International Business Machines (IBM) and Sun Microsystems have announced an alliance in which the two companies will collaborate to create an operating system for Network Computers (NCs). Dubbed JavaOS For Business, this new "thin-client" operating system will be ready by mid-year, according to reports, and will be co-marketed by both companies. IBM and Sun will not ship NCs with the new operating system until early 1999, however.
The idea of IBM collaborating on a leading-edge operating system may cause chuckles in some circles, but Sun is hoping that the presence of an industry leader such as IBM, with its vaunted service record, will give legitimacy to projects that most people have given up for dead. Indeed, while non-existent Java operating systems and Network Computers were all the rage a year ago, the market has since moved on to sub-$1000 PCs running Windows 95 that are far more powerful, compatible, and expandable. These new low-cost PCs have, in many ways, negated the primary benefit that NCs would bring to the customers.
Well, except for the Microsoft factor.
IBM's decision to back a Java OS is interesting, given the company's somewhat checkered history with Microsoft. Currently, Microsoft operating systems run on some 95% of all personal computers currently in use. Before IBM virtually handed this market over to Microsoft, it was seen as the industry heavyweight, setting standards and guiding technology. The entire anti-Microsoft cabal--companies like Sun, Oracle, and Netscape, not to mention other groups such as Linux and Macintosh users--can usually agree on the concept of "anything but Microsoft." Suddenly, with its support of JavaOS For Business, IBM has left the shadows and entered the fray as well.
But don't expect anti-Microsoft rhetoric from the ever-cautious IBM. While parts of the company will be toiling to displace Microsoft's monopoly grip on operating systems with a Java-based OS, other parts of the company are creating Windows NT/BackOffice solutions. And the company's PC hardware division ships virtually all of its machines with Windows 95 pre-loaded