I am a tech junkie. I enjoy buying new toys. I do not wish to give up my addiction. In fact it gives me much pleasure.
I am also fascinated with the business side of technology – how the game is changing and how it creates winners and losers more quickly than in the FMCG markets I used to understand.
I came across this new product which got me thinking all over again about IBM. The story of IBM and the PC is pretty well known. The company was in a hurry to develop the product in the early 80s and cut a lot of corners. In the rush they allowed Microsoft to keep ownership of the DOS operating system developed for IBM and thus made Bill Gates very very rich. All Gates had done was to buy someone else’s DOS and polish it up a bit. IBM’s carelessness over the OS must rank as one of the biggest business blunders of all time. Gates was not a technological genius but was, for this coup alone, a business genius.
For a while IBM just about owned the PC market, especially for business use. In my company during the 80s and early 90s, before any other PC could be bought or attached to the network, it had to be checked as “IBM compatible”.
IBM was never comfortable in what was really a consumer market. Its heart was still in mainframes. By the early 90s the PC was a commodity and IBM’s share was sliding. It could not match the Dell model of making to order nor the Asian grey box prices.
In 2006 the whole IBM PC business was sold to Lenovo a company controlled by the Chines government. By then IBM was mostly interested in the IT service business (a very rare example of a large company successfully remaking itself) though it still makes mainframes.
Lenovo has done a very good job with the PC. It is innovative and fast on its feet – quite unlike IBM. It is almost impossible to imagine IBM launching the IdeaPad. That product might fail but Lenovo understands that in the tech market you need to keep pushing products out there. They also seem to understand the importance of design, something else IBM never did.
There is a lot of fascinating new stuff at CES. Most will disappear without a trace – Engadget has its own category of Crapgadgets which are as much fun to read about as the good stuff. The truth is it’s too early to say which is which.
This post was written on a Macbook Pro which will surely need replacing before too long.