OS WARS REVISITED By William F. Zachmann The OS wars are back! The conjunction of Windows 2000 and Linux heralds a return to the OS battlefield, where Microsoft Corp. and IBM Corp. fought primarily for the desktop in the early 1990s. The OS war of the early 2000s will be fought for control of the server.
Windows trounced OS/2 in the '90s, sending the latter scurrying off to a minor server niche. IBM Chairman and CEO Louis V. Gerstner abjectly admitted defeat, saying that "the battle for the desktop" was over.
Most analysts assumed that meant the end of the OS wars. Any future challenge to the Microsoft platform would come, they said, in some other form--internet browsers, network computers, Java or whatever. Most analysts were wrong, of course.
The OS wars were not over, only temporarily suspended. Although IBM withdrew in humiliation from the desktop battlefield, Big Blue continued to look for ways to counterattack, backing and sponsoring just about every even-remotely plausible anti-Microsoft, anti-Windows option. As the core member of what I have long called the ABM (anything but Microsoft) coalition, IBM became the deep-pocketed, quiet partner for all those new technologies that were supposed to make Windows irrelevant.
IBM buddied up with Sun Microsystems, lobbying intensely to help move Java through the international standards process despite Sun's insistence on proprietary control of Java that was every bit as tight as Microsoft's control of Windows. IBM palled around with Oracle, trying to give a boost to Larry Ellison's effort to replace PCs with NCs. IBM backed everything internet related that might somehow undermine Windows. And, of course, IBM lobbied the U.S. Department of Justice to "do something" about Microsoft, covertly funding background legal research to help build an antitrust case against Bill Gates & Co.
IBM and friends did manage to get the DOJ to hit Microsoft with an antitrust lawsuit but basically got nowhere with the rest of it. The spectacular success of the internet did not at all have the claimed effect of making Windows irrelevant. On the contrary, it increased demand for PCs and strengthened Microsoft's hold on desktop operating systems.
The internet browser turned out to be just one more PC application, not the Windows-killer platform analysts touted it to be. The NC proved to be nearly a total dud and no threat to any but those who bet their careers on it. Java revealed itself to be little more than a nice programming language limited by relatively poor performance and Sun's insistence on proprietary control.
Meanwhile, Windows slowly gained ground from the bottom up on servers with Windows NT, steadily advancing on IBM's core turf: industrial-strength servers.
While still underestimated by most analysts, NT is proving to be a viable platform for serious applications in thousands of organizations.
Windows 2000 brings another major advance by Microsoft straight into the heart of IBM's core enterprise server business. It further raises the level at which Intel-based servers running Windows can offer low-cost alternatives to IBM's traditional S/390 and AS/400 systems.
Having failed to stop Microsoft at the desktop, and having failed again to find some internet-related anti-Microsoft champion, IBM and friends are now on the brink of a battle for their very survival. Over the next few years, as Wintel servers mature into serious rivals that can offer equal or greater capabilities at lower cost, traditional proprietary or semiproprietary server systems like IBM's and Sun's will be increasingly on the defensive.
This is where Linux comes in and where the OS wars resurface. Ironically, after the failure of all the internet-related platform alternatives, Microsoft's foes are right back where they started, trying to oppose Windows directly with another operating system for Intel platforms. More ironically, the latest and perhaps last anti-Microsoft champion to which IBM and friends have turned to save them from Windows is none other than Linux, Linus Torvalds' open-source version of Unix that he developed in 1991.
IBM executive Sam Palmisano, who, according to The Wall Street Journal, is widely identified by analysts and other observers as the likely heir to Gerstner, early this year appointed Irving Wladawsky-Berger as vice president of technology and strategy to spearhead IBM's efforts to make Linux a serious rival to Windows. As he did so, he told the Journal: "This is the first step in our vision to revitalize IBM's server business."
The greatest irony of all is that to the extent that Linux may succeed as an anti-Windows alternative, it is far more likely to accelerate, rather than retard, the pace at which powerful Intel-architecture servers undermine the remaining demand for IBM's (and others') proprietary and semiproprietary enterprise servers. If Palmisano and Gerstner really believe that promoting Linux can help revitalize IBM's server business, then IBM is surely doomed. For Intel-architecture, servers running Linux are potentially an even greater threat to IBM's server business than those running Windows 2000.
William F. Zachmann is president of Canopus Research, a market research firm in Duxbury, Mass.
WHAT'S WRONG WITH IT? By Gus Strassburger It is hard to imagine a more maligned professional than the IT executive. It seems that year after year, business and trade publications are filled with articles about IT failures, how to improve the IT contributions, how IT can better serve the company, how to create the perfect IT organization and so on and so forth.
Maybe it's because IS is still a relatively young profession, or maybe it's because CEOs still don't understand fully the best way to use IT. In my many and varied years as an IT executive, I have seen and been involved in both good and bad experiences with technology. So I've had to learn some things the hard way, and I've seen that there are some techniques, approaches and philosophies that work better than others. I've concluded that our profession can benefit from a Top 10 list of the key success factors for IT executives.
10. Job title/reporting relationship: We've gone through data processing manager, MIS director, VP of IS, VP of IT and CIO. Now we hear about CTO (chief technology officer), CKO (chief knowledge officer), CWO (chief wisdom officer) and CCO (chief change officer). Who knows what's next--maybe EIEIO (executive internet, extranet, intranet officer)? Don't let your job title become a distraction--it's what you do that matters. To impact and support the business goals, it's necessary to report to the CEO. If this is not immediately possible, do everything necessary to have regular contact and influence with the CEO and other senior managers.
9. Communications: Avoid jargon, "guruisms," silver bullets and fads. Deal in business terms and issues.
8. IT architecture/infrastructure: Create and maintain a solid backbone that promotes reliability, accessibility, security and ease of use. Follow FISS (flexible, integrated, simple and standard) guidelines. Use "technology tough love" to avoid technology that has more glitter than business value. Outsource what makes sense.
7. IT strategy: Incorporate IT value-adding activities to business strategy, and seek ways to have an integrated process to do this continually. Incorporate the needs of customers and stockholders, and ensure that key IT staff members are involved and in tune with each of the business units so that ideas are related to true opportunities.
6. IT staff: Your crown jewels! Proper care and feeding of the staff is important. (Yes, feeding--a few doughnuts in the morning or ice cream in the afternoon will do wonders for morale and productivity!) Create IT staff motivation, retention, productivity and career-planning guidelines. Maintain a personal touch and lead by example. Seek and accept staff ideas and input.
Develop core competencies based on business needs, and develop individual career plans consistent with these needs and personal desires and abilities.
5. Perfection and timeliness: Perfection should be the goal for your data; strive to design and maintain it as accurately and accessibly as possible. On the other hand, projects themselves need to be timely. Avoid the 90-percent-complete syndrome. Use project management techniques with regular review and reporting, and make sure that projects are phased in, with deliverables at least every six months.
4. Focus and quality: You can't do it all, and it is better to do a few things right that really make an impact on the business. Get executive managers to set priorities based on their business needs. Avoid unchecked use of IT resources on supporting current systems. Never, ever give in to implementing new applications before they are ready.
3. Think like an owner, act like a consultant: Become an advocate for using technology only when there is measurable benefit to the organization. Create an awareness of technology's costs throughout the IT organization. Develop documentation to support your ideas and recommendations that shows rational thought, consideration of alternatives and risks. Give credit where it's due.
Publicize successes and learn from mistakes.
2. Alignment: This will not go away until we get it and do it right. Building the proper relationships with mutual trust and credibility of IT takes constant attention and emphasis. Adding business value is what it is all about--make sure that there is IT support for all important business initiatives and that input on innovative and proven ways to use technology is provided constantly to the business units.
1. Carpe diem: Create opportunities through personal leadership. Focusing on the external customer and e-business is a logical place to start.
There is no organization today that is doing all it can to leverage technology for business advantage. In that regard IT detractors may be right, and this very fact becomes the starting point for success. Take advantage and make a difference!
Following a 10-year post as CIO at Fortis Family in Atlanta, Gus Strassburger is currently an independent IT management consultant.
Do you have an opinion you would like to express? Let Senior Editor Megan Santosus know at firstname.lastname@example.org.