone, and, honestly, I'm surprised BlackBerry has made it this far. This deal could spell the end.

But the company that should really be spooked by this deal is Microsoft.

Charles King of Pund-IT suggested that the deal would "hurt Microsoft in particular" because "the users that Apple and IBM will be going after with this deal are exactly in the cross-hairs that Microsoft has been going after in the last few years with Windows Phone."

That's not the half of it.

First, Microsoft's been trying to turn itself into a business services company. Yes, I know, when you think "Microsoft," the first product you think of is Windows. That's old news now.

Don't believe me? Take a look at the memo that Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, sent out earlier this month. Windows is given short shift. This is not Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer's "Nothing is more important at Microsoft than Windows" Microsoft.

Nadella's focus is a "mobile-first, Cloud-first" strategy. And where will Apple and IBM be focusing their attention? Why, on mobile devices backed with Cloud services.

Yeah, that looks like a head-on collision is just down the road. Who's going to walk away from that crash? Some people are arguing that Microsoft is in a better position because it isn't catering to a single family of devices. Some analysts, such as Patrick Moorhead, of Moor Insights & Strategy, and Ross Rubin, of Reticle Research, believe that the Apple/IBM powerhouse will have very little effect on Microsoft. I, and a few million iPhone and iPad, users beg to differ.

What I find especially amusing is that Moorhead argues that Microsoft offers businesses a better deal because "Microsoft's mobile strategy [supports] Windows, Android and iOS." It's amusing because Microsoft has barely shed its "Windows or bust!" mindset. It's only just started supporting multiple platforms. Are CIOs going to forget all those years of Windows-first history and buy into this new multiplatform vision? I doubt it. Are they more likely to say, "Our users love Apple's iGadgets, and IBM is a proven enterprise power"? I think so.

Anyway, I'd give more credence to the heterogeneous-device argument if Microsoft itself were a mobile power. It's not. Windows Phone's market share is in a very distant third place, behind Android and iOS. Microsoft has so little faith in its Windows Phone platform that it's now offering its business mainstay Office suite on the iPad, and it's introducing new Android phones. If Microsoft doesn't believe in its own operating systems, why should you?

On the cloud side of Nadella's priorities, I actually like Microsoft Azure, and it beats the pants off of Apple's iCloud offerings. Unfortunately for Microsoft, the Apple/IBM partnership will be basing services on IBM's open-source based BlueMix (http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9246537/IBM_begins_moving_software_portfolio_to_the_cloud), not the iffy iCloud. And IBM has been working hard on beefing up its cloud services. IBM will have 40, count 'em, 40, data centers around the world by 2015 to support its cloud operations.

So which supplier do you think Joe Enterprise CIO is going to buy from? Let me ask that question in another way. If you're a CIO or senior IT staffer, what smartphone is in your pocket? Is it an iPhone or a Windows Phone? Kind of says it all, doesn't it?

Good luck, Microsoft, in the new mobile cloud world. You're going to need it.

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was cutting-edge and 300bit/sec. was a fast Internet connection -- and we liked it! He can be reached at sjvn@vna1.com.

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