IBM and Apple

John Gruber posts an entertaining piece on Why 2004 won’t be like 1984., riffing on the theme of why Apple isn’t like other companies. However, in the process he gets a few things muddled or just plain wrong. For example, he claims that “in reality, [Apple and IBM] weren’t competing much at all,” because of the differences between the Mac and the IBM PC. But this ignores the fact that in the business market, particularly small businesses, IBM was eating Apple’s lunch: Instead of buying Apple II’s, small businesses were buying IBM PCs and Apple’s market share was tanking as a result.
John’s also wrong about OS/2, which he claims Microsoft “pretended to support… while secretly planning all along to abandon.” If you read the excellent book on the origins of Windows NT, Showstopper, you’ll find that this simply wasn’t true: Gates was very committed to OS/2 early on. To quote the book: “at the outset, Gates had been so bullish about OS/2 that he vowed it would supplant DOS in less than three years,” and even when it proved a disaster “Gates did not want a rupture with IBM.” However, unlike IBM, he recognised OS/2 for what it was – a waste of effort – and made sure that there was an alternative, Microsoft-owned product in the pipeline. Even then it was Paul Maritz who told Gates and Ballmer than “we either have to choose the Windows horse, or the OS/2 horse” as late as 1990.