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Apple of IBM's eye?

Stranger things have happened at sea ...

Opinion As the IT world digests the fact that IBM has, according to the New York Times, put its PC division up for sale, another set of speculation revs up.

No, not the fact that the rumored potential buyer is Chinese company Lenovo, nor the cruel related joke that many old IBMers caught in the sold PC division would quickly will appear on a Chinese take-away menu, thereby helping fix IBM's embarrassing pension funding problems.

Instead, an even better and more audacious speculation is that once publicly free of the PC division IBM will either buy, or form a close joint venture with Apple to sell its PCs, which coincidentally are now built around IBM's PowerPC chip.

Selling its PC Division would also pave the way for such an IBM move to be approved by the FTC. To add even more heat to already hot gossip, it turns out that Apple is not among the published list of early companies signing up for IBM's PowerPC consortia - a rather strange gap given Apple's now absolute dependency on that microprocessor range.

Well, you may ask, why would they sign up if a romance with IBM was in the air, or maybe even already consummated? And, knowing just how difficult it is to keep secrets these days, is it coincidence that some financial analysts have doubled their estimate of Apple's stock price expectation recently?

Just think how many positives for IBM such a marriage would provide. IBM would give the same credibility to the Macintosh computer, and its Microsoft-beating operating systems as it provided for the PC in the first place, thereby opening the flood gates of corporate demand.

Then of course there is Darwin, Apple's version of BSD Unix at the heart of its Mac OS X operating system, which would nicely provide IBM with a non Linux semi-open source alternative, and one that is focused on its on benchmark beating P (sorry G) 5 microprocessor. And of course there is all that synergy in the high performance, bargain priced Unix server and disk array products that Apple has taken to market, which must be hard to resist.

Hitching up with Apple would provide IBM with a real inroad into the fast growing 'lifestyle' market, something the men and women in blue suits kind of missed. Perhaps most of all, it would be a way for IBM to get even with Microsoft for all that bad blood over the early versions of Windows, which IBM partnered in, and apparently accidentally part-funded. Remember that what IBM got out of that for its money was an operating systems that chairman Gerstner famously named Warp, which turned out to be the speed at which it hurtled into oblivion.

Cast your mind back to Apple's announcement that hell had frozen over when they launched a Windows version of iTunes. I wonder what in hell will happen if there is any substance to this rumor. We shall see... ®

About Cormac O'Reilly: Late sixties IT industry entrant with early developer gigs in London at Abbey National, Unilever & BOC. Senior IT oil field trash in the eighties and nineties; Schlumberger (Houston TX) and Shell (The Hague). Board IT big-wig at Costain (London) before CIO/CTO at Digital and Wang Global/ Getronics (Boston). Non-exec director at two flame-out dot.coms; now spending ill gotten gains and being provocative in Newburyport, MA

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