Part 11. Rope-a-Dope
Muhammed Ali was facing one of his toughest opponents ever. Grizzled and worn from
years of boxing, Ali wondered if his best fight would be good enough to keep his
championship belt. This opponent had taken him to the limit before, and Ali decided
that something special was needed to give him an edge, something that his opponent
would not be prepared for and would likely be unable to counter effectively. Ali
decided to employ a strategy he called Rope-a-Dope: just wait at the ringside and
position himself defensively, wait for his opponent to tire himself out with ineffective
blows, and then finish him off.
This strategy of using an opponent's own aggresiveness against him was somewhat
effective, though certainly anything from being a crowd-pleaser. Amid boos and jeers,
Ali managed to avoid enough serious blows to win the bout and maintain his heavyweight
title. Not exactly the prettiest bout in world history, certainly nothing for ringside
scholars to provide to their students in the way of form, the tactic nonetheless
did the job. Although some would question the sportsmanship of such a strategy,
there was nothing in the rules against it, and the title stayed with Ali.
When facing an extremely aggressive opponent, one particularly prone to swing for
the knockout punch at every turn, IBM has found the Rope-a-Dope strategy to be surprisingly
effective. Instead of engaging Microsoft directly in a bitter head-on battle for
software supremacy, IBM has taken a defensive position that relies on its unassailable
reputation with major corporations, yet leaves the foundation operating system position
firmly in Microsoft's camp. IBM knows that the scoring punches are tallied in the
areas of middleware, transaction processing, and secure commerce, so it yields the
less lucrative but heavily marketed operating system territory to Microsoft.
Swinging wildly for absolute supremacy on the desktop, Microsoft has begun to show
signs of tiring. While distracted by the boos of the crowd, their fighting stance
has drawn the ire of the referees at the Department of Justice. While IBM continues
to jab with precision at carefully targeted market segments, Microsoft's overaggressive
style has caused it to bump heads with an arena full of Java fans and a crowd of
worried Netscape supporters. By swinging at anything that moves, Microsoft misses
its most important target -- IBM -- and thus scores minimal points in head-on matches.
With victory more and more in doubt, Microsoft indeed looks like a bunch of paranoid
fools playing to the crowd when Mr. Gates tells an interviewer, "IBM tried
to eliminate us! IBM is out to get us!"
Sooner or later, IBM will find that the time to return to the offensive has arrived.
The crowd may not be happy with the fighting methods, but they will eventually be
satisfied with a victory nonetheless.
Most recent revision: January 23, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.