Gerstner warns of proprietary 'trap'

Without identifying Microsoft by name, IBM chairman Lou Gerstner last week warned against getting "trapped" by the "worst" elements of the computer industry, and instead called on IT and telecommunications companies to merge the best of their respective industries to forge the emerging internet economy.

In several thinly-veiled references to Microsoft during his keynote address at Telecom 99 here, Gerstner warned against efforts to dominate the internet with proprietary technology and urged telecommunications companies and computer companies to work together to hasten the internet "revolution" that promises "a fundamental transformation in the way that things are being done in the world."

"Going forward we have a great opportunity to bring forward the best of the telecommunications industry and the best of the computer industry, and we also have an opportunity to ensure that we don't drag the worst of our industries into this new world," Gerstner told the gathering.

"Now the worst of my industry - the element that we must leave behind - is the mentality that seeks to own and dominate standards, and to establish a choke hold based on proprietary technology.

"There are a few companies that still don't get it," he added, "who are still trying to propagate proprietary computing and communications technology in order to exert control. I think their motives are obvious. But, in my view, they are standing on the wrong side of history."

Gerstner also seemed to take Microsoft to task for attempting to compete with telecommunications companies with its investments in the cable industry. IBM, in contrast, sold its digital network earlier this year and "does not want to be in the telecom business," he said.

The agenda for change in the telecommunication industry "is both remarkable and daunting, given the history of the industry as a regulated monopoly in most countries," Gerstner noted. "... And quite frankly outsiders like IBM have no business weighing in and adding to the confusion.

"However there are some in the computer industry who are intervening and making huge investments in infrastructure in cable to compete with telecommunications companies."

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