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IBM to Google: Come Eat Our Lunch?

Oh dear, that headline is probably a little strong. But i have to say when i first heard the idea IBM would endorse Google Desktop Search (GDS) because it supported Lotus Notes formats, i was struck that IBM was potentially ceding some extremely important real estate to Google by giving it the nod.

I mean where do you live? In your email? In your aggregator? Or in search? Search is fundamental UI real estate.

Last week i asked some folks at Microsoft who used Linux. They use Google and so use Linux (thanks Tim O’Reilly for the architecture of participation argument) but at least Microsoft is attempting to address the Google challenge, with its own search engine R&D.

I think IBM may even need to buy X1 to get up to speed in this area. X1 supports Lotus too, but IBM didn’t PR me when X1 announced it, if memory serves me right. But they did this time. Search is not an optional extra though – its a fundamental control point. Embrace, Extend

In a recent interview Janet Perna said IBM was putting its money where its mouth is. So what is going on?

IBM’s webFountain search engine is built for super high end queries from super high end customers, but what about the great mass of data from the great unwashed? What about tags? is anyone using WebFountain – given Lexis Nexis stopped working with webFountain i am not so sure about production customer growth.

Why is the mainframe still around? Because what matters most to enterprises is data, and mainframe databases are where the data is. IBM doesn’t like to share its zSeries DB2, IMS or CICS lunch around.

Maybe Lotus is just confident because it feels like they have fought off the MS Exchange and Live Communications Server collaboration challenge for now… But surely Google is going to come after IBM sooner rather later? Eric Schmidt is sanguine apparently. But Bill Gates didn’t get to where he is today without being able to identify competitive threats. You could argue doing so is a Microsoft core competence. IBM on the other hand, has not always been quite so adept at spotting threats early.

I don’t expect IBM to ignore Google, after all it wants to attract ISVs, and Google is one, but in my opinion search is fundamental to the computing experience. Apple with Spotlight and Microsoft with its own desktop search seem to think so. So what of IBM’s ambitions? If it wants to displace Microsoft going forward it will need to offer a better user experience, and to reduce MS dependence. By putting its weight behind GDS and giving it the enterprise imprimatur, it has strengthened the position of an emerging competitor.

James Snell is a lot more dismissive. Can Google’s Bunch Of Sloppy Services (Boss) really compete with an integrated monolith like Lotus Notes or a set of services like IBM Workplace? Remember IBM is the one decomposing its platform-that makes it easier for Google to sell into, to offer its own portal model.

The NY Times identifies Google as the greatest threat to MS hegemony. If that is true, what should that tell IBM, normally thought of as Microsoft’s key competition?

I will be talking to IBM this week to try and establish whether these ideas are overblown. But for now Google seems a real risk to Workplace futures. Perhaps even more so than to Windows and Office futures. But if Google eats IBM’s data then might it not eat IBM’s lunch?

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2 Responses

  1. James, just dropping by and had to drop you a line of this one. You shouldn’t find it surprising that when a major client like Google who run this amazing mass of IBM boxes as their data center running Linux that IBM wouldn’t want to promote this piece of the pie, now I don’t know but I bet X1 doesn’t have a data center full of IBM?

  2. James, you and I we chatted on this topic last week, but I thought I’d post a quick comment for others on you blog. IBM’s work on GDS is a simple matter of responding to customer demand and working with partner to build unique customer value. Since GDS was announced, we’ve had a flood of inquiries about when our customers could use this tool with Lotus Notes and other enterprise repositories. BTW, I’ve personally pointed a number of them to other tools like X1 (GDS is not the only desktop search technology out there. And yes, there are even some cool internal IBM projects in this space)
    Now I’ll be the first to agree with you that Google could become a competitor to us. Their search appliances already compete with on prem software technologies like OmniFind. And there are all kinds of scenarios you can play out where everything from Gmail to Blogger to groups compete with IBM’s collaboration assets. We remain conscious of these possibilities, but see many more interesting examples of complement than competition.
    GDS working with Notes is a simple start but there are loads of more interesting things we can do together. Stay tuned…

    Ken BiscontiJune 5, 2005 @ 2:43 pmReply

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