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IBM: Mainframe emulator part of a conspiracy

The irrelevant market is ours - all of it

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Comment Let's start with the obvious: there was never a poor bald geek's chance with a supermodel that IBM was ever going to willingly license its z/OS and related systems software so it could run on the commercialized version of the open source Hercules mainframe hardware emulator for x64 iron.

So the launch of the TurboHercules commercial version of the mainframe hardware emulator in September 2009 was always going to end up living or dying based on what some court somewhere would say.

Roger Bowler, the Brit who created the emulator was smart enough to headquarter his company in Paris, France, where the European Union's antitrust authorities could be brought to bear and antitrust was arguably taken more seriously than in the United States; particularly when it comes to large IT giants such as IBM and Microsoft. So when TurboHercules filed a complaint earlier this week with the European Commission's competition directorate general in Brussels, alleging that Big Blue is illegally tying the licensing of its mainframe software to its mainframe hardware, the only surprise was what took so long.

While TurboHercules is asking the European regulators to compel IBM to sell its systems software to companies that want to run the emulator on x64 or Itanium iron instead of System z hardware from Big Blue, the odds that this will happen are very small. But not non-zero, and certainly worth a lot of money to TurboHercules if it prevails in court.

With many billions of dollars per year at stake, and the vast majority of that being profits, you can bet that IBM is not going to take any threat by TurboHercules lightly, just as it is crushed any direct competition to the mainframe in the past decade. Here is the full statement from Big Blue regarding the complaint filed by TurboHercules:

TurboHercules is an "emulation" company that seeks a free ride on IBM's massive investments in the mainframe by marketing systems that attempt to mimic the functionality of IBM mainframes. This is not really any different from those who seek to market cheap knock-offs of brand-name clothing or apparel.

TurboHercules is a member of organizations founded and funded by IBM competitors such as Microsoft to attack the mainframe. Such an anti-trust accusation is not being driven by the interests of consumers and mainframe customers - who benefit from intellectual property laws and the innovation that they foster - but rather by entities that seek to use governmental intervention to advance their own commercial interests.

Only a decade ago, IBM's mainframe platform was on the verge of extinction because of intense competition from other types of computing platforms. IBM invested billions of dollars in R&D - when everyone else left the market - to upgrade the platform, create a new generation of microprocessors, and develop improved mainframe technologies. The mainframe is a small niche in the overall server market, but customers benefit from an improved platform and alternatives to Unix and Windows. IBM is fully entitled to enforce our intellectual property rights and protect the investments that we have made in our technologies.

A couple of things come to mind reading this statement...

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