Originally Published: Thursday, 30 March 2000 Author: Tom Nadeau
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend

So we have the ultimate "odd couple" of the PC industry, IBM and Linux, as sincere partners. Linux gains credibility, IBM gains leverage against MS. But there's somebody in this industry who just doesn't get it. That somebody is Sun Microsystems.

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There's an old saying that applies in both war and business: "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." In other words, "Politics makes strange bedfellows."

Companies doing battle in the business world often make alliances that seem absurd. A manufacturer of PCs such as Compaq will make an alliance with Microsoft, even though Microsoft's monopoly position means that Compaq is automatically at a negotiating disadvantage for Windows and Office pricing. However, Compaq will make such an alliance because they believe that the pain suffered at the hands of Microsoft will not be as severe as the pain Compaq would suffer if they had to battle Dell or IBM without such an alliance. Companies will often hold their noses and work with people they hate or competitors they fear, if it means that their new partner will hurt somebody else even more.

In the world of Open Source, for example, IBM believes that Linux will harm Microsoft much more than Linux will harm IBM. IBM's main customer base wants carefully controlled, slowly-evolving applications, which ideally match IBM's relatively cautious development approach and longer product release cycles. Therefore, IBM does not view Linux as a threat of lost income to IBM's core customer base. However, IBM's non-core customers are being tapped by Microsoft. So IBM needs an ally who can undermine Microsoft's apparent cost advantage on the low end. (Of course, any cost advantage of Microsoft products over IBM products is merely looking at short-term entry costs, not maintenance issues, security costs, and forced upgrades by Microsoft.)

So we have the ultimate "odd couple" of the PC industry, IBM and Linux, as sincere partners. Linux gains credibility, IBM gains leverage against MS. But there's somebody in this industry who just doesn't get it. That somebody is Sun Microsystems.

Maybe Sun had to cut expenses after absorbing StarDivision, makers of StarOffice for multiple platforms. Maybe Sun doesn't quite see the benefits of building alliances outside their normal customer base, the way IBM does. Or just maybe it was that little article that came out last month, noting that IBM outsold Sun in high-end servers in Q4 1999, by almost 3 to 1. That probably upset a few people at Sun, so that they suddenly lost their focus on archenemy Microsoft.

So what did Sun do? They announced they would no longer support future development of StarOffice for OS/2 Warp. They lost an opportunity to make friends outside their normal customer base, with OS/2 users, who are no threat to Sun's customer base and no danger of attracting customers away from Sun, but who are staunchly opposed to the Microsoft monopoly. Sun threw away a potential ally, and a very vocal one at that. OS/2 users have long memories; we reward those who stay with us and punish those who abandon us. (Even if that sometimes includes certain divisions within IBM!)

Any non-threatening enemy of Sun's enemy Microsoft should automatically be Sun's friend, and receive help and respect. History is full of examples where a minor party was ignored in its bid to make an alliance and the shortsighted major party later regretted it. If Sun thinks they have made such progress against the Microsoft monster that they can now start discarding friends and shunning alliances, they may pay a very high price for their short-sighted viewpoint.

Tom Nadeau works as a PC technician. He is also an author, trying to make it big in the book writing business. His first book is self-published; it's entitled "Seven LEAN Years: America's New High-Tech Underclass." He is the webmaster of the OS/2 Headquarters website. He has been working with PCs for about 14 years, and believes that they've come a long way since the old XTs!

This article first appeared on osOpinion and is provided under the OpenContent Public License.





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