IBM: The giant underdog

It's all Microsoft all the time. A decade ago, few would have predicted that the Microsoft Windows logo would be better known than the acronym IBM. But through the 1990s, Microsoft has passed Big Blue in mindshare and in many marketshare categories. Microsoft has even replaced IBM as an antitrust target of the Department of Justice.

Microsoft's amazing success was a key factor in the IBM decline of the early 1990s, when many experts predicted that the giant would either break up or die a slow death à la Digital Equipment Corp. and other once-proud computer makers. But IBM's Lou Gerstner used his retailing and consulting expertise to oversee an impressive turnaround.

Though it's still about five times the size of Microsoft, IBM revels in its role as an underdog. Microsoft is now taking harsh cri- ticism from government agencies and competitors -- just like companies once threw vitriol at IBM. IBM has become the leader in building partnerships formed under the thinly veiled guise of stopping the Microsoft juggernaut. Many observers see IBM as the leader in the business of Java, the software for cool programmers (some observers even say its role in Java has surpassed that of Sun).

In this issue's Cover Story, we look at IBM's application development strategies (IBM: Once and future king?) and the role these efforts have played in the firm's rejuvenation. Steve Mills --whose Software Solutions Division includes most of IBM's development tools, databases and middleware -- has worked hard to establish IBM as a strong alternative to independent development tool, middleware and database suppliers. The firm was forced to change its connection to the outside world, and has done it well, partnering with former external competitors and with rival IBM divisions.

Today, many things seem to be coming together for IBM. But the company must react faster than it ever has: Despite recent setbacks, and its role as punching bag for much of the computer industry, Microsoft still knows how to win. And IBM, notwithstanding its late 1990s resurgence, is still an underdog. Nevertheless, the IBM comeback is an interesting story, and as we show in our special report, the approach to application development is a key piece of the strategy.

We also close the year with a look at the state of 4GLs, once a key to the client/server revolution. Today, organizations are proclaiming that Java is the cross-platform development language. Top developers coming into I/T organizations today are Java die-hards. Can 4GLs survive Java and the Internet? "Are 4GLs history?" , provides some interesting answers.

About the Author

Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.