Understanding IBM

Part 21. Shoot the Messenger

Imagine offering a total stranger a fabulous, home-cooked meal. It's got plenty of meat and potatoes, tons of fresh steamed vegetables, delightful sauces, and delicious rolls. A fine desert is also included. You sit the stranger down at a clean, comfy table and proceed to serve the dish on a silver platter, hot and steaming, ready to be devoured. Just before he begins to eat, the stranger looks at you intently and a glimmer of recognition crosses his face. "You!" he exclaims. "Anybody but you. I'm outta here." He quickly gets up from the table and strides out without looking back, shaking his head in disgust.

This sequence of events may not actually happen in real life, at least not exactly this way. But the equivalent reaction happens all the time in the computer industry. The old adage used to be that "the messenger of bad news always gets killed." Now it works the other way around: often a messenger will bring good news, but because of some petty personal bias or other prejudice, the hearer of this good news either ignores it, or else makes an angry reply in opposition to this message. This reaction has become commonplace in politics and in religion -- the idea that the other guy is so evil that everything he says must be ridiculed, no matter how wise and correct it really is -- on the basis of mere personal or professional animosity towards the messenger. No longer do people have the wisdom to examine each quotation with dispassionate reason to determine its own worth or falsehood; instead, the preconceived bias against the messenger makes honest debate impossible. If a Republican feels compelled to downgrade anything a Democrat says, no matter whether it is right or wrong; if a Baptist must counterargue every theological statement uttered by a Catholic, no matter whether it hews closely to scripture or not; well, then, ought we to be surprised when a preconceived bias against IBM results in vitriolic opposition to any new IBM product or initiative, no matter how good and beneficial it is?

This is something that Rush Limbaugh calls "the Template" -- at least with respect to politics -- or otherwise known as "conventional wisdom." In the computer industry, the "conventional wisdom" is that IBM is almost dictatorial in its way of addressing computer systems management. This means that any new initiative by IBM such as NCs or OS/2-based server management via WSOD is viewed with immediate suspicion. "What are they trying to control?" seems to be the underlying question behind every review article, every speech, every snide remark from a provider of competing operating systems and systems management software. The Template has been cast with IBM as the bad guy, and this is a very, very difficult preset notion to counteract once it has hardened into the accepted paradigm for the industry.

But not just IBM is susceptible to the infamous Template mentality. Now that Microsoft's grasping for absolute control and its own bullheaded response to the courts have become known, a new Template is forming in the computer industry. Slowly but surely, people are beginning to recognize that you can't believe everything messenger Microsoft says, just because you like the messenger. IBM's corresponding move toward openness and open standards may allow it to eventually escape its own Template prejudice as the messenger of doom.

Most recent revision: May 3, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

E-MAIL: os2headquarters@mindspring.com